Tag Archives: hunting zimbabwe

Leopard Quest!

Trackers and game scouts with author and Heath Jardine (far right) with author’s huge leopard.

My fascination with the world’s big cats probably started in the fourth grade after reading the book Lion Hound by Jim Kjelgaard. It kindled my interest in hunting cougars and other large cats. Eventually I would have my own “lion hounds” and thrill in the pursuit of mountain lions in northwest Montana. Like author Jerry A. Lewis said, “If you follow your own hound on a fresh cougar track through a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, you can never come all the way back home.” Later in life I read the book Hunter, by J.A. Hunter, and that was the catalyst for the dream of hunting leopard in Africa.

In 1997 my Dad and I went on a leopard and plains game hunt in Zimbabwe with Wayne Jardine. Wayne came recommended as a leopard specialist. While visiting with him at the SCI Convention, he kindly cautioned us that it is a tall order to have two leopard hunters in camp at the same time on a 14-day hunt. In spite of his advice, we proceeded to book two leopard hunts for the upcoming August.

Unbelievably, my dad killed a giant 192-pound leopard on the first day. As the hunt progressed, we had females and sub-adult males on bait, but my heart was set on a mature male. Finally, on day 16 of a 14-day hunt, we had a large male leopard hit our bait. That would be my final opportunity, as we had already extended our stay.

leopardquestfeedinghuntforever010914As it turned out, the leopard approached directly downwind of the blind. On a coal black night, mere inches from where we sat in our grass enclosure, I could actually hear Panthera Pardus sniffing the blind. The only shooting hole faced in the opposite direction toward the bait. The big cat must have decided that we didn’t really smell like dinner and softly padded away, leaving me to return to the States without a leopard of my own.

Time passed, and life got busy raising a family and building my business. I had dismissed the idea of ever getting back to Africa — sometimes fate has another plan.

Wayne had disappeared from the hunting scene after a motorcycle accident and the takeover of his Karna hunting camp by the Zimbabwe government’s “redistribution plan.” In 2011 I ran into Wayne at the SCI Convention. During our reunion visit, he realized that I had never fulfilled my dream of taking a leopard. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse — to return to Zimbabwe for another leopard hunt. Unfortunately, during that hunt a bout with “tick fever” caused me to become very ill and I had to cut the hunt short and return home; so ended my second chance at a leopard.

Last February during the SCI Convention, Wayne invited me back for my third attempt at leopard. He truly felt bad that I was still “leopardless” since it is a rare occurrence that one of his hunters is unsuccessful. I assured Wayne that even though I hadn’t taken a leopard, I considered each trip to be a real adventure and thoroughly enjoyed the experiences.

When I arrived in Zimbabwe this past June, Wayne put me into the hands of his nephew, Heath Jardine. Heath is part of the ZimAfrica leopardquestmountainhuntforever010914Safaris team and his obsession is hunting leopard. He had just finished two leopard hunts and had taken two cats in a row with 16-inch skulls. Quite a feat! I told him it was my dream to take a mature male. What were the odds of him getting three big cats in a row?

Heath decided to concentrate our efforts on private cattle ranches with predation problems. One ranch in particular had a very large leopard killing cattle for the past several years. Heath made multiple attempts to connect with this cat, but it would hit the bait once or reject it entirely. The problem with mega leopards is that they are so well fed, fat and lazy that they refuse to climb trees. The baits have to be left hanging near the ground, which makes the meat vulnerable to other predators like hyenas and wild dogs.

With baits in place on the ranch for more than a week, a female did the only feeding, but we saw the track of the very large cat in the area. The rancher told us that this particular cat was very wise and was the dominant male of the area. He told us that a local man bayed the cat with his dogs, but before he could dispatch it, it attacked and killed the unfortunate chap.

leopardquesttreehuntforever010914With only a few days left on my hunt, the rancher contacted us and told us that his hired man found where the big leopard had killed one of their yearling heifers. Since it was almost evening, it was doubtful there was enough time to travel to the ranch and set up a blind before dark, so Heath made the wise move not to rush in and possibly spook the animal. We would wait until the next day to unfold our plan.  The hired man was directed to return to the kill and wire it to a tree so the leopard couldn’t drag it away.

Arriving the next day, we went to check the kill. It was definitely the big leopard’s, and it had actually fed for several days. There was only enough meat left for one more feeding. Big leopards like this one come back to their kill early in the evening to defend it from marauders. Some leopards are powerful and fierce enough to fend off these other beasts of the night. This one was one big bad hombre!

