Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell of Karamojo, The Elephant Hunter of Legend

Few men have exhibited greater skill in the realms of hunting and riflery than the man known as Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell, more commonly known as Karamojo Bell, named after a region he did much of his hunting in during his days in Africa.

Back in the day there were very few jobs more dangerous than ivory hunting in Africa. Sure, there were plenty of perilous professions in the old days: Being a lawman on the frontier, mining with unstable sticks of dynamite in rickety mine shafts, being a dad, all kinds of stuff. But I don't believe there was any job at the time that had more collective danger than ivory hunting in the African interior. For starters the disease that still takes root there is beyond belief. In fact, for most of recorded history Africa was explored only by native Africans and Arabs. Any time anyone from Europe tried going in they almost always died within a year, and that was with medication. The disease there kicked the collective tails of Europeans so hard that it wasn't until the discovery and usage of quinine from South America that a white man could sail within sight of the continent and not keel over from fever, sleeping sickness, malaria, and dozens of other illnesses that are hard to spell without a medical dictionary nearby. Suffice it to say that without quinine, most people were as good as dead there.
Heck, the explorer Samuel Baker was well stocked with quinine and he and his wife both almost died during their trip!

That was just the first hurdle though. You also had to deal with some natives who's national sport was "Killing Everyone Not In Your Tribe", an activity many took to with gusto. Now, this didn't apply to all groups there certainly, but notably groups like the Masai had a requirement that you had to kill someone to be awarded the status of manhood. Circumstances didn't matter all that much, as long as it was an adult and you were the one who did the stabbing. Throw in Arabs who weren't always fond of outsiders edging in on their ivory hunting and one would quickly find that enemies were in far greater supply than friends in the 1800's and early 1900's.

The landscape over many areas is pretty harsh. Scalding sun and groundwater in pretty limited areas, starvation and dehydration are problems even today for people who know darned well what they are doing.

Then you had to deal with some rather notorious venomous snakes such as the legendary black mamba, adders, boomslangs, several cobras and a few others and just a nightly walk became a peril. That's not even counting the big stuff! You have the usual assortment of lions, leopards, rhinos, hippos, crocs, cape buffalo and other animals who have well deserved reputations for destruction prowling around.

Ah, but that still leaves the elephant itself! Currently the largest land animal alive today it has a well deserved reputation for being kinda hard to kill and sometimes having a bad mood. Granted, the bulk of elephants will bolt to another zip code at the least hint of human scent, but you only need to torque off one to completely ruin your day. Angry elephants don't screw around. They don't just kill you, they will tear you apart and grind you into your base components as best they can, usually the only recognizable parts left being able to fit inside a one gallon bucket. On one hand, if there was a zombie apocalypse, it'd be VERY short in the African bush. Those things would get steamrolled right quick.

These are the many challenges that faced the hunters of ivory, where simply staying alive for long enough to cash in your tusks for money was quite an accomplishment. Plenty of danger, the kind of job no right minded man or woman would take.

And Bell would spend almost the entire first half of his life trying to get that job. Despite being born to a fairly wealthy Scottish family, the second youngest of ten brothers, the lad got it in his head that he wanted to be a hunter for a living. I imagine every kid assumes that they will have some sort of grand idea of what they want to be when they grow up. I had quite a few outlandish ideas when my age consisted of one digit. About 99.9% of us will mature and move onto more realistic jobs and look back on our idealistic youthful ideas with fond or embarrassed nostalgia.

Bell wasn't one of those people. It appears as though that he one day opened a fortune cookie saying he was to be a hunter and held onto the concept with a grip that would have made the most determined, lock-jawed crocodile shake his head in bewilderment as the unreasonable persistence. His parents died when he was six, and instead of just waiting a decade and a half to come into his inheritance he was utterly determined to be a professional adventurer and hunter. At first he wanted to hunt bison on the American plains. A bit too late for that however, as by the time he was around the plains herds had been ravaged by Union soldiers and hide hunters.

