Editor's Note: For this #ThrowbackThursday, we go back to May 2010 when this story was originally published. Written by Jack Evans, then aged 14, it blew us away. We hope it does the same for you!
When we woke up on the ninth day of our safari, the impala we had left in the back of the truck outside the tents was gone and the tarp covering it was shredded. We had been planning on hanging it as bait outside of camp but instead, a leopard had come to us. Our trackers, O.T. and Johnson, hosed the blood out of the bed of the truck and we piled in to retrieve the impala carcass, since its location would lead us to where the leopard was. I did not think that stealing the leopard’s meal was a good idea, but I seemed to be the only one.
We turned off our usual road about 600 yards from camp and stopped outside the forest. I looked around at O.T. and Dad, but they just looked ahead as though nothing had changed. Our guide, Jeff, got out of the cab with a side-by-side 12 gauge.
“Turn your scope down to one power,”he whispered.
I recalled a portion of the book Boddington on Leopard. It said that if you’re going into the bush after a leopard to turn your scope down to one power. That way if it charges you, you can shoulder your rifle quickly and have a nice, wide field of view.
I looked at Dad and pointed to the darkness of the woods.
“Shhhh! We’re going to go get the impala. Remember, a leopard’s probably not going to kill O.T., but a .308 round in the head will. If it jumps, crouch down and shoot at it upwards.”
“Awesome,” I thought. “Now I’m responsible not just for killing a leopard, but for not killing O.T.”
We walked into the jungle, firearms ready, and successfully retreived the impala. We hung what was left of it in a short tree 60 yards from a larger tree, where we built our blind. Jeff chopped a termite mound growing up the trunk into a shelf. We put a piece of plywood on the shelf and secured it to two other branches. It was camouflaged with mesh and branches hung from a rope. We were to stay here for six hours every day until I shot the leopard, or the tracks disappeared.
It came on the third evening just before dark. I got the one-tap signal to slowly rise up and shoulder my rifle. I put it through the triangle-shaped loophole and looked through the scope. The leopard stood on the foot-wide branch, gnawing at the bait. Suddenly it leaped into the canopy above and disappeared. A second later, something ran up the tree and onto the branch to take the first animal’s place on the bait. It was a thick-necked bear of a leopard twice the size of the first. This was not the colorful, beautiful, royal-looking cat from the Kunhert paintings. This was a crude pale-yellow beast. It walked across the branch and bit off a mouthful off impala, then sat down.
Half of my mind was in awe of this creature, while the other half was busy remembering how to shoot a rifle. Just pick a spot and focus on that. Wait for him to stand up. Squeeze the trigger. Don’t think about breathing. Breathe normally. Squeeze the trigger. I felt ready until the cat looked at me down the scope.
“You can’t kill me,” it seemed to say. “You’re just another animal in my forest and you can’t hurt me. You’re going to try. You’re going to come out of your box and you will be with me in the dark, in the forest. And I will kill you. And eat you. So go ahead.”
It took another bite and sat there, chewing, before it finished and stood up. Then it looked right at me again and roared.
When I recovered from the recoil,the leopard was flying down from the tree. It hit the ground in a tangled cloud of dust and disappeared.
“Did it feel like a good shot?”
“Yeah, real good,” I lied.
“Problem is, it jumped out of the tree. It didn’t fall. You might not have broken its shoulders.”
I died one of my thousand deaths in my head.
We climbed down out of the blind and radioed the trackers to bring the truck. There I sat, praying aloud in the cab of the truck for the leopard to be dead, for a clean kill, for God to protect us from the leopard. O.T. and Johnson came running through the brush laughing. They picked me up and ran me over to where Dad stood above the dead leopard. It was huge, with a neck as big around as my waist, and giant, heavy paws. I could barely wrap my hand around the base of his tail.
“Nice work son! That’s the biggest leopard I’ve ever seen!”
“Yeah, me too,” I murmured.