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When things go right Part 2

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With fourteen days ahead of us Clanton Lindsay and I sat in camp and discussed how we were going to keep ourselves occupied for the remainder of his safari. Clanton had arrived in the Kazuma Forest Area near Victoria Falls two days previously to begin a 15 day elephant bull hunt. As things turned out we were fortunate enough to be back in camp by the afternoon of the first day with a 60lb bull already in the salt.

In addition to his elephant, Clanton was keen on securing a good sable but as this area was renowned for its quality trophies, I did not anticipate hunting for too long before finding a decent bull.

Clanton had hunted a variety of animals with me in 2007 and we began to look at the remaining animals still on quota in Kazuma to see if there was anything left that he had not already taken. As it turned out there was still one leopard as well as a couple of hyena still available for 2011. Clanton had already taken a leopard in the Chiredzi River Conservancy but it was not very large and here was an opportunity to look for a bigger animal.

We agreed that we would only start baiting if we found tracks of a big tom so as to not waste time. The heat at that time of the year was going to make baiting difficult and I suggested that we wait until we were certain of a big male feeding before we shot a zebra and hung it out. My guess was that the meat would only last 3 or 4 days before we had to throw it away and we only had one zebra to shoot as bait – we had to get it right! Also keen on a hyena, we started out the next morning by hanging a few elephant bones to get the ball rolling.

Unlike the Matetsi Safari Area that bordered onto Kazuma, we had the luxury of being able to use a light at night to hunt predators and it wasn’t long before we had secured our first hyena. Then, on the third day of the hunt we picked up tracks of a big male leopard coming in from Botswana, drinking at a local waterhole, before crossing back into Botswana again. As this was the only water in the vicinity I was convinced that he would make an appearance again soon, so we decided to check the waterhole every morning.

Sure enough the following day we picked up his tracks walking along the boundary road heading towards the Kazuma Pan National Park. Following these tracks, we soon established that he had crossed out of our area and into the Park. This Park is actually a huge depression about 15 kms wide and consisting mainly of short grass. Because of the lack of suitable cover, I didn’t think the leopard would stay in this area for very long and I was convinced that he would cross back into the hunting area the following day.

The race was on to find a zebra and put baits up along the boundary road as soon as possible. Fortunately due to good luck, which was now firmly on our side, and some excellent shooting on Clanton’s part, we were able to secure a big stallion that same morning. That afternoon we carefully choose two elephant trails that the leopard was most likely to return on and left two big chunks of fresh meat to entice him to feed.

The following morning there was an air of anticipation as we made our way up towards the two baits. The first one was untouched but as we approached the second one I noticed footprints on the path leading towards the bait. Sure enough there they were. The big cat had come in exactly where we had hoped he would and wondered down the path towards the bait tree. It was when we approached the tree however, that it looked like our luck had finally run out. Our friend had walked up to the tree, jumped up onto the branch below the bait and for whatever reason ignored the meat, jumped back down and carried on walking along the path away from the bait.

Having hunted these animals for 25 years as a PH, this was not the first time I had encountered this behaviour but I wanted to try and get an idea of whether he was still in the area or had moved out altogether. From where we were, the nearest road in that direction was the same road that we had encountered Clanton’s elephant bull on, so we quickly drove around to try and establish the cat’s movements. Sure enough to our disappointment, we found he had visited the site where we had shot the elephant, crossed the road and carried on moving away from the bait, by now a good 3 kms away.

Once again it looked like our luck had deserted us, but I was determined to at least give it a try and see if he would return that evening. We then carried on down that same road to circle back to the bait when suddenly his tracks were back on the road again! This time he appeared to be walking back towards the bait although he was by now at least 4 kms away.

It was time to stop trying to second guess this leopard and get back and build a blind as quickly as possible. Having a well made pop-up blind makes all the difference under these circumstances and we had the blind up and were out of the area within a few hours. That afternoon we were back in the blind by 4.30pm. Sunset was at 6.15pm and the chances were that if he was going to return in this heat, he would only come in after dark, but I have learnt never to take anything for granted with these animals and I wanted to make sure we were waiting for him.