So he switched to the idea of ivory hunting in Africa, and be darned to anyone who stood in his way. His big brothers didn't quite see things his way, and seeming to chalk his fanciful ideas up to youthful extravagance, they instead shipped him off to schools to get an edumication. But in a display of rebellion that warms my heart, the lad treated the excursions like prison breaks. Woe to the school faculty who had to put up with him! As of yet I'm not sure how much bush craft skill he had at the time or what material he had access to, but I'd be willing to wager he read up on everything he could, for he was able to break away from the schools and do his own thing. Picking up odd jobs here and there he got an impressive amount of work experience and skills under his belt before he first set foot on African soil.

You see, instead of listening to boring lectures for the eight years he was at various schools for, he was pestering his older brothers day and night for enough pocket change to outfit him with a firearm, some odds and ends and a ticket to Africa. Most kids today can't keep one straight thought for a month at a time, but boy oh boy, Bell sure had his mind set on this! I like to imagine that his older brothers had premature gray hair by this point and finally granted him his request. Sixteen years old and he began his long road to riflery and hunting!

In truth he wouldn't get to begin officially hunting elephant until he was much older when he got his share of inheritance money, as Life threw every obstacle in his way with the exception of Godzilla and a zombie apocalypse, but I don't want to do an entire biography here.

What I will cover are some of his exploits in exploration, his amazing skills as a hunter and rifleman, his preferences on firearms and technique, and how he came to those beliefs.

For you see, Bell was not only one of the most successful and expert elephant hunters of all time, but in my opinion perhaps the best off-hand rifle shot that ever lived. And in a world where men around the globe strive to become the best, this is quite a claim.

Back in the day most elephant hunting was done with hand-held howitzers dubbed "elephant guns." Since these animals often weighed over five tons, there was quite a bit of meat and bone between the shooter and the soft bits that you had to tag in order to convince the animal to lay down and die. For most elephant hunting history this was done with black powder firearms, and since the power of black powder and bullet technology was very limited back then, you had only two choices for having a more powerful weapon: Increase the bullet size and weight, and increase the black powder charge.

Today we measure gunpowder in grains only, but for elephant guns it was measured in drams.
Typically the most popular arm of the day for this work was known as the 4 bore. The sheer size of these pill pushers is unreal, and could easily be listed as an anti-material weapon today.
Here's but a taste of what this type of thing was like to handle:

These guns could weigh up to twenty pounds and had bores big enough to stick your thumb into. Some people preferred the far more tame 8 bores, which would only badly bruise your shoulder. If you were really ballsy, then you might even try out the most absurd of shoulder fired weapons, the 2 bore!

On the Right is a 2 bore shell, on the left is a 700 Nitro Express.
Good grief, look at the bloody size of that thing! It looks like what you'd load into a 40mm grenade launcher for destroying a machine gun nest. The mighty 700 Nitro Express put in there for comparison looks diminutive by comparison. So, next time someone asks you in a firearm debate what the biggest bullet around is, now you know.

So basically, your average elephant tamer was a titanic shotgun going anywhere between the 8 gauge shotgun to the overcompensating 2 bore, which I'm presuming could double as a swivel gun for repelling borders on the high seas when pirates were about. Although that might just be me.

So what did Bell, reputed to be the best elephant hunter of all time use? His weapon of choice was the 7x57mm Mauser, also known as the .275 Rigby in England.

Okay, for those of you who aren't cartridge geeks, the 7x57mm Mauser is what was used by many soldiers near the end of the 1800's and by hunters of deer. It also fired a bullet about as thick as a number 2 pencil. For enemy soldiers and deer it was just dandy, but for elephants the size of stagecoach wagons? Just about every other hunter on the continent thought this Scottish gent was a few cents short of a dollar. A puny cartridge in a bolt action just wasn't going to cut it, right? Well, that's where Bell really garnered attention. He used small bore high velocity cartridges to kill just about everything he came across with unnerving lethality due to his unbelievable marksmanship, superb knowledge of animal anatomy and exclusive use of solid bullets.

