Editor’s Note: On Fridays we dig through the Safari Club archives and dust off a story from the past. Today we follow a hunter and his crew as the search the thick and tangled underbrush for leopard. This story first appeared in the Jan./Feb. 1998 issue of Safari Magazine.
The light tap on my shoulder startled me at first. As I looked to my right, the animation in the tracker’s face told me that something was about to happen. I looked in the direction of his pointing finger and quickly realized the source of his excitement. Eighty yards ahead, directly under the tree where we had hung an eland quarter, stood a magnificent male leopard. With just seconds to shoot, I raised the .338 Winchester Magnum to my shoulder and fired an off-hand shot.
The leopard’s tail stiffened, indicating the bullet had struck home however, the guttural growling as the cat evaporated into the bush meant my bullet had not found its intended mark. The nightmare of hunting a wounded leopard in thick cover was about to begin.
“The shot was a good one, maybe a little high,” explained my PH Bryan Findlay-Cooper with his typical calm demeanor. The look on the faces of the trackers told a different story. They had seen this before…bwana muffs the shot and now they had to follow the cat into the brush and hope the follow up was better.
After a quick huddle under the bait tree to strategize, it was decided to make a short sweep in the brush to look for blood and get an idea of the general direction of the cat. Then, due to the near zero visibility of the bush, we would attempt to use the vehicle to find the leopard. “If it’s not dead, there is a good chance we will get a charge,” the PH explained. “The vehicle will provide a little security.”
We had barely gone 200 yards into the bush when one of the trackers began pounding wildly on the roof of the vehicle saying he had spotted a flash in the undergrowth 30 yards in front. Findlay-Cooper stopped and ordered us down, explaining our best chance would be to travel the remaining distance on foot, cautiously.
With the safeties of our rifles in the “fire” position we slowly began to move forward. One step…stop and listen. We had covered 10 yards when the tracker suddenly began pointing wildly into the shadows of the fallen mopane tree. My heart raced as I fought to spot the perfectly camouflaged leopard. It took several seconds before I could finally make out the outline of the cat, crouched and ready to charge. I raised my rifle to fire when suddenly I realized I had the power of my scope turned up to 8x and could not find the leopard among the blur of the tangled brush.
Suddenly, I heard the blast of the PH’s .375 to my right. At the shot, the cat let out a blood-curdling growl and charged. The leopard’s eyes immediately locked on mine as it bore down on me. As I raised my rifle and took a step back, my feet got tangled in the brush and sent me flat on my back. As the cat raised up to spring, I fired instinctively. The muzzle blast from the .338 hit it in the chest and set it back momentarily.
Amazingly, it was still not ready to die and turned to spring at the PH, covering the 8-foot distance between them in one leap. Without time to reload, Findlay-Cooper thrust the forearm of his rifle at the cat trying to keep it at bay. The cat immediately seized the barrel of the rifle in its mouth and tried to lacerate the PH with both front and back claws.
As I regained my feet, I cycled the bolt of my rifle. The fear of accidentally shooting the PH in my mind, I moved shoulder to shoulder with him, forced the muzzle of the rifle into the cat’s stomach and pulled the trigger. The cat was finally finished.
Incredibly, no one was seriously injured. The leopard’s razor sharp claws had managed to find the PH’s calf muscle and left a deep scratch and its jaws had taken a large chunk of wood out of the fore end of his rifle. We were damn lucky and we knew it!
We celebrated around the fire that night, telling and retelling the story. The quiet of the African night was a nice contrast to the excitement of the day—Tim Danklef