ZIMBABWE: Hunting the Omay For Elephant & Leopard With Dalton & York Safaris

KMG Hunting Safaris

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Frederik

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Stunning leopard and bushbuck !!!
 

PARA45

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WOW!!!!!! What a beautiful leopard, and bushbuck! The pucker factor of chasing a leopard, and not knowing if he is alive or not has to be out there. Your detail report made me feel like if I was there in the front row. Outstanding, congratulations!!!
 

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Congratulations. So how old do they estimate the leopard after you took it? Did any of the PHs shots connect?
At least 5 or 6. The skull has been sent in for official scientific aging. I'll let everyone know when they get the results back.
 

VertigoBE

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What an amazing adventure so far @rinehart0050 ! This tale with the videos, pictures and excellent writing has me sitting on the edge of my seat!

A huge congratulations on the hippo, the leopard and the bushbuck!

I could not have imagined hunting leopard being this thrilling!

Can’t wait to hear about the elephant hunt!
 

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A great cat and very good bushbuck, congrats :D Cheers:

That follow up in the dark...a priceless experience !
 

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Great cat, great bushbuck, great story.
 

Kevin Peacocke

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Great report Rinehart, thanks! One can appreciate the leather leopard followup jacket with the throat strap and the abdomen cover, these kittys play for keeps.
 

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So I’m off work now and it’s Pacific time here….almost 6pm…..was looking forward to an ele story…..so I think I speak for many when I say:

 

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Great write up so far. Feel like I was in the blind with you.

Great looking leopard and bushbuck.

Tell your wife congratulations on the hippo.

Looking forward to the rest of your hunt.
 

rinehart0050

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So I’m off work now and it’s Pacific time here….almost 6pm…..was looking forward to an ele story…..so I think I speak for many when I say:

Sorry for the delay- busy day at work. I'll get the next few installments posted today.
 

rinehart0050

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Here are some more images of the leopard's skull that really highlight the ageing and worn teeth, as well as the missing teeth.

full


full
 

rinehart0050

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Initial Encounters with Elephants...

Going into this trip, I'd never had any exposure to elephants in the wild, so hunting them was going to be a completely new experience. I let Dalton know this and he assured me not to worry. We would approach many elephant before we approached the right one, ensuring that I was comfortable and ready when the time came.

Additionally, while the bull I would hunt was a fully exportable bull, we're all familiar with the import situation in the USA... not good. Dalton proposed we try hunting a problem elephant rather than the biggest bull we could find. It would still be a good trophy bull, but the hunt would have the added benefit of reducing human-wildlife conflict and a real threat to life for local villagers.


There were a few elephants that Dalton knew of that had been raiding fields and attacking villagers. In general, they initially try to scare the elephants out of the area with noise, fire, and if necessary, giving them a load of bird shot in the rump! Once these efforts fail, more extreme measures are required. There were two groups of elephants that had resisted hints and continued raid and attack villages.

One group of two, a young and old male had been regularly raiding fields and charging locals in a village near the center of the concession. In another case, there was a lone bull that kept harassing a fishing village located along the banks of Lake Kariba. In both cases, these elephants were already being considered for elimination as problem animals. By having me hunt these elephants, rather than a National Parks Scout shoot them, the villagers would get the triple benefit of meat, money from the trophy fees, and the elimination of a threat to their lives.

I agreed to this idea immediately. I came for the experience of the hunt. If I can also help out the local villagers at the same time, count me in!

In the early days of the hunt, we'd found groups of elephant along the Ume river flood plains, to include shootable bulls. Dalton waved these off. Too easy. We can come back for these elephants on the last day if we haven't been successful yet!

On day 3, after a long day of hanging leopard baits, we were on our way back to camp. As we came down the final hill, Tongai tapped on the roof of the Land Cruiser. Through an opening in the bush, we could make out a lone bull feeding on the far side of an open area. I grabbed my Chapuis Double and loaded it for its first taste of a real hunt (as opposed to time at the range).


A quick walk brought us in proximity of the calmly feeding giant. At about 75 meters range, Dalton had everyone else stay back, while he and I approached the bull. The bull continued to calmly feed as we moved ever closer. And closer. And closer.

These elephants are much bigger than videos or trips to the zoo make them seem. We move within 20 yards of the elephant. I've got my rifle at the ready, my heart is racing, but I notice that Dalton is acting casual, rifle on his shoulder.

The elephant notices us and turns in our direction, head raised.

Then Dalton begins to talk me through shot placement. The elephant conveniently moves his head side to side, trying to figure out what we are. For each position, Dalton describes where to aim.

After a short while, the elephant returns to feeding and we begin to back out. I learn an important lesson in this moment. As, I'm backing out, I'm watching the elephant, and not watching where I'm stepping. I slip a little, but recover quickly. Dalton corrects me- when backing out, look where you're going, not at the elephant! Looking at the elephant is the PH's job in such a situation!



What a rush! To be so close to an elephant - amazing! I return to camp on an adrenaline high!

...

