ZIMBABWE: Leopard & Buffalo With Mbalabala Safaris

Nyati

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Congrats that was really an exciting hunt !
 

Redruff

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Congratulations putting your leopard in the salt!

After 30 days after cats he is well earned.

Your report is written well that the reader feels he is sitting beside you in the blind.

Hope he’s going to be a full mount.

All the best,

R.
 

npm352

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Awesome cat! Congrats. I shared a camp with Pierre in 2015 on the Omay. Great guy, great PH.
 

cls

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Enjoyed the report, great way to end the hunt. Congrats.
 

Riksa

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Thank you evereyone! Luckily the hunt does not end here so the story continues (as soon as I find the time to write more)
 

enysse

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Congrats! A very successful hunt! Memories to last a lifetime!
 

BRICKBURN

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Damn! My heart rate went up....
Very nice Leopard.
Congrats, keep the tale coming.
 

Timbo

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I agree with Reedy0312, we've all had horrible experiences like that - but you kept on going and in the end have a lovely buffalo trophy. Great stuff!
 

Tom Khoo

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Great read. Brings back great memories of our time sharing a drink after a day’s hunting.
 

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Welcome to AH Tom!
 

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Way to persevere!

You had a great and memorable hunt for sure. Thanks for taking us along!


Tim
 

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Saturday 28.10 (Day 9)

07:00. Someone had been eating s**t with my mouth during the night. Well, life could have been worse. We had a quick breakfast and then went to take pictures of the Leopard.

P1020798.JPG



After taking pictures we went to take down the microphone and removed other equipment we still had in the blind and headed back to camp for lunch. In the afternoon we got plenty of rain. We spent the afternoon taking down some nearby baits and built a blind on the first bait.

P1020822.JPG

P1020824.JPG

P1020827.JPG

P1020830.JPG


In the evening we agreed to return to Buffalo hunting the following day.


Sunday 29.10 (Day 10)

We started the day at usual time and headed close to the national park area. We drove past one of the old baits and took it down. Leopard had visited the bait and tasted it, but the meat had been too rotten. We continued driving and later one of the trackers spotted a Leopard running along the road and shortly after it I could see it crossing the road in front of us. That was the third Leopard we saw in daylight. No idea whether it was male or female, but I can tell you that it moved fast.

P1020857.JPG


Shortly after the encounter with the Leopard we found fresh tracks of a large Buffalo herd. The herd had come to Chewore from Mana Pools national park and were pretty close to park border still. There was a risk that the herd would be heading back to the park. The benefit was that there could be anything in the herd, including some old nice bulls. At least there were some very large tracks so we left the bakkie and started following the tracks.

P1020890.JPG

Cartridge in the picture is my .338 WinMag. The tracks were BIG.

Around 10:00 we bumped to the end of the Buffalo herd. It was in a thicket so we came too close and alerted the herd. Immediately we could see several nice bulls. The herd escaped and continued downwind. That is what the herds in here do. In case they feel threatened they will head downwind. That would mean difficult tracking. The game was on.

We continued to push and every time we could get closer the Buffalo got our wind and escaped. This continued a couple of times and finally the large herd split into two separate groups. We continued following the other one hoping that it would have the big bulls in it. Around 14:00 we caught them up. But we could not see the bulls anywhere. We continued walking and tried to get around the herd on down wind side. Then we got a lucky break. The Buffalo were feeding on a hillside and we could see that there was a nice bull some 100 meters from us. Pierre set up the sticks and I was on the sticks with the .375 again. The Buffalo didn’t have any idea that we were there so there was plenty of time to set everything up. Pierre instructed me where to find the right Buffalo. The Buffalo was broadside and although there were some bushes the vitals were visible. I took the safety off and reminded myself to squeeze the trigger and not to rush the shot. After what felt like an eternity the shot rang off and the herd made their escape over the hill. The bull that I had shot didn’t show any obvious signs of hit.

Shot had felt OK, but I remember thinking that I had to squeeze the trigger a lot harder than with my own rifle. After a cigarette break we headed to the place where the bull had stood when I took the shot. No blood. We could clearly see from the opposite hill where the bull ran so we followed its’ tracks and still could not spot blood. Pierre also checked whether the bullet would have hit branches before hitting the bull, but he couldn’t find any broken branches either. We followed the tracks some 500 meters trying to find any signs of blood but couldn’t find any. So the bullet must have missed whole Buffalo. Pierre commented that I clearly had found my nemesis. I fully agreed. The whole situation felt a little surreal. I am not used to missing this big targets. Yet I was feeling relieved or even happy that the shot had missed completely. Wounding yet another Buffalo would have been a real disaster.

We walked to the closest road and radioed the bakkie to pick us up. While waiting for the car I was thinking what could be wrong with my shooting. I realized that I had only shot the camp gun from bench. All the shots from the sticks were at Buffalo. I took the cartridges off the magazine, crabbed the shooting sticks and set everything up to cold practice. I took plenty of practice shots this way and thought that at least it would not harm. I certainly needed practice because I was not going to give up on the Buffalo. I wanted one and I wanted to get a clean shot on it.

