The one tried and proven method of hunting these cats is to set up a bait and wait over the bait in a well-concealed blind. Simple? Not really. Hunting leopard is a process and requires a carefully planned strategy.
It begins with establishing whether or not leopards are present and active in a particular area. It is pointless baiting for leopard if there are no leopard in the area. Once the presence of a leopard has been established, the next step is to look for a suitable spot to place bait and erect a blind. Erect the bait / blind set-up reasonably close to a road or track. You will be going back to your vehicle in the dead of night, and on a dark night it is easy to become disorientated and lost. The approach to the blind should be concealed from the bait area and areas of dense cover where the leopard may be laying up or resting. An elevated blind will give you a good view of the surrounding area.
The bait must be placed up high enough in a tree where lion or hyena cannot reach it (see Figure 1 and 2). A vertical trunk (which makes it difficult for lion to scale), followed by a horizontal branch, is ideal. The horizontal branch should be at right angles to the blind so that the leopard will present a clear side-on shot when it comes to feed on the bait. If possible, the bait tree should be in close proximity to a well-travelled game path, as this will be a likely route for a leopard to follow. Tie the bait firmly to the tree so that it cannot be easily dislodged when the leopard feeds on it. If it falls to the ground it will be carried off by hyena or other scavengers, and without something to feed on, the leopard will soon move off. Having the bait suspended slightly below the branch will make it more difficult for the leopard to feed and will keep it distracted and occupied. Minimise human scent by wearing rubber galoshes or standing on sacking that will be removed once the bait is in place. Never allow anyone to urinate in the vicinity. Leafy branches can be packed lightly over the bait to prevent it from being seen by vultures that will soon devour it. A whole impala or warthog makes a good bait. Parts of a larger animal can also be used, such as a zebra hind leg. Baboon, not one of a leopard’s favourite prey species, may be used as a last resort.
It is important to lay down a scent trail leading to the bait to lure the animal in. Lay this trail along game paths and interconnect the game paths with scent trails. Place the offal of the animal shot for bait in a sack and pierce holes into the bottom of the sack to allow juices, blood and small pieces of offal to run out as the bag is dragged around the bait as shown in Figure 3. The bag of offal can then be tied up in the tree next to the bait where the breeze can waft scent into the surrounding bush.
Correct placement of the blind is very important; the most important thing to keep in mind is to erect it downwind of the prevailing breeze. If the hide is upwind of the blind, the leopard will smell the hunters and will generally not come to the bait. From inside the blind the hunter should have a clear and unobstructed view of the bait. Make sure that there are no twigs, branches or grass in the way that could obscure the view or deflect a bullet. The blind should be dense enough to prevent any movement inside it being seen from outside. Shooting ports should be as small as is practically possible and lined with grass, a small sandbag or cloth to prevent noise when a rifle is rested on it (Figure 4). The blind should be erected as close to the bait as possible, bearing in mind that if it is too close, the leopard may be suspicious of it and may be reluctant to approach the bait. If at all possible, the bait should be placed in such a way that the background behind it is clear sky. Leopard are usually shot at last light or sunrise, and if they are silhouetted against the sky, it will make the shot easier.

Figure 1: Blind and bait

Figure 2: The bait is tied on high enough to avoid being reached by other scavengers, such as hyena.

Figure 3: Dragging bait along a preferred leopard route

Figure 4: Construction of the hide showing shooting / observation port.

A blind may be anywhere from 40–70 m away, depending on the prevailing conditions. For bowhunting, it would have to be a lot closer (25–35 m), but this reduces the chances of the leopard actually coming to the bait. The entrance to the hide should be from the back and should be concealed. Hunters should be in the blind well before last light or well before dawn and should maintain absolute silence. Communicate only by prearranged signals and gestures. Any noise or talking will immediately put any leopard on high alert and prevent it from coming to the bait, or send it at a run away from the bait if it is already on it. Try and empty bladders and bowels at camp before entering the blind. Keep a sealable bottle in the blind if the need arises to urinate. Avoid eating or smoking while waiting in the blind.
Exercise patience. The hunter may be forewarned of a leopard’s approach to the blind by the alarm call of vervet monkeys, baboon, bushbuck or birds. If a leopard is successfully lured to and feeds off a bait and does not present a clear shot, all hope is not lost. Even if it moves off after feeding, it may well return the following day if it was not disturbed on its initial visit. Modern ‘critter cams’ (cameras designed to take photos when a beam is broken or when motion is detected) are ideal tools to scout an area for suitable leopards. Although the quality of images in early ‘critter cams’ was not too good, the latest models are excellent and can take good-quality pictures even in the dark.
Some may question the ethics of hunting an animal by luring it to a bait but realistically this is one method that does work. Leopard are also hunted with dog packs but this method is likely to come under even more severe criticism. Hunting over a bait does increase the chances of success because the shot presented by a leopard on a bait facilitates good shot placement and reduces the risk of wounding. In the end this should be the aim of every ethical hunter – to dispatch his quarry quickly, cleanly and humanely and minimising the risk of wounding and suffering. Many professional hunters will not advocate taking a shot at a leopard when it is lying down feeding on a bait, as the vitals are ‘squashed’ and it is difficult to then place a shot accurately into the heart / lung area. The advice would be to wait until the leopard is sitting or standing, at which time the vital areas would be more clearly exposed (Figure 5).
In dry, sandy terrain, leopard may also be hunted by tracking them. They will eventually stop to rest and that is when the hunter will get an opportunity for a shot. This is, however, a very difficult way to hunt them because they have excellent eyesight and hearing, and will detect the approach of the hunters and move off before they are spotted.

