For the style of killing which appeals to me most of the light calibres are undoubtedly superior to the heavy. In this style you keep perfectly cool and are never in a hurry. You never fire unless you can clearly see your way to place the bullet in a vital spot. That done the calibre of the bullet makes no difference.
The above quote was taken from ‘Karamojo’ Bell’s autobiography, The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter. From start to finish, Bell advocates for the use of smaller calibers that allow (no, compel) the hunter to shoot accurately. Otherwise, the hunter is likely to be badly hurt if not killed by the dangerous game being pursued.
Though Bell used a range of calibers and cartridges — .303s, .318s, .450-400s — over his storied career, his apparent favorite was the 7mm Rigby-Mauser (a.k.a. .275 Rigby). In ‘Wanderings’ he records that the 200-grain solid bullet from the .275 Rigby had “a remarkable aptitude for finding the brain of an elephant.”
But the exceptional performance of this diminutive cartridge, in Bell’s hands, was not limited to the largest of game species. For example, he describes a time when he badly needed meat for his native staff. He happened to encounter three Cape Buffalo at close range. He shot two of the bulls square in the chest as they faced him, and the third was struck where the neck joins the shoulder. All three bulls dropped in their tracks.
I am not sure the above account speaks as much about the effectiveness of the 7mm Rigby-Mauser on thick-skinned, big-boned, corded-muscled animals as it does of Bell’s amazing skills as a rifleman. Skills that included shooting from a native worker’s shoulders in order to get over intervening vegetation.
As with all of the autobiographies of past African hunters, The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter, first published in 1923, is rich with the details of the lands and peoples encountered by Bell and his native helpers. From the Belgian-held Enclave de Lado (now South Sudan) to his namesake, Karamojo region in present-day Uganda, Bell encountered friendly and hostile native peoples, slave traders with their horrible ‘merchandise,’ and country still largely unaffected by outsiders.
Bell traveled by foot, oxen and boats to gain access to his hunting grounds.
By whatever means necessary, he penetrated into the hinterlands of countries rarely visited by Europeans then. Through it all, he communicates his passion for his calling and chosen vocation of a professional hunter.
For a view of African hunting that incorporates a wealth of vignettes concerning native customs and beliefs, reading W.D.M. ‘Karamojo’ Bell’s The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter will be time well spent.
(Mike Arnold writes for a number of outlets; links to other articles can be found here.)