WDM Bell - Wanderings of an elephant hunter

RockSlinger404

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Hallo AH members,

I have recently purchased this book to read on some flights. Firstly, I have to admit that I really struggled with it - this might be in contrast to some other members. However, being from Africa, I'm not interest in how he navigated the relations with natives, but rather in the actual hunts. Secondly, and this is the reason for this post, he makes really controversial statements about buffalo:
  • "Why the buffalo should have got such an evil name has always rather puzzled me. I have shot hundreds of both kinds during my hunting career, and I have never been charged."
  • "In a mix-up with buffalo in bush it is sometimes necessary to fire four or even five shots in rapid succession, and for this the double is mere handicap."
  • "On one occasion when in want of meat I hit a cow buffalo in the lungs with a .22 high-velocity bullet."
I'd love to hear your thoughts. In my mind, reading this was a complete waste of time. In contrast, I really enjoyed Death in the Long Grass by Capstick, what a great read!
 

BourbonTrail

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You pot stirrer! :ROFLMAO: :A Stirring:

I liked this book a lot, but I didn’t really read into the “how” for his hunts. I took it as “this is how you poach game on a budget at the turn of the 20th century.” It’s definitely not a “responsible guide to big game hunting in Africa.”

Teddy Roosevelts exploits were far more cringeworthy (i.e. shooting lions at 200 yards because they were “charging,” and riding down giraffes on horseback and shooting them several times). People back then seemed much more cavalier.

Edit: I too enjoyed Death in the Long Grass, but that shit gave me nightmares my first night in the Kalahari.
 

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. Mr. Bell did what he had to do on those expeditions. If it took six or seven shots with his 7mm, so be it. Read it in the context of the era, not by today's standards Seems this is the new paradigm, e.g. Thomas Jefferson had slaves, therefore all of his life and accomplishments are tainted. It's also the reason Christopher Columbus' statue in Philadelphia is boxed up. Forget about the fact he had the balls to launch his ships westward when the world was flat. SMH.
 

Tom Leoni

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Hello, Rockslinger--I remember reading Wandering of an Elephant Hunter back in the '90s and really enjoying it, together with Karamojo Safari. Having read a lot of vintage Africana, it is true that opinions on the relative danger posed by various animals varies considerably. But it does in relation to the personal experience of each of the hunters. I guess Bell never had a scrap with a buffalo.

As for the other points, again, he is merely relating his experience. The fact that he takes the time to record killing a cow buffalo with a high-velocity .22 means that he considers it an exception and not something to do as a matter of course. In all, I don't find Bell's writings controversial in any way. As for enjoyment, chacun à son goût, although I agree that Capstick's books are absolute and delicious red meat.

For both his attitude towards natives and his treatment of game, we must not fall into the trap of "presentism" (yes, it's an actual thing) by which I mean using today's standards to stand in judgment of the past. Every time I catch myself doing that, I wonder what past generations--who are no longer there to defend themselves--would think of ours, and that shuts me up for good. :p
 

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@RockSlinger404 If you lived in the U.S., after reading the book, you'd get some insight in to the culture we have here in the big cities.
 

VertigoBE

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@RockSlinger404 : I think it is rather pointless to try and read 100+ year old hunting stories and look at them through today's lenses. Appreciate these books for what they are, reasonably factual descriptions of how things happened back then. Not as an instruction manual on how to hunt and behave today.
 

RockSlinger404

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Gents, with respect, I think you misinterpret my post completely...

I'm not looking through today's lenses and criticising Bell. I'm contrasting Bell and Capstick... Take the contradictory Buffalo chapters, Bell doesn't see buffalo as dangerous, while Capstick describes how a native was killed and they came across the scene. Capstick is also much more entertaining than Bell. Capstick focusses on the experience and the animals, while Bell's writing is more factual and focusses on the natives.
 

BourbonTrail

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Gents, with respect, I think you misinterpret my post completely...

I'm not looking through today's lenses and criticising Bell. I'm contrasting Bell and Capstick... Take the contradictory Buffalo chapters, Bell doesn't see buffalo as dangerous, while Capstick describes how a native was killed and they came across the scene. Capstick is also much more entertaining than Bell. Capstick focusses on the experience and the animals, while Bell's writing is more factual and focusses on the natives.
On that note, Capstick could tell a mean story, but I also noticed how early authors were generally more dry (Selous and Patterson). I think it was a stylistic thing of the time period.

When you get to Ruark - Capstick it starts to become “juicy”. Then Boddington comes along and makes it sounds like a Chilton’s repair manual.
 

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Gents, with respect, I think you misinterpret my post completely...

I'm not looking through today's lenses and criticising Bell. I'm contrasting Bell and Capstick... Take the contradictory Buffalo chapters, Bell doesn't see buffalo as dangerous, while Capstick describes how a native was killed and they came across the scene. Capstick is also much more entertaining than Bell. Capstick focusses on the experience and the animals, while Bell's writing is more factual and focusses on the natives.
I dnn't doubt there's a touch of poetic license used in one or more of these authors' books.
 

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Capstick was a raconteur - at the campfire or the typewriter. He told a story and used whatever literary license was necessary to make it as spellbinding as possible. A big African bovine would never be just a bull in his yarns. Should you ever read Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa, Papa did the same thing with a different sort of embellishment style. Neither work should be read as sworn testimonial of any specific event.

With Bell you get to accompany one of the finest marksman that ever hunted Africa. His primary quarry was elephant. He had no use for the concept of knockdown power. What he believed in was pinpoint accuracy and a heavy for caliber solid that would reach the brain of his intended target. He tended to use medium bore rifles, and though his little 6.5 gets a lot of attention, following the Great War, he most used the .318 Westley Richards. He rather famously killed 23 buffalo from a herd during a famine with a .22 Savage Hi-Power (though he used lung shots with the .22). His relationship with the indigenous people of the Karamojo region was critical to his success and was important to recount in a narrative of his adventures.

Capstick is to be read for entertainment - really good entertainment. One reads Bell to understand elephant hunting at the dawn of the last century. Capstick is fun - Bell is a classic narrative of Africa.

And considering his accuracy and his primary quarry, I can see where buffalo intrigued him far less than large tuskers.
 

fourfive8

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^^ @Red Leg is spot on with the explanations. If you want technical, "X" marks the spot ways to shoot an elephant with such and such caliber, bullet and proper types of shoes to wear there is plenty on here and on youtube. But this is 2022 not 1900. You have to read Bell and others from the past with chronological context. +2 on Hemingway. He was a master of the dialogue technique for telling a story. He was unique in his ability to capture the overall essence of an African safari. Capstick probably considered Hemingway somewhat of a mentor. Capstick was a very good writer who used a unique, entertaining and interesting style of writing.

Bell was a surgical perfectionist for killing elephant ivory. Most of his predecessors had been blasting elephants with old, large bore muzzleloaders using blackpowder by the handful to propel large 1750 gr lead roundballs at elephants. Read Selous' book, A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa. Most of Bell's contemporaries were using more modern rifles with large bore smokeless (nitro) cartridges adapted from older BP with some still loaded with BP, clinging to muzzleloader era ballistics. I think Bell's favorite all around caliber for Africa was the 318 WR but the ammo he had was so poor he quit using it for serious hunting and burned up a bunch of it for practice, shooting cormorants on the wing. His favorite elephant round was the 7x57 / 7mm Mauser loaded by DWM with a 173 gr RN FMJ bullet. He said it was the most reliable of all his ammo.

Here's a late Bell era DWM 7x57 factory round with 173 gr RN FMJ

DWM headstamp.jpg


7x57  DWM.png
 

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