As dusk began to fall I heard leaves rustling off to the left of the blind – something was approaching. Previously when Clanton had hunted with us in Chiredzi, we had spent countless hours with a spotlight at night looking for a decent civet, but unfortunately came away empty handed. Now as we sat waiting, a large male civet stepped out into the clearing under the bait tree. Clanton immediately looked at me and I could see by the look in his eyes that he was very tempted. I quickly popped his bubble by shaking my head – we hadn’t done all this work to get second prize! The civet sniffed around for a few more minutes and then wandered off. The light was beginning to fade and suddenly - there he was! The tom had appeared as they often do, no noise, no indication of his arrival, just materialising at the base of the tree. A quick nudge, but there was no need, Clanton had seen him and sat waiting for my signal. We waited for the leopard to climb the tree and start feeding. It was important not to botch up the proceedings by rushing the shot.

Everything had been set up to ensure a clear shot on the branch above the bait. The cat however had different ideas and hopped onto the branch on the opposite side. It was getting dark and the light was fading, but we could still see his silhouette clearly against the sky. In spite of this I decided to wait and indicated as much to Clanton. Eventually we heard rather than saw the cat jump onto the right branch and waited for him to start feeding properly. I flicked the light on. For a second or two the big cat’s eyes shone back at us as he glared in our direction, but he soon lost interest and put his head down again to concentrate on his meal. I tapped Clanton on the shoulder, an indication to shoot. The .338 Weatherby shattered the silence, the cat dropped out the tree as if pole axed, but leapt up and immediately charged off with a deep growl.

There was complete silence as we listened for any indication of the cat’s whereabouts – nothing. A quick discussion and Clanton assured me his shot placement had been good. Strapping a powerful flashlight to the barrel of my rifle, we waited for Steven, my tracker to arrive. As soon as he did, we walked up to the base of the tree and quickly picked up the glint of fresh blood in the light. With Steven crouching down in front of us, he slowly lead us in the direction the cat had taken. It can be a little nerve racking following a wounded leopard at night because it is so difficult to see beyond the beam of light. The one big advantage however, is when the cat looks at you, his eyes become visible from a long way off and it was exactly this that alerted us to his presence as we followed the big tom. I had moved slightly ahead of the tracker, shining my light in the undergrowth when suddenly two bright green eyes reflected back at me. I immediately crouched down waiting for the cat to react to my presence - but there was nothing. After a short while I cautiously moved forward, but still nothing. The big old tom had succumbed to a well placed lung shot, but incredibly still had the strength to run off a 100 yards, turn around and face us before he died. Clanton had done his bit once again and finally had a nice big male leopard to add to his trophy room.

Clanton’s hunt continued to produce great results. Another hyena was taken a few days later followed by a respectable 41" sable. We still had six days left in Kazuma without much else to hunt so we decided to look at the possibility of heading down to hunt the Chiredzi River Conservancy again. Clanton was looking for a hippo and Barry Style had mentioned that if we had some time on our hands, he would organise one for us. Once again everything worked like clockwork. Barry arrived to pick us up in his Cessna 206 from Victoria Falls airport the next morning and by that afternoon we were hunting across the other side of the country. Clanton was still very keen to secure a civet so every day we left camp with a light, staying out late and spotlighting on the way back. It wasn’t long before his trophy list began to grow again. One morning we flushed a small herd of bushpig and it didn’t take Clanton long to put one in the salt. After finding a suitable bull hippo along the Chiredzi River he was put to rest with a single brainshot. This was followed the next morning with a beautiful male bushbuck. The night hunts started to produce results as well. First an African wildcat was taken followed by a large male serval and as luck would have it Clanton finally took a nice big civet. A grysbok, klipspringer and another bushpig was added to the list and by this time we thought the hunt was all but over. When luck is on your side however, things often work out very different.

On the last morning of the hunt, Clanton and I were ambling along a bush track within the conservancy when we bumped into 3 buffalo dagga boys. Clanton had already taken two good bulls with us on his previous hunt but one of these bulls was a beauty. The buffalo however took off and we thought that was the end of it. Back at camp for lunch, we mentioned the sighting to Barry and he told us to try and take one if we could as there was one left on quota and no other hunts booked for 2011. Clanton needed no other excuse and even though we thought we were pushing this luck business a little too far, decided to go back and look for them that afternoon. You guessed it! Although they could have been anywhere, we found them feeding slowly along the edge of a small stream and out in the open. A short stalk followed and Clanton rapped up his 15 day elephant/sable hunt with yet another fine trophy.

Many hunters say that with hard work and perseverance, you make your own luck. I believe this to be true, but in Clanton’s case the scale was definitely tipped in his favour.

Peter Garvin

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• Hunting with the San •
• Terminal Medicine •
• Cure for the secondhand life •
• The Journeyman •
• When things go right •
• When things go right Part 2 •
• The hunt is over - but the memories remain •
• Silent assasins •

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