SI Vault
Old Lion in a New Land
John Underwood
February 12, 1968
Kenya's most famous white hunter, Harry Selby, has emigrated to Botswana. On safari there he explains the move, takes stock of his future and watches an SI writer shoot the tail off an impala
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February 12, 1968

Old Lion In A New Land

Kenya's most famous white hunter, Harry Selby, has emigrated to Botswana. On safari there he explains the move, takes stock of his future and watches an SI writer shoot the tail off an impala

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We were back in the Land Rover and Peter said it seemed to him old Harry Selby had an uncommon crush on elephant meat.

"It's not that I admire him so much as an adversary," said Harry. "He's not so highly dangerous. I admire him as an animal. I think he's a wonderful animal, and of course a fine pair of tusks is a wonderful trophy. But to understand a white hunter's respect for the elephant you must read Bell's books. I have them back in Maun. Old Karamoja Bell. He hunted around 1900, 1910 in Uganda, for the ivory. He shot thousands of elephants, I suppose, using nothing but that .275, which is plenty enough if you use it right. All through those books, though he's hunting them and killing them, you could sense that he adored elephants.

"Now, your impression of an elephant is to drive along a road and spot one and just walk on over to it. This was just a lucky break. Usually you pick up the tracks at a water hole, then it's hour after hour of tracking. You would swear he was deliberately staying a couple of miles ahead. Every mile is bloody horrible. Incredibly dirty. You swear you don't ever want to see an elephant again, and this can go on week after week. In Kenya we reckoned a good elephant would walk you a hundred miles. Then one day you track one out and there is a magnificent pair of tusks, right down to the ground, and suddenly it all becomes worthwhile. It's the greatest hunting of all."

After that the days went by quickly. Harry found zebra for Peter and me, and we shot them cleanly. We sat behind a blind waiting for kudu from dawn to lunch one day, but the kudu never showed. We chanced upon a huge herd of buffalo on an open plain, and Harry gunned the Land Rover and jammed it in among the herd as it fled. He was enjoying the recklessness, happily calling out to the animals—great, groaning, massive bodies hurtling alongside. We saw lions and lion cubs in the tall grass by the river, but aside from the zebra and the buffalo we were satisfied just to shoot camp meat—impala and wildebeest and guinea fowl. On a windy day I shot the tail off an impala buck. Mrewa and Jacob found it in the scrub, neatly detached, and broke out laughing. "Around their fire they will now refer to you as Mr. Tail," Harry said. "This will be known as Mr. Tail's safari. It was some shot. I have never seen one quite like it in 20 years of hunting."

"Let us pray that the poor impala grows a new tail," said Peter. "It could be most embarrassing for him."

We moved up to the swamp for a couple of days and fished the labyrinth of cool, green channels, bringing up bream and tiger fish that would bite an oar if it were presented to them. We saw no signs of Bobby Wilmot, the legendary old man of the swamps who has been hunting crocodile in the Okavango for the last 12 years. Mark Selby, Harry's 13-year-old, and Daryl Dandridge joined us there. Mark had been missing shots and Harry was trying to restore his confidence. The boy kept insisting on using the .375, though it was too heavy, because the .375 had killed him his elephant. On instruction from Harry, Daryl took Mark on scouting and work missions and made them stern lessons in bushmanship.

Daryl: What's that?

Mark (coming up from behind): Elephant.

Daryl (impatiently): Of course it's an elephant, anybody can see that. What about it? What does it mean?

"It's an old elephant. You can tell the imprint of its heel, round and smooth."

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