Departure Preparations For Africa, The Hunting Adventure Ahead

By on February 7, 2016
Ever since I can remember, almost, I have cherished a modest ambition to hunt lions and elephants. At an early age, or, to be more exact, at about that age which finds most boys wondering whether they would rather be Indian fighters or sailors, I ran across a copy of Stanley’s Through the Dark Continent. It was full of fascinating adventures. I thrilled at the accounts which spoke in terms of easy familiarity of “express” rifles and “elephant” guns, and in my vivid but misguided imagination, I pictured an elephant gun as a sort of cannon—a huge, unwieldy arquebus—that fired a ponderous shell. The old woodcuts of daring hunters and charging lions inspired me with unrest and longing—the longing to bid the farm farewell and start down the road for Africa. Africa! What a picture it conjured up in my fancy! Then, as even now, it symbolized a world of adventurous possibilities; and in my boyhood fancy, it lay away off there—somewhere—vaguely—beyond mountains and deserts and oceans, a vast, mysterious, unknown land, that swarmed with inviting dangers and alluring romance.
hunting expericences in africa
Afric’s highest and second largest dam. Photo by coda/flickr
One by one my other youthful ambitions have been laid away. I have given up hope of ever being an Indian fighter out on the plains, because the pesky redskins have long since ceased to need my strong right arm to quell them. I also have yielded up my ambition to be a sailor, or rather, that branch of the profession in which I hoped to specialize—piracy—because, for some regretful reason, piracy has lost much of its charm in these days of great liners. There is no treasure to search for any more, and the golden age of the splendid clipper ships, with their immense spread of canvas, has given way to the unromantic age of the grimy steamer, about which there is so little to appeal to the imagination. Consequently, lion hunting is about the only thing left—except wars, and they are few and far between.
And so, after suffering this “lion-hunting” ambition to lie fallow for many years, I at last reached a day when it seemed possible to realize it. The chance came in a curiously unexpected way. Mr. Akeley, a man famed in African hunting exploits, was to deliver a talk before a little club to which I belonged. I went, and as a result of my thrilled interest in every word he said, I met him and talked with him and finally was asked to join a new African expedition that he had in prospect. With the party were to be Mrs. Akeley, with a record of fourteen months in the big game country, and Mr. Stephenson, a hunter with many years of experience in the wild places of the United States, Canada and Mexico. My hunting experience had been chiefly gained in my library, but for some strange reason, it did not seem incongruous that I should begin my real hunting in a lion and elephant country.
I had all the prowess of a Tartarin, and during the five months that elapsed before I actually set forth, I went about my daily work with a mind half dazed with the delicious consciousness that I was soon to become a lion hunter. I feared that modern methods might have taken away much of the old-time romance of the sport, but I felt certain that there was still to be something left in the way of excitement and adventure.
The succeeding pages of this book contain the chronicle of the nine delightful months that followed my departure from America.
In the middle of August Mr. Stephenson and I arrived in London. Mr. Akeley had ordered most of our equipment by letter, but there still remained many things to be done, and for a week or more we were busy from morning till night.
It is amazing how much stuff is required to outfit a party of four people for an African shooting expedition of several months’ duration. First in importance come the rifles, then the tents and camp equipment, then the clothes and boots, then the medical supplies, and finally the food. Perhaps the food might be put first in importance, but just now, after a hearty dinner, it seems to be the least important detail.
Many men outfitting for an African campaign among wild animals secure their outfits in London. It is there, in modest little shops, that one gets the weapons that are known to sportsmen from one end of the world to the other—weapons designed expressly for the requirements of African shooting, and which have long stood the test of hard, practical service. For two days we haunted these famous gun-makers’ shops, and for two days I made a magnificent attempt to look learnedly at things about which I knew little.
At last, after many hours of gun shopping, attended by the constant click of a taxicab meter, I assembled such an imposing arsenal that I was nervous whenever I thought about it. With such a battery it was a foregone conclusion that something, or somebody, was likely to get hurt. I hoped that it would be something, and not somebody.
lion hunting trip to africa
Photo by  joelogon/flickr
The old-time “elephant gun” which shot an enormous ball and a staggering charge of black powder has given way to the modern double-barreled rifle, with its steel bullet and cordite powder. It is not half so heavy or clumsy as the old timers, but its power and penetration are tremendous. The largest of this modern type is the .650 cordite—that is, it shoots a bullet six hundred and fifty thousandths of an inch in diameter, and has a frightful recoil. This weapon is prohibitive on account of its recoil, and few, if any, sportsmen now care to carry one. The most popular type is the .450 and .475 cordite double-barreled ejector, hammerless rifles, and these are the ones that every elephant hunter should have.

