LEOPARD AND SABLE HUNT WITH DAVE LANGERMAN
When: September 2014
Where: Niassa Reserve
PH: David Langerman http://www.davelangermansafaris.com
Travel Agent: Myself
Rifle: Remington 700 300 RUM with 200 grain Nosler Partitions
Last September I hunted with David Langerman in Niassa. We originally planned on going to the far western camp but hunted instead out of the middle camp about four hours from the main camp. 14 years ago I met David when he was an apprentice on a hunt in the Zambezi Valley when he was 20 years old. David worked as area manager for this particular concession in Niassa for 8 years and knows the area extremely well. He has hunted it going on 13 years now. He now hunts with John Sharp back home in Zimbabwe and freelances into Niassa during our fall months after the hunts in the conservancy slow.
An old Zimbabwean friend of Dave's operates the concession and I was able to spend one night in the photo camp with him and his partner/girlfriend. Great people and very dedicated to conservation and their concession. The guy loves hunting and is a wealth of information especially on cats. For 11 days I listened to him on the radio as he coordinated the patrols that captured some poachers. I would definitely support them again over any of the other outfits in the area even if the price was more.
There is a large number of Sable and Waterbuck in the central camp area I hunted. Saw
bushbuck about every day. The Zebra and the Hartebeest were skittish and difficult to hunt especially with all the long grass. Since they were not high on my list we did not spend much time chasing them. In the eastern camp there is Niassa Wildebeest and better Hartebeest numbers. Eland were present with higher numbers in the western camp. Plenty of Impala also seen but did not take Eland, Buffalo, crocodile, reedbuck, warthog and Kudu.
The main purpose of the trip was Leopard. David told me for months how we would take one in daylight and they have taken them at distances as close as 10 yards. While not as large as the cats he normally hunts in Zimbabwe, these cats are not as educated and there would be opportunity to not only watch the cat but also be picky about what cat to take.
The idea would be to get multiple baits up early so the first morning we set out to find Impala.
Soon after we started hunting we spotted a group of six bush pigs trotting through the burn. We jumped out and ran forward to find a hole through the trees and remaining brush. Charity the tracker whispered the last one was a boar and I timed his shoulder into the opening just right.
We put up the Bush pig and three Impala the first day. I just came from a South Africa hunt so for the first two days we were a little picky on Kudu and Waterbuck and did not want to take an average Sable. During this time passed on a nice Kudu over 50, multiple mature average Sable and some average Waterbuck. David really wanted bigger baits, especially Sable as he felt the bait would last longer and Leopard seem to feed better on Sable.
My decision to be picky meant only the bushpig and Impala hanging as for days 3 and 4 we struggled to even have a shot at something we really wanted. At lunch on the fifth day the Camp Cook, also the local witch doctor, told David he wanted to do 'Chonde Chonde' a ritual to give us good luck. This involved several cans of soda and beer and a collection of food. Everything but the beer, which was slipped into the skinner's pocket, was offered under a tree and the whole camp squatted and chanted for better luck.
We hung Waterbuck quarters on the afternoon of the fifth Day as the witchcraft lifted the spell and we took a very ancient Waterbuck. This expanded our string of baits, which at the peak was a string of 12. Some of the trees David had used before but we tried other locations where we needed to make our own branches to hang the baits.
I believe David’s nickname could be the White Baboon as he climbs trees better than anyone I have ever seen. He has a great vertical leap and would often catch a branch 8 feet above and climb up.
Every day we saw groups of Sable with groups of Bulls up in the hills. A number of times we were very close only to have Dave tell me to wait it just wasn’t the right one. Early on I had not decided on two Sable as I wanted to save my allowance for the animals on my list.
Mid-day on the six day we came across a group of Sable we had seen earlier. The group appeared to be from the same stock as one horn was curved differently than the other on each of the animals. This time the group had a male with it and they were working the edge of a burn. We crawled through the long grass so that David could have a better look and he decided this was the right one to take. We managed to slip up to a lone tree and just as David put up the sticks the bull spotted us and cocked his head to the right and was poised to run. When we walked up on the Bull we found he had lost his right eye in a fight and was scarred from fighting. He had secondary growth and was ancient, having lost some of his teeth.
We left Charity to skin the Sable as we went to check baits. David told him that if heard Lions to get to a tree and we would be back in a few hours. By the time we did return it was dark and Charity was nowhere to be seen by carcass. About two hundred yards away in a small tree was Charity nestled into one of the branches with the best cuts of meat draped over the branch below him and the quarters on a tarp at the base of the tree.
The next morning we headed out to a spot David had been waiting to bait with Sable that was near a Kopje and along a stream bed that had small springs. We continued on the whole day hanging baits and checking old ones. Late that afternoon we spotted a Reedbuck and were stalking it through the long grass when I hit a termite mound. David and I discussed rifle safety before the hunt and we had a conversation regarding his friend Stu Taylor. His take was that it was an unfortunate accident and to be very careful because things do happen. When I heard the pop and the pain in my leg and started falling I made sure the barrel went down and away. Even though I don’t take the safety off until the instant before the shot the last thing I wanted was an accidental discharge in someone’s direction. I knew it was the Achilles tendon but at the time did not know it was an 80% tear and I had also torn the calf muscle. The guys carried me back to the truck and we went to finish checking baits. In the medicine box I found some gauze bandage and wrapped the leg from the ankle to the knee and put on some camo duct tape to hold it together. Might not have been the best thing to do but I did manage 7 more days even though I developed a blood clot in the calf on the trip home.
