Field and Stream

The Cautious Crocodile

- BY WARREN PAGE

Lefty Page led an improbable life. A Harvard graduate, he began as a prep-school English teacher, served as a Naval gunnery officer in World War II, and emerged from the service an alcoholic so far gone that he was not expected to live long. But live he did, and he remained sober the rest of his life. He applied for the fishing editor position at FIELD & STREAM in 1947, but that had just been taken by a young veteran named Al McClane, so Page joined as shooting editor and gave himself so thorough an education that, in his time, no one knew more, and very few knew as much.

Warren Page was not only a hard-case hunter and a dead shot, he was a firstrate reporter with a wry sense of humor and an eye for detail. Here, he makes a monster that shared Earth with the dinosaurs emerge, breathing, from the pages of the magazine. —D.E.P.

CROCODILUS NYLOTICUS OF the African rivers can make close to 20 feet, which has a yard of pegtoothed mouth gaping at one end and carries at the other a slab-sided tail muscular enough to whip the feet from under a stud zebra. [He] is a well-organized animal for his job, which is to seize and haul back into deep water about anything he can clamp his beartrap jaws onto. He can stay underwater for endless minutes, or ooze along with only his nostrils and eyes showing. I thought about those eyes every time we waded Zambia’s slightly muddy Munyamadzi River.

Most students of dangerous beasts feel that the crocodile accounts for the bloody deaths of more Africans than do the buffalo or the elephant or the lion, taken separately or together.

* * *

The crocodile is ugly as vice and twice as hateful. But they are not stupid. And you do not shoot them casually in daytime hunting. The bullet must be spotted precisely right. If you do not slip the bullet in just fractional­ly behind the nearly invisible earhole (to blow his doorknob brain into smithereen­s) or hit a mite further back to break his neck vertebrae, it’s impossible to kill a crocodile quickly enough to keep him out of the river. Once in, he sinks, and that’s that.

* * *

Two of the crocs were already awake and moving toward the water, but the big one was still fast asleep, almost straight broadside to me. Now, just barely behind the ear.

The slight click of the safety brought open one slitted eye. I saw it move in the riflescope. But I also saw the crosshairs rest with deadly steadiness on the leathery plate hiding the crocodile’s brain pan. Too late for that reptile. The rifle bucked and the top of his skull lifted off.

A trickle of blood ran from the defunct croc into the stream. It could bring back the reptiles that had oozed off downstream at the shot. I fired into the water, and [my PH] blasted another waterspout. Then we waded across, running the shallow places. I wanted [the trackers] to repeat the wading so I could photograph them from beyond the limp carcass, but they’d have none of it.

Fifteen feet of croc is as much as two and a half men lengthwise in the mud. That size of croc isn’t pretty either, but it’s a sharp reminder of what the world must’ve been like a few million years ago when teeth, claws, and armor ruled the Earth.

May 1969

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