Editor’s note: On Fridays we search the extensive Safari Magazine archives for a story from our past. This week, we join Greg Hines and his son on a hunt for a very tough leopard in Tanzania circa 1986. This story originally appeared in the November/December 1986 issue of Safari Magazine.
While hunting the Selous district of Tanzania with my son Brad and professional hunter Ndonde we came across the fresh kill of a leopard. It appeared the leopard had made the kill as recently as that morning and had dragged it up a nearby tree. The leopard had eaten very little of the impala so we felt quite sure it must be hungry and would re-turn soon to dine.
Construction of the blind commenced behind a bush about 50 yards from the tree in which the impala was hanging. The blind was actually quite well thought out. However, at that point there was a decision to be made. Who gets to shoot chui. I’ve been on 14 African safaris, my 1985 Zimbabwe leopard ranked No. 20 in the SCI record book. And I felt compelled to let my son take the shot. This was not an easy decision, but it seemed only fair. So the trackers had Brad sit behind the bush to find the right height to set the first part of the blind, the horizontal stick that would be the main support for the blind and the rifle rest from which to shoot. We decided that I would return to camp with the Land Rover. Brad and Ndonde would begin their vigil.
After strong reminders about not talking, scratching or any other movement or noise in the blind, we Ieft Brad armed with his .375 H&H for what I know has to be the longest wait there ever was.
Soon, he got a gentle nudge from Ndonde and looked up at the bait. His heart almost leapt out of his chest and his entire nervous system switched to the racing mode as he looked up where nothing had been before. A leopard now was in the tree! As Brad tried to slow his racing heart the leopard changed the position of the impala and began to feed.
Much to Brad’s displeasure chui’s posterior now was facing him. This was probably best because it gave Brad more time to calm himself. However, after about 20 minutes in this position, the light was fading and with it a chance for a shot. With this in mind and a 300-grain Nosler in the chamber, Brad decided to take an angling shot and try for the heart. Brad touched off his .375 and the leopard instantly fell to the ground and began to moan and roar in the two-foot high grass.
There was silence after about five minutes of his hair-raising performance. Then the big question, was the leopard finished or had it slipped away wounded? Showing good judgment, Brad and Ndonde just waited for the Land Rover to come. It now was totally dark. The wait for me in camp for my 15-year-old son on his first leopard stand seemed an eternity, but finally I heard the LandRover coming into camp. Brad said the words I wanted to hear, “Dad, I shot the leopard!”
After cross-examination, we both lay in bed pondering the big question: Had the leopard merely stopped growling and sneaked away in the grass, or was it dead under the tree waiting for Brad to retrieve his trophy?
After coffee and breakfast, it was fully light and time to make the 15-minute drive to the bait where we instantly noticed the impala kill was gone. As it turned out, another leopard (probably the mate) had stolen it. Now the job of the trackers began. Under the tree where chui had been growling was a fairly large pool of dried black blood. From here, the trackers began following the spoor. It soon became quite sparse.
As many times as I have seen it, it still amazes me to see African trackers follow the slightest mark on hard earth that I can’t see. But as good as they were, the spoor petered out after about 100 yards. We started circling trying to relocate it, but it was too faint. At this point, one could sense the fading of resolve with the PH and trackers. Rather than give up, which would have crushed my son, I suggested we get in the Land Rover and zig-zag through the grass. Perhaps we’d see or jump the leopard again.
We returned to the tree where the kill had hung and proceeded in the most likely direction, which was toward the river about a mile away to the east. After traveling only about 75 yards, we crossed a small dry wash. It was only four or five feet wide and maybe 18 inches deep, but it looked tome like a likely escape route for a wounded leopard and I asked Ndonde to have the trackers check there for blood. Our luck had changed. We found fresh spoor within 10- l-5 yards and we all were off the LandRover and back to work. The five of us carried on very slowly, five abreast: the game guard, tracker, Ndonde, Brad with my Jeffries 450/400 and me with a three-inch 20-gauge Remington 870.
As we proceeded, Brad spotted trampled grass and he left the gully to look for spoor a few feet away. He was bent over looking. The game guard, trackers and the PH were on his left and I was on his right. He had crept only about five yards when all of a sudden there was a tremendous roar as the leopard jumped out. It had been hiding in two feet of grass just six feet away and there was no time for Brad to shoot. It hit him on his right hand and on the forestock of the double rifle, causing the 450/400 to discharge. This was followed instantly by the report of my 20-gauge.
As I heard the roar, I had swung to my left to see a yellow blur, and (strictly on re-flex) I took a snap shot. The front legs of the leopard were stretched forward and the charge of No. 4 shot hit broadside, just behind the front leg. The range was only 10-12 feet and a three-inch hole suddenly appeared in the leopard, knocking it off my son.
Brad was scrambling to his feet, as I yelled for him to get back. I still held the shotgun on the leopard, but didn’t want to shoot and spoil his trophy. At that instant, the tracker and gunbearer handed him his.375 and Brad shot the cat right through the shoulders.
A silence fell as we all looked at the dead animal. Brad went into shock, the result of the injury to his hand (cut to the bone) and the rush of adrenalin from the leopard’s attack.
Brad had just collected the most memorable trophy possible, so I went to the LandRover and got our video camera to record everyone’s reaction. I narrated and operated the camera, but my voice proved to be as shaky as my hands. I was shaking not just because of the leopard’s attack, but because I had been forced to shoot instinctively at a leopard just 15 inches from my son’s chest.
The boys proceeded to clean, salt and bandage Brad’s wound as we all tried to settle our nerves. After 10-15 minutes, we loaded the cat and headed for camp. About a half-mile from camp we stopped to decorate the car with branches and Brad with a headdress. Then the fun began. With the leopard draped across the top of the LandRover and the boys chanting in Swahili “Who killed the leopard? Brad killed the leopard,” we headed for camp.
As we approached and the camp staff became aware of what was going on, they began banging pots and pans and singing as Brad arrived with his trophy.
We put Brad on antibiotics and, with twice-daily cleanings and changes of bandages, his wound healed without becoming infected. My double rifle still has a nice set of claw marks on it. These are scratches that will always remain.