Wild Beasts and Their Ways, Reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa and America— Volume 1

Author: Samuel White Baker

Chapter I the Rifle of a Past Half Century

Forty years ago our troops were armed with a smooth-bore musket, and a small force known as the "Rifle Brigade" was the exception to this rule.

The military rifle carried a spherical bullet, and, like all others of the period, it necessitated the use of a mallet to strike the ball, which, being a size larger than the bore, required the blow to force it into the rifling of the barrel in order to catch the grooves.

Sporting rifles were of various sizes, but they were constructed upon a principle generally accepted, that extreme accuracy could only be obtained by burning a very small charge of powder.

The outfit required a small mallet made of hardwood faced with thick buff leather, a powerful loading-rod, a powder-flask, a pouch to contain greased linen or silk patches; another pouch for percussion caps; a third pouch for bullets. In addition to this cumbersome arrangement, a nipple-screw was carried, lest any stoppage might render necessary the extraction of the nipple.

The charge of powder in ordinary use for a No. 16 bore (which carried an ounce spherical ball) was 1 1/2 dram, and the sights were adjusted for a maximum range of 200 yards. Although at this distance considerable accuracy could be attained at the target upon a quiet day, it was difficult to shoot with any precision at an unmeasured range owing to the high trajectory of the bullet. Thus for sporting purposes it was absolutely essential that the hunter should be a first-rate judge of distance in order to adjust the sights as required by the occasion. It was accordingly rare to meet with a good rifle-shot fifty years ago. Rifle-shooting was not the amusement sought by Englishmen, although in Switzerland and Germany it was the ordinary pastime. In those countries the match-rifle was immensely heavy, weighing, in many instances, 16 lbs., although the bullet was exceedingly small.

The idea of non-recoil was paramount as necessary to ensure accuracy.

It will be at once perceived that the rifle was a most inferior weapon, failing through a low velocity, high trajectory, and weakness of penetration.

In 1840, I had already devoted much attention to this subject, and I drew a plan for an experimental rifle to burn a charge of powder so large that it appeared preposterous to the professional opinions of the trade. I was convinced that accuracy could be combined with power, and that no power could be obtained without a corresponding expenditure of powder. Trajectory and force would depend upon velocity; the latter must depend upon the volume of gas generated by explosion.

The rifle was made by Gibbs of Bristol. The weight was 21 lbs., length of barrel 36 inches, weight of spherical belted bullet 3 ounces, of conical bullet 4 ounces, charge of powder 16 drams. The twist was one full turn in the length of barrel. The rifling was an exceedingly deep and broad groove (two grooves), which reduced the difficulty of loading to a minimum, as the projecting belt enabled the bullet to catch the channel instantly, and to descend easily when wrapped in a greased silk patch without the necessity of hammering. The charge of powder was inserted by inverting the rifle and passing up the loading-rod with an ounce measure screwed to the end; this method prevented the powder from adhering to the sides of the barrel, and thus fouling the grooves.

An extraordinary success attended this rifle, which became my colossal companion for many years in wild sports with dangerous game. It will be observed that the powder charge was one-third the weight of the projectile, and not only a tremendous crushing power, but an extraordinary penetration was obtained, never equalled by any rifle that I have since possessed.

This weapon was in advance of the age, as it foreshadowed the modern Express, and the principle was thoroughly established to my own satisfaction, that a sporting rifle to be effective at a long range must burn a heavy charge of powder, but the weight of the weapon should be in due proportion to the strain of the explosion.

When I first visited Ceylon in 1845, there were several renowned sportsmen who counted their slain elephants by many hundreds, but there were no rifles. Ordinary smooth-bore shot-guns were the favourite weapons, loaded invariably with a double charge of powder and a hardened ball. In those days the usual calibre of a gun was No. 14 or 16. A No. 12 was extremely rare. The charge for No. 16 was 2 3/4 drams of fine grain powder, and drams for No. 12. Accordingly, the light guns, or "fowling-pieces," as they were termed, were severely tested by a charge of 6 drams of the strongest powder with a hardened bullet; nevertheless I never heard of any failure.

At a short range the velocity and penetration of an ounce spherical ball, with the heavy powder charge, were immense, but beyond 50 yards the accuracy was imperfect.

I believe I was the first to introduce rifles into Ceylon, which were then regarded by the highest authorities in the island as impractical innovations, too difficult to sight, whereas an ordinary gun could be used with ball more quickly in taking a snap-shot.

