We've been running baits for 10 days and finally had a hit. The scouting cameras show that the leopard stays for only 30 minutes, but eats quite a bit of the bait. We re-bait the set and put up the blind. There's a large rock 30 yards from the bait tree and we use it to help hide the blind. After setting the blind, PH Zak Grobler and I climb in.
This is it, I thought. The afternoon passed slowly while I read a book on Sir Francis Drake. Darkness fell and minutes seemed like hours. Mosquitoes buzzed everywhere. The temperature was in the 80s—hot and muggy. Elephants could be heard in the distance. But the cat never came back. Thinking that our blind must have spooked him, we were unsure about the setup, but returned the next evening and climbed in again. Just after dark, the leopard appeared.
Seeing a wild African leopard on the bait at 31 yards is exciting. I could see the cat through my 10X42 Nikon Monarch 7 bino, but couldn't see anything with my naked eye. The goal was to capture the hunt on video, which would require shining a light toward the big tom; this makes the hunt much tougher and actually risks losing another opportunity. My stomach tossed and turned. On another leopard safari in Zambia, the camera light spooked the cat—my only chance. In Zimbabwe, 3 years later, I missed a huge tom trying to shoot quickly as the light shone on the big cat.
Now, this is my fifth leopard safari and we have a cat on the bait. I'm in the blind, ready, and with the camera rolling I come to full draw in total darkness. Zak switches on a low beam of light. I search frantically for the leopard in my pins, but I can't make out the kill zone. The cat feeds, unaware that the light is shining. Leopards typically close their eyes when feeding on a carcass. Zak clicks the beam to the next brightness. The camera continues rolling. I see the big cat and set the 30-yard pin. The arrow flies to the mark.
The leopard didn't run 40 yards. Day 11: success!
I must say that hunting the dangerous animals of Africa is an incredibly exciting experience. And the satisfaction of taking a leopard with a bow ... well, I can't explain it. Shooting on animal over bait sounds like it's cheating and easy, but I can assure you this hunt is one fantastic challenge.