ZIMBABWE: Elephant & Leopard In Zimbabwe - Cancellation Hunt Report

Baits

Ok, so this is primarily a leopard hunt…not with dogs but with bait. Dogs vs bait is a whole separate subject. I did the research for a year or so and then went with baiting for this hunt. Let’s talk about baits for a minute. If you have hunted around a CAMPFIRE area, you know that there tends to be less plains game around community areas. This area was no different. We saw very little plains game, which consisted almost entirely of impala and a few kudu along with the random giraffe, duiker and steenbok. I did see an incredible black giraffe bull but he was on property we didn’t have access to…and yes, I would have taken him! If you haven’t seen a really dark giraffe up close, you will be surprised how beautiful they are. This one was ancient and really dark…literally black in the sunlight…just 40 yards on the other side of the boundary of course! We put a mental marker there to come back, time permitting to find him again on the back of the hunt.

While on the subject of baiting leopards, it should be mentioned that one of the reasons cats are hunted in this area is because of the damage they do to livestock (goats, cattle, etc). While we were hunting a specific large male leopard, he definitely killed cattle and this is one of the ones we found. It happened during the night and the momma cow chased off the leopard before it could drag the calf back through the kraal fence. The color you see is medicine that didn't save this calf. She was too torn up and would have died eventually from infection...cat's mouths are full of bacteria. This was just motivation to us to try and catch this cat.

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Something interesting about baiting ranch cats should be mentioned here. Each situation we baited for was different but we baited a lot on the ground to simulate a natural kill. We hung a few baits in trees but most of our activity resulted from ground baiting the leopards. As I understand it, the ranch leopards are very wary of baits in trees and they are chased by the locals who herd cattle. I wasn’t used to baiting on the ground but in this area there are no lions and only a few hyena. While we had hyena activity on some of our baits, none were stolen by hyenas. This area had more brown hyenas than spotted. Of course, brown hyenas are largely solitary and spotted hyena are in pairs or groups most of the time.

Here's some examples of various baiting setups we tried. Each one was specific to the area we were in and a combination of the cat's behavior, spoor and the natural settings. None of the baits were blind attempts. In other words, they were a response to the cat's behavior in that area. Sometimes we baited a large female to see if she could draw in a big male. Sometimes we baited a young male to try and draw dominate behavior from the dominate male in that area. A big dominate male cat is going to steal from younger cats and will always be interested in adult female cats.

We baited in trees and on the ground, depending on what the situation called for and there were lots of discussions among the PHs and the lead tracker on the best way to get a response from the cats.

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Baiting continued

Most of the bait used were impalas and acquiring them was interesting. The cover was tall and extremely dry so the impala blended in very well. None of my shots were taken in open areas and I don’t remember seeing a whole impala in my scope at one time in 2 weeks! There was always some combination of heavy cover and just a piece of impala showing at 80-150 yards typically.

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I was comfortable with the model 10 Dakota and the lighted reticle helped tremendously with a few head shots, neck shots, etc that were my only options most of the time. It was difficult to find impala in general but one time a group milled around in the brush and I shot 3 in less than 1 minute. Typically it would take hours to find just one or two and there were many stalks where the wind swirled and we would have to go looking for others.

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We also took the one zebra stallion we found at last light in heavy cover. For this one, since we really needed the zebra bait and the brush was thick and the sun was setting (who wants to chase a zebra all night???), we decided to use the .416 Rigby. The zebra was walking through brush at about 70 yards and on the hit, a huge cloud of dust came off the zebra and there was a very audible slap from the bullet. I was using my elephant load of 400 grain NorthFork cupped point solids. The PH said you just knocked a week’s worth of dust off that zebra. The zebra ran about 20 yards and went down hard. I wouldn’t normally use a solid for that but it knocked big chunks of lung out of the off side. It was very decisive on a tough animal like a zebra.

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By the way, zebra steaks with pepper gravy are excellent! Zebra is often a preferred bait for leopard as they hold up better in the heat than impala over several days. Also, a zebra cut up is 4 big baits and no leopard will finish a zebra quarter in one night…so you have a good chance of bringing one back the next night.
 
Thanks for sharing, and nice rifles!
 
............... On this hunt we donated around 14,000 pounds of meat (ahh…a little foreshadowing of what’s to come), .............
That is one hell of a Leopard.
 
Lots more to come. Anything in particular you are curious about?

How to get a smoking deal like that! lol Leopard and Elephant are next on my list with leopard being my primary. Interested to hear about size of heards of Cape Buffalo.
 
We see deals sometimes here and also from PHs that we are connected to. They usually call their clients before listing a cancellation hunt. Buffalo are a whole subject unto themselves. In most areas that are good for elephant, you tend to see less buffalo. In this particular ranch hunt, there are zero buffalo as they can't mix with cattle. You won't see lions or buffalo in cattle ranch areas.
 
These breaks in your report are killing me... I can hardy take the suspense...the drama...the drama....please continue your report hopefully with photos....would love to see videos, but guess you didn't consider or plan for videos as is often the case when hunting....especially night hunts on leopard and hunts on elephant in the same area.
 
Video is tough on DG hunts. Generally, you need a dedicated person for that as the PH is going to want to back you up if needed. We considered having the PH's son (also a PH) film us but it didn't work out this time. We're getting into the meat of it now on the report.
 