The rifles which I had provided were heavy, the 3 ounce already mentioned, 21 lbs., and a long 2 ounce by Blisset, 16 lbs. The latter was a polygroove, the powder charge only 1 1/2 dram when I originally purchased it. It was wonderfully accurate at short ranges with the small charge, which I quickly increased to 6 drams, thereby losing accuracy, but multiplying velocity.

Twelve months’ experience with elephants and buffaloes decided me to order a battery of double-barrelled rifles, No. 10, two-grooved, with 6 drams of fine grain powder, and spherical-belted bullets. These were most satisfactory, and they became the starting-point for future experiments.

Shortly before the Crimean War, the musket was abolished, and about 1853 the British army was armed throughout with rifles. The difficulty of a military rifle lay in the rapid fouling of the barrel, which necessitated a bullet too small to expand sufficiently to fill the grooves; this resulted in inaccuracy. Even if the bullet were properly fitted, it became impossible to load when the barrel began to foul after a few discharges.

At that time I submitted a plan to the authorities which simplified the difficulty, and having left the pattern bullet at Woolwich, it quickly appeared with a slight modification as the "Boxer bullet." My plan designed a cone hollowed at the base. The bullet was a size smaller than the bore, which enabled it to slide easily down the barrel when foul. The hollow base fitted upon a cone of boxwood pointed at the insertion, but broad at the base, which was larger than the diameter of the hollow in the bullet. It may be easily understood that although this compound bullet was smaller than the bore of the rifle, a blow with the ramrod after loading would drive the conical bullet upon the larger diameter of the boxwood cone, which, acting like a wedge, would expand the lead, thus immediately secured within the barrel. The expansion when fired drove the boxwood into the centre of the bullet, which of necessity took the rifling.

The Boxer bullet superseded the boxwood plug by the use of a piece of burnt clay, which was less expensive and equally serviceable.

Before breechloaders were invented, we were obliged to fit out a regular battery of four double rifles for such dangerous game as elephants, buffaloes, etc., as the delay in re-loading was most annoying and might lead to fatal accidents.

In hot damp climates it became necessary to fire off and clean the entire battery every evening, lest a miss-fire should be the consequence upon the following morning from the condensation of moisture in the nipple during night. This was not only great trouble and a wasteful expenditure of ammunition, but the noise of so many loud reports just at the hour when wild animals were on the move, alarmed the country. Trustworthy gun-carriers are always difficult to procure, and it was by no means uncommon that in moments of danger, when the spare rifles were required, the gun-bearers had bolted from the scene, and the master was deserted.

The introduction of breechloaders has made shooting a luxury, and has obviated the necessity of a large battery of guns. For military purposes the breechloader has manifold advantages—as the soldier can load while lying down, and keep up a rapid fire from a secure cover. It was remarked during the Crimean War that a large proportion of wounded men were struck in the right arm, which would have been raised above the head when loading the old-fashioned rifle, and was thus prominently exposed.

It is not my intention to enter into the minutiae of military rifles, but I cannot resist the satisfaction with which I regard the triumph of the small-bore which I advocated through the columns of the Times in 1865, at a time when the idea was opposed by nearly all authorities as impracticable, owing to the alleged great drawback of rapid fouling. There can be no doubt that the charge of 70 grains with a small-bore bullet, ’303, will have a lower trajectory (higher velocity (equivalent to long range)) than a heavier projectile, ’450, with the additional advantage of a minimum recoil.

The earliest in the field of progress was the old-established firm of Purdey and Co. Mr. Purdey, before the general introduction of breechloaders, brought out an Express rifle, No. 70 bore, with a mechanically fitting two-groove solid bullet. This small projectile was a well-pointed cone weighing exactly 200 grains, with a powder charge of 110 grains, more than half the weight of the bullet. The extremely high velocity of this rifle expanded the pure soft lead upon impact with the skin and muscles of a red deer. At the same time there was no loss of substance in the metal, as the bullet, although much disfigured, remained intact, and continued its course of penetration, causing great havoc by its increased surface. Nothing has surpassed this rifle in velocity, although so many improvements have taken place since the introduction of breechloaders, but in the days of muzzle-loaders it was a satisfaction to myself that I was the first to commence the heavy charge of powder with the 3 ounce bullet and 16 drams, to be followed after many years by so high an authority as Mr. Purdey with a 200 grain bullet and 110 grains of powder, thus verifying the principle of my earliest experience.