We started out with the definite purpose of getting three .450s—one for Mr. Akeley, one for Mr. Stephenson, and one for myself; also three nine-millimeter (.375) Mannlichers and two .256 Mannlichers. What we really got were three .475 cordites, two nine-millimeter Mannlichers, one eight-millimeter Mauser, and two .256 Mannlichers. We were switched off the .450s because a government regulation forbids the use of that caliber in Uganda, although it is permitted in British East Africa, and so we played safe by getting the .475s. This rifle is a heavy gun that carries a bullet large enough to jolt a fixed star and recoil enough to put one’s starboard shoulder in the hospital for a day or so. Theoretically, the sportsman uses this weapon in close quarters, and with a bullet placed according to expert advice sees the charging lion, rhino or elephant turn a back somersault on his way to kingdom come. It has a tremendous impact and will usually stop an animal even if the bullet does not kill it. The bullets of a smaller rifle may kill the animal, but not stop it at once. An elephant or lion, with a small bullet in its heart, may still charge for fifty or one hundred yards before it falls. Hence the necessity for a rifle that will shock as well as penetrate.
Several experienced African lion hunters strongly advise taking a “paradox,” which in their parlance is affectionately called a “cripple-stopper.” It looks like what one would suppose an elephant gun to look like. Its weight is staggering, and it shoots a solid ball, backed up by a fearful charge of cordite. They use it under the following conditions: Suppose that a big animal has been wounded and not instantly killed. It at once assumes the aggressive, and is savage beyond belief. The pain of the wound infuriates it and its one object in life is to get at the man who shot it. It charges in a well-nigh irresistible rush, and no ordinary bullet can stop it unless placed in one or two small vital spots. Under the circumstances the hunter may not be able to hold his rifle steady enough to hit these aforesaid spots. That is when the paradox comes in. The hunter points it in a general way in the direction of the oncoming beast, pulls the trigger and hopes for the best. The paradox bullet hits with the force of a sledge hammer, and stuns everything within a quarter of a mile, and the hunter turns several back somersaults from the recoil and fades into bruised unconsciousness.
We decided not to get the paradox, preferring to trust to hitting the small vital spots rather than transport the weapon by hand through long tropical marches.
The nine-millimeter rifles were said to be large enough for nearly all purposes, but not reassuring in extremely close quarters. The .256 Mannlichers are splendid for long range shooting, as they carry a small bore bullet and have enormous penetrating power.
The presumption, therefore, was that we should first shoot the lion at long range with the .256, then at a shorter range with the nine-millimeter, then at close range with the .475 cordite, and then perhaps fervently wish that we had the paradox or a balloon.
After getting our arsenal, we then had to get the cartridges, all done up in tin boxes of a weight not exceeding sixty pounds, that being the limit of weight which the African porter is expected to carry. There were several thousand rounds of ammunition, but this did not mean that several thousand lions were to be killed. Allowing for a fair percentage of misses, we calculated, if lucky, to get one or two lions.
After getting our rifles and ammunition under satisfactory headway, we then saw that our seventy-two “chop” boxes of food were sure to be ready in time to catch our steamer at Southampton.
And yet these preliminary details did not half conclude our shopping preliminaries in London. There were camping rugs, blankets, cork mattresses, pillows and pillow cases, bed bags, towels, lanterns, mosquito boots, whetstones, hunting and skinning knives, khaki helmets, pocket tapes to measure trophies, Pasteur anti-venomous serum, hypodermic syringes, chairs, tables, cots, puttees, sweaters, raincoats, Jaeger flannels, socks and pajamas, cholera belts, Burberry hunting clothes, and lots of other little odds and ends that seemed to be necessary.
The clothes were put up in air-proof tin uniform cases, small enough to be easily carried by a porter and secure enough to keep out the millions of ants that were expected to seek habitation in them.
Most of our equipment, especially the food supplies, had been ordered by letter, and these we found to be practically ready. The remaining necessities, guns, ammunition, camera supplies, medical supplies, clothes, helmets, and so on, we assembled after two days of prodigious hustling. There was nothing then to be done except to hope that all our mountainous mass of equipment would be safely installed on the steamer for Mombasa. This steamer, the Adolph Woermann, sailed from Hamburg on the fourteenth of August, was due at Southampton on the eighteenth and at Naples on the thirtieth. To avoid transporting the hundred cases of supplies overland to Naples, it was necessary to get them to Southampton on the eighteenth. It was a close shave, for only by sending them down by passenger train on that morning were they able to reach Southampton. Fortunately our hopes were fulfilled, and at last we received word that they were on board and were careening down toward Naples, where we expected to join them on the thirtieth.
After disposing of this important preliminary, we then had time to visit the zoo at South Kensington and the British museum of natural history, where we carefully studied many of the animals that we hoped to meet later under less formal conditions. We picked out the vital spots, as seen from all angles, and nothing then remained to be done but to get down to British East Africa with our rifles and see whether we could hit those vital spots.

british museum of art and history london
British museum of natural history, London.       Photo by  Peewubblewoo/flickr
Mr. Akeley had an elaborate moving picture machine and we planned to get some excellent pictures of charging animals. The lion, rhino or other subject was to be allowed to charge within a few feet of the camera and then with a crack of our trusty rifles he was supposed to stop. We seemed safe in assuming, even without exaggeration, that this would be exciting.
At last we said farewell to London, a one-sided ceremony, stopped at Rheims to see the aviators, joined the Akeleys at Paris, and after touching a few of the high spots in Europe, arrived in Naples in ample time to catch our boat for Mombasa.

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