Congratulations on your cat sir! Welcome to the leopard addiction which I suspect you now have.Our final night in the blind...
I tease Andy for falling asleep in the blind, but I promptly do the same. I'm awoken by Dalton what seems like a second later, but it was already pitch black out. Expecting to hear a leopard grunting, or scratching of claws on the tree, or flesh being ripped from the bait, I am struck by the silence. Even Dalton hadn't heard the leopard approach the bait. He spotted by looking through the thermal, already on the branch, eating away.
Dalton tells me to get ready. Instantly, my heart is racing, adrenaline pumping, I stop breathing.
Through the scope, I wait for the red light. It flickers on and there is the leopard, laying on the branch, facing to our right!
I hear Dalton whisper "wait for him to stand up."
I wait for what seems like an interminable period of time. He continues to lay there, front paws draped across the bait that he's pulled up onto the branch, head turned away from us.
Finally, the leopard stands and turns around. Now he's facing to the left. I hear Dalton whisper "point of the shoulder, when you're ready."
As I begin to squeeze the trigger, the leopard sits down.
The leopard disappears from my scope. I sit, not breathing, trying to hear over the sound of my hammering heart. I hear some growls and movement that seems to approach the blind and then stop off to our right.
I am flooded with emotions. Shock, frustration, self loathing. My shot was not perfect. My mistake had now created an infinitely more dangerous situation.
We waited in silence. Then Dalton called the truck over the radio. We load into the truck and drive the short distance down the hill to the river. Dalton, Heath, and Tongai jump out and look for sign of the leopard's path from the bait tree.
They find blood and follow it along the sand. The leopard has gone back up the hill into the bush. Everyone is shining spotlights, head lamps, whatever, into the bush in an effort to catch sight of the missing cat. A glimmer of green and shots from the shotgun and Dalton's 458 ring out.
No sound is coming from the bush, so Tongai starts throwing rocks to see if he can get a response. This continues, still to no effect. We decide to go back up the hill to the blind and approach from that direction.
As we step of the road and enter the bush, I am struck by how Dalton and Heath move, guns at the ready, flashlights gripped against their barrels, like highly trained operators moving towards a target.
On my left, Heath with his 416 Ruger. In front, taking point, is Dalton with his 458. I'm directly behind him with my 300 win mag. Covering the right side is Andy, having replaced his camera with the shotgun. Tongai is with me, holding a very bright spotlight. We move through the bush slowly, deliberately, extremely cautiously, making a counter-clockwise loop.
Every few steps we stop. We look. We listen. Still nothing. We see what we think is the tree the leopard is laying at the base of. Tongai throws some rocks to no effect. We continue forward, inching closer.
Nothing at the tree.
We proceed forward to the edge of the bush, a 20 ft. cliff to the sandy floodplain below. Have we passed him? Missed him? We continue our counter-clockwise circle until we're back at the blind. We take stock of the situation. Maybe we swung too wide. We look at the treetops, trying to identify the dead tree we'd seen from below, where we suspect the leopard. We see a likely candidate directly ahead of us, maybe 60 meters.
Again we begin to move. Slowly. Slower. So slow. The feeling that each step brings us closer to a final confrontation is palpable. Then, something. A flicker. Heath points into the darkness. Have we found our leopard?
Dalton pulls me forward. "Look for the eyes." The beams of the many flashlights cast about in all directions, seeming to illuminate everything except what I need to see. I'm squinting, shifting position, trying to catch a glimpse of something.
And then, as one, the beams of light seem to converge and I make out two brilliantly glimmering emeralds in the darkness. They are so vibrantly green, like no eyes I've ever seen before.
I shoot at the eyes. With a roar, the leopard flies into the air to our left in a desperate attempt to flee. Heath takes a shot and with a crash, we loose sight of the leopard in the darkness.
Amid the swirling gun smoke, silence returns. Heath thinks the leopard is down in a bush maybe 20 yards from us. The rest aren't sure. I'm still in a daze. We group back up, at the ready, and begin our slow, stuttering movement towards the bush.
As we approach, we can make out a shape, then fur, then rosettes. No movement. The leopard is down. Finished. Ended. I'm not really sure how to describe the emotions of this moment. We move forward, I brush the leopard's fur. I'm in awe of the majesty of this cat.
Further inspection of the cat reveals that my first shot broke both front legs. He rubbed a section of his chest raw, running himself into the ground with his back legs. I am amazed how he managed to jump through the air after my final shot, despite his injuries.
A sense of relief overwhelms me. We've made it through this. The leopard is down. No-one was hurt. Relief. Thanks. Admiration. Exhaustion. Respect.
After a time, we move the leopard down to the floodplains below for photos. In the distance, we can hear laughter coming from camp. We're so close, everyone surely heard the shots and is wondering what has happened.
What a cat. What a magnificent leopard. Upon inspecting his mouth, we see his dark yellow teeth, worn smooth with age, lacking their razor sharp cutting edges. One canine is badly chipped. He's missing a few front teeth. I am so happy to have taken such a fine old tom. The perfect trophy.
Here's a photo of his skull from a few days later:
The drive back to camp is a boisterous one, as our trackers and scouts sing their traditional celebratory songs. As we pull up, everyone is waiting for us, cheering, clapping, asking about the night's events. I find my wife in the crowd, hug her close, and show her our leopard, laid out in the back of the truck.
What a night. What a hunt. Needless to say, a truly legendary leopard party followed that lasted to the next morning. The way Dalton and Heath and Andy and Tongai handled the follow up should mark them as legends. A very dangerous situation ended safely. Thank you to them for a memory I'll never forget.
We took the next day off, giving the animals and ourselves a rest. Convenient, as my parents were arriving in camp and picking them up from the boat served as a good excuse to avoid hunting for elephant. I don't think that would have been a wise choice!
More to follow soon, as we set off in search of an elephant that has been antagonizing the villagers in a small fishing camp. The locals say he's "bitten" three people so far! Not sure how that works with an elephant, but we aim to find out!
what I found so exciting was when all the Jackals started screaming to each other. I guess they were telling one another to look out Spots was walking about.You got to love having leopard near by. Even if they are preforming a marathon sex show.