For some idea of what he was able to bag over his years of ivory collection, he had a confirmed elephant count of about 1,011 animals under his belt. Personally I think the true number is higher, as he used a variety of cartridges to get these animals. Aside from the 7x57mm he used the .303 British, .318, 416, .450-400, .360, and .256. Two of these, the ones beginning with four, were hefty cartridges but not regarded as elephant medicine. Even so, Bell used all of these to collect a larger number of elephants than any other man in history. I've seen some estimates go as high as 2,000, which doesn't strike me as being unreasonable. His true body count is of course impossible to know, but it's pretty safe to assume that he's got the grand title. Granted, much of his success was due to potting elephants out in the open plains rather than following them into the thick brush, but that doesn't demean his accomplishments at all. If one elephant sounded the alarm every other animal within earshot would leg it to another territory.
So he had to ace them instantly, letting them crumple to the ground and have his pals just figure that the old boy was taking a nap. This isn't unlike the bison hunter tactic of sniping herds from a distance, slaying dozens before one would be only wounded and start a stampede. That being said, bison are a tad easier to kill than elephants, especially when going for brain shots!

You see, early on in his career young Bell learned a lot about hunting and shooting, but also took some drastic diversions from conventional wisdom. One of his first stints over in Africa was acting as a meat hunter and guard for a caravan and was armed with a Frazer rifle. There was however a major problem. Not with the rifle itself per se, but rather the cartridges and the powder inside. The .303 he had was using the newest thing on the rifle market, cordite, the first of the smokeless powders. It provided far more velocity for a smaller package, and didn't leave a big plume of bluish smoke when fired. The problem with this stuff was that when a shell was sitting in the rifle all day in the intense African sun, the powder was heated and when fired the powder burned much faster than normal, producing far greater pressures than it was meant to.

This had the unfortunate side effect of making the brass shell swell and refuse to budge from the chamber. It was only with stiff application of a cleaning rod shoved down the barrel that Bell was able to extract the shells and reload which was a huge problem, especially if there was a group of blood-thirsty Masai charging or a pride of lions. In fact, in that area and time the notorious Tsavo Man-eaters were out and about making themselves famous and making the British look right foolish. Essentially having the same rate of fire as a muzzleloader, Bell realized that he had to make each and every shot count under any and all circumstances, for he wouldn't get a chance to make a second. This was the first step for him becoming a wondrous shot.

The second step was the second rifle he was able to acquire. Trading the Frazer for a Winchester falling block, most likely a Winchester 1885 in some manner of .45 cartridge, a fantastic setup by the way, Bell was set up with a much more reliable rifle but again there was a problem with the cartridge. This time the fault was with the bullet itself. The ones he acquired through the trade were an experimental type, hollow point copper capped bullets. They were meant for almost instant expansion, and this was back when hollow point designs were new and still being tried out. People were still tinkering with controlled expansion and such, with these likely being an early prototype of some sort. They had a pretty glaring problem however, that being they would expand so quickly that they wouldn't penetrate worth a crap. And when you're dealing with animals that have big bones and lots of meat, penetration is the name of the game, so this was a bit of a setback. This was demonstrated most vividly in one of his first encounters with a lion.

While out and about with the caravan some of the boys said that they saw a lion drinking by a near by pool of water, so Bell and an African decided to try and pot him. While I'm not sure which .45 Winchester cartridge type he was using, a casual bit of research will reveal that many of them were decent bison slayers. While some were less potent than others, just about all of them were good at lobbing heavy slugs into targets with reliably impressive results, so Bell was within reason to be confident when he delivered a bullet right into the cat's face. However, things didn't go quite as well as planned, as instead of having its skull scattered over several square yards it seemed to only be mighty peeved. Long story short, Bell had to deliver two more shots to the darned thing and be assisted by a big group of beaters armed with bludgeons and knives to convince it to die.