We arrived at the ranch early enough to give ourselves plenty of time to set up the blind and try to get everything “just right.” The kill was situated against a rock mountain, so the placement of the blind was tricky. The wind had to be considered and there was only one reasonable place to put the blind, which was across a barbed wire fence. Heath assumed the leopard bedded up on this big rock promontory and would approach from that direction. Perhaps he was watching us at that very moment.  Another challenge to consider was the barbed wire fence. Heath wanted to remove any chance of the bullet hitting a strand of wire and deflecting, so he contrived a way to tie the strands to create a “hole” to shoot through.

After getting the blind set up to the crew’s satisfaction, we had a few hours to relax and get “psyched up” for the evening hunt. Sitting in a leopard blind is a unique experience if you have never experienced it. I compare it to being a field goal kicker with a shot at winning the game and two seconds left on the clock. A person has to keep his mind right and remember to squeeze off the shot when the moment of truth arrives. There really is a lot of pressure as everyone works so hard to make this whole thing come together. It all comes down to the hunter making the fatal shot.

I have only spent two nights in a blind in Africa and both nights were absolutely pitch black. Inside the blind the hunter is unable to see

The blind.
The blind.

the rifle that is positioned in a rest and pointing at the bait. So as we sat in the blind waiting for darkness, I continually leaned forward, grabbing the rifle and putting it to my shoulder so that it became a natural movement and could be done in the dark without mishap. Heath coached me on the sequence of events that would hopefully occur. Silent signals were instituted to coordinate our efforts. Talking would not be permitted during our wait.  Whispering could occur at the time the cat was on bait and it’s hearing muted by the act of chewing. Sometimes an unintended animal or possibly a female leopard will arrive at the bait. This is the point where the experience of the PH is crucial because he has to make a split second decision on whether it is the targeted animal.

With all the preparation in place, we settled in to wait. Heath calmly explained, “please don’t wound it; this thing is big enough to kill people.” Talk about pressure! I nodded and thanked him for giving me this opportunity.

I have to admit that I really enjoy being in a blind. Finding that mental place similar to a trance allows me to sit for hours without talking or moving. It is quite peaceful to listen to the sounds. If the big feline returned to his kill, it would most likely be quite soon after dark. Perhaps 20 minutes after dark we heard something run past the front of our blind. To me it sounded like a soft-footed animal and not like the hard hooves of an ungulate.

We both speculated in our minds what it might have been but dared not speak. Was it possible our leopard had winded us on the way to his kill? In the distance we heard the ringing of cowbells, which the cattle wear to deter predators from eating them. The sound of the bells slowly grew louder as the din continued until they eventually moved past us less than 200 yards away. It seemed an eternity for the sounds to pass and we wondered if our chances were ruined?

Soon after the sounds drifted away, we heard two human voices. Evidently it was a native couple on a walk to somewhere on a completely moonless night. I silently wondered if they knew of the spotted danger that lurked nearby. They were talking and laughing and passed within 100 yards of our hideout. At this point I thought, “What a bad break.” Has our well-executed plan been in vain and their presence tipped off our quarry? We continued our vigil, hoping for the best. Soon the peaceful quiet of the night returned and within 15 minutes Heath reached over and touched my arm. A minute or so later he nudged me toward the waiting .300 Winchester Magnum and I settled into a shooting position as he slowly whispered, “Do you see him?”leopardquestnighthuntforever010914

I couldn’t see anything through the scope. “No,” I whispered, and started into panic mode, shifting my head around and finally seeing a glint of light through the eyepiece. I could dimly see a spotted feline. What a wonderful sight. I whispered, “I see it”! The leopard was in my scope. As he sat upright, my crosshairs were positioned on the point of his shoulder. Just then Heath whispered, “shoot!” There was no hesitation, no savoring the moment, no thinking about squeezing the trigger. I just shot and my aim was true.  I was shaking wildly at this point and Heath said, “Shoot him again!” I gladly racked in another shell and put an insurance shot into his prostrate body, but he was already dead. I just sat there, looking through the scope at his spotted body, thinking, “I did it. My quest for a trophy leopard has finally been fulfilled.”

I had made a good shot and a quick humane kill. Making that 100-yard walk from the blind to the cat was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve done in my life. I couldn’t have told you that it was a big leopard in my sights, but when we walked up to it, the size came sharply into perspective. That thing was huge!

I had not only fulfilled my dream of taking a mature leopard, but it was an absolutely beautiful monster leopard. In the glow of our headlamps, the spots were surreal. All I kept saying was, “This thing looks like a giant jaguar.” I knelt down and said a quick prayer of thankfulness and expressed my gratitude to the crew responsible for my success. There were lots of hugs and exuberant celebration and even a tear or two of happiness. My quest was over. I will remember that time and feeling the rest of my life!

