As African adventurers go, it is quite likely that nobody has ever really entered into the spirit of hunting with quite the level of enthusiasm, optimism and raw courage demonstrated by the white hunters of old. One only has to think of men such as Allan Black, RJ Cunninghame, J A Hunter, Bror Blixen, Bunny Allen and Eric Rundgren. All heroes to the man.
They all met Africa head-on and shot the Big 5 as a matter of course. They were mauled, scratched, bitten, stomped and ravaged by the animals they hunted as well as loved by the alcohol and the wrong women. Speaking of which, I can not but wonder what the women – both the wrong and the right ones ever saw in these rugged individuals, who could hardly have been candidates for maintaining a garden at home. Aunty Bets assures me that a white hunter would be an Alfa male on steroids, thus appealing to the primeval urge of a female to being cared for by a worthy male.
Yet, even with the dangerous lives these men lived, some of them actually lived to old age. One of these were my friend Eric Rundgren, a booming, boisterous, quick tempered young man who reached the height of his volcanic career in 1958. He was a man of undisputed hunting prowess, working for the Kenya Game Department where he shot Ellephant, Buffalo and Lion on control work before he went to work for Ker & Downey Safaris. He ended up in Botswana with Harry Selby when I was hunting Jumbo for ivory in those years. The natives called him “Mchangi” the wanderer. We all referred to him as “The maharajah of Mayhem” because of his temper.
An incident that involved him will give you an idea of what I mean. Eric was in a Sitatunga rig in the swamps with an American client. The client brought both a 375 H&H and a 300 Weatherby. He wanted to use the 300 on the Sitatunga. Eric flatly refused him to use it, saying that it will only wound or at best miss the animal as the bullets would deflect off any reeds it encountered. In the end the client agreed and off they went for Tunga. When they found a suitable bull, and it was time to shoot, the client took out of the bag the 300. This left Eric seeing in a spot. He was perfectly good natured about this deception and asked the client if he could see the rifle as he never before handled one. The client proudly handed the weapon over, whereupon Eric tossed it over his shoulder into the Okavango River. He informed the client in colourful language that the hunt was over. In the end he allowed himself to be mollified by the extremely apologetic client, and they hunted a beautiful Tunga with the 375.
As far as indigenous African weaponry goes, I don’t think that anything has ever come close to the bow and arrows of the Waliangulu. These wiry hunters of the NFD in Kenia, barely 5ft 2 inches tall, used bows some 6 ft 3 long and drawing up to 110lb. Their arrows, fletched with Vulture feathers had an overall length of +- 3 feet+ including a ten and a half inch detachable tip made of iron. They used an extremely lethal poison made from plants and insects. Thus armed, the Waliangulu indulged in their specialty, hunting of Elephant. This was normally done at a range of 5 to 10 paces, the arrow aimed at the soft under belly of the Elephant. They normally hunted from a dugout hole near water. So effective was this weapon that after a shot, an Elephant would cover between 200 – 500y before it collapsed. One of these great bow-men I knew well. Boru Dabassa. He hunted about 80 Elephant a year.
According to Eric that knew these people well, they could hit a target almost every time at a distance of out to 60 paces. They used poison on all animals. They practised from an early age to grow the muscles to draw their bows for Elephant. The Waliangulu way and that of their equipment contrasted greatly with that used by the American hunters that visited Kenya in those years. No one could hit their target at a distance further that 15 paces and the only way to get them to shoot something was to take them into a dry area and scare the animals of the water for 3 to 4 days and then having a blind build in the water. Mostly they ended up shooting away all their arrows and not having anything to show for it. Then they would take our guns and quickly fill up their bag and then go home to show of what great archers they were.
But it was as Eric described the “Nagley affair” in 1958 that turned him completely against all bowhunting. Nagley that was not an archer, had bet William Carpenter of General Motors $10 000 that he would bag an Ellephant with a bow. What led to this bet was that Howard Hill claimed to have shot an Elephant with a 100lb longbow in 1950. This was indeed the case. What the White Hunters knew however and the public did not was that the Elephant was first immobilised by a shot from a rifle in the front leg so that it could not move and for Howard Hill to get so close so that he could fire his arrows at it. It took 3 arrows and half a day for that Elephant to die. Nagley went to Bear Archery and obtained a 60lb re-curve bow and slowly practised until he could draw a 100lb bow. This took him just over 8 months to accomplish. Then he went to Africa.
Eric was his Hunter and got him into the Rift Valley in the Belgian Congo where the Elephant were smaller and you could get closer to them. He placed his client on a river bank where he could deliver his arrow at a distance of 20 feet. It took 5 arrows to finally drop the Elephant but in order for the bet to be won, it had to be a legal bull, which meant 20lb of ivory per side. Eric was satisfied but did not have a scale with him, so Nagley was not convinced and insisted on a second, bigger Elephant. They did, and he got it, but it took 21 arrows to accomplish the job. According to Eric, the Elephant must have died of wood poisoning, considering the amount of arrow shafts in it.
The Waliangulu were not impressed at all. One of them took Nagley’s bow and drew it all the way back without even trying to hard. They suggested that Nagley poison his arrows. Eric had seen enough. He was so disgusted by the way that the Elephant was made to suffer that he subsequently got bowhunting banned in all of Kenya to this day. Nagley went home to brag and collect his bet. He even had film footage of the whole hunt and to prove his case. Eric later saw the film and was shocked. It showed one arrow finding its mark and then a dead Elephant. 20 arrows??? What 20 arrows??? One can but wonder. How many prospective bowhunters have been mesmorized by the deed of Howard Hill and Fred Bear without realising what really happened during those fateful days in Africa. How many archers have been left with a skewed impression of what a bow can really do? As for hunting Elephant with a bow and arrow that has not been doctored with good poison, well. I leave you with the words of Eric Rundgren that was there and knew. “It can not be done. I don’t care what you say” Let us please heed Eric’s advice