Upon examination he discovered that his first shot had broken the animal's jaw, preventing it from exerting its full strength with biting. This was extremely lucky, as when the beaters rushed in there was a darned good chance of at least one man getting an extremity bitten off and this prevented anyone suffering any real harm. The other bullets didn't penetrate the thick, hard muscle at all. They just flattened like pancakes on the flesh and didn't cause any major injury of any kind. For those of you who've not had the pleasure of reading about the intrigues of dangerous game hunting, a wounded animal is far more dangerous than a healthy one because an injured one is much more likely to charge and maul someone, whereas a healthy animal is more likely to simply run away.

Bell then came to the conclusion that straight, unwavering penetration through any and all obstacles with proper bullet placement was paramount. First chance he got he switched to solid bullets usually plated with copper or nickel. Unlike most bullets solids don't deform, mushroom, expand or lose their shape in any way. They go through flesh and bone in as straight a line as one could hope. Many decry that these don't produce a big enough wound channel to be immediately fatal, or worse insist that they impart no "shock" value and will only create very narrow, slow bleeding wounds. I shan't bore you all with one of the most intense controversies within the ragged battlefield of terminal ballistics, but suffice it to say that Bell broke quite a few assumptions and proved to be exceptionally deadly with his little solids.

One of my favorite quotes of his is "And 100 grains in the right place are as good as ten million." He certainly seemed to prove that!

With his knowledge of animal anatomy, unwavering aim and bullet selection Bell would prove to be one of the most lethal riflemen to have ever walked this earth. He broke down hunting to a darned science, as proved during his very first case of dealing with elephant. It took a darned good bit of time for him to actually get a safari outfit put together, as he didn't actually get a real gig going until he got his own chunk of inheritance money, but we'll mention some of that later.

Bell had come to the conclusion that the best way to slay any animal was to put a bullet into the vital organs at any cost, and that no matter how large or small the bullet would do its work. For elephants he wanted the most surefire death-shot he could possibly make: The brain shot! Ah, but an elephant's head is a bit bigger than that of most animals, and when dealing with them missing by even an inch is just as bad as missing altogether. Bell was determined to find out exactly where that piece of gray matter was and was given a tip as to where they lay. However, he found this initial information to be faulty, as when he first fired upon a group of bulls his shots didn't seem to worry them at all!

Picking up on the fact that this wasn't part of the plan he switched to delivering a heart shot, which brought down one of the bulls. The thing threw a brief fit and died, but it was enough to make the others head for the hills. He then had his employees hustle back to an acquaintance of Bell and bring a beefy logging saw. You know, those big two handled ones you see in cartoons where two men take turns pushing and pulling and is longer than then are tall? Yup, one of those. Bell then sawed the darned bull's skull in half to find out exactly where the soggy computer was. After that brain shots were no longer a problem.

From that point Bell delivered brain shots with the sort of precision usually reserved for surgeons. Although he would use heart and lung shots too with excellent results, his superb skill at braining elephants was almost supernatural. He could tag them from just about any angle one could think, including from behind! Okay, not directly from behind, but pretty darned close. In fact, Bell's knowledge of internal anatomy, superb marksmanship and solids he was able to kill almost any animal from almost any angle. He was quite fond of "raking shots", a shot where the bullet would travel lengthwise through an animal, hitting multiple vital organs and causing loads of tissue damage which would mean almost certain death.

Bell's diagram of rear brain shot. A tad bit tricky to pull off.
Bell didn't like knocking on bigger cartridges and rifles however, rather he was quite mature in his writings and understood that there are many styles and methods of hunting, some of which suit some men better than others. To quote from Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter "Each hunter should use the weapon he has most confidence in."