The next day, on the way out to check baits, we stop at a farm. Heath points out a mud hut that has been recently attacked and destroyed by an elephant. A conversation with the local farmer reveals that the two crop-raiding elephants that Dalton has been keeping tabs on came through the area within the last two days. Dalton is familiar with these two- a big bull accompanied by a younger and significantly smaller bull. We decide to come back through here after checking baits.

Later in the day, we're on the far side of the village, seeking intel from the locals on the two elephants. A farmer relates that the bulls came through two days ago and raided some of his crops. He explains how they have hung cans on string as a warning when the elephants are close. When the elephants arrive, he and his family stay completely silent in their huts for fear of provoking a charge!

Dalton explains that the elephants that raid crops frequently become more aggressive, as they get accustomed to interacting with humans. The villagers are in complete agreement and clearly scared.

We set off on the elephant's trail, up into the nearby hills. As we climb the hill, I ask Dalton why the villagers have made all these narrow footpaths to where the elephants live. He corrects me- these are elephant paths, not human foot paths! I'm amazed at how narrow they are. How does such a giant creature make such a small path through the grass??


Our stalk continues up into the hills. I'm amazed by the skill and prowess of Dalton and his tracker, Tongai. Frequently, they're finding only tiny corners of a track amongst the rocks and hard ground of the hills.

We eventually make it to the other side of the hill without encountering the elephants. We walk towards a road where the Land Cruiser can pick us up and pass through a farm. Two locals are enjoying some locally brewed chikirikiri alcohol, both clearly blasted out of their minds. As Dalton put it later, "they're on a different planet right now!"

We ask them for intel on the elephant bulls. They assure us that the elephants are definitely nearby. Also, a leopard killed a baboon not 50 meters from the farm earlier in the day! Dalton looks skeptical... sometimes the intel provided by the locals is of dubious quality at best. He relates that the tracks we'd followed were at least two days old. He questions whether the elephant are still in this area or not... seems doubtful at this point.

We give up the search for the day and head back to camp.
 

CAustin

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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.

Bang!

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.

full


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:

full


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.

full


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!
Congratulations on your cat sir! Welcome to the leopard addiction which I suspect you now have.
You got to love having leopard near by. Even if they are preforming a marathon sex show.
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.
 
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rinehart0050

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The next day, we stop at a dried out riverbed near the village. In short order, Tongai and Dalton are on the tracks of two or three elephants. Dalton points out how one of the tracks has pronounced cracks in it, an indication of an older male!

As we continue along the tracks, through the riverbed, I find myself very uncomfortable. The riverbed is soft sand, which slows our movement. On each side, the banks rise up at least 7-8 feet, limiting our ability to get out of the riverbed. I feel like we've surrendered the high ground advantage to the elephants- if we stumble on them, we won't have any place to go!

The tracking continues as the sun approaches the horizon. Time is running out. We have maybe 1 hour of daylight left. Dalton is aware of this too and decides to take a gamble. Rather than continuing on the tracks, which are not particularly fresh, we approach the nearest farm. Upon questioning we discover that sure enough, the farmer has seen the elephant today. In fact, he can take us to where he last saw them!

We set off at a brisk pace through the farmer's field. Soon we're getting into the thick brush along the base of the large hills. We come across a natural spring, where there is fresh elephant sign everywhere.

Now we slow up the pace. Deliberate. But not quiet. There's no way to be quiet. Dried leaves are all over and we're walking through dried grass. Everything seems to crackle and pop like milk just added to Rice Crispies!

Through the thick forest, we approach the edge of the wood line and an open area. Dalton indicates to freeze.

There, across the opening, we can see elephants, about 70 yards away. A group of at least 4, to include a calf. Two are clearly cows, there's the calf, and one more facing away from us that is the biggest. I can't make out any ivory or the head of the big one.

Almost immediately the elephants know something is up. Their trunks go high in the air, trying to catch a whiff of us. Its an amazing feeling to be in such proximity to a herd of wild elephants! Dalton continues to inspect them through his binoculars...


Without much warning, the elephants decide they've had enough of us and charge off into the bush. I'm struck by how little noise they make. While we probably sounded like a drunken football team stumbling through a cornfield, the herd of elephants made minimal noise as they rapidly melted into the bush.

We followed another set of tracks and found another group of elephants feeding in a large clump of bushes. These we were quickly able to determine were all cows.

At this point, the sunlight was rapidly fading and we decided to head back towards the truck. Dalton related that he thought the two bulls may have been near the first group of cows, hidden in a thicket. We weren't able to see them from where we were, but when the cows charged off, Dalton heard them move too.

We'll have to come back again tomorrow and see if we can get back on their tracks!

As we walked to the truck, we were treated to one of those exceptional African sunsets...

 
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Mort Hill

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Just a tremendous safari, wonderful trophies, and a great old cat! The photos, videography, and accompanying words spin a fabulous tale of being on safari. It is a pleasure to read, and much appreciated for sharing. Congrats to you, your wife and safari team.
 

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Man I’m getting out the popcorn and bourbon reading this report.
 

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There is just a different view when you close in on an elephant with a rifle they just get bigger and people who don't hunt them or have never been close to them like that don't understand it.
 

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