An Armchair Safari by William Buckley – Big Game Hunting in Central Africa

Here are 105 Tusks Weighing 5,300 lbs. Value £4,000.

Bill Buckley, like so many of his time, went to Africa for gold and diamonds and wound up staying for war and hunting. He eventually became a noted big game hunter (carrying his beloved Gibbs rifle) and was considered in a class with Neumann, Sutherland and Selous. He had some narrow escapes and took some of the best ivory of his time. Here is the story of the largest (tusk weight) elephant he ever shot.

While camped at the village of M’Boga, about fifteen miles inland from the Nile, some natives came in with the news that there was a big elephant about one hour’s journey away. Reportedly, he carried enormous tusks, very much longer than my tent (my tent being a nine by twelve). This certainly was, by their account, some elephant. So without wasting time I, together with the natives, went after it. After about one and a half hours we came on its spoor. By the size of its footprints it was a big animal, but the natives were very nervous and instead of taking me to the place where they had seen him, they were wandering in different directions, trying to catch sight of him without getting too close.

This was distinctly annoying. I explained to them that the elephant was bound, before long, to get the wind of one or the other of the scattered natives and would clear off. We would never see him again. I prevailed upon them to keep close to me and we would move up wind after the beast until we sighted him, but they were so jumpy that it affected my gun bearers as well.

african elephant
Image Perfect Shot by Kevin Robertson/

The natives who had been tracking now dropped behind, and I on my mules took the lead. As it was getting late, I went as a good pace through the bush until after a while I caught a glimpse of my quarry crossing a swamp. I wanted a man to give me a lead through the swamp as it was very treacherous for the small hoofs of a mule and one it likely to get bogged. But it was “no go.” Nobody would give me a lead, so I chanced it and fortunately came through all right. The elephant was now on the go and making good time, having got our wind. I suppose he knew that we were hunting him. As the sun was getting lower I was making the best pace when, all at once, I caught sight of the animals only three yards ahead through the long grass in which we were travelling. He then swerved to the right.

I immediately dismounted and seized my gun from the gun bearer to follow cautiously on the spoor but he only went another 150 yards and then stopped in a depression of the ground and waited for me. Evidently he was fed up with being chased.

On my approach, he wanted me intently while I maneuvered for an opening to get in a fatal shot. As I loved around to get the brain shot by the ear, he also moved around and was always facing me. Remember he was in a depression, so I was always at the wrong angle for the frontal brain shot.

I could see that he had no intention of letting me get broadside to him and also that he was becoming seriously annoyed and would at any moment charge. So I whispered to my gun bearer, Simba, that I was going to put in a frontal shot with both barrels to turn the beast. Then he was immediately to hand me my second gun, upon which, no doubt, a vital spot would be exposed so that I would then be able to get him.

african elephantThe elephant then raised his trunk to charge, whereupon I let him have both barrels between the eyes, turning him as I had expected. Then, as I had arranged with Simba, I held out my hand for the second gun, but was informed that he had already fired at the same time as I had. I was very annoyed but could not wait to argue about it just then, as the elephant was off at full speed. So I loaded again, mounted the mule, and gave chase, the gun bearer and the Syce bringing up the rear. I came up with him as he was going down a slope at a trot, when, discovering that he was being followed and I close behind him, he stopped, and turned around and faced me.

At once I dismounted and prepared for his charge. When he raised his trunk, preparatory to the charge, I gave him, as before, both barrels between the eyes. Immediately, and with a roar, he charged. I turned for my second gun, but the gun bearer had done precisely the same as he had done in the first instance – let go when I did.

I was left with an unloaded gun and an elephant charging at the gallop. There was only one thing to do – the usual movement in a charge – dash off at right angles. But I discovered (to my surprise) that he had also changed course and now running close behind me. Being very fit, and running for all I was worth, I was making good time and altered my course to the direction being taken by the mule, which by this time had been abandoned by the Syce and was making very good time running on his own account. I caught up to within a couple of yards of the mule when, simultaneously, the elephant caught us up, the mule lashing out his hind legs while I dived with all my force into a small bush in the long grass on my left, where I remained motionless.

safari buckley
The author is shown, seated between his record elephant’s tusks weighing 145 pounds each.

The elephant, instead of keeping on and following the retreating natives, jammed his forefeet in the ground seven paces in front of the bush where I was lying. He turned and began to feel for me with his trunk, the trunk being then right over me and projecting about three or four feet, and the blood was pouring from his head. I was fascinated watching his enormous feet and wondered whether he would make that one step forward which would have trodden on me. I knew that the least movement of the grass would have disclosed my presence, but probably the blood pouring from his head disturbed his sense of smell. Suddenly he slowly went back to where he had pulled up when I lived into the grass and stood there for a minute or two, wondering I presume, what had become of me. Then he went slowly off to the right.

You can imagine my relief! Before you could say “knife” I had two cartridges in the gun, cautiously raised myself up and made for a tree about twenty yards away and sat down. I then discovered that my hands and arms were badly cut as a result of the force with which I had thrown myself into the bush.

The Syce and gun bearer turned up and after we had finished arguing as to why the bearer fired my second gun and therefore left me with an empty gun and at the mercy of an enraged elephant, we started out again after the old elephant. By this time the natives, having had enough of this, had all departed for home. As they passed other villages they told everyone that I had been killed. The news travelled quickly and reached the Belgian Post at Wadelai, who sent out an Askari for confirmation. (I would be able to inform him that it was unfounded.)

We caught up with the elephant again, going very slowly. On winding us, he made a half-hearted attempt to charge but I emptied the contents of both rifles into him, Simba not letting me down this time. The tusks proved to be exceptionally large and weighed respectively 145 pounds and 137 pounds. Although I have shot many over the 100 pound mark (including one that dragged on the ground and made a trail like a bicycle wheel), those were the largest I have ever shot.

In conclusion, harking back to the nervousness of the native who accompanied me on this particular hunt, the reason turned out to be that the elephant had already caught and killed two natives who were endeavoring to drive him out of their maize fields.– Ellen Enzler-Herring of Trophy Room Books

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