This principle is now universally accepted, and charges of powder are used, as a rule, which forty years ago would have been regarded as impossible.

The modern breechloader in the hands of a well-trained soldier should be a most deadly weapon, nevertheless we do not find a greater percentage of destruction among the numbers engaged than resulted from the old Brown Bess. The reason is obvious: battles are now fought at long ranges, whereas in the early portion of the century fire was seldom opened at a greater distance than 200 yards, and the actual struggle terminated at close quarters.

A long-range rifle in the excitement of a hot action has several disadvantages. The sights may have been set for 600 or 800 yards when the enemy was at a distance, but should that interval be decreased by an approach at speed, the sights would require an immediate readjustment, otherwise the bullets would fly overhead, and the nearer the enemy advanced, the safer he would be. Troops require most careful training with the new weapons entrusted to their care. Although a rapidity of fire if well directed must have a terrible result, there can be no question that it engenders a wild excitement, and that a vast amount of ammunition is uselessly expended, which, if reserved by slower but steady shooting, would be far more deadly.

Although the difficulty is great in preventing troops from independent firing when their blood is up in the heat of combat, the paramount duty of an officer should be to control all wildness, and to insist upon volleys in sections of companies by word of command, the sights of the rifles being carefully adjusted, and a steady aim being taken at the knees of the enemy.

There cannot be a better example than the advice upon this subject given by the renowned General Wolfe (who was subsequently killed at the siege of Quebec) to the 20th Regiment, of which he was Colonel, when England was hourly expecting an invasion by the French:—... "There is no necessity for firing very fast; ... a cool well-levelled fire with the pieces carefully loaded is much more destructive than the quickest fire in confusion."—At Canterbury, 17th December 1755.

This instruction should be sternly impressed upon the minds of all soldiers, as it is the text upon which all admonitory addresses should be founded. It must not be forgotten that General Wolfe’s advice was given to men armed with the old muzzle-loading Brown Bess (musket), which at that time was provided with a lock of flint and steel. Notwithstanding the slowness of fire necessitated by this antiquated weapon, the General cautioned his men by the assurance, "There is no necessity for firing very fast," etc., etc.

The breechloader is valuable through the power which exists, especially with repeating rifles, for pouring in an unremitting fire whenever the opportunity may offer, but under ordinary circumstances the fire should be reserved with the care suggested by the advice of General Wolfe.

Small-bores have become the fashion of the day, and for military purposes they are decidedly the best, as a greater amount of ammunition can be carried by the soldier, while at the same time the range and trajectory of his weapon are improved. The new magazine rifle adopted by the Government is only ’303, but this exceedingly small diameter will contain 70 grains of powder with a bullet of hard alloy weighing 216 grains.

For sporting purposes the small-bore has been universally adopted, but I cannot help thinking that like many other fashions, it has been carried beyond the rules of common sense.

When upon entering a gunmaker’s shop the inexperienced purchaser is perplexed by the array of rifles and guns, varying in their characters almost as much as human beings, he should never listen to the advice of the manufacturer until he has asked himself what he really requires.

There are many things to be considered before an order should be positively given. What is the rifle wanted for? What is the personal strength of the purchaser? In what portion of the world is he going to shoot? Will he be on foot, or will he shoot from horseback or from an elephant? Will the game be dangerous, or will it be confined to deer, etc.?

Not only the weapon but the ammunition will depend upon a reply to these questions, and the purchaser should strongly resist the delusion that any one particular description will be perfect as a so-called general rifle. You may as well expect one kind of horse or one pattern of ship to combine all the requirements of locomotion as to suppose that a particular rifle will suit every variety of game or condition of locality.

In South Africa accuracy is necessary at extremely long ranges for the open plains, where antelopes in vast herds are difficult of approach. In Indian jungles the game is seldom seen beyond fifty or sixty yards. In America the stalking among the mountains is similar to that of the Scottish Highlands, but upon a larger scale. In Central Africa the distances are as uncertain as the quality of the animals that may be encountered.

Upon the level plains of India, where the blackbuck forms the main object of pursuit, extreme accuracy and long range combined are necessary, with a hollow Express bullet that will not pass through the body. How is it possible that any one peculiar form of rifle can combine all these requirements? Rifles must be specially adapted for the animals against which they are to be directed. I have nothing to do with the purse, but I confine my remarks to the weapons and the game, and I shall avoid technical expressions.

