Summit Treestands's Leopard Bowhunt with Dries Visser Safaris


Join Pat Lefemine as he bowhunts leopard in South Africa with Dries Visser Safaris!

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Discuss this hunt


The first thing we did after breakfast was head out to check on the bait we set out yesterday.  It was an hour drive and when we got there it was immediately clear: the bait was hit!  Dries and Ben immediately looked at the soft ground for clues to 1. whether it was a leopard and 2. If yes, then how big was it?  By the obvious track in the soft sand it was a leopard.  But the track was approaching 2" - so it was either a female or a young male.  The bait was not quite finished so there was no need to put fresh bait out.  Dries brushed the ground clean so we'd see new tracks tomorrow if a leopard fed again.

We jumped back into the Toyota and headed to another location. I asked Dries how he had come to find these properties and how the "system" worked?  Dries explained that leopard prefer to be close to mountains and hills - similar to baboons.  Dries, having grown up in these areas, knows the properties where Leopards are prevalent and the landowners who own them. Many of these leopards are "problem" animals that are killing livestock and game. An old leopard, that is on the decline, is especially troublesome as they will find it difficult to hunt wild game and will seek animals that are less likely to escape.  This list would not exlude pets, cows and rare, but occasionally - people.  When Dries obtains permission on a property, the landowner wants the cat dead.  A wounded leopard can complicate the relationship and even lead to Dries losing future opportunities to hunt the property. In addition to the leopard being removed, the landowners typically require a "trophy fee" payment, which Dries pays and that cost is passed on to the hunter. 

This whole situation of wounding a leopard and the importance of shot placement (eg. proficiency) was evident to me far before I ever stepped foot in Africa.  I had spent time looking into leopard hunting, talking with both successful and unsuccessful hunters, and having numerous conversations with Dries.  Probably more than any other hunt I've ever been on - my proficiency was paramount - and for these reasons:

  1. It was highly likely that I would only have one shot at a leopard.
  2. A wounded leopard is the most dangerous animal in Africa - far more than a wounded elephant, buffalo or lion.
  3. A lost leopard could result in Dries losing rights to leopard hunting properties.
  4. The Government requires a full report on all killed and wounded leopards.  A high wounding rate could result in the prohibition of archery equipment on dangerous game.

To say that there was a fair bit of stress applied to this hunt is an understatement. The only other hunt I've been on where proficiency was such a factor was my Grizzly hunt - and many of you remember what happened there…

But all of this stress may be for nothing. You see, even though I was here in South Africa and we were setting up the baits, I still had not obtained my leopard permit.  Dries and his father were very confident that the Provincial authorities would issue the permit - but the leopard permit process is not simple, nor is it easy to obtain.  In addition, the Province would not issue the permit unless the hunter showed up in person - a rule enacted this year.  Tomorrow Dries and I would drive to Pietersburg to meet with the Game authorities and 'hopefully' come back with the permit.  Until then, it was baiting only with my bow still back in my room.

Dries, Ben and I arrived at the other location to set up a new area.  The area Dries chose was a tree that grew out from a river bank and hung slightly over a gurgling stream.  To the North, and only 15 yards away, stood a little island in the middle of the stream.  I really liked this location for two reasons. The first was that it provided me with a very close shot - something I prefer even though I was shooting a very efficient and fast compound.  And secondly, the sound of the stream, as well as the natural "barrier" created by the river gave us more comfort that we could pull this off undetected. 


The work began.  The first step was to create a barrier for Honey Badgers - who could easily reach the bait and mess up our setup.  Dries and Ben piled thorn brush at the base of the tree to prevent the badgers from getting to the bait.  Ben then hoisted the donkey hindquarter up into the tree and tied it off.  The next chore was to setup the blind over on that island. For this setup we needed to use a popup blind instead of the water tank.  The water tank, while preferred by Dries for both scent reduction and lack of noise, was too big to carry to this remote spot.  It was a long hike from where we parked and the popup was our only option. Once the blind was up, we had to cover it to the point where nothing would recognize it as anything other than a bush.

Time Lapse Video of covering this blind (2.5mb)

The entire setup took a few hours before we were satisfied and headed out of there.  One final brush of the tracks and tomorrow we'd find out if anything showed up.

That evening, two hunters from PA were leaving. They were thoughtful and brought toys and gifts from the US for the local children.  We had a barbecue and wished the two hunters a safe flight.  While the others continued to enjoy their evening by the fire, Dries and I headed back for another night of shooting.  But this time my shooting was horrendous.  The more I shot, the worse I got.  I could tell Dries was becoming concerned - I mean, there were shots where I missed the target completely!  While attempting to regain my confidence and save whatever pride I had left - I noticed that the rest on my bow had lost its spring tension and was laying flat against the shelf.  I don't know how that happened, but it did.  We called it a night as I headed back into the lodge to see if I could repair the rest.  Gene Wensel - knowing that it was a hard decision for me to shoot a compound on this trip certainly didn't help.  His remark went something like - "you know, I never have that problem with my recurve"…I laughed.  You see, this is one of the reasons that we hard-core traditional guys shoot simple equipment. It's never the bow…  In total fairness to Gene and not to give anyone the wrong impression - Gene was completely supportive of my decision to shoot a compound on this trip. It was just too much for him to resist the light-hearted jab.


Needless to say I had a hard time sleeping again.  I could feel the pressure I was placing on myself.  It was counterproductive and brought back memories of my Grizz hunt.  I needed to get this bow fixed, get my proficiency back and prove to myself, and Dries, that I was ready to hunt leopards.


My Decision: Recurve or Compound?

For those of you who know me or have followed my hunts in the past, I'm sure it's a surprise to see me shooting a compound.  I had started with a compound in the 70's but had switched to traditional equipment in 1989 because it fit my personal style of hunting better.  In all of my years of hunting, I had consciously chosen to limit my shots to 15 yards (an occasionally 20) practice constantly and to become proficient with a simple bow.  Since 1989 I've shot probably 80 whitetail and 30 "other" animals with this setup and had no inclination to change.

That was, until this leopard hunt.

When I contemplated going on a leopard hunt I had a discussion with a traditional guy who had bowhunted a leopard. His words struck me on how difficult it was to shoot proficiently.  The loss of depth perception in the dark, the inability to see any close references such as the arrow or broadhead (which I use subconsciously during each shot) all added up to a very difficult situation for a traditional archer.  I have no doubt that some guys can do it, and do it well. Unfortunately, my practice sessions proved that I was not one of them.  Sure I could have taken the recurve and "winged" it - but that's not me. There was too much at stake on this hunt - for both Dries and myself.  I know that it is possible I'll wound the cat with a compound - but the difference would be that I'd be going into the situation in confidence, rather than a lack of the same with my traditional bow.    The decision was easy for me - and I looked forward to using modern archery gear for the first time in 15 years. 

I found the gear to be much more advanced than I remembered in the '80's.  But I also remembered that it was still not "easy".  I shot very well - but required as much practice time as I would normally have expended with my recurve. And my shots would all be within the same close distance as my barebow. 



Next - Day 3

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