We didn’t have a scale in camp, but I’m sure it was honestly more than 200 pounds. It is truly a spectacular specimen and a once-in-a-lifetime trophy. Heath had done it: three leopards in a row with skulls over 16 inches, with mine measuring just over 17 inches.  His clients have taken many leopards over the years, but this was the largest. Thank you again Heath, Wayne, Judea and the rest of the crew and staff at ZimAfrica Safaris. My hat is off to you and as they say in Ndebele “Siyabonga.”– Scott Lennard

My Eight-Year Quest

The author and his Dagga Boy.
The author and his Dagga Boy.

We had walked only 50 yards down the elephant trail when the tracker pushed his outstretched hand back at us to stop.  That same moment, the huge Dagga Boy who had been sleeping in the dense bush stood up only 10 yards from us and when he stood up he was facing directly at us.

Eight years ago, my local Safari Club International chapter had an informal gathering for people to meet a Professional Hunter from Zimbabwe, Mr. Terry Fenn of Chinanga Safaris. He was approaching 50 years old and spoke with such authority about hunting dangerous game that I could not help but pay attention to his contributions in the evening’s casual conversations.

I got along with Terry very well and when I left that evening, told myself that if I were ever fortunate enough to hunt Cape buffalo, it would be with Mr. Terry Fenn.  Thus was the beginning of an eight-year quest to hunt my dagga boy.

Nelson Concept Rifle on a Montana Rifle receiver, stock of French walnut by author.
Nelson Concept Rifle on a Montana Rifle receiver, stock of French walnut by author.

Over the next few years, I kept in touch with Terry and, as I completed building rifles for clients, managed to find time to build myself a .338 Winchester Magnum on a Montana Rifle receiver.  I was aware that the minimum legal caliber for dangerous game was .375, but .338 is much more versatile and when I started the rifle I was only half convinced that I would be able to put aside the necessary funds for a buffalo hunt.

About a year after the rifle was finished, I started to work with Nelson Concept Rifle Company that uses a patented process to convert actions into specialized break-down rifles for ease of transport and to allow the use of multiple calibers in the same rifle. After a short time, I convinced Nelson Wait to transform my .338 into a Nelson break-down conversion with the addition of a .416 Ruger barrel as the second caliber.  He would do the metal work and I would complete the stock.  That combination gave me the perfect rifle for Africa.

With the rifle completed and having the good fortune of making a positive business move in 2010, it seemed as though the stars were lining up to book my buffalo hunt with Terry. I communicated my intentions to him in an email, stating that I was ready to hunt my buffalo, and that I was not interested in anything else.  This may be the only buffalo I would ever hunt, and did not want a “representative” trophy — I wanted MY buffalo.

Terry described the optimum shot on buffalo as 40 yards, so while I kept my 3-10 Shepherd scope for 8yrquestbuffherd121713my .338 barrel, I purchased a Trijicon 1-4 with a glowing green triangle on a post for the .416 barrel.  By mounting these with Talley lever lock rings, I could change barrels and scopes and the rifle would not be off zero by an inch.

Soon, the rifle was ready and the deposits were paid.  I would arrive in Victoria Falls on June 6, 2011. Finally, after eight years, I was ready for the hunt of my life.

The day I arrived in Zimbabwe, we had a two-hour ride to the spacious lodge where I had a guest cottage to myself.  While at breakfast the first morning, we heard two lions outside the lodge catch something to eat and then argue over who should eat first.

This was different from hunting in South Africa or Namibia.  This was like what I had read in many African novels — this was “Wild Africa.”  We saw multiple elephants every day including a heavy tusker at less than 50 yards.  Several times the trackers and scouts had to chop trees out of the way that elephants had knocked across the “roads.” Mind you, these were not roads, just pathways that at some time in the past had been taken by vehicles, elephants and other game animals.

8yrquestbullelephanthnt4evr121713One hour into the second morning, we walked a short distance to look for buffalo in a ravine. As Terry was walking back to the Land Cruiser he went to step over a small hole in the rock and looked down on a sleeping puff adder. Later that same morning, we rode back down a trail we had come in on just 90 minutes earlier, and the tracker found where three large lions had crossed our tire tracks.

We regularly saw 54-inch kudu, and sables close to 40 inches, but I did not want to lose track of my sole purpose — finding and taking a great buffalo.  The afternoon of day three produced a single herd of buffalo that saw us before we saw them, so no time was offered to evaluate the possibilities of a single mature bull at the back of the heard. Two hours later, we stalked into the herd as it napped on a kopje to see if we could get a look at one particular bull we briefly saw at the back of the herd.