The generally recognised small-bores, all of which are termed "Express" from the large charge of powder, are as follow:—

Small-bore Charge of Large- Charge of For all Game Express. Powder. bores. Powder. such as*

’577 6 1/2 drams 4 bore 14 drams Elephants. ’500 5 1/2 " 8 " 14 " Rhinoceros. ’450 5 " 10 " 12 " Buffaloes. ’400 4 " 12 " 10 " ’360 Toys. ’295 Toys.

The two latter rifles, ’360 and ’295, are charming additions, and although capable of killing deer are only to be recommended as companions for a stroll but not to be classed as sporting rifles for ordinary game. They are marvellously accurate, and afford great satisfaction for shooting small animals and birds. The ’360 may be used for shooting black-buck, but I should not recommend it if the hunter possesses a ’400.

It would be impossible to offer advice that would suit all persons. I can therefore only give a person opinion according to my own experience.

For all animals above the size of a fallow deer and below that of a buffalo I prefer the ’577 solid Express—648 grains solid bullet,—6 drams powder not 6 1/2, as the charge of only 6 drams produces greater accuracy at long ranges.

The weight of this rifle should be 11 1/2 lbs., or not exceeding 12 lbs. For smaller game, from fallow deer downwards, I prefer the ’400 Express with a charge of from 85 grains to 4 drams of powder—solid bullet, excepting the case of black-buck, where, on account of numerous villages on the plains, it is necessary that the bullet should not pass through the body. The important question of weight is much in favour of the ’400, as great power and velocity are obtained by a weapon of only 8 1/2 lbs.

I should therefore limit my battery to one ’577, one ’400, and one Paradox No. 12, for ordinary game in India, as elephants and other of the larger animals require special outfit. The Paradox*, invented by Colonel Fosberry and manufactured by Messrs. Holland and Holland of Bond Street, is a most useful weapon, as it combines the shot-gun with a rifle that is wonderfully accurate within a range of 100 yards. (* Since this was written Messrs. Holland have succeeded after lengthened experiments in producing a Paradox No. 8, which burns 10 drams of powder, and carries a very heavy bullet with extreme accuracy. This will be a new departure in weapons for heavy game.)

It is a smooth-bore slightly choked, but severely rifled for only 1 1/2 inch in length from the muzzle. This gives the spin to the projectile sufficient to ensure accuracy at the distance mentioned.

The No. 12 Paradox weighs 84 lbs. and carries a bullet of 1 3/4 ounce with 4 1/2 drams of powder. Although the powder charge is not sufficient to produce a high express velocity, the penetration and shock are most formidable, as the bullet is of hardened metal, and it retains its figure even after striking a tough hide and bones. The advantage of such a gun is obvious, as it enables a charge of buck-shot to be carried in the left barrel, while the right is loaded with a heavy bullet that is an admirable bone-smasher; it also supersedes the necessity of an extra gun for small game, as it shoots No. 6 shot with equal pattern to the best cylinder-bored gun.

There are many persons who prefer a ’500 or a ’450 Express to the ’577 or the ’400. I have nothing to say against them, but I prefer those I have named, as the ’577 is the most fatal weapon that I have ever used, and with 6 or 6 1/2 drams of powder it is quite equal to any animal in creation, provided the shot is behind the shoulder. This provision explains my reason for insisting that all animals from a buffalo upwards should be placed in a separate category, as it is frequently impossible to obtain a shoulder shot, therefore the rifles for exceedingly heavy game must be specially adapted for the work required, so as to command them in every conceivable position.

I have shot with every size of rifle from a half pounder explosive shell, and I do not think any larger bore is actually necessary than a No. 8, with a charge of 12 or 14 drams of powder. Such a rifle should weigh 15 lbs., and the projectile would weigh 3 ounces of hardened metal.

The rifles that I have enumerated would be always double, but should the elephant-hunter desire anything more formidable, I should recommend a single barrel of 36 inches in length of bore, weighing 22 lbs., and sighted most accurately to 400 yards. Such a weapon could be used by a powerful man from the shoulder at the close range of fifty yards, or it could be fired at long ranges upon a pivot rest, which would enable the elephant-hunter to kill at a great distance by the shoulder shot when the animals were in deep marshes or on the opposite side of a river. I have frequently seen elephants in such positions when it was impossible to approach within reasonable range. A rifle of this description would carry a half-pound shell with an exploding charge of half an ounce of fine grain powder and the propelling charge would be 16 drams. I had a rifle that carried a similar charge, but unfortunately it was too short, and was only sighted for 100 yards. Such a weapon can hardly be classed among sporting rifles, but it would be a useful adjunct to the battery of a professional hunter in Africa.

