I first saw him many years ago. We found a drag trail with some big Leopard tracks on either side of the kill, a medium sized Oryx. He had carried his prey about 50 feet up onto the side of a kopje, and fed on it underneath a Bush-willow. We built our blind about 40 yards away, but I was doubtful that we would get a good shot at him as the angle was acute due to the lay of the land, and we would be shooting upwards, as well as the fact that he would most probably lie down when feeding. All of this made the entire setup very challenging. I decided to wait 48 hours before returning to the blind to be sure that he was feeding. I also knew that not disturbing the area for a while would make him complacent and not too observant.
My two French clients, Georges & Claude, tossed a coin to decide who would get the chance to go into the blind first. That afternoon at 4 o’clock we snuck up and settled in for the long wait until dark. Namibian hunting legislation dictates that we may only hunt from half hour before sunrise until half hour after sunset.
At sunset a ‘bush choir’ announced the imminent arrival of our prey: the Kudu ‘barked’ nervously, the Rock Hyrax shouted their dismay and, from the next range of hills, a troop of Baboons screamed abuse at their most hated spotted enemy. The sounds echoed off the rocks and created an ambiance of sheer excitement and anticipation in our little blind. As I touched George’s shoulder and whispered that the cat was on his way, I noticed a shudder go through my client’s body, and immediately began to worry…
After the sun has set, darkness descends very rapidly in the Namibian bush. It was getting late and almost too dark to shoot. Like magic the big Tom Leopard appeared on top of a rock above his kill. He was etched against a backdrop of rock face behind him, sitting there with his chest towards us, proudly admiring his kingdom.
I had explained earlier to Georges that at this point no talking would be possible, and that, if I wanted him to shoot, I would push him forward towards his rifle, which was resting on two forked shooting sticks, pointing at the kill. This would make it necessary for him to only make a small adjustment on the target and fire.
Looking over his shoulder I could see George’s hands shake as he shouldered the rifle. He aimed for what seemed like a century and, when the shot eventually went off, I knew it was a total miss. The next day we found the bullet hole on the rock face, 3 foot left and 2 foot high.
I did not expect the cat to return at all, but I was proven wrong the next day. Only about a quarter of the Oryx carcass was left after his feeding session the previous evening, even though his evening meal had been so rudely interrupted by the shot. This was a courageous cat.
Claude and I crept into the blind with high expectations. At dusk our furry friends again informed us that our brave spotted ‘target’ was on his way. The tension in the blind was like a heat wave beaming off Claude.
Our Leopard appeared on exactly the same spot, but this time he was glaring directly at us, his eyes like two green piercing lights looking straight at the blind’s shooting aperture. Well, Claude went into a seizure of hyperventilating and uncontrollable shakes and grunts. The poor Leopard must have thought some demon was about to attack him, and left in a flash.
Over the next few years several clients tried to bag him. We would occasionally hear him crunching bones after we ran out of shooting light, and often spotted his huge, very distinctive tracks while out hunting. One morning he suddenly appeared in front of us, climbing a slope about 75 yards away. The moment was too big for my client Alex, from Kansas City, and once again just a couple of”warning shots” were fired. Alex, very eloquently, curses his bad luck to this day!
Although other leopards were hunted successfully in our area, Big Foot, as we had now named this ‘legend’, remained elusive. He became so confident that we wouldn’t’t get him that he regularly walked on his favorite paths during day light hours. On many occasions we would find his spoor across our fresh tracks. This big boy even had the audacity to take our daughter, Michelle’s, Abyssinian cat from a garden chair in front of our lodge while she was away at boarding school. Johnny, our superb tracker, clearly identified the spoor and the little ball of fluff that was all that was left of poor little ‘Tiffany’. Now, can you imagine having to explain that to your own teenage daughter? I would rather have to face Big Foot any day!!
Once we noticed his tracks during the day, up and down the road between the hills behind our safari lodge. I was disturbed by the fact that the spoor followed our young son, Hanns-Louis’ and his Labrador’s tracks, where they had been out exploring the kopjes earlier in the day…
I immediately set up a blind and waited with a client from New York, expecting to ambush the big cat late that afternoon, as I was sure he had a kill on top of the hill.
At dusk I heard his sawing snarls. Inhaling, he rattled in his throat and exhaling it sounded like a coarse breath like snort, about 200 yards away. Every 30 seconds the sound came closer. At about 40 paces the raw, guttural, throaty snarls stopped. After checking ahead of himself, I suppose he didn’t trust what he saw, and lay down in the path. By this time it was too dark for us to see anything anyway, so we returned to camp.
Big Foot remained very active, but whenever a good opportunity to take him presented itself, clients were either not interested, or had already hunted Leopard.
Then we again found his kill, a small Oryx calf. Still an inexperienced Ph at the time, our son Jofie went to set up a blind with his Hunting Assistant. I think they messed around there too long building a blind, because Jofie and our client Bob waited for him, but he didn’t come back to feed that evening.
The next morning we spotted another kill 100 yards away. Again Jofie and his assistant messed around there, and that evening Big Foot did not return. I advised them to leave the cat in peace for 48 hours. When they went to check on the second day, he had devoured the calf and started on the other nearby kill.
Jofie called a Namibian hound handler, Felix, and arranged to have him and his pack picked up that afternoon, three hours away. Next morning, after a light drizzle the previous night, the dogs could not track. I told them to wait until the next morning.
At dawn the next day the and followed the big cat up a BIG mountain. Jofie and Bob followed. Bob’s flight back to the States was leaving that day at 14h00. I stayed at the radio and at 09h30 Jofie called to inform me that Bob had called it off, as he was getting nervous about missing about his flight. I suggested to Jofie to instruct the dog handler to take the hounds off the track. Bob got back to the lodge and was under the shower when my tracker, Johnny, called on the radio to say that the hounds had brought the Leopard off the mountain into a thicket at the foot of the next hill, that the cat was holding his ground, and was now challenging the hounds directly below Jofie. I got Bob’s backside out of the shower and into the hunting truck! When we got to Johnny, he led us on about a half-mile hike to the spot. We found Jofie up a slight slope above the place where the hounds were stood about 3 feet tall. Bob got onto the shooting sticks about 40 yards away from the furious Leopard, and at first could not see it. Then the cat moved and Bob shot very quickly. I saw the dust come off the top of its hindquarters.
The cat jumped one of the dogs, threw it on it’s back and started mauling it. I couldn’t watch this. A second, fatal shot was fired.
Big Foot was down, and what a magnificent cat he was!
We took great photos to immortalize the legend of Big Foot, got back to the lodge at 11h00 and sent Bob and family off to the airport at 11h30. Bob was very quiet…. I don’t think he had quite absorbed everything at that point.
A bit of TLC and a shot of penicillin, and the hunting hound was fine again, ready for its next big cat adventure!
Big Foot’s teeth told the story of an old Tom, way past his prime, that had lived a very long and successful hunting life.
Jofie has become an extraordinary cat hunter..!! I am very proud to say that he has developed into an excellent Professional Hunter, with outstanding leopard-hunting skills in his 4 (very active) years as a PH, and has taken a number of superb cats over the past 2 years. That’s MY Boy!!