We tried to position ourselves to view the herd as it moved off the kopjes, but were busted at the last minute by a cow buffalo that alerted the herd so they exited the area. Day number three had come to a close and I had not looked through my scope or binoculars at a single buffalo.

The fourth morning we found tracks from the herd we had seen the day before.  It had split up with half heading off the concession and the other half heading toward a watering hole about a mile away. As we left for the watering hole, the grass we were in was three feet high. As we walked farther, the grass was five feet high, and then seven feet high. We walked in single file with Max, the tracker, in front, followed by Terry and then me. I kept wondering how would we be able to see a buffalo or a lion in the tall grass.

By the time we stopped hunting on the fourth evening, I was beside myself.    More than half the hunt 8yrquestgiraffehnt4evr121713was over, and I had not looked through my scope or binoculars at a single buffalo. Terry remained confident, but realized the concerns that were growing. Upon returning to the lodge, Terry was able to secure the opportunity to hunt in a new area for day five.

The new area was a two-hour drive on back roads that were only dirt paths in some areas, but the promise of a better opportunity would be worth the extra early wake-up and the rough terrain to get there.  Terry was so convinced the new area would provide an opportunity that he brought Max, the lead tracker, a game scout, Scott Jurgens, the video cameraman, and even a skinner in the Land Cruiser with us.

The terrain in the new area was mostly bushes four to seven feet high and so dense that it was impossible to travel with the Land Cruiser unless we stuck to elephant trails. After four hours of bone-jarring travel, Max suddenly motioned to stop the vehicle.  I could tell he and Terry were very excited as they looked at fresh buffalo tracks heading down the elephant trail away from us. Terry whispered that we were on the very fresh track of a few dagga boys.

Stalking thru the tall grass.
Stalking thru the tall grass.

With the big bores chambered and checked, we went into stealth mode.  Max was in the lead, then Terry and then me as we slowly and quietly followed the fresh tracks along the elephant trail.  I stayed as close to Terry as possible without touching him.  I stepped where he stepped, and stopped when he stopped.

After traveling only 40 yards, Max slowed and motioned to stay quiet. My heart was pounding.  We walked only another 10 yards down the trail when Max froze in his footprints and pushed his outstretched hand back at us to stop.  At that same moment, the huge dagga boy who had been sleeping in the dense bush stood up 10 yards away facing directly at us! Lucky for us he did not run forward, as surely three of us would have been dead.  Instead, he chose to turn and run directly away, then stopped after just 25 yards to look at what had been so daring as to wake him from his nap.

I looked over Terry’s shoulder through a hole in the bushes and thought I heard him say, “Shoot.”  The buffalo was standing broadside at 35 yards. His horns looked gigantic to me, but I wanted to make sure of my judgment so I asked Terry, “Did you say shoot?”  Terry turned his head directly toward me and only one foot from my face, with eyes the size of dinner plates, said for a second time, “Shoot!”  The short rifle pointed quickly and I fired the instant the glowing triangle in the scope stopped perfectly on the bull’s right front shoulder.  I do not remember pulling the trigger or the recoil of the rifle, but I knew the shot was right on target.

After the shot, the bull exploded into the bush and we ran after him as I cranked another shell into the big bore. We could see much farther in front of us by crouching down as we ran and looking under the thick foliage.  Just at the far edge of our viewing distance, I could see the buffalo as he started to fall onto his left side. That side gave way and then he fell onto the right side. We cautiously quartered toward the rear of the buffalo and approached to within 10 yards. He was not going to get up, but Terry told me to place an insurance shot just behind his shoulder. At the second shot, two smaller bulls that had been traveling with the big bull decided it was time to leave and disappeared into the bush.  The huge bull bellowed several times, then we waited an extra five minutes before going in to check my trophy.

Terry backed me up as I made my way toward the head of the 2,000-pound animal to check his eye for any reflex action.  There wasn’t any. As we would later discover, the 400-grain bullet of my first shot had entered the right shoulder, traveled through the top of the heart, the left lung, broke the left shoulder, and stopped just under the skin on the off side.

This was an old bull with a full boss and horns that spanned 44 inches wide.  His age showed in the

Lion track
Lion track

textured wear on his deep boss, the battle scars from fighting for breeding rights, and the gray in his face.  The scars on his hindquarters from the claws and teeth of lion gave insight to his fortitude to survive in this harsh environment.  He would provide necessary meat over many months for many people who lived in the local village.

