Often a good weapon can be picked up second-hand and several first class London gunmakers sell very reliable firearms of this description, but several points have to be considered when buying such a weapon.
In both rifles and guns, the barrels are obviously the main feature, as naturally the wear and tear in a weapon affects the barrels more than any part.
I am a believer in best quality hammer weapons as their construction is simpler than hammerless actions, and the pull-off of the locks is much sweeter and sharper than in any hammerless type of action I have seen or tried.
Further on I shall give my ideas as to the best type of shotgun for abroad, and it is wise to choose a hammer weapon, for if anything goes wrong it is much more easily remedied with the simple tools that one has. It would be useful to carry spare strikers and a spare top lever spring in case of breakage.
Not having done much shotgun shooting for some years I do not know what is the best powder for shotguns at the present day, but a very experienced gunmaker tells me that nothing can beat " Smokeless Diamond " for good killing and for its non-corrosive qualities to the barrels.
In Central Africa common black powder 12-bore cartridges cost over £1 per 100, so if the sportsman intends using a shotgun much, he had better bring out plenty of ammunition.
As I shall mention further on in a chapter on rifles and equipment, I consider that nothing is better than the Mauser action for a sporting rifle ; but this is purely a matter of personal choice. If a hammerless weapon is chosen, get the weapon fitted with a non-automatic safety bolt. Probably beginners would be safer with a good quality hammerless gun or rifle, but my objection to them is that when loaded the mainsprings of the locks always stand at full-cock, and with a hammer weapon the weapon is only cocked when ready to be used.
When inspecting a weapon, especially a rifle, carefully examine the rifling for wear and the breech for corrosion and pit marks, and see that the striker, or strikers, if double, is in good order and strikes the cap a good blow.
In a double gun or rifle see that the breech locks close, and hold it up sideways to the light to see if light can be seen between the barrels and breech block.
Do not buy a shotgun that has had the barrels shortened, or one in which the barrels have been rebored. If fitted with a top lever see that the gun closes with a sharp metallic ring, without any hard grating or dull sound.
On no account buy a new cheap hammerless gun. A man would be far better with a good second-hand hammer-gun, which probably cost £40 to £50 new, and which can now be bought in London for a sum of from £12 to £16.
If one goes to a maker with a good name he can usually be trusted to sell a sound weapon. The Field newspaper always has advertisements from several good gunmakers who sell second-hand guns and rifles, but it would be invidious to mention names. Buyers should remember that no really first-class London shotgun can be turned out at less than £40 new.
It is impossible to help noticing how expert the natives are with their inferior implements, and, although their work is, naturally, coarse and roughly finished, it serves their purpose. Their soft iron axes are wonderful cutting tools, and most of the natives are expert axemen. Some of the African woods are so hard they would often splinter European or American axes, which are usually made with too high a temper, except for soft woods.
The natives' adzes, too, are very useful articles, and a great amount of work is executed with them. Their small axe-heads are often used as an adze by being put in another handle with a differently angled slot.
Their knives, except those they buy at European stores, are simply soft iron ; and often they use the soft hoop-iron binding that is sent to this country round crates, boxes, or bundles. It is roughly shaped, and one end is bound with some bark string. With such a tool, used something like a saw with both hands, they get through a hippo hide like a grocer cutting cheese.
If the knife bends, which it often does, it is quickly straightened with a stone or lump of wood, or with the fingers.
I once saw a native arrive at the cutting up of an elephant with an old bayonet, but he did not do as good work as others with their scraps of hoop-iron.
Natives are very handy at making baskets, and their small, flat ones, called "luchairo," are used for cleaning the chaff from the flour after it has been pounded in their wooden mortars, the pestles of which are simply 5-ft. poles of some hard wood, roughly smoothed up to begin with, which take a fine polish with the constant rubbing of the hands.
The young girls are fond of pounding the grain and if a woman has a daughter old enough, it is usually her duty to do most of the flour-making for the family.
Maize, of course, is the staple grain, but there are others grown, such as mapiri, rapoko, and koche. Sugar-cane ("imphfe," native name) is also grown.
Then there are native potatoes; yams, in certain districts; and a very nice vegetable, named itchasani, which tastes something like a young English potato, with a flavour not unlike an artichoke.
In some places bananas or plantains will be seen, and I have even seen the natives growing pineapples and the paw-paw, or papaya, fruit; but I expect these men had worked for Europeans, and got a liking for such fruits.
Considering that many settlers and most of the missions grow fruits, it is strange that the natives do not care to plant them, as they could easily get the seeds by asking for them ; but the fact is that they are too lazy.
That fine fruit, the mango, is now found throughout Central Africa in certain localities, and there is a particularly fine lot of huge mango trees about thirty-five miles north of Tete, on the old Fort Jameson road from that place.