Part of every exam for a professional hunter (PH) includes getting them close to dangerous game—usually an elephant, but a lion as well where possible. The usual result of such an approach is a mock charge or aggressive display by the animal. If you break and run, the mock charge will not halt and turn into a real one as the animal attempts to establish its total superiority. Having 4-6 tons of a thundering elephant come to a halt six to eight paces away, kicking up dust and doing its best to scare you, is unnerving unless you have faced such situations before. It is a good way to test if PH candidates are comfortable and experienced around big game. This year was my turn to face a charge.
I was in Mana Pools National Park tracking a lion with a photographer, hoping to get some good shots for Norma Ammunition to use in promotional material, when we bumped into a young (about 25-year-old) bull elephant. He was stressed, with fluid leaking heavily from one temporal gland, and clearly not in a good mood. He came to us, rather than vice versa, and put in three determined mock charges.
During this mock charge, the bull elephant stopped merely four paces from the author.
The first time he stopped at about eight paces, and then pulled himself up to maximum height trying to intimidate me with his size before backing off. He paused at about 12 yards and then came again, pushing the charge a little closer this time and kicking a fair-sized rock at me when he stopped before again backing off. On the third charge he stopped at only four paces. I stood my ground, kept shouting at him and finally walked forward and pushed him away. He grudgingly gave ground and moved off to the east at a brisk walk. We continued forward, but were pretty sure the lion had been scared off by all the trumpeting and shouting.
Suddenly, from our left, an angry trumpet sounded and the young bull came at us for a fourth time. He had been out of sight behind some brush about 70 yards away, and caught sight of us again as we walked across a dried-out pan. Again, I stood my ground and shouted at him; he approached to about 20 yards and considered the situation. Then, I made a mistake: I was the closest to him by at least 20 yards, and I moved to my right to get behind a bush and out of his sight. He interpreted this as weakness and charged afresh. I moved briskly to get bush between us, and so that (briefly) I was out of his sight. He pushed his head through the bush, located me and continued the charge. At about 6 yards he tucked his head in, and it was clear that this had changed from a mock charge to a real one.
Had I been in a hunting area, I would have shot him at his point. Being in the national park, I kept shouting and hoped he would change his mind. At about four paces he shook his head; no, he wasn’t interested in stopping. But by the time his head steadied to permit an accurate shot, he was way too close (head was about 2 yards from me and the tips of his tusks were considerably closer). I stepped back as I fired a Norma Solid. I lost my footing on the broken ground and went down just as the elephant collapsed in midstride. It was a perfect brain shot and he went down instantly. But 3 1/2-4 tons of elephant moving at close to 25 mph has some momentum, so he slid forward, arriving at the same spot on the ground as I did at about the same time.
This photo was captured just as the bullet exited the charging elephant's head.
I have no idea what hit me, the tusk or the trunk, but something did and broke my left forearm. At first I didn’t notice—I hit the ground, the elephant hit me. I rolled and came up with the rifle reloaded and ready for action. It wasn’t necessary. The elephant was dead … and then I noticed just how sore my arm was.
Because this took place in the park, there were reports to be made, inspection of the scene by National Parks officers to ensure that it was indeed self defense, and that I hadn’t provoked the charge, etc. So, it was 9 hours before I could get my arm properly attended to. Anyway, I am happy to report the bullet worked as advertised—with absolutely straight penetration.
The author is an African PH and the technical support manager at Norma Precision Ammunition.