He did in fact use a variety of different rifles and of different calibers, and for the most part settled on the 7x57mm Mauser as it was the most reliable weapon that he used. In several examples we'll see that he tried using a Lee Enfield in the .303 British, a decent weapon. He hoped to make use of the large ten round magazine, but he had trouble with the reliability, as he often had misfires and other problems. Even so, he used it to darned good effect!

He was quite fond of the bolt actions due to their lightness, ease of handling, reliability, ease of reloading and the rate of fire. He didn't necessarily advocate the hypervelocity bullets that are quite common today, but rather moderate velocity projectiles at around 2,500 fps. Later on he would write that one should use solids with round noses and not the spritzers that became more common, as the sharp pointy bullets were far more likely to lose their course and veer away from the intended targets after impact. Tumbling is a nasty problem sometimes, and the spritzer is more likely to do so. In the 50's however he did advocate the idea of using 220 grain 308s if he were going to go hunting elephant again. That's quite an endorsement!

But lets get into some of the specific examples of his exemplary marksmanship!
In one case he travelled to some new territory called Bukora and set up camp when some local Karamojong showed up seemingly out of curiosity. Bell's headman noticed some bad signs though: Not a woman was in sight and clusters of spearmen began following members of Bell's staff as they went about their business. Women tend to be scarce only when a fight is about to happen, and it looked very much like the Karamojong were getting ready to have themselves a spearing party.

Bell realized this would put quite a crimp in his ivory hunting and with a darned impressive head for diplomacy decided to kill several birds with one stone. Being a business man, shooting a bunch of natives even in self defense wasn't something that would overly endear him to the people, and he wanted all the support he could get. So, he decided to put on a little show to convince the visitors in an innocent manner that he wasn't someone to be screwed around with.

He announced he was going out to hunt some meat. He went out he was well within visual range when a herd of zebra popped up and bolted off. Bell, most likely wielding a Lee Enfield sporter, dropped ten of the animals while working the bolt as fast as he could from an offhand position.
Now just take a moment to let those factors sink in: Ten shots. Ten zebra. Running at full speed. All ten drop instantly. Bell was almost certainly using iron sights, nor did he assume any sort of stable shooting position. He was standing, which is the most wobbly position of all. And he did this firing as fast as he could. That is amazing.

In the book Death in the Silent Places written by Peter Capstick he comments on this particular incident with astonishment. To quote him directly "The zebra is one of the toughest of all 'plains' game and impossible to kill instantly, unless hit exactly right. To knock of ten in a row, firing as fast as possible, is a feat I doubt one man in 10,000 could pull off. But then, Bell was one in several million."
For the record, Peter Capstick worked as a professional hunter in Africa and South America, who was in on thousands of slain animals, no small amount of experience.

Needless to say, this display impressed the heck out of the watchers in camp. To them this was nothing short of magical. Heck, I've seen some darned good shooting and I'd consider a display like that supernatural! Bell even went so far as to not reload his gun so that they would assume he had more ammo in the magazine and didn't need to top off. They had a change of heart after this display and figured it would be best to remain friends with this particular white man.

In another case he found that the huge stock of .318 cartridges he'd purchased were rather faulty, with about one in three misfiring. When dealing with possibly upset charging hairless mastodons, one of the last things you need is a bullet that has decided that it doesn't want to go off.
What to do with 6,000 cartridges? Blaze away for amusement of course! At Lake Victoria by some falls at Jinja he decided to get rid of the crappy shells by taking shots at cormorants that roosted along the rocky shelf. Most of these targets were about a hundred yards above him, flying at around forty to fifty miles per hour. I myself wouldn't bother shooting at targets like that.

Bell however was able to connect at least half of his shots at these nigh impossible targets! At half that distance most people have trouble hitting them with shotguns. Yet he was able to tag them with unnerving regularity. Do you have any conception of how hard it is to hit a target moving at all, let alone flying at a distance with iron sights? I haven't even heard of anyone trying anything like that in recent times, although if any of you happen to know about such exploits I'd be more than happy to learn about it!

