Leopard Hunting

Leopard Hunting in Africa

The leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of Africa’s dangerous game cats.  It is a very popular game animal for those who want to experience hunting dangerous game in Africa.  Its habitat covers everything from desert to rain forest.  It is the smallest of the Big Five (elephant, Cape buffalo, lion, rhinoceros, leopard), however it can be extremely dangerous if wounded. 

A mature tom leopard weighs between 125 pounds and 175 pounds, with some giants registering over 190.  Shoulder height is from 18 inches to 31 inches.  Leg muscles are long and powerful which aids the African leopard in climbing trees.

An adult male can eat up to 20 percent of its body weight at one feeding.  A leopard will eat any and all types of meat from impala to carrion.  African leopards favor animals like baboons, pigs, warthogs, monkeys, domestic stock and small antelope, and can carry a complete carcass equal to their weight up into a tree with ease.  This is due to the leopard’s massive skull and strong jaw muscles.  Its success in stalking and hunting can be credited to its opportunistic behavior and impressive speed.  A healthy male leopard can run at speeds approaching 35 miles per hour.  The African leopard is the smallest animal that consistently kills and eats man - he’s the ultimate evolution of a carnivore.

An African leopard is similar to a jaguar, but smaller in stature.  The leopard’s fur is marked with dark rosettes like the jaguar, but the leopard’s rosettes are smaller and more densely packed and do not have center spots.  An African leopard’s coat varies from light yellow to dark gold. Coat color and patterning are associated with habitat.  Desert leopards edge towards a pale, cream color.  Rain forest leopards sport a darker, golden coat.  East African leopard’s rosettes tend towards a circular pattern while southern African animals have a more square shape. 

Leopard fossils have been found in East Africa and South Asia that date back at least 3.5 million years.  The modern leopard is thought to have evolved in Africa between 500,000 and 900,000 years ago.  Recent studies of leopard and lion DNA shows a remarkable similarity between the two cats. 

African leopard hunting occurs in sub-Saharan Africa in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.  There are two methods commonly used to hunt African leopard - baiting and hunting with dogs.  Baiting is the more traditional way to hunt African leopards.  Bait animals are procured by the hunter and his rifle.  However, pre-baiting can start as early as two weeks before the hunter arrives.  Usually the hunter pays for the baits, but at a very reduced rate compared to typical plains game trophy fees.  It is also common to use old, crippled, or infirm animals for bait.  African leopards seem to have a thing for warthog, so a recently-expired warthog could be used to make 2-3 excellent baits.

The bait carcass is dragged behind the safari truck up to the bait tree before it’s hung in a branch just high enough to keep the wild dogs and hyenas from eating it.  The drag is done in a number of directions to give wide distribution to its scent.  Then a blind is constructed from local grass and tree branches forty to sixty yards from the bait tree.  It’s aligned to give a good line of sight to the bait.  All interfering grasses and branches are removed so the bullet won’t have a chance to hit one and deflect.  A hole just big enough to let the rifle’s barrel and scope have an unrestricted view is formed in the front wall of the blind.  A second hole to the side of the gunport will allow the Professional Hunter (PH) to use his binoculars to spot the leopard.  Two chairs are installed and a green tree branch with a “y” at one end is driven into the ground so that the hunter can rest his rifle on it.

The PH may construct more blinds at different trees. Most times the blind is constructed only after it has been determined that a large male leopard is feeding on the bait.  Recently, trail cameras have modernized leopard hunting by aiding in the determination of the size, sex and feeding times of a leopard. Then the baits and cameras will be checked every day to see if any of them get hit.  When there is a good-sized Tom feeding on one of the baits, the hunters will return to that blind just a few hours before sunset to hunt the African leopard. 

The rifle is placed in its rest.  The hunter and PH sit and try to get comfortable.  A round is loaded into the chamber and the safety set.  No sound can be made, no mosquito bite scratched, no movement at all is allowed.   An African leopard can see in the dark almost as well as a hunter can see in daylight.  Along with that, the cat has hearing that can pick up the ticking of a clock farther than you can see.

Time slides by.  Hours march away.  Shooting light is now down to minutes.  You’re thinking about how good a shower will feel.  Then, your PH stiffens.  He pokes you in the arm.  You look at the tree.  Where there was nothing there seconds ago, now the branch above the bait is full of cat.  Hunting the African leopard just got intense.

Some countries allow the use of artificial light for African leopard hunting.  This greatly increase a hunter’s odds of taking a leopard, as leopards are mostly nocturnal hunters and feeders, although in areas of light hunting pressure, they will come in to feed on a bait in the daytime.

Rather than aiming for a part of the leopard, the hunter has to pick out a particular rosette and center the scope on that.  Hunting an African leopard could be done with a range of calibers; a .270, 7mm, or one of the big 30s would do the job, but in most African countries the law calls for a minimum of .375 caliber.  The reason for this is that a wounded leopard in the bush is the most dangerous animal on earth.  Not only are they fast, but they will use their claws to open up a hunter in very short order.  Usually a 12 gauge shotgun will be the follow up gun.

African leopard hunting with dogs is done by locating a fresh track then releasing the hounds.  The dogs chase the leopard until it trees, then the hunter takes the shot.  Here again, shot placement is extremely important.  It’s been said that one second of a leopard on a hunter will require one hundred stitches.  Many countries have outlawed hunting leopard with the aid of dogs.  Most dog hunting for leopards currently occurs in Zimbabwe.