The intense loneliness and monotony of a solitary life, away from others of their own kind, have a bad effect on the minds of many men, as they get morbid and inclined to suffer from melancholia, when they often act foolishly.
About the vear 1905 I spent twelve months at a place called Mzazas, on the Luangwa River, and during that time only four men visited me, and once I went away to see a man I knew some sixty miles off. As Mzazas was not a health resort and I underwent an attack of blackwater fever there, I was naturally pretty bad at times; but I cannot say I regret the loneliness, as I was out in the bush every day looking for game and making a collection of drawings of game spoor.
Sometimes, when a man is beginning his shooting experiences, over-keenness may lose him an animal he is very anxious to bag. Besides the large-horned roan antelope I have mentioned, I can remember several other trophies that I should have bagged if I had shot more steadily. Once when on a shooting trip, in December, 1903, to the country bordering Lake Chiuta, with Captain Mostyn, of the King's African Rifles, I lost a lion in the following way. Every day my friend and I used to go off in a different direction and meet in the afternoon or evening when we returned to camp. One day I had got on the fresh spoor of a herd of buffalo, which took me across the mud and swamp of the lake, and I had followed them many miles when my men and 1 noticed the tracks of some Portuguese native hunters, who had cut the spoor of the buffaloes just ahead of us. We then stopped and began to return to the tents, and we had just reached the swamp when we disturbed a fine, light-maned lion which was lying in a low hollow, with some tall grass in its centre. I had handed over my rifle to my gun-bearer a few minutes before and was walking a short distance in front, and, instead of passing through the tall grass in the hollow, I passed to one side. The men following went right through it, and I suddenly heard a series of hoarse grunts, so, naturally, stopped and turned round to look. The lion must have seen or heard me pass, but he was so excited with the shouts of the men that he forgot my existence and ran towards me, looking back at the natives. I gave a shout, and the lion then noticed me and stopped and crouched, putting his head on his paws. I regretted not having my rifle in my hand, for he was only about two paces from me, and I could easily have brained him. I held out my hand for the rifle, and the man who was carrying it very pluckily came round with it.
Just as I got it in my hand the lion bolted to the right, and I foolishly fired a running shot at him, instead of waiting for him to stand, which I think he would have done within 100 yards or less. My bullet must have passed just in front of his face, for he swerved sharply and was soon into some thick bush, where I lost sight of him, and, although the men and myself beat up the bush, we never saw him again. When the lion bolted I was amused at the action of a boy who had a soft iron knife in his hand, for he gave a yell and ran after the lion. What he thought he could do if the lion had stopped and waited for him I cannot say.
When we were crossing the swamp one of the worst tropical storms of thunder, lightning, and rain that I have ever seen came on, and the lightning was so close that I feared some of us would be struck. While tramping along in the mud and lashing rain I noticed several herds of game, and they stood like horses or cattle with their tails to the driving storm, and would hardly move out of our way. I saw several reedbucks, also, and I remember one male had a very fine head, but he was more lively than most of the other game, for he ran off before I could get the rifle from its cover. We got home at dusk soaked and tired, and this was one of the black days in my diary and one of the hardest.
Just after this experience I was shooting near the Shire River, and one day I saw the largest horned impala I have ever seen in Central Africa. His head more resembled the size of the British East African type, though I cannot say what it measured, as I missed a fairly easy chance at him at about seventy yards range.
Again, in North-Eastern Rhodesia I wounded and lost a very fine bull sable antelope, whose horns were much better than a 43m. head I had bagged about a month before. I knocked this sable down and had walked up to within twenty yards of him, and then turned my back to pull my Kodak from its case to get a snapshot. While I was doing this I heard the thud of his feet and turned round to see him disappearing into the thick bush near. I followed this sable for two days and never saw him again, and I believe my bullet grazed his spine, which dropped him and caused paralysis for a few moments. The loss of this beast was, of course, due to my own carelessness, although if the boy who was carrying the camera had been a sharp-witted lad he would have told me the sable was getting up and running off, as he was iooking at it. Then I would likely have had time to get in another shot with the chance of killing or crippling it. Anyhow, I lost the best pair of horns I have seen on a living sable antelope, and I am sure they were not much less than 46m.
Every incident such as this is a fine lesson, and it is generally remembered when a similar incident arises; and of course there would not be much interest in game shooting unless there was a certain amount of uncertainty.
The lucky days are not perhaps so common as the unlucky ones, but the luck is sure to change if one keeps hard at it. The best hunter, if not always the best shot, is the man who is hard-working and persevering.
Before closing this chapter I will give a few of my articles which have appeared in the Field newspaper at different times, as I have the kind permission of the proprietor and editor of that journal to do so. Here is one about long range shooting at game which may be of interest :