Although he didn't use handguns very often for hunting and didn't appear to consider himself a pistolero, he certainly proved himself to be a good hunter with the Colt .45. Before he was able to start his ivory hunting, he tried getting his funds by gold mining up in the Klondike in Alaska. However, he found that the shovel wasn't nearly as satisfying to use as his rifle, and with his already considerable knack for hunting took a different job: Hunting for meat. The camps were in short supply of red meat and cost a good bundle. So what did our enterprising hunter do? He teamed up with an American who had a dog sled team, set off into the bush and began shuttling meat back and forth.

Bell would collect the meat, and his partner would sell the stuff. The young Scotsman proved to be quite good at this. In fact, he developed a particular trick for taking down moose. Using his partners Colt .45 single action, he'd chase moose into deep snow drifts where they would flounder and then deliver brain shots at close range. I don't believe there is anyone within my generation who loves the .45 Colt more than I, but even I will concede that back in the day the cartridge was not up to big game slaying. Yet Bell made that work too! Boy, would I love to be able to use a six shooter that well!
Sadly, Bell didn't get to make off with the hefty bundle he'd earned. His partner pretended to deposit their earnings at the bank, and on one trip didn't return. When Bell got fed up waiting for him to return and made the journey himself, he found that the scoundrel had taken every cent for himself and left town! It's lucky for him that Bell never caught up with him, because I imagine things may have gotten a might ugly.

Another example of his pistol use, while not in a hunting sense, certainly was interesting. When he was underway with his ivory hunting he had a decent variety of rifles, but also purchased a Mauser "Broomhandle" pistol with a removable stock that could turn it into a carbine. Near Zanzibar in now Tanzania white men weren't at all welcome in the interior.
This is because by this point in time Europe and the Americas had made an amazing 180 on the concept of slavery. England in particular had begun an all out purge of slavery around Africa. That's not to say that all men had abandoned the love of slavery, but the citizen sentiment and government had a big enough majority to begin trying to abolish the institution.

The British Navy at all times had ships prowling the African coasts, seizing Arab boats that were transporting captured African. As Europeans began seizing more chunks of the coast the only places that seemed safe were within the interior. So a white man of the British Isles poking around "hunting" was always regarded as a very obvious spy, scouting out routes and locations for oncoming columns of soldiers with modern rifles. So the various Arabs and other Africans, who absolutely loved raiding and enslaving other people, as long as it wasn't themselves, decided to set up some trouble for the young explorer.

Bell and his men were watering the herds he had when a troupe of young spearmen showed up and began trying to drive the herd animals away and one even went about trying to lance holes in the canvas ground cloth that was used to water the animals. Bell wasn't too thrilled with this. To make the story short, he took out the Mauser and began convincing them that their current activities were unwise. Okay, he didn't kill anyone, rather he startled the almighty crap out of them, making them dance and leg it for the hills, with one man captured. Bell then demanded a hefty payment for his release, which was granted. He didn't have quite as much trouble in that area after that.
To be fair, it wasn't so much the tribesmen's fault. It was almost certain that they were put up to the confrontation by the hostile Arabs.

Just about everything in his sights could be slain. In all my research on hunters in the field I've never found anyone who approaches the consistency of accuracy on so many different targets as Bell. In World War 1 he actually took to becoming a pilot, presumably because he wanted it to be a fair fight. As this article is mostly about his hunting and rifle skills, I won't dwell much on his warfare exploits, although he was embroiled in a few, including the Second Boer War. That being said, it was most fortunate for the Germans that Bell wasn't a scout like Pretorius, as at one point Bell was armed with a prototype semi-auto rifle. Could you imagine this man if he had been in a target rich environment? There'd have been enough dead to make a darned palisade!