Surprisingly little disappointed (and maybe more focused) we started our way back to the camp. We had over an hour drive ahead of us. We had travelled some 30 minutes when suddenly an Eland ran across the road, then came another one and then something huge and blue followed. A huge Eland bull ran across the road less than a hundred meters from us. The bakkie stopped and Pierre asked whether I am interested in Eland. There was a feeling of eagerness in the bakkie. I had really not thought going after Eland on this trip as I had a monster Eland earlier in Namibia. But, since there happened to be an opportunity and I wished to end the day on a positive note (compared to the buffalo incident no 2) I crabbed my rifle and said let’s go.

The road at that point was located on top of a ridge. The Eland had run across the road with plenty of speed so we were in a hurry to catch them. We ran after them. Pierre had the sticks, I had my rifle and we were followed by Tristan (apprentice PH). After running less than 200 meters Tristan spotted the 3 Eland in an open area on the valley next to the ridge. Then we got lucky. The Eland started running back towards us. There were plenty of bushes around us and we started running to a location where there was an opening to the valley. Pierre set the sticks up, told to shoot behind the shoulder and I prepared to take the shot. The three Elands were running from our right to left. The big bull stopped behind a tree and I quickly took aim. There was a branch on the way, but I thought I could take the shot if I just aimed a little higher than usual. I estimated the distance to the bull to be 150 meters, said I will aim slightly high due to branch on the way and then I squeezed the trigger.

Everything had happened fast, but still there was enough time to think the shot at the Buffalo earlier. It’s safe to say that there was some pressure at this shot. I lowered the rifle and looked the Eland bull to run away. Had I missed?? Pierre and Tristan were both following it through their binoculars. The bull ran across the valley so we could follow it for a while. Pierre told that he could see the bull to spray blood from its’ nose when it ran. That was definitely a good sign. Then the 3 Eland disappeared behind next small hill. After a short while Tristan said that he could see the 2 smaller Eland on the next hill side but the big bull was not with them. The trackers and ranger came to us and we headed down the ridge together.

We arrived to the tracks and found blood. To me it didn’t seem pink so the question was where did I hit the bull. But there was plenty of blood. We followed the tracks to the hill where we lost the sight of the bull. Everyone else was looking at the ground and following the blood trail so I decided to look the surroundings hoping to see the bull. First I saw the other 2 Eland. They were still on the next hill apparently waiting for their comrade. Another good sign. The bull should be somewhere close by, otherwise they all would have escaped already. We continued following the blood trail. Then I could see the bull. It was laying still and would never move again.

P1020892.JPG


P1020914.JPG


The bull had a huge body. It was and old mature bull with worn out horns. A perfect trophy that we got since luck was on our side. Apparently this was the first shot Eland in Chewore in four years. It’s not that there are no Eland, but the Eland are free roaming, cautious and continuously on move so getting them is not easy. We also found out why these 3 Eland decided to turn around and return to us. They were part of a bigger herd that had crossed the road before we arrived to the scene. So they simply were making their way back to the rest of the herd.

The shot was perfectly were I had aimed. A little high, but due to steep angle from the ridge down to valley the shot was very good. The shot took out both lungs and exited the Eland. On the way it passed through what seemed like a meter of Eland body. Impressive performance from 275gr Swift A-Frame at distance of 150 meters. It took quite a lot of time to get the bakkie to the Eland. Finding and cutting a road down the ridge was a heavy job. Then we cut the Eland into 2 pieces and loaded it to the bakkie. It was dark when we again started to make our way back to the camp.

During the day we walked a lot after the Buffalo. Bad thing was that both my normal hiking socks were being washed and were vet due to the rain on the day before. I used thicker socks today and my feet sweat pretty badly. That caused some blisters that for sure will make walking more painful tomorrow.
 
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cpr0312

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Great looking leopard and congrats on the eland also! Look forward to more on the buff hunt
 

Riksa

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Thanks Reedy! More on its' way as soon as I have time to finnish the next days
 

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Another great trophy! This gets better and better!!
 

gillettehunter

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You are having a great hunt despite the rifle issues. Congrats Bruce
 

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Must have been a good celebration! :D Passed Out:

Congrats on the Eland.

Different trigger weights throw me off. Who knows whats going on.
 

Riksa

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Thanks all!

Different trigger weights throw me off. Who knows whats going on.
I certainly was struggling with the gun that was not familiar for me. But I want to highlight that I truly believe that the gun was working well. It was just that I was not familiar with the gun.
 

Riksa

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Monday 30.10 (Day 11)

The plan was to find the same herd that we followed the day before. We drove to the general area and circled the roads trying to identify the block where the herd would be. We first drove the road separating Chewore and the national park. We wanted to check whether the herd had headed back to the park. Luckily it had not. Then we circled the roads until we had a general understanding of the block where the Buffalos would probably be. This still does not mean much. The block was huge so we could expect to have plenty of walking before finding them. But they could not be found from the bakkie so we took off by foot following somewhat old tracks.

