Book Review: ‘The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter’ by W.D.M. ‘Karamojo’ Bell

W. D. M. Bell

Courtesy Big Game Books

If John ‘Pondoro’ Taylor was the champion of the large-bore rifle for hunting African game, then W.D.M. ‘Karamojo’ Bell held the belt for the small-bore title. To quote Bell,

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.

W. D. M. Bell

Courtesy Big Game Books

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.

W. D. M. Bell

Courtesy Big Game Books

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.)

comments

  1. avatar James A. "Jim" Farmer says:

    I posted this online via “Winchester 70 Featherweight 7×57: August 1, 2013”. I will therefore slightly revise it for 2020.

    The 7mm Mauser (7×57) was developed originally in 1892 as a military caliber,
    primarily for Spain, Mexico, Central America, and half of South American governments. Their Armies (soldiers) utilized it extensively. In addition to being chambered in Mauser bolt action rifles, the 7mm Mauser was even chambered in machine guns. In fact, in 1913 during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) a version of the Japanese Arisaka bolt action rifle was produced for the Government of Mexico. This caliber also saw extensive use during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) by both Fascist and Republican factions. No doubt the 7mm Mauser even saw some, but limited use, during both World War 1 (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945). Not to mention the Spanish American War (1898), and South Africa’s Boer War (1899-1902). So much for the military history on
    the 7mm Mauser.

    Sporting use: The 7mm Mauser (7×57),along with the .30-06 Springfield and .375
    Holland and Holland Magnum historically, is a world caliber. Africa, India, Europe,
    North America, and elsewhere it’s seen over a century of use hunting big game of
    the world. Even today (2020) the 7mm Mauser would be an ideal classic dual
    purpose “deer/elk” caliber for the average North American hunter who wishes to
    fill the family freezer with fresh venison and elk meat. A quality bolt action sporting
    rifle such as this gorgeous Winchester Model 70 chambered in 7mm Mauser, topped
    with a good 4x scope (a classic Weaver K-4 or Leopold 4x compact), and carry sling would give an entire lifetime of service to it’s owner. This is one caliber that deserves to be far more popular than it is. It’s also highly useful to both sexes, including youth who desire a rifle with lethal killing power on big game, yet has noticeably less recoil than a .30-06 and .270.

    —James A. “Jim” Farmer
    Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)
    Long Live The State of Jefferson!

    1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

      Jim, I don’t know what to say. I bought a Ruger #1 last December/January in 7X57 Mauser. Just because. It is a nice rifle. Alex Hendry forearm. Fixed 4X Leupold. Mint. I told Chris Stanaback about it. (Want a Randall knife? Call him. Mention my name. You’ll pay a premium, but…) He lost his mind. He wanted this rifle for his granddaughter. She’s a lefty. A #1 is ambi. And it’s a manageable caliber that kills big game. I gave it to him. Youth is the salvation of our sport. BTW, this is a book I should have to already read.

      1. avatar Wood says:

        By all accounts it’s a fantastic caliber. Translates to hand loading cast effectively (so I read). Would love to have it in a medium weight rifle. A scoped No. 1 would be a fine platform! Good on you.

  2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    Weeeeellll…. let’s back up a moment here and have a little lesson in mathematics with the terminal ballistics Mr. Bell was achieving before other folks head off for dangerous game with a sub-0.300 rifle.

    Let’s look at something called “sectional density” (hereinafter ‘SD’) of bullets. SD is computed as follows: SD= bullet mass / bullet diameter^2

    This is done in the Imperial unit system with bullet weight in pounds and diameter in inches. When you do this, if you want to match most bullet vendors’ numbers, you should end up with a sectional density in “pounds per square inch” and the numbers for most small arms will range from a bit below 0.100 to over 0.300. Most of the time, the units aren’t listed with the number in ballistics books. We can drop the units here, too. We’re just using the numbers for comparison between bullet diameters & weights.

    Back to Mr. Bell’s results: A .275 Rigby (actually a 7×57 Mauser; Rigby was the sole English distributor Mauser rifle actions before 1912, hence the re-naming of the German cartridge to a “Rigby” cartridge) with a 175 to 200 grain solid is going to have a high sectional density over 0.300. Penetration capability is predicted by SD – if you want to increase your SD, you either increase the mass of the bullet, or you decrease the diameter of the bullet. So as we go up in bore diameter, we need to increase our mass in order to achieve SD.

    SD affects ballistic coefficient. A bullet with a high SD isn’t necessarily going to have a high Bc, but a bullet with a low SD will not have a high SD. SD is necessary for a high Bc, but not sufficient; you need to worry about the shape of the bullet to maximize Bc.

    So what does this look like in the ballistic tables? Varmint bullets often have SD’s in the 0.100 (and slightly below) to 0.175 range. Common large game hunting bullets tend to be in the 0.200 to 0.275 range. Most cartridges intended for heavy/dangerous game have SD’s over 0.300. To give some reference points: A 77 grain .224 bullet (such as in the M262 ammunition for AR-15 type rifles) will have a SD just over 0.200. The 55 grain XM193 ammo gives a SD of about 0.157. A 150-grain .30 cal bullet will be about 0.226, but the same bullet weight in a .270 rifle will have a SD of 0.279.