Actually, considering the many circumstances that he was in, Bell did an astounding job of evading conflict with the many tribes. In all I've read I haven't found one case where he killed an African. He killed a few Germans when fighting as a pilot, but he seemed rather adverse to shedding human blood from what I gather.
In fact, he was actually nothing short of brilliant in his dealings with the men of the bush, doing everything he could to court favor, make friends and reduce the chances of attacks on his expeditions. Considering the amount of ivory he collected, it seems he did a good job.

To understand his public relations tactics, one has to consider how many of them regarded elephants. Now, the idea of a single man killing over a thousand animals would seem nothing short of appalling to us today. In actuality that kind of hunting was considered a wonderful gift to the local peoples. You see, elephants had a nasty habit of raiding their crops during the night, wrecking their food supplies that were supposed to feed entire villages. Few of them had the weapons or skill to kill one elephant, let alone a small herd in the dead of night.
So if a man came along wishing to kill said animals, the villages were most appreciative of his services and went out of their way to ask them to provide help. Bell in particular collected the ivory and made a point to give out the meat left over to the people who helped him find them, carry his gear or let him stay within their villages.

Another tactic he used that helped dramatically was the promise of a cow to anyone who could lead him to good herds. To the men of the bush, this was the equivalent of being promised one million dollars, an extraordinary sign of wealth. Men lower in the pecking order could only acquire cows through raiding other villages, a dangerous job. But just to find some elephants and not even having to kill them himself? The locals were ecstatic at these arrangements, and certainly put him in good graces.

And why not? After Bell was done they'd have at least tons of meat which would cost them a huge amount of effort and probably a few lives. Starvation has built a happy home in Africa, but Bell made him leave for a time. Bell's business sense and relations with the locals was quite brilliant and was undoubtedly a huge factor contributing to his success. He gathered a huge following, all enjoying being in his employ.

Another interesting thing was his position on slavery. While he didn't go around blasting raiding caravans, as that would have made him a huge number of enemies, he didn't let slavery take place within his expeditions at all. I have no doubt he was against slavery, and this is best revealed when he dealt with a gent under the name of Buba Gida. The man was described by Bell himself as a despotic tyrant, in command of a huge number of men and a massive fortress city. Buba Gida ruled with complete authority, although he did not export slaves on the Arab ships like some did, and just kept them to himself.

Having fashioned Bell with a caravan of porters they began heading out into the country. The tyrant was using the Scotsman as a shield, pretending that his men were acting under respectability of a man of England and thus above suspicion. Bell wasn't exactly thrilled. So when out in the bush Bell made sure they had an understanding: The porters wouldn't enslave everyone in sight, and Bell wouldn't shoot them or shackle them and run them to the nearest European military outpost. The Scotsman positioned himself behind the group and just happened to have his rifle. So there wasn't any unauthorized nabbing of native folk on that trip.

On returning to the area Buba Gida learned what happened and was livid. However, killing a white man so close to English power was kind of a bad move, and Bell had made enough gifts to warrant being spared. But it was clear that the gent wasn't welcome in that region any longer and Bell departed.

In fact, despite his resolute refusal to have his own party members harmed and certainly would have spilt gallons of blood in defense, the man seemed curiously reluctant to inflict violence on his fellow man unless as a last resort. There were plenty of occasions where negotiations had to be done at the point of a rifle, yet thankfully it never came down to pulling the trigger. The only men I know he killed himself was a pair of German pilots. It's possible that in his own writing he left out any cases where he killed anyone in self defense or otherwise, but I don't think that's the case. In everything I've read of his he seems very honest and matter of fact, with very little anger or negativity, seemingly having a feeling of neutrality about most things.

Pretty surprising he had such a small body count considering the places he worked in! PJ Pretorius killed about fifty cannibals in self defense in just one battle, firing his double barreled shotgun fast enough to melt the bloody solder and render it useless! While it's impossible to know exactly how many he killed, he was in fact arrested officially for the murder of 50 natives, so we've got a pretty good indicator. Yet Bell got off seemingly without any notches carved on his hilt. I really get the impression that he didn't wish to kill anyone.

