by Samuel White Baker
Upwards of twenty years have passed since the 'Rifle and Hound in Ceylon' was published, and I have been requested to write a preface for a new edition. Although this long interval of time has been spent in a more profitable manner than simple sport, nevertheless I have added considerably to my former experience of wild animals by nine years passed in African explorations. The great improvements that have been made in rifles have, to a certain extent, modified the opinions that I expressed in the 'Rifle and Hound in Ceylon.' Breech-loaders have so entirely superseded the antiquated muzzle-loader, that the hunter of dangerous animals is possessed of an additional safeguard. At the same time I look back with satisfaction to the heavy charges of powder that were used by me thirty years ago and were then regarded as absurd, but which are now generally acknowledged by scientific gunners as the only means of insuring the desiderata of the rifle, i.e., high velocity, low trajectory, long range, penetration, and precision.
When I first began rifle-shooting thirty-seven years ago, not one man in a thousand had ever handled such a weapon. Our soldiers were then armed*(*With the exception of the Rifle Brigade) with the common old musket, and I distinctly remember a snubbing that I received as a youngster for suggesting, in the presence of military men, 'that the army should throughout be supplied with rifles.' This absurd idea proposed by a boy of seventeen who was a good shot with a weapon that was not in general use, produced such a smile of contempt upon my hearers, that the rebuke left a deep impression, and was never forgotten. A life's experience in the pursuit of heavy game has confirmed my opinion expressed in the `Rifle and Hound' in 1854--that the best weapon for a hunter of average strength is a double rifle weighing fifteen pounds, of No. 10 calibre. This should carry a charge of ten drachms of No. 6 powder (coarse grain). In former days I used six or seven drachms of the finest grained powder with the old muzzle-loader, but it is well known that the rim of the breech-loading cartridge is liable to burst with a heavy charge of the fine grain, therefore No. 6 is best adapted for the rifle.
Although a diversity of calibres is a serious drawback to the comfort of a hunter in wild countries, it is quite impossible to avoid the difficulty, as there is no rifle that will combine the requirements for a great variety of game. As the wild goose demands B B shot and the snipe No. 8, in like manner the elephant requires the heavy bullet, and the deer is contented with the small-bore.
I have found great convenience in the following equipment for hunting every species of game in wild tropical countries.
One single-barrel rifle to carry a half-pound projectile, or a four ounce, according to strength of hunter.
Three double-barrelled No. 10 rifles, to carry ten drachms No. 6 powder.
One double-barrelled small-bore rifle, sighted most accurately for deer-shooting. Express to carry five or six drachms, but with hardened solid bullet.
Two double-barrelled No. 10 smooth-bores to carry shot or ball; the latter to be the exact size for the No. 10 rifles.
According to my experience, such a battery is irresistible.
The breech-loader has manifold advantages over the muzzle-loader in a wild country. Cartridges should always be loaded in England, and they should be packed in hermetically sealed tin cases within wooden boxes, to contain each fifty, if large bores, or one hundred of the smaller calibre.
These will be quite impervious to damp, or to the attacks of insects. The economy of ammunition will be great, as the cartridge can be drawn every evening after the day's work, instead of being fired off as with the muzzle-loader, in order that the rifle may be cleaned.
The best cartridges will never miss fire. This is an invaluable quality in the pursuit of dangerous game.
Although I advocate the express small-bore with the immense advantage of low trajectory, I am decidedly opposed to the hollow expanding bullet for heavy, thick-skinned game. I have so frequently experienced disappointment by the use of the hollow bullet that I should always adhere to the slightly hardened and solid projectile that will preserve its original shape after striking the thick hide of a large animal.
A hollow bullet fired from an express rifle will double up a deer, but it will be certain to expand upon the hard skin of elephants, rhinoceros, hippopotami, buffaloes, &c.; in which case it will lose all power of penetration. When a hollow bullet strikes a large bone, it absolutely disappears into minute particles of lead,--and of course it becomes worthless.
For many years I have been supplied with firstrate No. 10 rifles by Messrs. Reilly & Co. of Oxford Street, London, which have never become in the slightest degree deranged during the rough work of wild hunting. Mr. Reilly was most successful in the manufacture of explosive shells from my design; these were cast-iron coated with lead, and their effect was terrific.