    In theory if I want to maximize my potential for terminal penetration, I would choose a 150 grain bullet in .270 Winchester over a 150 grain bullet in .30-06.

    The 7×57 with 175 or heavier bullets is over 0.300, as is the 9.3×62 with a 286 grain bullet (interesting how that oddball bullet weight just worked out to be over 0.300, eh? No, that wasn’t an accident), or the .375 H&H with a 300+ grain bullet, or a .30 caliber bullet of over 210 grains, or a .338 bullet of 250+ grains. They all have a SD > 0.300 in common.

    Now you start to see how ballistics (internal, external, and terminal) = shooting + some math. Don’t be scared of the math, folks. You don’t need to have monster math skills for most of ballistics – high school mathematics will usually suffice well until you start trying to compute trajectories with nothing but muzzle velocities and ballistic coefficients.

    So, was Mr. Bell’s choice of rifle “off” or “absurd?” No. He chose a bullet of sufficient SD (whether by experimental methods or otherwise) to get deep penetration. But he needed to put that smaller bullet exactly where it needed to go – and this he did.

    1. avatar Rusty Chains says:

      So a 6.5 Creedmoor 160 gr with a SD of 0.328 would work well?

      Someone had to say the C word….

      1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        I cannot say whether it would work well on dangerous game. I can say that it seems to work well on medium game in this area.

        I can say that the Scandinavians have hunted elk and moose-sized animals successfully with a 6.5×55 and 160+ grain bullets for some time. I’ve talked to people who have hunted black bears with the 6.5×55 as well. The key is bullet placement, but if you do your part, a 160 grain bullet from a 6.5×55 will drive deeply into big game. The Swede might be able to deliver a higher velocity due to the slightly larger case.

        But that’s still not like taking on a elephant, cape buff or rhino, so I cannot say. The 7×57/.275 Rigby has the mountain of evidence of Bell behind it, with documentation and evaluation in the field. No hunter can accumulate that level of experience in African dangerous game again – this era simply won’t permit it.

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          And, if you could, the game is called “you bet your ass”, if your placement is not perfect you die.

      2. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

        Not without as much style. And style counts.

    2. avatar jwm says:

      Bell was a business man. A professional hunter that made his living off his rifles. I am convinced that at least in some part cost was a factor in his choice of ammo. The traditional big bore rifles that the Great White Hunters used were kinda pricey. Both for gun and ammo. Profits come from keeping costs down.

      I looked over a .275 Rigby once. It was a very well made rifle. Not a work of art like the double rifles but it was handsome and a rifle that would give decades of service. As the one I had in my hands had already done.

      6.5 swedish mauser and 7×57 are both rounds that are very good at their jobs.

      1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        They are so good at their jobs that:

        – the 7×57 round is what cleaned the clocks of Teddy Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders” at San Juan Hill long before Bell started hunting elephants with it,

        – the 6.5×55 is still in use in Scandinavian target competitions, and is regularly used for hunting reindeer and møøse.

        – If we had adopted either round (but especially the 6.5×55), there would have been no need to go through the .30-06 and then to the .308/7.62 NATO

        – and if we had adopted the 6.5×55, we likely would never have adopted the .223/5.56 round, we could have had a AR-10-like rifle in 6.5×55 quite successfully, and it would have had longer effective range than the .308/7.62 with 150 grain bullets.

        But, alas, it was not to be, because Army Ordnance held that “real men” shot big bullets, and they were already bellowing like ruptured cows when we went from .45 to .30 caliber, and then they started really howling when we went from the .30-caliber of 1903 to the 1906 cartridge, with its “tiny” little 150 grain bullet compared to the half-ounce of lead we used to lob downrange with the Springfield Trapdoor rifles/carbine on rainbow-like trajectories.

        And so here we are today, fielding armies that are equipped with a varmint cartridge, and one idiotic research project after another, costing the taxpayers millions upon millions, looking for a way to replace said varmint cartridge with “something better” that isn’t the 7.62 NATO.

        1. avatar gus says:

          that’s bureaucracy for you.

          and the British were trying to talk them into an intermediate .270 cartridge but they didn’t listen to that either. had to try the .223, nope sabotage the testing, yep the president rams it through, nope sabotage the cartridge with the wrong powder, yep spend money on developing it ino A2/A3/A4/M4/M27, nope we want an OICS, a different caliber, nope nope let’s try an HK416, no wait we want something totally different, yep here’s the new M4A1…

          what a cluster fuck

      2. avatar Miner49er says:

        Bill did not make his living off of his rifles.

        He was a member of the wealthy elite, and never had to work a day in his life. All his adventures were self-directed rich man safaris, where he used his considerable wealth to hire legions of bearers and beaters to do the actual work of ‘hunting’.

