First Chance Bowhunt for African Leopard

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By: John E. Phillips
By: John E. Phillips

Tracy Hardy of Tucson, Arizona, has stared death in the face and confronted the challenge of a three-mountain-lion attack in January, 2011. Hardy tells us how through hard work and luck, he took an African leopard.

“In the pitch-black darkness of the African night, I knew that the leopard was less than 20-yards away from me in the tree next to me,” Tracy Hardy says. “I was certain that he was aware of my presence.” Hardy knew that in less than two heartbeats, the leopard could jump into the tree where he was set-up and grab him by the neck, making him the victim, rather than the hunter. With nothing but a PSE X-Force Vendetta XS Bow and his arrow and broadhead, Hardy waited and watched. He knew that if the leopard sprang, he wouldn’t have time to draw or be able to see to aim, and the best he could do was pray.

“One of the most-amazing aspects of the leopard hunt was the cat walked within 20 feet of my blind, went to the tree where the bait was hanging, jumped up into the tree and climbed-up to the limbs where the bait was hanging,” Hardy remembers. “I never heard him until his powerful jaws started breaking the bones of the bait.”

This was Hardy’s third trip to Africa with his bow, and he hunted with African Wildlife Safaris . He’d already collected most of the plains game, including a kudu, a zebra and an eland. So, his next step was to move-up to the dangerous game, like the leopard and the buffalo.

During the hunt, Hardy had stayed-up for 3 nights in the leopard blind but only had seen a female and one of her kittens. On the fourth morning of the leopard hunt, the trackers came-in to camp and told Hardy and his professional hunter that they’d found some big leopard tracks underneath a tree where they’d hung a second bait. So, they decided to change stands.

“In the leopard blind, we had to sit totally silent all night and not move,” Hardy recalls. “The most the professional hunter would let me move was to shift my weight from one butt cheek to the other. Here’s why. Oftentimes a lion will come-in and sit 30- to 40-yards away from bait, waiting for a leopard to come to the bait. Then when the leopard arrives, the lion will attack. Leopards are cagey animals, and they often will sit 60-yards from the bait, waiting to see if a lion’s there before they come-in to the bait. The leopard may sit and watch the bait for 1 to 1-1/ 2-hours before he makes the decision that a lion isn’t there, and he’s safe to come-in, climb-up the tree and eat the bait hanging there. Since there may be two cats within 60 yards of your blind, and both cats are looking for anything that moves, sitting absolutely still is critical to have a chance to take a leopard with a bow. If the leopard determines that you or a lion is near the bait, he’ll leave and not return for many days.”

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The professional hunter told Hardy that when they heard the leopard tearing the flesh and crunching the bones of the bait hanging in the tree in front of them, he then could pick-up his bow with a nocked arrow, clip his release to the string and prepare for the shot. Hardy’s guide told him, “Don’t shoot until I tap you on the leg, because I have to make sure this is a male leopard before you take the shot.”

On the final night of the hunt, Hardy and the professional hunter heard bones popping and meat tearing. “I reached down to pick-up my bow, and the leopard stopped feeding on the bait,” Hardy says. “I froze. The night was black, and the silence was almost deafening. I knew the leopard was looking at our blind, so I tried to be as still as I could be. Next I heard a sound that caused my heart to sink. It was a thump. I knew immediately that the leopard was jumping out of the tree. I thought my chance to get my leopard was over. I heard the leopard walking-away from the tree and jump into another tree next to the one where we were sitting. Now, the hunt was getting exciting. Both trees were extremely thick with foliage. The leopard was sitting only 10- or 15-yards away from us in a tree right next to our blind, which was made of thatch and was so well-crafted that the leopard couldn’t see us.” For 20 minutes, the leopard, the professional hunter and Hardy sat motionless, listening to the silence of the dark African night. Then Hardy heard another thump. The leopard had jumped out of his tree and now was back on the ground below him. “I heard the leopard moving through the dead weeds below us,” Hardy recalls. “The next sound I heard was bones popping and meat tearing. The leopard had returned to the bait and was feeding on it.” Hardy let the leopard feed on the bait for about 1-1/ 2-minutes,  the passing time felt like hours to Hardy.

Finally, the hunter gave Hardy the signal to draw his PSE X-Force Vendetta XS Bow. As Hardy was at full draw and aiming at the sound being made by the leopard, the professional hunter turned-on the lights. “This time, with the hole in my peep sight much bigger, I could see the leopard in the tree,” Hardy says. “I watched the leopard feeding on the bait. As I aimed, I saw the leopard’s chest. I could see the pin sight through my peep sight. I put the pin right in the middle of the leopard’s chest, and when the professional hunter told me to shoot, I released the arrow. I knew I’d made a good hit. The big leopard tumbled-out of the tree, roared as he fell and hit the ground dead.”

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