Game Hunting And Guns
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Game Guns—The game gun, being far more extensively used than any other kind, first claims attention. The general consensus of opinion is that the 12-bore hammerless ejector, with 28 in. or 30 in barrels, and weighing about 6 lbs., is the best gun to employ for the purpose of shooting the furred and feathered game of this country. The patterns given with 11/8 oz. No. 6 shot in a circle 30 inches in diameter at a range of 40 yards may be about 130 pellets with the right barrel and 16o with the left. Patterns such as these will be found to be sufficiently close in practice, for a very large percentage of game is killed at a less distance than30 yards. The accompanying illustrations will convey an idea as to the form and outward appearance of the modern game gun.
The Vena Contracta is another type of game gun that is rapidly coming into favour in consequence of its extreme handiness, strength and lightness. It was introduced by Joseph Lang and Son in 1893. This gun has been designed with a view to secure greater immunity from accident with modern explosives. To effect this, there has been a remodelling of the shot gun in such way that those parts which have to bear the in-tensity of the strain set up on explosion of the charge are fortified, whilst in other directions there is a reduction of unnecessary strength and weight of metal. A large proportion of the total weight of metal in the barrels is placed around the cartridge chambers, where it is necessary to resist the enormous pressures sometimes given off by the more violent nitro powders. The breech action is exceptionally strong and heavy, weighing about 4 ounces more than usual, with the result that weight and strength are concentrated in the vicinity of the explosion. The barrels are 28 or 30 inches in length and, for about 2 feet from the muzzle, are exactly the same, inside and out, as those for a gun of 18-gauge. At 6 inches from the breech a curved conical portion, of a form known in the scientific gun-making world as a "Vena Contracta," commences ; this joins the 18-gauge barrel to the 12-gauge cartridge chamber. Ordinary 12-bore cartridges are used, and although it might be imagined that great force would be necessary to drive the shot charge through the constricted portion of the bore, this is not the case. It is found in practice that the pellets flow through the long easy cone in much the same way as water would do. The recoil and the pressure in the chamber of this gun are practically the same as are set up with an ordinary r 2-bore firing the same cartridges ; but the vibration set up in the stock of an ordinary gun —which is the chief factor in producing gunheadache—is almost entirely absent in the " Vena Contracta," the vibrations being absorbed always are in the daytime. They therefore lie in wait for them at nights, and as the unsuspecting animals graze past them, put a heavy bullet into their great round bodies at close range. If the bullet is well placed and reaches the heart or penetrates both lungs, the stricken beast rushes back to the river, but only to die, and his carcase is found floating on the surface of the water the following morning. Should the bullet not be well placed, the wounded animal will probably recover, and for every Hippopotamus that is killed by the natives by night shooting, a good many doubtless escape with wounds which do not prove fatal. Where the natives have no guns, Hippopotami are usually either attacked in the water with harpoons to which long lines are attached, or caught in pitfalls; but the most deadly method which I have ever heard of to compass the destruction of these animals was one which I saw practised many years ago in Northern Mash unaland, when a whole herd was starved to death in a pool of the Umniati river.
To accomplish their object, a whole tribe of Mashunas, men, women, and children, had cooperated, and having found a herd of Hippopotami in a deep reach of the river some 150 yards in breadth by 300 in length, they had fenced it in—the river both above and below the pool running in shallow channels amongst large rocks—and by keeping up fires all night and beating tom-toms had prevented the animals coming out to feed.
When I arrived on the scene there were eight starving animals lying huddled together on a submerged sandbank in the centre of the pool, and two swimming about vainly seeking a place of exit, with assegais in their backs, whist two which had died of starvation or of assegai wounds, were being cut up on the edge of the pool, and the meat of many others hung drying in festoons on the trees around. In a few more days- the survivors must all have died, as the natives said that they had not eaten anything but water for three weeks, and thus a herd of nearly twenty Hippopotami were done to death. The destruction of these animals, however, supplied a whole tribe with a quantity of much required food, and was to my mind rot so reprehensible as the slaughter of the Hippopotami in the Umzingwani river near Bulawayo by white men for the sake of their hides alone in 1894.
The meat of the Hippopotamus is most excellent, at least in those parts of Africa where the altitude above the sea level renders the climate rather temperate than tropica, and where the winter nights are cold and frosty. It has a flavour of its own something between beef and pork.
During the rainy season, when the feeding is rich and plentiful, Hippopotami get into high condition, and besides developing much insidefat, put on a layer of blubber between the skin and the flesh, which sometimes covers the whole body to a thickness of an inch or even more. When in this condition I would rather have a piece of meat cut from the ribs of a young Hippopotamus cow, and roasted on a forked stick over the camp fire, than the best piece of meat that England could offer me. Good, however, as is the meat of a fat Hippopotamus cow, an old bull is to be avoided as an article of diet, should any other kind of meat be obtainable, as he is sure to be both lean and tough.
As Hippopotami are almost always killed by Europeans by brain shots, no rifle could be more suitable for their destruction than the newly invented small-bore military rifles, with solid bullets ; and the most deadly spot to hit is the root of the ear, if the animal is either facing sideways or looking half away. Should a Hippopotamus be facing directly towards one, it will be found easier to hit than kill him, and it will therefore be advisable to wait for a better chance. In conclusion, let me say that although the African traveller or hunter may often find it necessary to kill Hippopotami to supply himself and his large native following with meat, he will, I think, soon realise that there is little sport to be got out of killing them, and will therefore soon learn not to molest unnecessarily these usually inoffensive beasts ; for, once they have disappeared from an African river, the scenery has lost one of its greatest charms for every lover of nature.