There can be little doubt that a man should not be overweighted, but that every person should be armed in proportion to his physical strength. If he is too light for a very heavy rifle he must select a smaller bore; if he is afraid of a No. 8 with 14 drams, he must be content with a No. 12 and 10 drams, but although he may be successful with the lighter weapon, he must not expect the performance will equal that of the superior power.

It may therefore be concluded that for a man of ordinary strength, the battery for the heaviest game should be a pair of double No. 8 rifles weighing 14 or 15 lbs. to burn from 12 to 14 drams of powder, with a hardened bullet of 3 ounces. Such a rifle will break the bones of any animal from an elephant downwards, and would rake a buffalo from end to end, which is a matter of great importance when the beast is charging.

Although the rifle is now thoroughly appreciated, and sportsmen of experience have accepted the Express as embodying the correct principle of high velocity, I differ with many persons of great authority in the quality of projectiles, which require as much consideration as the pattern of the gun.

The Express rifle is a term signifying velocity, and this is generally accompanied by a hollow bullet which is intended to serve two purposes— to lighten the bullet, and therefore to reduce the work of the powder, and to secure an expansion and smash-up of the lead upon impact with the animal. I contend that the smashing up of the bullet is a mistake, excepting in certain cases such as I have already mentioned, where the animal is small and harmless like the black-buck, which inhabits level plains in the vicinity of population, and where the bullet would be exceedingly dangerous should it pass through the antelope and ricochet into some unlucky village.

As I have already advised the purchaser of a rifle to consider the purpose for which he requires the weapon, in like manner I would suggest that he should reflect upon the special purpose for which he requires the bullet. He should ask himself the questions—"What is a bullet?" and "What is the duty of a bullet?"

A bullet is generally supposed to be a projectile capable of retaining its component parts in their integrity. The duty of the bullet is to preserve its direct course; it should possess a power of great penetration, should not be easily deflected, and together with penetrating power it should produce a stunning effect by an overpowering striking energy.

How are we to combine these qualities? If the projectile has great penetrating force it will pass completely through an animal, and the striking energy will be diminished, as the force that should have been expended upon the body is expending itself in propelling the bullet after it has passed through the body. This must be wrong, as it is self-evident that the striking energy or knock-down blow must depend upon the resistance which the body offers to the projectile. If the bullet remains within it, the striking energy; complete and entire, without any waste whatever, remains within the body struck. If, therefore, a bullet ’577 of 648 grains propelled by 6 drams of powder has at fifty yards a striking energy of 3500 foot pounds, that force is expended upon the object struck,—provided it is stopped by the opposing body.

We should therefore endeavour to prevent the bullet from passing through an animal, if it is necessary to concentrate the full power of the projectile upon the resisting body.

This is one reason adduced in favour of the hollow Express bullet, which smashes up into minute films of lead when it strikes the hard muscles of an animal, owing to its extreme velocity, and the weakness of its parts through the hollowness of its centre.

I contend, on the contrary, that the bullet has committed suicide by destroying itself, although its fragments may have fatally torn and injured the vital organs of the wounded animal. The bullet has ceased to exist, as it is broken into fifty shreds; therefore it is dead, as it is no longer a compact body,—in fact, it has disappeared, although the actual striking energy of a very inferior bullet may have been expended upon the animal.

If the animal is small and harmless, this should be the desired result. If, on the other hand, the animal should be large and dangerous, there cannot be a greater mistake than the hollow Express projectile.

I have frequently heard persons of great experience dilate with satisfaction upon the good shots made with their little ’450 hollow Express exactly behind the shoulder of a tiger or some other animal. I have also heard of their failures, which were to themselves sometimes incomprehensible. A solid Express ’577 NEVER fails if the direction is accurate towards a vital part. The position of the animal does not signify; if the hunter has a knowledge of comparative anatomy (which he must have, to be a thoroughly successful shot) he can make positively certain of his game at a short distance, as the solid bullet will crash through muscle, bone, and every opposing obstacle to reach the fatal organ. If the animal be a tiger, lion, bear, or leopard, the bullet should have the power to penetrate, but it should not pass completely through. If it should be a wapiti, or sambur stag, the bullet should also remain within, retained in all cases under the skin upon the side opposite to that of entrance. How is this to be managed by the same rifle burning the same charge of powder with a solid bullet?

