He had mentioned something about “the monster” when he picked me up at the airport in late July. One of Gerard’s previous hunters told me about the size of this leopard’s track and his nickname, “the monster,” but it did not sink in until I had seen numerous other large male leopards’ tracks as I stood over this one.
Now I knew what they were talking about.
I had booked a ten-day leopard hunt in Namibia and five day cape buffalo hunt in Mozambique with Gerard Erasmus, of Sumsare (Erasmus spelled backwards) Safaris, and felt quite at peace with the fact that most leopard hunts are a minimum of 14 days (some 21 days) and most cape buffalo hunts are a minimum of seven days (most longer) knowing that Gerard was not only capable of delivering, but also that he was a lot of fun to hunt with. I had hunted with him before and knew he was a professional, and also felt that this hunt needed to be approached with the proper attitude. He is a great friend so this was going to be easy.
Preparing for a leopard hunt is one thing, cape buffalo, quite another. I had chosen to do both on the same trip so my philosophy was simple: I needed to get in the best mental and physical condition I could and with that, I began with a trip to a cardiologist.
“Why was I here?” was the question of the day by the doctor to this 53-year-old. My response was that the visit was preventive in nature. I wanted to get checked out with the idea that I would push myself in training and on the hunt it and surprises needed to be avoided. I got an A+ from the echo cardiogram and nuclear stress tests so all that remained was for me to exercise and prepare mentally. In the end, before the hunt, I had lost almost 20 pounds and could walk miles in the hills near my home daily.
The difference in altitude between my home in Fort Worth, Texas and where I would hunt in Namibia was almost 4000 feet. But, I felt good and my attitude was to have fun, no matter what. I felt if I got one good opportunity at a leopard that was all I could hope for. Besides, I have always believed it is not right to judge a hunt on what you killed but on the experience itself. Even a bust could be a great trip.
My hunt was to be a baited leopard hunt. Namibia allows the use of both baiting and dog hunting for leopards. Gerard’s expertise has been proven on many hunts over bait. A typical day of baiting involves checking previously baited sets, re-baiting if necessary, and checking out areas for new tracks. The idea is to set up a blind over a bait that has been hit by a large male and hunt there in the evening after such a hit. Namibia, the Khomas region specifically, has few large trees and no leopards that know what a tree is anyway, so these baits are set under brush in canyons and ravines that the leopards use as travel ways.
A rabies epidemic was decimating the local kudu population so meat was plentiful for the cats during my visit and Gerard’s plan, with my approval, was to hunt with bait for the first six days, then call a hounds man in for days 7 through 10 if necessary. By day six, we had seen plenty of leopard sign, lots of large male tracks, but the baits weren’t working due to the kudu rabies issue, so the decision was made to call in the dogs for day seven. The area was full of leopards.
The leopards unfortunately were full of kudu.
The night before, as we finished a wonderful dinner outside, a leopard roared in a canyon not far away. Talk about a spine tingling bit of foreshadowing! Gerard and I talked about the differences in baiting and hunting with dogs, and he warned me about the dangers associated with a leopard charging when he sees you. The main difference in the two hunting techniques is that with baiting, you are attempting to kill a totally unsuspecting animal. With the dogs, he is mad and looking for a way to even the score. He reminded me that if given the opportunity that I must shoot straight as there was a lot of lives at stake here. I slept not one bit that night.
The next morning came early. I was awakened at 4:00 AM given some coffee and off we went to the land of the big track. Gerard wanted me to get this leopard. He had baited him for over two and a half months with no attention paid by the cat to the baits. Gerard theorized he had been caught in a trap previously and was wise to a human made bait set. This leopard had killed the rancher’s livestock, perhaps a many as 50 calves and was a real problem. Needless to say, the rancher wanted me to get this leopard. On the way to this ranch the silence was overbearing. To break it up, and being the guy he typically is, Gerard roared at me which was enough to send me through the window of the Land Cruiser! Laughing, he did ask me if I had prayed that night to which I acknowledged an affirmative.
He just nodded and said, “Good my friend. So did I”.
We met the dog owner, Roy Sparks, and his crew at about 6:30, drove a short distance to the ranch, picked up the owner and began our search for fresh spoor.
In tow were 15 very good proven dogs, blue tick hounds, blood hounds, wire haired terriers, mutts, and even a Jack Russell terrier named Oscar. We searched every canyon and ravine his track had been seen before, and running out of scent finding time, at 10:15 moved into a highly remote area of the ranch that had not been visited by even the owner in years.
The trackers checked the canyon and “bingo”, a fresh male and female track! Seven of the fifteen dogs were put on the spoor along with the handler, Gerard, and several trackers. I stayed behind with Roy and the remaining 8 dogs to bring them in when the leopard was found.
It did not take long. Within 15 minutes the dogs had him and off we went. After an exhilarating fast-paced hike over a ridge and into the canyon below, Roy and I arrived in time to have the “monster” double back through the trackers and other dogs. At bay, the job of not hitting a dog and getting the leopard began.
Fortunately, I did get this leopard without incident to human life. Unfortunately however, before I arrived, the leopard did to one of the hounds what they are so good at.
In the end, we, and I say that because it was a team effort, got “the monster”. A beautiful trophy that will rank high in the SCI book and possibly will be the new #1 in Namibia.
Unofficially he scores 18 & 4/16″. In my mind the experience was first though.
What an opportunity to see first hand, how such a magnificent creature lives and is hunted. My thanks to Roy Sparks, his dog team, and handlers. More importantly, my thanks to my great friend Gerard Erasmus, who found this leopard and pushed me to be what I needed to be, and to my lovely wife, Diane, for her patience with all of my hunting passions.
And most importantly, I thank God for the opportunity, and making this hunt a safe one.