Monday, December 29, 2014
What it is like to shoot an elephant:
There was a young bull elephant in Zimbabwe named Buddy, who had been fed when he was little. He grew up to be the African equivalent of a nuisance bear in Yellowstone Park. He began chasing cars. A professional hunter named Sam was tasked with executing him. I was to back up Sam. He had me study elephant anatomy and read books by the famous Great White Hunters: Selous, Ruark, Selby, Corbett, Bell, etc. An elephant's brain is the size of a loaf of bread, surrounded all the way around by about 18" of bone. I practiced every day with a .458 Winchester Magnum. The recoil was very unpleasant. Every shot knocked me backwards two steps, and after five shots I'd have a headache for the rest of the day.
We baited him with alfalfa cubes, trying to get him downwind from the rest of the herd so that they wouldn't get involved. After three days we finally got him alone in neck-high elephant grass. I was facing him from about seventy-five yards away. Sam worked around to his side to get a lateral brain shot. I was looking through my rifle's scope head-on at Buddy when Sam fired. The impact was incredible. His whole head bounced like Jello, and dust came off all around. He spun 180 degrees and started running away. I should have been shooting by then, but I was stunned and simply couldn't believe that he had survived that impact. Sam shot him again, in the ass. Buddy slammed on the brakes, spun back around, and started scanning the grass like a radar. The only thing sticking up above it was me, like the idiot in one of those Far Side cartoons. I heard the trackers behind me take off running. Buddy locked onto me and started coming.
When elephants charge, they fan out their ears and trumpet. It's difficult to stand your ground, but it's the only viable option. If you run, they will catch you. If you climb a tree, they'll pick you like an apple. If you hide, they'll sniff you out. My rifle felt tiny, and I wished that I had a larger one.
I willed myself to be deliberate and pulled off a shot that seemed perfect. I knew it was beautiful when the trigger broke. Right between the eyes. Buddy didn't react at all, and kept on coming. Sam shot him in the side of the head again. He kept on coming. I had this sense of disbelief, that it just wasn't possible for him to absorb that much energy. I still wonder how many people have had that as their last thought. Buddy put his head down to use his tusks, and I shot him farther up his forehead. He came down like a falling building, and a cloud of dust rolled over me. We measured the distance at 27 yards, but it seemed like half that at the time. Turned out that all the head shots but the last had angled up over his brain without penetrating it.
Shona who we hadn't even realized were watching started popping out of the bush with axes and knives. They dragged out the innards and were running around inside the rib cage. Scores of huge dung beetles arrived. Fascinating bugs that look like flying turtles. They each rolled a grape-fruit sized ball of dung away. The trackers started a fire and cooked Buddy's heart. We ate it to get elephant magic. They call it "muti". The local chief staggered away carrying the trunk. We filled a pickup truck with meat. In a few hours, everything was gone.
On the flight back to the US a couple days later, the movie was "Godzilla". Japanese soldiers were shooting him with bazookas as he crossed a bridge, but he just wouldn't die. I knew exactly how they felt.
I told some flight attendants that I'd shot an elephant. Some shunned me like an Amish apostate. Others confronted me to share their (negative) opinions. I've discovered that flight attendants don't appreciate my elephant muti as a rule.