By Chuck Hawks
The leopard, Panthera pardus, is the smallest of the big cats in the Panthera family, which also includes the jaguar, tiger and lion. Leopards inhabit much of sub-Saharan Africa, India and Southeast Asia. Today, the leopard is completely protected in India, but still hunted in Africa. From the hunter's perspective, all members of the Panthera family are considered to be CXP4 (dangerous) game.
Leopards are very intelligent animals. They are perhaps the most intelligent, as well as the most agile, of all felines, which is saying a lot. They are also among the most beautiful. Leopard habitat in Africa and Asia has been drastically reduced by human incursion and their numbers have steadily declined throughout my lifetime. For these reasons, I hesitated to proceed with this article. Personally, I would not shoot any big cat today unless it was necessary to save a human life and I don't want to be in the position of promoting leopard hunting. There are plenty of challenging herbivores to hunt, so I suggest voluntarily giving the big cats a bye. My feeling is their lives are difficult enough in the 21st Century without interference from sport hunters like me. 'Nuff said.
The African leopard is about the same size as the North American cougar. The average mature male is estimated to weigh around 135 pounds, while very large males may weigh 200 pounds. Males are typically about 30% larger than females.
Leopards are excellent hunters and extremely strong for their size. They are adept tree climbers. Where the cougar is by nature shy and retiring and will almost always attempt to escape if attacked, the leopard is much more aggressive and may attempt to turn the tables on the hunter. I have read that if a leopard attacks, he may take on the entire hunting party, not just the shooter. One man eater in India is reported to have killed around 350 humans. This is not an animal with which to trifle!
Leopards are usually shot over baits from a blind or stand at night or in dim light. This makes a low magnification, illuminated reticle scope with a large field of view desirable on any rifle intended for leopard hunting.
As with any large predator, there is always the chance of trouble should things go wrong. With an animal as fast and agile as a leopard, which can run at speeds up to 35 MPH, if things go wrong, they can go wrong in a hurry. It makes sense to use a rifle and cartridge that are more powerful than normally required for non-dangerous game of similar size.
Across most of sub-Saharan Africa the 9.3x62mm and/or .375 Magnum are the minimum cartridges for the legal hunting of dangerous game. However, these restrictions often apply to lion, buffalo, rhino and elephant, but not leopard. Leopard are much smaller than those animals.
I would suggest all-around cartridges on the order of the .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester and .30-06 as sensible minimums for hunting leopard. Less powerful cartridges may be adequate leopard medicine under most circumstances, but might not stop or turn a charge. Perhaps the best cartridges for that purpose are the medium bores. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Choose bullets of the type designed to expand correctly on 150 pound animals. (A-Square's Lion Load, Hornady's InterLock, Remington's Core-Lokt and Winchester's Power Point would be examples.) Sectional densities of at least .240 for small bore calibers (.27-.32 caliber), .230 for medium bore calibers (.33-.375) and .220 for big bore calibers (over .40) would seem to be reasonable.
With this in mind, here are examples (this list is not intended to be all-inclusive) of some cartridges with which I would feel comfortable: .270 Winchester, .270 Wby. Magnum, .280 Remington, 7mm Magnum, .308 Marlin Express, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 Magnum, .303 British, 8x57JS, 8x68S, .338 Marlin Express, .338 Federal, .338-06, .338 Win. Magnum, .358 Winchester, .35 Whelen, .350 Rem. Magnum, 9.3x62mm, 9.3x74R, .405 Winchester, .450 Marlin and .45-70. Cartridges on the order of the .375 Magnums are certainly more than sufficient in killing power, but their severe recoil extends recovery time and few hunters can shoot them as accurately as less powerful cartridges. Avoid such cartridges unless they are required by law.
Like all of the cartridge recommendations in my series on big game animals, the cartridge recommendations above assume that the hunter selects an adequate bullet and gets it into a vital spot. As in all hunting, but particularly when leopard hunting, correct bullet placement is more important than sheer power. Make absolutely sure that your first shot will be immediately fatal. If you have any doubts, don't shoot and live to hunt another day.
Copyright 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.