By: Nathan Askew
Chuck had not come to Tanzania to hunt leopard, he had cometo hunt a lion. His lion was in the salt on day 14 of his 21-day safari. Chuck had remained focused and was rewarded with a great lion. That focus produced a few sideway looks in my direction when I asked him to lower his gun on three different and beautiful male lions. They were close to 5 years and not old enough according to the current regulations. The hunting of any lion under 6 years of age was forbidden even though these males were on their own and absolutely huge. Ecologically, ethically and population wise these lions would have been excellent animals to hunt. However, we had to wait for an older one in order to call the shot.
Lions aside, this story is about a leopard. On day 10, on one of our long drives back to camp a male leopard was spotted in the road ahead of us. It was dusk and Chuck was amazed that this leopard refused to give way to our bigger, louder, human occupied Land Cruiser pickup. The cat just stared through him.
Chuck was the kind of man that you couldn’t stare at for an extended period of time and not expect a reaction. He questioned me on why that leopard wasn’t scared of him and why it didn’t run off. It was like he took it personally. I informed him that leopards aren’t really ‘scared’ of anything and most of the time they choose to blend in rather than make a big commotion running away. I followed that up with a comment about them eating meat and that he was part of the food chain on this safari. That seemed to be the right answer as we moved on to leopard hunting soon after the lion was down.
We easily transitioned into our next cat hunt due to the large number of baits out. We eventually found the right male leopard on one of our recommissioned lion baits. We were running out of time that day so I divided my crew in order to get the most out of the daylight remaining. Two of my men stayed behind to construct a blind to be built out of grass sticks and rope. My driver and 1 tracker rode with me in order to find more meat (this leopard had polished off the hartebeest leg we placed for him). We quickly headed off in the direction of one of our old lion baits. As luck would have it, and just as I had hoped, we bumped a group of impala rams about half way there. I lined Chuck up on a suitable male and told him to shoot.
He missed. That was uncommon for Chuck and It meant that we were not hunting the leopard this evening. It also meant we had to check the zero on chuck’s rifle and continue driving further down the road to collect an old bait to relocate to our ambush site.
We had a quiet ride to the old bait site where I divided my forces yet again. I asked my driver and Chuck to test the rifle while my tracker and I proceeded to drop and load the old bait. This bait was a quarter of a Cape Buffalo hanging approximately 14 feet in a tree and tied with a 1-inchrope. My tracker was in the tree before I got done giving orders to the shooting team. I was watching him untie the rope when I heard the 1st test shot go off. The next thing I heard sounded like a gunshot but it came from up in the tree. It was followed by the dull thud of the meat hitting the ground and the sharp scream of my tracker.
I instinctively looked up toward the sound and saw two distinct sheared off bones sticking out of my trackers arm. The bones protruded out 3 inches and were bright white. His wrist and hand hung down in a most unnatural way, attached only by the skin.
He had managedto loop the rope around his wrist at the same time the bait fell from the tree. This resulted in a double compound fracture of his wrist.
I ran to my truck and immediately threw everyone and everything out and spun it around directly underneath my injured friend. My driver climbed the tree and held him in place. By this time he was in shock. I stood on the hunting rack and my driver handed him down to me by his belt. I lowered him into the bed of the truck.
I pulled his arm in line and with the help of Chuck’s wife we splinted and wrapped it. I gave him some pain pills and cigarettes and rushed him out of the area. Headed in the exact wrong direction from my guys I had left hours before building a blind in the wilderness next to a hungry leopard.
The areas where wehunt are complete wilderness and huge. I was worried that he was going to lose his arm so I drove like hell. We arrived at the village and my game ranger called ahead to the local police and they were ready for us at the main road. We were escorted to a catholic hospital in the closest town. Amazingly we found a British educated Doc and a surgeon with a digital x-ray machine on site. I threw some Americanese on them and got my guy to the front of the line. He was prepared for surgery and I left him with some money, food and a boy to look after him.
We turned back into the bush. I had to gather up the people and pieces I had left scattered about Africa. Luckily my SAT phone connected with my office and they radioed my camp and they dispatched another vehicle to pick up my crew at the blind.
The next morning, we had to find another bait to move to this leopard as the lions and hyenas ate the entire buffalo that had broken Stanley’s arm. They also ripped apart the cooler box, chewed up my chairs and destroyed the gut bucket that I had thrown out of the vehicle… Regardless, we were back to hunting. I was confident the catwouldreturn, and we would be waiting.
As Stanley was smoking cigarettes and getting his Radius and Ulna wired back together, we were busy settling into our blind under the cover of darkness.
I’d hunted a leopard very close to this same spot a year prior, it was a very old male and he was active in the morning. This area was known for its many lions and care had to be taken moving in-and-out of this blind in the dark.
Cats see great at night and are very confident – we can’t see shit at night and your average person’s confidence is directly proportional to the distance away from the lion…That’s something you think about when you’re sitting for hours, in a grass Teepee, in the dark, in Africa, two hours away from your camp, that’s three times further away thananything else.
I was amazed at how quietly myself, Chuck, Deedee, Chuck’s hunting buddy and a cameraman all settled into their chairs. 5 people hunting a leopard?… I was hesitant about this to say the least. It was like stadium seating in the blind! Luckily I knew the terrain well and it was perfectly suited to the situation.
- The approach of the cat was from the river on the far side of the bait.
- The road which ran parallel to the river was easily modified to get us quickly into the blind.
- The blind was on the opposite side of the road behind a massive wall of thick green bushes.
- The wind blew from the river to the road.
- The bait was in a depression of an old saltlick and the limb the leopard should appear on was just high enough that the leopard would be in full view only after he climbed the tree, no sooner.
Most leopard hunts are foiled from the start and the guides don’t even know they did it. They usually affect the cat in one way or another and the hunter never knows that they are causing the animal to react and thus unwittingly avoid a bullet.
As we waited a hyena and this leopard got into a brawl in front of our blind. That was proof to everyone that man nor beast was going to push this cat away from his meat, The sound was dark and ferocious as the 2 animals tore into each other mere meters from our blind…
It is typical for a hyena to pressure a young cat into making a mistake and dropping his meat to the ground where he can steal it. Another tactic is for a group of hyena to harass a leopard so badly that it is unable to climb a tree with the carcass i.e. find a secure safe place to feed.
This meat was in the tree securely, this leopard was not inexperienced, this leopard was not scared. He chose to fight the hyena immediately upon its approach. I heard the hyena run to our left after a few seconds of intense growling and crying; a few minutes later the celebratory sawing grunt of our leopard returning to his tree.
It was around 8am when the cat came into view. I checked it was the right one and gave Chuck the signal to shoot. He settled in and fired his rifle. The cat fell out of sight. I radioed my truck and my other tracker, Martin, climbed off the rolling land cruiser as Mbasha was turning the rig around. He met me at the front of the blind and without a word we walked a few meters towards the tree while the others kept watch from the higher vantage point. The outcome was the same as with the lion, it was over in a split second, the leopard was dead near the base of the tree. Martin the tracker let out a yell that was immediately answered by the other Africans at the truck. The celebrations began and lasted long into the night.