The penetration must be arranged by varying the material of the bullet. A certain number of cartridges should be loaded with bullets of extreme hardness, intended specially for large thick-skinned animals; other bullets should be composed of softer metal, which would expand upon the resisting muscles but would not pass completely through the skin upon the opposite side. The cartridges would be coloured for distinction.

If the metal is pure lead, the bullet ’577, with an initial velocity of 1650 feet per second, will assuredly assume the form of a button mushroom immediately upon impact, and it will increase in diameter as it meets with resistance upon its course until, when expended beneath the elastic hide upon the opposite side, it will have become fully spread like a mature mushroom, instead of the button shape that it had assumed on entrance. I prefer pure lead for tigers, lions, sambur deer, wapiti, and such large animals which are not thick-skinned, as the bullet alters its form and nevertheless remains intact, the striking energy being concentrated within the body.

The difference in the striking energy of a hollow bullet from that of a solid projectile is enormous, owing to the inequality in weight. The hollow bullet wounds mortally, but it does not always kill neatly. I have seen very many instances where the ’500 hollow Express with 5 drams of powder has struck an animal well behind the shoulder, or sometimes through the shoulder, and notwithstanding the fatal wound, the beast has galloped off as though untouched, for at least a hundred yards, before it fell suddenly, and died.

This is clumsy shooting. The solid bullet of pure lead would have killed upon the spot, as the bullet would have retained its substance although it altered its form, and the shock would have been more severe, The hollow bullet exhibits a peculiar result in a post-mortem examination: the lungs may be hopelessly torn and ragged, the liver and the heart may be also damaged, all by the same projectile, because it has been converted into small shot immediately upon impact. Frequently a minute hole will be observed upon the entrance, and within an inch beneath the skin a large aperture will be seen where an explosion appears to have taken place by the breaking-up of the lead, all of which has splashed into fragments scattering in every direction.

Common sense will suggest that although such a bullet will kill, it is not the sort of weapon to stop a dangerous animal when in full charge. Weak men generally prefer the hollow Express because the rifle is lighter and handier than the more formidable weapon, and the recoil is not so severe, owing to the lightness of the bullet.

My opinion may be expressed in a few words. If you wish the bullet to expand, use soft lead, but keep the metal solid. If you wish for great penetration, use hard solid metal, either 1/10 tin or 1/13 quicksilver. Even this will alter its form against the bones of a buffalo, but either of the above will go clean through a wapiti stag, and would kill another beyond it should the rifle be ’577 fired with 6 drams of powder.

The same rifle will not drive a soft leaden solid bullet through a male tiger if struck directly through the shoulder; it will be found flattened to a mushroom form beneath the skin upon the other side, having performed its duty effectively, by killing the tiger upon the spot, and retaining intact the metal of which it was composed.

A post-mortem inquiry in the latter case would be most satisfactory. If the bullet shall have struck fair upon the shoulder-joint, it will be observed that although it has retained its substance, the momentum has been conveyed to every fragment of crushed bone, which will have been driven forward through the lungs like a charge of buckshot, in addition to the havoc created by the large diameter of an expanded ’577 bullet. Both shoulders will have been completely crushed, and the animal must of course be rendered absolutely helpless. This is a sine qua non in all shooting. Do not wound, but kill outright; and this you will generally do with a ’577 solid bullet of pure lead, or with a Paradox bullet 1 3/4 ounces hard metal and 4 1/2 drams of powder. This very large bullet is sufficiently formidable to require no expansion.

Gunmakers will not advise the use of pure lead for bullets, as it is apt to foul the barrel by its extreme softness, which leaves a coating of the metal upon the surface of the rifling. For military purposes this objection would hold good, but so few shots are fired at game during the day, that no disadvantage could accrue, and the rifle would of course be cleaned every evening.