        “Bell was born into a wealthy family of Scottish and Manx ancestry, on the family’s estate named Clifton Hall, (today a school) in Linlithgowshire, near Edinburgh in 1880.[6] Walter was the second-youngest of 8 children. His mother died when he was two years old and his father died when he was six. His father Robert Bell owned a successful business in coal and shale oil and the Bell family resided in their stately home near Broxburn, as well as owning the surrounding estate and other country properties.”

        If you’d like to see how his family‘s fortune was made, perhaps a bit of research on the working conditions in the coal mines of England during the late 1800s would be edifying.

        1. avatar jwm says:

          Don’t you have a statue to destroy?

        2. avatar Miner49er says:

          Bell’s money came directly from forcing working people like you and me to labor in unsafe mines where thousands were injured and killed by the owners pursuit of profits over safety.

          It is interesting that freedom loving Americans word revere an individual such as Bell, the rich kid of the elite who were causing the suffering and death of hundreds of thousands of working people in their coal mines.

          Talk about identifying with your oppressor, there’s the Stockholm syndrome for you.

        3. avatar jwm says:

          Who do you identify with, miner? Che? Mao? Stalin?

          You and I have never suffered at the hands of an oppressor. We have first world problems thanks to generations that came before us and did the heavy lifting. The same generations you spit on from a place of privilege they provided for you.

          Fascinating.

        4. avatar Miner49er says:

          “The same generations you spit on”

          I don’t spit on any generations, just the wealthy and elite who force American workers to endure low pay, poor benefits and unsafe job conditions.

          “generations that came before us and did the heavy lifting”

          Great white hunter Bell never did any heavy lifting, he was a spoiled rich kid who traveled the world on his daddy’s dime.

          Bell could travel the world, his adventures financed by the blood of common working people who dug coal in dangerous, gassy mines and suffered by the thousands.

          Here’s one example:

          “The Blantyre mining disaster, which happened on the morning of 22 October 1877, in Blantyre, Scotland, was Scotland’s worst ever mining accident.[3][4] Pits No. 2 and No. 3 of William Dixon’s Blantyre Colliery were the site of an explosion which killed 207 miners, the youngest being a boy of 11.[5][6] It was known that firedamp was present in the pit and it is likely that this was ignited by a naked flame. The accident left 92 widows and 250 fatherless children.”

          Yes, I am sure you admire the robber barons and their wealth.

        5. avatar Klaus Von Schmitto says:

          Aw fuck you @Miner. I’ll bet you were really born a coal miner’s daughter.

        6. avatar jwm says:

          So, no comment on your feelings about che, mao, stalin?

          You’re angry because you were born white and privileged. Self hate is not a good thing.

        7. avatar drunkEODguy says:

          “forced”? I’m fairly certain feudalism was over with by that point. Also, mining was and still remains a dangerous profession, but you should know that. They knew what they were getting into, just like I did, and I don’t bitch about the hazards. Were shortcuts taken? the gilded age and 19th – early 20th century aren’t really known for their workplace safety. But that’s not really the problem is it? You hate the rich because they are rich, regardless of how they earned it, because you’re a self-loathing commie dipshit who is butt blasted about his success and station in life. Just chill, there’s always going to be someone richer anyway who gives a damn.

    3. avatar Ron says:

      I can now say I’ve learned something new today. Thanks for writing all that.

  3. avatar Bob says:

    Seem to recall he was also rather fond of the Mannlicher with 6.5x54mm with 160 grain.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Bell reportedly lost his interest in this rifle due to unreliable ammunition.

      One of the things Bell discovered at that time was that commercial ammunition was nowhere near as reliable and military ammo. The military ammo for the 7×57 used a big, heavy, round-nosed jacketed bullet, and this suited his purposes well. The .303 Brit also worked for him in single-shot rifles.

  4. avatar Not Bidem says:

    Not a fan of Elephant Hunters.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      Feel free to tear down their statues.

      1. avatar Matt in Oklahoma says:

        Bhahaha

  5. avatar CentralVirginian says:

    Does that book cover have a naked baby getting ready to spear the elephant?

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      Pygmy.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        They prefer ‘vertically challenged’.

  6. avatar Red says:

    I feel sure that the game Bell encountered was probably, on average, much bigger than what you’ll find in Africa today. The gene pool back then was rich and many of those big animals had virtually no real enemies, at least once they reached adult size. That kind of hunter, back in that day, was a true man’s man. Not sit around bragging about this or that; actually out there doing it.

  7. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    This is a great book.
    I can’t help but wonder if some imbellishment occurred back in the day, (gotta sell those books). But if he did half of what he and others have written? I’m in awe.

    To read this book and others, Shelby, Ruark, Taylor, Siemel, etal, makes me want for a time machine.

  8. avatar RGP says:

    I wonder how many neato exotic nicknames translate to “go away” or something similar.

  9. avatar Jimmy James says:

    Bell of Africa or Wanderings?

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email