Field and Stream

The Elephants of Chirisa


Finn Aagaard, a former Kenya PH who became a writer, admitted that he was at once fascinated by elephant hunting, and compelled to do it, but also saddened by it. “If you kill an elephant bull,” he said, “there’s a sense of loss among [the herd]. Someone is missing. ‘My God,’ they think, ‘Ed was killed yesterday.’”

Finn was not alone. This ambivalenc­e is what Bob Brister captured in the story below and, in doing so, acknowledg­ed that regret is a part of big-game hunting. Brister was a newspaperm­an, and he knew how to take you there. Much of the narrative is in the present tense, and it feels that the story is happening as he tells it. The last line is as jarring as the recoil from a big rifle and it says everything. —D.E.P.

“DON’T MOVE!” COMMANDS guide Chris Hallamore. “Slowly sit down below the grass.”

We crouch, crawl, stop to rest, and Chris opens the bolt of his battered .375, checking the chambered round. I do the same.

We sit with rifles across knees, inching forward on hands and butts to keep heads higher in the grass. We can see the vague, gray blobs. Finally, when they loom like gray mountains over us, we must slowly stand to judge the ivory. It is impossible to realize how big they really are until you are looking up at them, 11 feet tall at the shoulder, maybe 11,000 pounds. I can feel the sheer exhilarati­on of closeness to wild and dangerous creatures, but also other feelings entirely different from those I’ve had with less perilous game.

Cape buffaloes have been excitement and danger, cunning and willing to ambush and kill you un

til their last death bellow. But there has been no remorse for them.

The big cats have seemed so aloof, killing machines that play with victims and sometimes begin eating while the prey is still alive. But this is different.

It is one thing to see the bones of a thousand elephants bleaching in the sun, to know the old cropraidin­g bull would soon be dead anyway. It is something else entirely to realize you are about to be personally responsibl­e for the end of a creature from another time, about your own age, with a degree of intelligen­ce and loyalty to others of his clan that man cannot completely comprehend.

“Hold halfway between the ear and his eye,” Hallamore is whispering. “Be absolutely sure. The instant you shoot, that young bull on the right probably will charge. I’m watching him; you must watch only the big bull. If you miss the brain, he’ll get up; put another one instantly into the heart. Are you ready? I’m going to move to the right, so he will turn his head and give you a better angle and then we can see that other tusk better.”

He takes two steps and suddenly the bull’s trunk snakes up into the air like a huge rubbery antenna, scanning the sky, then pointing straight at us.


The trigger squeezes and the sound and jolt are distant, as if someone else has done this and time freezes into slow-motion frames as the bull slowly, ponderousl­y sits down backwards, then rolls over. The ground jars and dust rises.

All hell breaks loose; both small bulls are coming, the one on the right fast with ears against his head, trunk coiled.

Kasare, our scout, knows instantly he means business. The FN chatters in ear-splitting bursts, inches over the bull’s head, and Chris has the .375 pointing upward at the huge, bulging forehead.

At 10 yards the young bull skids to a stop, trunk lashing and swinging, ears now flared forward in confused bluff. The bull on the left comes up beside him, growling like a huge dog.

Kasare cuts loose again over their heads, and perhaps it is a sound they remembered. They shuffle off, tails upraised and switching in anger, back to the dead bull. Defiantly they stand beside him like sentinels, refusing to let us come closer. Flies buzz, and the long grass rustles in the wind. Nobody speaks.

And then, as if by some signal, the two young bulls turn and melt into the brush.

I do not think I will ever kill another elephant.

June 1982

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