The accidents which unfortunately so often happen to the hunters of dangerous game may generally be traced to the defect in the rifles employed. If a shooter wishes to amuse himself in Scotland among the harmless red deer, let him try any experiments that may please him; but if he is a man like so many who leave the shores of Great Britain for the wild jungles of the East, or of Africa, let him at once abjure hollow bullets if he seeks dangerous game. Upon this subject I press my opinion, as I feel the immense responsibility of advice should any calamity occur. It is only a few months since the lamented Mr. Ingram was killed by an elephant in the Somali country, through using a ’450 Express hollow bullet against an animal that should at least have been attacked with a No. 10. I submit the question to any admirer of the hollow Express. "If he is on foot, trusting only to his rifle for protection, would he select a hollow Express, no matter whether ’577, ’500, or ’450; or would he prefer a solid bullet to withstand a dangerous charge?"

India is a vast empire, and various portions, according to the conditions of localities, have peculiar customs for the conduct of wild sports. In dense jungles, where it would be impossible to see the game if on foot, there is no other way of obtaining a shot except by driving. The gunners are in such case placed at suitable intervals upon platforms called mucharns, securely fitted between convenient forks among the branches of a tree, about 10 or 12 feet above the ground. From this point of vantage the gunner can see without being seen and, thoroughly protected from all danger, he may amuse himself by comparing the success of his shooting with the hollow Express or with the solid bullet at the animals that pass within his range, which means a limit of about 50 yards. I contend that at the short distance named; a tiger should NEVER escape from a solid bullet; he often escapes from the hollow bullet for several reasons.

It must be remembered that animals are rarely seen distinctly in a thick jungle, countless twigs and foliage intercept the bullet, and the view, although patent to both open eyes, becomes misty and obscure when you shut one eye and squint along the barrel. You then discover that although you can see the dim shadow of your game, your bullet will have to cut its way through at least twenty twigs before it can reach its goal. A solid bullet may deflect slightly, but it will generally deliver its message direct, unless the opposing objects are more formidable than ordinary small branches. A hollow bullet from an Express rifle will fly into fragments should it strike a twig the size of the little finger. This is quite sufficient to condemn the hollow projectile without any further argument.

While writing the above, I have received the Pioneer, 24th June 1888, which gives the following account of an escape from a tiger a few weeks ago by Mr. Cuthbert Fraser, and no better example could be offered to prove the danger of a hollow bullet. It will be seen that a solid bullet would have killed the tiger on the spot, as it would have penetrated to the brain, instead of which it broke into the usual fragments when striking the hard substance of the teeth, and merely destroyed one eye. The bullet evidently splashed up without breaking the jaw, as the wounded animal was not only capable of killing the orderly, but Mr. Fraser "heard, in fact, the crunching of the man’s bones." He says "that he felt that he had the tiger dead when he fired, but the Express bullet unfortunately broke up." He had fired the left-hand barrel into the tiger’s chest without the slightest result in checking the onset; had that been a solid bullet it would have penetrated to the heart or lungs.


The following experience of a sportsman in the Deccan is from the Secunderabad paper of 14th June 1888:—