Figure 5: Exercise patience and wait for the leopard to sit or stand before taking the shot.

Calibres suitable for hunting this species include but are not limited to the .270 Winchester,.308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Magnum, .338 Winchester Magnum, 7x57mm, 7x64mm, 8mm Mauser, 9.3x57mm, and .375 Holland & Holland (Figure 6). Make sure you comply with the country’s legal calibres for hunting dangerous game. Bullets should be fairly light (130–165 gr for the light to medium calibres and 230–300 gr for heavier calibres) and have a relatively low sectional density.

They should be thin-jacketed soft-points that are fairly fragile and ‘upset’ quickly once having entered the animal, so that they cause extensive damage to the heart and lungs. Leopard are thin-skinned and have a relatively light bone construction, and super premium-quality soft-points, expanding solids and solids travelling at high velocity are likely to pass right through the animal.
A quality 4-power scope with good light-gathering capability and a highly visible reticle is recommended.
If leopard are to be hunted on foot and a confrontation is likely, an express sighted side-by-side in 9.3mmx74R, .375 Flanged Magnum (with 286 or 300 gr soft-point bullets), English double in one of the .450-400 configurations (with 400gr soft-points) or a .500-.416 Nitro Express (3¼”) with 400 gr Woodleigh soft-points are all good choices.

Hunting of leopard with archery equipment is not permissible in South Africa but in countries where it is, a bow delivering 60–70 foot-pound of kinetic energy is recommended, a momentum of 0.5 lb/sec and a tissue penetration index (TPI) of 40. Because leopard are thin-skinned, there are many fixed-blade and expanding broadheads that are suitable. In terms of reliability, fixed-blade broadheads are recommended. (Figure 7 illustrates some of these). Arrow speed is important for leopard, as they have lightning-fast reflexes. Arrow velocity in excess of 300 feet per second (fps) is recommended. Arrow and broadhead weight will have to be kept down to achieve speed. Total arrow weight should be in the order of 500 gr. It is important that all steps be taken to make the bow shoot as quietly as possible.

Figure 8 shows how measurements are taken for SCI and Rowland Ward records.
The minimum score for inclusion in SCI records is 14 (rifle) and 12 (bow).
The minimum score required for inclusion in Rowland Ward records is 153/8″ (Record 19″).

Figure 8: Methods used for trophy measurement

SCI – measure the length of the skull (A) and the width (B) at the widest point.                            Total measurements.
RW – measure the length of the skull (A).

For trophy purposes, the high heart / lung or shoulder / spinal shot (through the centre of the shoulder blade) is advised (Figure 9). Take note that the heart lies low and further back than is the norm with most African antelope and other animals (giraffe excluded). With a firearm of suitable calibre, frontal chest, side-on and quartering-away shots are all possible but only side-on or quartering-away heart / lung shots should be attempted with bow and arrow. In most instances, shots will be taken from a blind when a leopard is feeding on a bait or lying at it. If the leopard is lying along a branch, a heart shot is very difficult, as it will be squashed down and may even be obscured by part of the branch. It is advisable to wait for the leopard to sit or stand before taking the shot (Figure 5).
If a shot misses, leopard usually run away silently, whereas a wounded animal will grunt with each bound as it makes off into the undergrowth.
If a leopard is wounded, it should be considered highly dangerous. It is advisable to carry a 12-gauge shotgun with SSG loads. If a leopard charges, a head shot should be attempted to hit the brain. The animal charges low and with tremendous speed and it will be a very difficult shot. Bear in mind that if it should charge from a distance of 20 m away, it would take only 1,2 seconds to reach you! Dogs are sometimes used to track and bay a wounded leopard. ASM

Figure 9: Shot placement: shoulder / spinal shot and high heart / lung shot

Cheney, C.S. 2013. The Comprehensive Guide to Tracking. Safari Press.
Mellon, L. 1975. African Hunter. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
New York and London. Robertson, K. 1999. The Perfect Shot. Safari Press. Robertson, K. 2007. Africa’s Most Dangerous. Safari Press.

Photo: Annette Oelofse