Elephant day

Elephant was always going to be secondary on this leopard hunt but sometimes the hunt gives you something special and you take it! We had seen a lot of elephant tracks while looking for leopard spoor. One morning, at first light, we decided to look for the elephant we heard in camp behind us at night...feeding, breaking branches and pushing over trees all night. We saw a large elephant bull and his 5 askari young bulls right after they had crossed the boundary from our side. They were going uphill away from us and we had just missed them by literally about one minute. The old bull, of about 40 pounds ivory and much larger bodied than the young bulls, was slowly taking his time and the askaris were running uphill to catch up to him…a beautiful sight to see. I would have loved to have that on film to share with you. We just sat there soaking it in and it's burned into my memory. Elephants are magical to me. I never tire of watching them.

This CAMPFIRE area is primarily known for elephant bulls coming out of Hwange Park and also for having large ranch leopards that eat cattle. We saw good ellie tracks every day and a few times, we drove past some in the bush. A few nights we had them in camp, breaking trees just behind us in the night. I find the sounds of elephant feeding to be interesting and relaxing. You hear the swish of their ears and tail…the loud CRAAACK of a tree being pushed over…the rumble of their low frequency communication….wonderful sounds.

One morning while checking for leopard spoor on the far side of the concession, we stopped to talk to a local cattle rancher. He said I’ve got elephant everywhere…you must come and take one! Normally, you hear all kinds of promises from locals hoping for a small reward for the info or to get lucky with some meat. This guy said I will take you to them! He was motivated so we said we’re here, let’s go see what he’s talking about. He jumped into the truck and we drove back into a very interesting area. It was like an elephant bedroom back in the trees. The damage was intense with lots of broken acacia trees and shattered green thorn bushes. Elephant spoor and dung was everywhere. We pulled the big guns out and started working through the wind and cover. Hey you know it's serious if the game scout decides to load his AK...hah. Within about 1 hour and a couple of miles we found them.

As commonly happens, we heard them before we saw them. Trees were cracking and falling but otherwise, it was eerily silent. Of course, elephant walk almost silently on those big padded feet, so we checked the wind and eased into them. Out of all the hunting I’ve done, working through elephants is my favorite thing and I will never be tired of it. We stood quietly on the edge of this group of trees, about 15 yards away and watched 12-15 bulls feeding in front of us. We had no idea what was in this group of bulls but we had the wind in our favor so we just stood very still and quiet to see them move around and get a sense of the size of them. Most of them were askaris…young bulls of 20 pounds with a few 30's. There was one larger bull among them of about 40 pounds per side…but wait! There was a larger bodied bull than all of them with thick, dark ivory behind them all. This bull pushed on a large acacia tree and it came crashing down about 40 yards in front of us. I’m not good at estimating ivory but that’s the PH’s job. Funny thing is we didn’t even discuss it. It was a special moment as the air kind of went out of us...and the PHs, tracker and myself just all turned at the same time to focus on this bull. When you see a big one, you just know!

The problem with this bull was he was at the BACK of the herd. We observed them feed for a few minutes and watched as the order shuffled around. The larger bull stayed at the back and so we decided to shift sideways just enough to catch a shooting angle. For a brief moment, the wind started to shift and in my mind, I thought this won’t last long. I got on the sticks and the distance was about 40-45 yards…much further than you would like on elephant but we were pressing our luck already with this many eyes, ears and trunks right in front of us. I asked the PH to back me up on the shot as we were very close to the boundary. Being 40 plus yards distance to the bull in the back, it wasn’t time for anything fancy so I looked for a good broadside angle and took a heart shot. At the shot, the bull visibly buckled and turned to run. The PH shot once on the turning ele from his 470 double (as requested) and the whole herd pivoted and moved down wind in a big cloud of dust as only ele can do. We stood still and within seconds, heard the loud crash of the bull falling in his run. He had gone less than 50 yards. We carefully approached and I paid the insurance.

The closer we got to this bull, the bigger he got! He has the large body genetics of Botswana bulls (and could easily be from Botswana) and his head was very large, making his ivory seem smaller. I was amazed at this bull after having an expectation of around 40 pounds ivory. He’s bigger than that…more to come later.

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Congrats on the elephant, looking forward to more!
 
WOW! WHAT AN ELEPHANT! I, like you, LOVE to hunt elephant, I will never tire of it. Can't wait to hear more about your adventure.
 
WOW! WHAT AN ELEPHANT! I, like you, LOVE to hunt elephant, I will never tire of it. Can't wait to hear more about your adventure.
I love elephant too. I will add that I always have mixed emotions afterwards. It's not regret...it's just a really humbling feeling of taking something old that has seen and experienced so much. They are wonderful animals and special. Taking an elephant changes you forever. I look forward to the next one!
 
Congrats on your elephant, what a tremendous hunt you’ve described and a wonderful trophy to remember it all. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your safari.
 
I love elephant too. I will add that I always have mixed emotions afterwards. It's not regret...it's just a really humbling feeling of taking something old that has seen and experienced so much. They are wonderful animals and special. Taking an elephant changes you forever. I look forward to the next one!

Congratulations on an exceptional Safari and hunting report! I share that same feeling after harvesting these majestic animals.

HH
 
Congrats on your elephant bull and thank you for the report. I can’t wait till July 2024. I’ll be trying for my first elephant In Zim.
 

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