Mr. Holland of Bond Street produced a double-barrelled rifle that carried the Snider Boxer cartridge. This was the most accurate weapon up to 300 yards, and was altogether the best rifle that I ever used; but although it possessed extraordinary precision, the hollow bullet caused the frequent loss of a wounded animal. Mr. Holland is now experimenting in the conversion of a Whitworth-barrel to a breech-loader. If this should prove successful, I should prefer the Whitworth projectile to any other for a sporting rifle in wild countries, as it would combine accuracy at both long and short ranges with extreme penetration.
The long interval that has elapsed since I was in Ceylon, has caused a great diminution in the wild animals.
The elephants are now protected by game laws, although twenty years ago a reward was offered by the Government for their destruction. The 'Rifle and Hound' can no longer be accepted as a guidebook to the sports in Ceylon; the country is changed, and in many districts the forests have been cleared, and civilization has advanced into the domains of wild beasts. The colony has been blessed with prosperity, and the gradual decrease of game is a natural consequence of extended cultivation and increased population.
In the pages of this book it will be seen that I foretold the destruction of the wild deer and other animals twenty years ago. At that time the energetic Tamby's or Moormen were possessed of guns, and had commenced a deadly warfare in the jungles, killing the wild animals as a matter of business, and making a livelihood by the sale of dried flesh, hides, and buffalo-horns. This unremitting slaughter of the game during all seasons has been most disastrous, and at length necessitated the establishment of laws for its protection.
As the elephants have decreased in Ceylon, so in like manner their number must be reduced in Africa by the continual demand for ivory. Since the 'Rifle and Hound' was written, I have had considerable experience with the African elephant.
This is a distinct species, as may be seen by a comparison with the Indian elephant in the Zoological Gardens of the Regent's Park.
In Africa, all elephants are provided with tusks; those of the females are small, averaging about twenty pounds the pair. The bull's are sometimes enormous. I have seen a pair of tusks that weighed 300 lbs., and I have met with single tusks of 160 lbs. During this year (1874) a tusk was sold in London that weighed 188 lbs. As the horns of deer vary in different localities, so the ivory is also larger and of superior quality in certain districts. This is the result of food and climate. The average of bull elephant's tusks in equatorial Africa is about 90 lbs. or 100 lbs. the pair.
It is not my intention to write a treatise upon the African elephant; this has been already described in the `Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia,'*(* Published by Messrs. Macmillan and Co.) but it will be sufficient to explain that it is by no means an easy beast to kill when in the act of charging. From the peculiar formation of the head, it is almost impossible to kill a bull elephant by the forehead shot; thus the danger of hunting the African variety is enhanced tenfold.
The habits of the African elephant are very different from those of his Indian cousins. Instead of retiring to dense jungles at sunrise, the African will be met with in the mid-day glare far away from forests, basking in the hot prairie grass of ten feet high, which scarcely reaches to his withers.
Success in elephant shooting depends materially upon the character of the ground. In good forests, where a close approach is easy, the African species can be killed like the Indian, by one shot either behind the ear or in the temple; but in open ground, or in high grass, it is both uncertain and extremely dangerous to attempt a close approach on foot. Should the animal turn upon the hunter, it is next to impossible to take the forehead-shot with effect. It is therefore customary in Africa, to fire at the shoulder with a very heavy rifle at a distance of fifty or sixty yards. In Ceylon it was generally believed that the shoulder-shot was useless; thus we have distinct methods of shooting the two species of elephants: this is caused, not only by the difference between the animals, but chiefly by the contrast in the countries they inhabit. Ceylon is a jungle; thus an elephant can be approached within a few paces, which admit of accurate aim at the brain. In Africa the elephant is frequently upon open ground; therefore he is shot in the larger mark (the shoulder) at a greater distance. I have shot them successfully both in the brain and in the shoulder, and where the character of the country admits an approach to within ten paces, I prefer the Ceylon method of aiming either at the temple or behind the ear.
Although the African elephant with his magnificent tusks is a higher type than that of Ceylon, I look back to the hunting of my younger days with unmixed pleasure. Friends with whom I enjoyed those sports are still alive, and are true friends always, thus exemplifying that peculiar freemasonry which unites the hearts of sportsmen.
After a life of rough experience in wild countries, I have found some pleasure in referring to the events of my early years, and recalling the recollection of many scenes that would have passed away had they not been chronicled. I therefore trust that although the brightest days of Ceylon sports may have somewhat faded by the diminution of the game, there may be Nimrods (be they young or old) who will still discover some interest in the `Rifle and Hound in Ceylon.'
S. W. BAKER.