"Mr. Cuthbert Fraser had a most miraculous escape from a
tiger the other day at Amraoti. The lucky hero of this
adventure is a District Superintendent of Police in Berar.
He is well remembered in Secunderabad as Superintendent of
the Cantonment Police before Mr. Crawford. A son of Colonel
Hastings Fraser, one of the Frasers of Lovat, he has proved
his possession of that nerve and courage which rises to the
emergency of danger—on which qualities more than all else
the British Empire in India has been built, and on which,
after all is said, in the last resort, it must be still held
to rest. To quote the graphic account of a correspondent,
the escape was about as narrow as was ever had. Mr. Fraser
was told by his orderly that the tiger was lying dead with
his head on the root of a tree. The orderly having called
him up, he went to the spot. Mr. Fraser then sent the
orderly and another man with the second gun back, and knelt
down to look. Just then the tiger roared and came at him
from about eighteen feet off: he waited till the tiger was
within five feet of him and fired. As the tiger did not
drop, he fired his second shot hurriedly. The first shot had
hit exactly in the centre of the face but just an inch too
low. It knocked the tiger’s right eye out and smashed all
the teeth of that side of the jaw. The second shot struck
the tiger in the chest, but too low. What happened then Mr.
Fraser does not exactly know, but he next found himself
lying in front of the tiger, one claw of the beast’s right
foot being hooked into his left leg, in this way trying to
draw Mr. Fraser towards him; the other paw was on his right
leg. Mr. Fraser’s chin and coat were covered with foam from
the beast’s mouth. He tried hard to draw himself out of the
tiger’s clutches. Fortunately the beast was not able to see
him, as Mr. Fraser was a little to one side on the animal’s
blind side and the tiger’s head was up. Suddenly seeing Mr.
Fraser’s orderly bolting, he jumped up and went for the man,
and catching him he killed him on the spot. Mr. Fraser had
lost his hat, rifle, and all his cartridges, which had
tumbled out of his pocket. He jumped up, however, and ran to
the man who had his second gun, and to do so had to go
within eight paces of the spot where the tiger was crouching
over his orderly. He heard, in fact, the crunching of the
man’s bones and saw the tiger biting the back of the head.
He now took the gun from his man. The latter said that he
had fired both barrels into the tiger—one when he was
crouching over Mr. Fraser, and the other when he was over
the prostrate body of the orderly. The man had fired well
and true, but just too far back, in his anxiety not to hit
the man he would save, instead of the tiger. When afterwards
asked if he was not afraid to hit the Sahib, ’I was very
much afraid indeed,’ he replied, ’but dil mazbut karke
lagaya: I nerved myself for the occasion.’ ’A good man and
true!’ a high officer writes, ’who after firing never moved
an inch till Mr. Fraser came to him, although close to the
tiger all the while. He is one of the Gawilghur Rajputs—a
brave race, Ranjit Singh, a good name.’ The man said he had
no more cartridges left and so they both got a little
farther from the tiger, as the orderly was evidently done
for. Afterwards they found one more cartridge for the gun
and tried to recover the body, but it was no use. The tiger
was lying close, most of the buffaloes had bolted and the
Kurkoos would not help. Mr. Fraser then sent six miles off
for an elephant. But the animal did not arrive till dark, so
Mr. Fraser went home in great grief about the poor orderly
and at having to leave the body. His own wound was bleeding
a great deal, it being a deep claw gash. Next day they got
the body and the tiger dead, lying close to each other.
Perhaps no narrower escape than Mr. Fraser’s has ever been
heard of. To the excellent shot which knocked the beast’s
eye out he undoubtedly owes his life. He says that he felt
that he had the tiger dead when he fired, but the Express
bullet unfortunately broke up. Probably, he thinks a 12-bore
would have reached the brain."

I could produce numerous instances where failures have occurred, and I know sportsmen of long experience who have given up the use of hollow bullets except against such small game as black-buck and other antelopes or deer.

So much for the Express hollow bullet, after which it is at the option of all persons to please themselves; but personally I should decline the company of any friend who wished to join me in the pursuit of dangerous game if armed with such an inferior weapon. In another portion of this volume I shall produce a striking instance of the result.

The magazine rifle, which is destined to become the military arm of the future, can hardly merit a place among sporting rifles, as it must always possess the disadvantage of altering its balance as the ammunition is expended. The Winchester Company have, I believe, produced a great improvement in a rifle of this kind, ’400, which carries a charge of 110 grains of powder; but even so small a bore must be unhandy if the rifle is arranged to contain a supply of cartridges. For my own use I am quite contented with one ’577, a ’400, and a No. 12 Paradox - all solid bullets, but varying in hardness of metal according to the quality of game; for the largest animals a pair of No. 8 rifles with hard bullets and 14 drams of powder.

I can say nothing more concerning rifles for the practical use of sportsmen, although a volume might be devoted to their history and development. Shot guns are too well understood to merit a special notice.


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Chicago: Samuel White Baker, "Chapter I the Rifle of a Past Half Century," Wild Beasts and Their Ways, Reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa and America— Volume 1, ed. Darwin, Francis, Sir, 1848-1925 and Seward, A. C. (Albert Charles), 1863-1941 and trans. Miall, Bernard in Wild Beasts and Their Ways, Reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa and America—Volume 1 Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=N3KUWILEU55PT8Z.

MLA: Baker, Samuel White. "Chapter I the Rifle of a Past Half Century." Wild Beasts and Their Ways, Reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa and America— Volume 1, edited by Darwin, Francis, Sir, 1848-1925 and Seward, A. C. (Albert Charles), 1863-1941, and translated by Miall, Bernard, in Wild Beasts and Their Ways, Reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa and America—Volume 1, Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=N3KUWILEU55PT8Z.

Harvard: Baker, SW, 'Chapter I the Rifle of a Past Half Century' in Wild Beasts and Their Ways, Reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa and America— Volume 1, ed. and trans. . cited in , Wild Beasts and Their Ways, Reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa and America—Volume 1. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=N3KUWILEU55PT8Z.