As you can see from the enclosed picture, this has been the day for which you have seen me practicing in the backyard for nearly a year.
I went to bed at 8:30 last night and as usual got up at 6 this morning. During the night it rained, which was good, as it would make the tall elephant grass a little quieter to walk through. It would also make the ground softer and easier for tracking, so I got up and took a bath in our little stream, which is just about the size and shape of French Creek but not so cold, and then shaved and put on clean clothes. I decided that if there were to be an accident I, at least, did not want to look like a bum. Also, I had decided the day before to hunt in shorts, since they would not make the hollow flopping noise that long trousers make.
With all these preparations behind me, I stepped out in front of our camp where I have my target set up for a few last rounds of practice. After missing the bull's eye eight times from less than 20 yards, I decided to quit; if I hadn't learned to shoot after a year's hard work, I wasn't going to learn now, and, besides, I didn't want to hurt my arm here at the last minute.
We all had breakfast about 7:30, and Eric began to talk about the conditions not being right—wind, clouds, etc., but then I can remember from last year that professional hunters are seldom like amateur hunters. If they feel the hunt is going to be successful, as Eric did, they simply will not hurry, even though the client fidgets. However, we did finally get going at 8:30 and by 8:35 we had found a herd of elephants, just about a half mile from camp. There were several good bulls in this herd, but for the half hour that we watched them from on top of an anthill they simply stood around amongst the cows and calves and squirted mud on their backs—they were out in the middle of a small marsh full of very tall grass and mud. We decided this situation did not look too good, so we left to look for a lone bull, if we could find one, and if not, to return in an hour or so and see if they had spread out a little under the trees on higher ground. We went north a couple of miles, and right along the stream on which our camp is pitched we found about 30 or 40 elephants scattered out in the valley below us. Several were good bulls, the grass was not too high, the breeze seemed fairly constant, the elephants were not too bunched and Eric could think of no further obstacles, so I strung my bow and picked out the arrows that I had sharpened the night before. It looked like we were really in business, so we slipped down off the high bank on the east side of the stream and into the bottom where the elephants were.
The first bull we had seen and decided to hunt was joined by two cows, but all three of them were disturbed by a herd of a hundred or more Uganda Kob (a very handsome antelope) that we had run down from on top. In the process of following these elephants we spotted a huge old bull feeding by himself in a patch of low green grass, i.e., grass about three or four feet high. There was an anthill about 50 yards from him, and here we left Don Redinrer, our cameraman, and the two black trackers. Twenty yards closer to the elephant was a big thorn tree, and here Eric took up his stand with his .577. Everything looked O.K., so I started in from there, intending to slip up to within 15 yards of the animal. I could already hear his teeth grinding the grass which he lifted into his mouth with his trunk, and I must say I wasn't amused at the sound of it. However, there was no turning back now, so I sneaked ahead as quietly as possible, keeping an eye out for three cows and a very small calf that had just showed up coming our way from over a small rise to the left. The stalking was difficult, and when only halfway to the bull I could hear Eric whistle softly, indicating that the cows were now too close, and I could see that if I had to run they might get in behind me. The situation was definitely too mixed up, so I scooted out quickly and we all retreated to the anthill in the hope that the cows and calf would go on by, leaving the bull alone again. But, unfortunately, as the cows advanced in their slow grazing, they crossed the scent I had left as I retreated. This alarmed them, and as they walked quickly away the old bull followed them.
It was almost 9:30 by now, and the sun was getting hot, so we hoped we might catch the bull at the stream, where he and the cows and several others now seemed to be heading. Two other acceptable bulls had joined the group now, so we had hopes of picking one off as they meandered in and out of the trees along the stream. But at about this time the wind changed, so we had to cross the stream again and climb the high bank in order to re-study the situation. All the elephants, about seven cows and three bulls, had by now slipped into a small patch of green bush in the bottom, and were completely hidden, though we knew they were in there.
After studying the terrain from up above, we made a new plan. There was a small hill on the stream bank, just beyond where the elephants were, which would be a good location for both the camera and the .577. It would also be the place from which I would advance as the elephants went down the stream bank to drink. The bank was 10 feet high at this point, which would give me an advantage in case they got mean. We had barely got down off the very high eastern bank and crossed the stream to the west side and advanced to the sharp knoll when the first cows started to come out of the patch of bush and cross the stream, drinking as they went. Finally the three bulls came into view and started for the stream. I could not advance at that point, for recent fires had burned the grass down to where there was no cover. I could see that I would have to wait until the last of the bulls headed down the steep bank, and then hurry forward in order to get a shot at him before he got very far across the stream. One of the smaller bulls started down the bank, so it was now a question of whether the big fellow was going to cross next or wait until the last. He elected to go next, and as he disappeared down the bank about 50 yards away, the last bull also headed for the bank, and I came up over the knoll and started out across the fairly open ground. As the bull, the one now elected for the shot, slowly stepped down the steep bank, I almost ran over the smooth ground to a position on the bank just over him.
Let him have it
I was now so close that a slight change in the wind carried my scent to him. Just eight or 10 steps away I could see the tip of his thick trunk twisting around slowly, just like a periscope. He was by now suspicious, but I knew he couldn't climb back out of the river as fast as I could run up here on top. By and by the trunk went down and I could hear him start to walk across the stream as the others had done. I felt sure he would stop on the far bank and turn to see what it was he had winded on the bank above and behind him. He stopped at just the right point; in fact, I stood up as he was moving to make sure he would stop. I had got my feet into position while he was in the stream, so all I had to do was stand up straight and let him have it.
I had worried that when this moment finally came, the 102-pound bow might prove a problem, but now it drew back with no more effort than that tiny bow of your sister Laura's. But he stood with his right leg slightly back, so I shied away from a shot close in behind his shoulder. Aside from this one fleeting thought about his foreleg, all I was aware of was a whole lot of elephant and only a moment for firing. So I let fly, and the arrow hissed like a knife stab into a watermelon as it disappeared almost to the very feathers and high in the lung area about two feet behind the shoulder. Not too artistic a shot from only 15 or 20 yards, but it looked good enough as he raced across 50 yards of open ground, with the sun shining brightly on the yellow cock feather of my white arrow.