Over 5 kilometers and a couple of hours later the tracks started to be fresh. The herd had returned to drink at the same water they had been the day before. The herd was heading towards wind now so we had a good chance to catch them off guard. We continued following them and were sure that we were close when suddenly we could see a beautiful male Leopard jogging just 50 meters from us. It had no idea we were there. Then it stopped and casually looked at our direction, stood there perfectly broadside some 5 seconds and then decided something was wrong and took off. It was a mature male that could have been taken. The time was 10:30 and the Tom was heading towards water. If we hadn’t gotten the Leopard earlier, we could have taken a shot at this one. This was the 4th day time Leopard we saw during this trip. Very nice experience again.

Back to Buffalos. We found the herd just a few hundred meters after the Leopard. The herd had spread on a large area and was feeding. The problem was that there was a lot of eyes trying to spot us. Pierre was glassing the herd and trying to find the bulls we had seen the day before. No luck from the first place so we were forced to change location slightly. Pierre climbed a small hill and continued glassing there. Then he waved me to come to him. Just as I started moving a cow lifted its head and I froze. It seemed to look at us for several minutes, but luckily decided that we were nothing of interest and continued feeding. I continued my way towards the top of the hill crawling.

The top of the hill would be perfect to take the shot from prone. Pierre continued glassing the herd trying to find the bulls somewhere in the bushes. The herd was slowly moving while they fed. Everything was perfect except that there were no mature bulls. We had missed the front of the group so we slowly retreated and made a large circle to see the Buffalo in front of the group. We found another good vantage point but to our disappointment there were no mature bulls in this group. This was most likely the other part of the large herd we split the previous day. That also meant that we had no idea where the other part had gone.

We had our lunch and midday rest and then the plan was to follow another herd whose tracks we had seen in the morning before going after the first herd. The herd was heading steadily to one direction so we drove from one block to another to see where we could find them. In beginning the tracks had been old, but after over 30 kilometers of tracking (yes, the herd had moved over 30 kilometers in 24 hours) we were getting closer. We found the block where they were and started moving in from another direction thinking we would find the tracks and then start to follow them. The terrain in this block was nastiest we had had so far. Steep hills with small stones and some bushes with sharp thorns. Having walked over 10 kilometers already my blisters were certainly letting me know they were there, especially going downhill.

We were walking on a fast pace as the tracks were not fresh. We came to a dry riverbed which had some thick bush around it. We followed the tracks to the bush and found the area where the Buffalos had had their rest. Now the tracks were fresh. We followed them a few hundred meters and the tracks went back to the riverbed in a location where there was a spring and plenty of water for the Buffalo. And that’s where we caught them up. We were maybe 300 meters behind them so we increase pace to close the gap. The Buffalo were moving in the riverbed and seemed to be heading towards another thick bush.

Pierre glassed the Buffalos that we could see as part of the herd was probably already covered by the bush. He told that there was a shooter in the group and instructed me where the bull was. The bull was the last Buffalo of the herd. We were still some 200 meters from the bull so I asked Pierre to take us closer. We sprinted fifty meters closer and the mature bull slowly walked towards the thick bush. We knew that we were running out of time if we wanted to take the shot here in the riverbed. So the sticks went up. The bull was quartering away as it continued its’ walk. I was on the stick taking aim and told to Pierre I didn’t like the angle. Pierre shouted next to me and the bull stopped and turned slightly to look at the source of the sound. That’s when I decided to take the shot.

Upon the shot the bull started to run. I quickly reloaded and took another shot and aimed for the spine as the bull was climbing up the riverbank. The second shot went over the bull. Pierre told he was sure it was a hit and asked how the shot felt. I replied that the sticks were very steady and it felt good, but let’s go and have a look. But it’s safe to say that I didn’t trust my judgement at this moment. All the previous bad shots were still very fresh in my mind. More than anything at that point I wished that we would hear the death bellow and I could finally breathe a little easier. But the death bellow never came.

After our usual one cigarette break we went to see what we could find. On the spot where the bull had stood we could find blood. But there was not much and to me it seemed dark. All the past problems with my nemesis came back to me. We followed the tracks to the riverbank which was only some 20 meters from the place where the bull was shot. Where was the blood? There was only a few drops. Where we again looking to go after a wounded Buffalo?

Pierre instructed us to wait in the riverbed when he went up the bank to check if he could see the bull. The bush was thick and he wanted to be cautious. He looked through the bushes and then he came quickly down and told me to follow. He had located the bull under a bush some 20 meters from the bank. We went up the bank and he instructed me to shoot the bull again. I aimed to the spine and took the shot. We could see the impact but the bull did not move. Then Pierre told me to wait and he cautiously walked to the bull. First he give it a push to the back with his rifle barrel and then he repeated the same and touched the bulls eye. No reaction. My nemesis was down.

P1020936.JPG


The bull had only ran less than 50 meters from the point where it was hit. We could see lung blood coming out of its’ nose so at least the shot had hit a lung. The entry was quite far back so that explained why there was so little blood in the tracks. But as the bull had not even made the death bellow we believed that the bullet had also hit the heart.

It was already getting late so we decided simply to cover the bull and do the recovery the following day. We took some quick pictures and then headed back to the truck. The beer on the way back to camp tasted good!
 

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