During my 40 years of hunting, I have been fortunate to have hunted in other countries.  But to hunt any of the Big Five is so vastly different for many reasons. One is the fact that they can also hunt you.

Prior to my going to Zimbabwe, we hunted for eight days with Wild African Hunting Safaris.  During our time in South Africa, my wife Sally and I went with our traveling companions, Baughn and Linda Holloway, along with Heinrich and Ximena Obermoller and their daughter, Sabine, to distribute our Blue Bag of humanitarian aid and a few hundred pounds of game meat.

We worked with Sophia Brits who oversees the Christelik-Maatskaplike Raad Christian Social Council facility in Musina, South Africa.– Scott Hutchinson

Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe AGM

Attendees at the SOAZ AGM include (l. - r.) John Boretsky, the Honorable Simon Musanhu, SOAZ Chairman Emmanuel Fundira, SCI Foundation representative George Pangeti, and Phil DeLone
Attendees at the SOAZ AGM include (l. – r.) John Boretsky, the Honorable Simon Musanhu,
SOAZ Chairman Emmanuel Fundira, SCI Foundation representative George Pangeti, and Phil DeLone

The Annual General Meeting of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ) was held today at the Chapman Golf Club in Harare, Zimbabwe. The Honorable Simon Musanhu, Deputy Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, opened the meeting by thanking the hunting industry for its support and appreciation made in the matter of the cyanide poisoning of the Hwange elephants. The Ministry has a zero-tolerance policy on poaching, and works in partnership with the private sector and hunters to combat this loss of wildlife in Zimbabwe.

During the past season alone, that partnership saw nearly $2 Million spent by the private sector to combat poaching in their own concessions. Around 400 anti-poaching personnel were deployed, and the Deputy Minister commended the serious effort by the private sector to keep wildlife safe. On its part, the Ministry formed The Wildlife Ecological Trust, and enlisted the assistance of a number of corporations to help National Parks with equipment and vehicles in their battle against poachers. The Deputy Minister noted that such cooperation between all players would “produce an excellent result.”

Phil DeLone addressed SOAZ on the work SCI is doing to protect lion hunting in Africa.
Phil DeLone addressed SOAZ on the work SCI is doing to protect lion hunting in Africa.

The Zimbabwean CAMPFIRE model is a testimony of the commitment by government to ensure communities that live alongside wildlife enjoy maximum value. It is so successful that it has been adopted by several surrounding countries. The Deputy Minister acknowledged the cooperation between associations in sub-Saharan Africa under the auspices of the African Wildlife Consultative Forum and Safari Club International, and called it a “commendable development” that can only serve to “impact positively on the growth of the industry.”

On the matter of lions, Zimbabwe and SCI were both delegates at the recent CITES convention and were successful in fighting an attempt to uplist lions to Appendix I. SCI CEO Phil DeLone addressed the group on SCI’s effort in this matter that includes raising $1.2 Million in 37 minutes at last years’ Convention. Those funds primed the African Lion Defense Fund, and SCI has taken immediate action by funding on-the-ground research and has already lobbied 50 members of the US Congress on the benefits of lion hunting.

Also at the meeting, SOAZ Chairman Emmanuel Fundira announced that he would be leaving the chair because of personal demands, and thanked SCI for its $1,000

Charles Jonga (l.), John Boretsky (c.) and the Honorable Simon Musanhu (r.) discuss the importance of hunting during a break at the SOAZ Annual General Meeting.
Charles Jonga (l.), John Boretsky (c.) and the Honorable Simon Musanhu (r.) discuss the
importance of hunting during a break at the SOAZ Annual General Meeting.

donation. In speaking with Fundira after the meeting, he expressed great pride in the cooperation between government, the private sector and Safari Club

After the AGM, Professional Hunters participated in a lion aging workshop.
After the AGM, Professional Hunters participated in a lion aging workshop.

International. “You heard it from the Minister himself,” Fundira said. “The Ministry is committed to resolve a number of our standing issues which include the menace of poaching.” Fundira urged consistency in delivery of service and an end to indecision on policy matters, some of which have been in limbo for a number of years. That indecision denies safari operators and local communities from benefiting from conservation.

The Annual General Meeting was followed by a workshop on aging lions in the field. Professional hunters were shown examples of physical characteristics of juvenile and adult male lions, then given a practical exercise using those characteristics and photos of lions of known age.

It has been a quick day and a half in Harare, and Phil DeLone, John Boretsky and I are now headed to Zambia to hear from its Professional Hunters on the status of hunting in their country.–Scott Mayer