Yet despite the insane number of dangers that Bell undertook and all the perils he faced, he is one of the few ivory hunters who lived long enough to retire and enjoy the money from his proceeds. He was able to live comfortably in England with his wife until his death in 1951, although his adventures didn't cease. He continued to hunt in the hills near his home and even used his private ship to help evacuate soldiers from France during Operation Dynamo in World War 2.

There are many, many more adventures he had during his travels in Africa, but I don't want to swamp this article with more than one desires. To cover all of his exploits would require a large book, if not several. I've tried to hit the highlights, although it may seem a bit jumbled, as Bell seemed allergic to writing about his adventures with dates attached to them.

Before closing this however I would like to look at some more of his ideas and techniques with rifles. After all, someone who used off the shelf rifles and factory ammo with laser precision can certainly teach us a bit! He believed in using iron sights with both eyes open, as the greater field of view would allow one to see that which the sights covered up. Although at this point in time there were only primitive telescopes and it's unlikely that he would have wanted to mess with such finicky devices.

He also believed in mastering ones' nerves and not fire prematurely through excitement. Practice with his personal arms was constant, working with them until he could wield them like extensions of his own limbs.

Here is a quote that I believe riflemen today can look at and hopefully improve some of their craft.

"The thing that did most for my rifle shooting was, I believe, the fact that I always carried my own rifle. It weighed about 7 lb., and I constantly aligned it at anything and everything. I was always playing with it. Constant handling, constant aiming, constant Swedish drill with it, and then when it was required there it was ready and pointing true."
This reminds me of the old saying "Beware the man with one gun. He probably knows how to use it." How true it was for this man! Who'd have thought familiarity with someone's gun could pay off?

Overall, Bell was an outstanding example of a professional adventurer and hunter. When he set his mind to something he went through with it regardless of the obstacles. He combined a keen intellect with the peak of physical fitness to traverse tens of thousands of miles on foot and survive everything the Dark Continent threw at him. He was a humble man who did not use his well earned success to brow beat others or to inflate his own ego, but rather regarded himself as just another hunter hoping to impart some of his knowledge. He didn't shed blood without cause and did his best to make sure that the meat of his kills didn't go to waste.
He was civil and respectful to everyone he met within the bush, both Africans and men of Europe, earning himself a great deal of respect from those around him. He was a gentleman who had a love of nature and adventure while being in my opinion the best all around rifleman that ever lived, as well as one of the best hunters.
He was the epitome of the gentleman hunter explorer, and one of my personal heroes.

If you wish to read some of his writing, I've managed to find an online version of his first book, The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter here:
There are two other books, Karamojo Safari and Bell of Africa, which as of now I've not been able to acquire. Hopefully I can get them in time. In the meantime, enjoy!


  1. great piece really enjoyed it.If you liked Wanderings, i recommend Bell of Africa which is the source materials for Wanderings edited by Townsend Whelen.
    Karamojo Safari could have been a better book than it is if it had been edited with a firm hand.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the article!
      I have indeed been attempting to get a copy of Bell of Africa. Unfortunately I don't have enough limbs to trade for a copy since it is no longer in print or available in ebook format. I'm hoping to get a copy of it someday though!

  2. Awesome article. I grew up reading books about the great African hunters and listening to my father telling me stories. I have always been enamored by the Scotsman and his choice in smaller calibers and surgical precision with them on the largest animal walking.

    1. I'm very glad that you enjoyed!
      Bell is in my opinion one of the best hunters that ever lived. His physical endurance and marksmanship were second to none.

  3. Awesome article. I grew up reading books about the great African hunters and listening to my father telling me stories. I have always been enamored by the Scotsman and his choice in smaller calibers and surgical precision with them on the largest animal walking.