The next day we found that one of the Sable baits was missing from the tree. We knew from the trail camera it was a male and later viewing the photos on the iPad it appeared there was another cat feeding as well. The cat had separated the leg from the rib cage and hind quarter and had taken the bait off into the bush. Not sure how the Tracker even found the trail but half a mile up the hill they found the bait on a shelf inside a small cave. The tracker was scared to go into the cave so David crawled in and retrieved the bait.
They dragged the bait away from the cave and hung it in a nearby tree. A blind was set up about forty yards away. Somewhat similar to the setup David uses in Zimbabwe the blind is a two man pop up with folding chairs and a gun rest. Branches are placed around the blind both as camouflage and to keep lions and leopards from having easy access to a meal.
That night we arrived in the blind around 3:30. The afternoons in September are warm and inside the blind it was hot. The chairs can be uncomfortable and then just when you think you can shut your eyes for a second we heard a call from up behind the rocks to the right. Then to our left we hear another call. With each passing moment there is a call from the right and then the left and then silence. For half an hour we heard no noise, just the flies buzzing around outside looking a way in. All of sudden to the left and up towards the Kopjie came screaming and huffing that went on for several minutes rising in pitch and intensity. Just as sudden as it started it stopped and it was silence again for several minutes. Our signal to get ready was David squeezing my leg two times. In the dark he puts his hand on my leg and whispers in my ear, they’re mating. For the next four and ½ hours they had a mating session everywhere around the front of the blind. At one point my throat was so dry I choked back a cough and they stopped. Davy was pissed, especially when a cat crept up to the front left of the blind and coughed. It walked away and a minute later they went back at it again.
We couldn’t leave for fear of spooking them off so we waited and waited hoping they would get tired. At one point the female jumped into the tree and fed, but not the male. A few minutes after she jumped down they went back at it for a while. Things were quiet for a half hour and just when we thought they were gone they were back at it again. At 9:30 we finally heard them up over the hill and called the trackers to walk in and get us to try and confuse the leopards if they were paying attention.
The next morning well before daylight we walked to the blind with the trackers talking and as we settled in they walked away talking like two guys traveling through the bush. Sitting in the cool morning is such a great experience as the African bush comes alive. At daylight we heard them calling to each other, first from way up the valley and the second from just behind the bait. A few minutes later we heard a foot fall and then a sniffing right at the entrance to the blind. In the semi-dark we could hear the leopard walk around the blind towards the bait. That morning was no different than the night before. After another mating session that lasted for hours. The female climbed the tree and fed like the night before and they both moved off into the kopje. Frustrated Dave called the trackers in and off we all went for a late morning breakfast. Over the meal David decided to move the bait away from the rocks and clear a path so we could shoot the Leopard on the ground if needed. On the way we took an old Bushbuck that was added to the Sable rib cage.
As we loaded up for the ride to the blind the Cook came running up to David yelling and waving his hands in an agitated fashion. I don’t speak Portuguese so I thought it there was an issue. The Old Man was convinced that his magic could drive away the females so we would have a chance to take the male and he was telling David that he was going to do a Chonde Chonde ceremony.
That afternoon we heard the two of them and a little before 5:00 they mated off to the left. A few minutes later we heard a cat walking and the sound of claws on the bark as it went straight up the tree and started on the bait. It looked like the male but it was on the wrong side of the bait and until it pressed its back end against a branch we could not tell it was the male. After the shot the cat hung onto the Sable ribs as it fell off the branch and hung there before falling butt first to the ground with a thud. David and I were both certain of the shot but could not see the cat at the base of the tree. We gave it a few minutes as David tried to raise the Trackers on the radio. Confident the Cat was dead he crept out of the blind and came right back. In the dusky dark he had shone his flashlight and seen eyes to the left of the tree. The trackers were off checking other baits and were not in radio range so we sat there and debated if the cat was dead. We were both convinced the cat was dead so we set up to look again, only this time there were eyes shining back at us behind and to the right of the tree. David went out and back a little further three more times but without the trackers and me with a torn Achilles we didn’t want to venture too far. Finally we put an extra light on the gun and I did my best to back him up as he started to the base of the tree. Just as he moved forward I saw a cat run from the base of the tree towards the rocks. As Dave crept forward with his rifle at the ready I saw him tense up and take off the safety. He froze and then looked up over the barrel once then twice before his whole body relaxed. In a depression hidden by the only clump of grass left for forty yards was a leopard, dead for over an hour. We discovered the Cat had been taking care of two females and they hung around that night and finished the bait we had left in the tree.
I did have a European hunters dream hunt as my Sable, Waterbuck and Bushbuck were all ancient. On the last day I passed on a very nice Waterbuck and we blew an hour long stalk on a 40+ inch Sable grazing on his own.
The 300 RUM I like to use in Africa is fantastic for all animals and usually all conditions. I found that it was too quick to use in the long grass so we made extra-long stalks to get clear shots. Since most of the grass had not burned off we made several stalks that proved fruitless, although it did help on at least one occasion. I love the Nosler Partition but even though I was very successful using this bullet I will be switching to the newer bonded bullets, especially on heavier bodied animals as it should provide cleaner kills.
The last night we went to a granite hill that overlooks the river and the reserve and had sundowners while watching the sun slowly fade in the distance.
Mr J.M, Client