Hunting Big Game With Dogs In Africa – An Armchair Safari with Er M. Shelley


Almost 100 years ago, Er Shelley was invited to join a group headed to Africa with Paul Rainey to trying training and hunting with dogs in Africa. The noted Newland & Tarlton organized the safari; George Outram was one of the professional hunters. The trip was a resounding success although there were many trials and tribulations at the start…the least of which was that, once on the trail, the dogs reached the lion or leopard first, the natives second and, well, the phrase, “Hurry, white man, here is the lion!” was often shouted excitedly as the white men came in third. The story that follows is about hunting man-eaters in Africa around the time of Col. Patterson’s Tsavo adventures.

About this time a wealthy Indian prince was out on safari and decided to camp in Simba Station. Shortly after dark, a lion sprang into a circle of natives who were sitting around a fire, grabbed a man and made away with him. The lion dragged the man into the grass where it began to feast on human flesh. All those in camp who had guns fired into the grass – but the next morning the lion was far away from the site of the tragedy, and all that remained was the poor man’s remains. (The next day the Prince ended his safari and headed for Nairobi.)

Government officials began at once to organize a hunt to exterminate the man-eater. The head Game Ranger asked if I would go with the Paul Rainey hounds. This was tsetse fly area so horses could not be taken. I agreed to go along with a dozen or so dogs and accompanied by another American, Roy Stewart, who had come with his own dogs. The party consisted of two or three professional hunters, nine Captains of KAR, three hunter clients and about 75 native porters. A special train was outfitted for the party with the dogs having their own special car. We arrived in Simba Station and promised the locals that we would stay until we killed the man-eater.

The first morning we were out early and hunted the large reed beds along the river, a favorite place for lions to lay up during the day. I did not plan to take the hound until we found the particular lion we were after. We spent the entire day marching north, beating and shouting through the reeds but found no lion. At the end of the day, one askari thought he saw the lion at the east end and began shooting to keep the lion away.

The locals wanted to let the dogs out for the night, but I explained that would tire the dogs out and they would be in no condition to hunt the following morning. Mr. Bowker’s Airedales were young dogs with limited hunting experience and no training at all in lion hunting. I suggested his dogs be let out at night because they would drive the lion away but would return at once. This would keep the men safe and leave the dogs fit to work in the morning. No sooner were the Airedales let loose, they got on the lion’s scent and chased it to the west. Then they returned to lie at their master’s feet.

The second morning we went to get the dogs and gave each boy a lead. The grass was heavy with dew, which would help the dogs with trailing. We put on high rubber boots while our men carried our shoes. Two dogs were selected to start, dogs that had been broken from running any game except lion or leopard. These were aggressive dogs that could be depended upon to lead others. I asked the men to hold the other dogs until these two could get the trail straight. When I could see the dogs running on the trail the lion had left, we began turning the other dogs loose.

The Airedales bounded along with the hounds but some were confused and returned quickly to their master. Keeping up was hard. Following hounds uphill and on foot is hard work, very uncertain and sometimes unsatisfactory. The hounds were rapidly drawing away from us. Fourteen of the 16 hunters followed the dogs, while two were sent to a hill five miles to the southwest to climb the hill and look out for the lion. All the men except two made for the heavy cover where the dogs were last heard. Myself, Mr. Bowker and Mr. Stewart climbed a hill to the south where we could watch and listen.

One of the lions of the Rainey Group

When I next heard the dogs, they were coming toward us. Their voices indicated that the lion was up and they were baying him as he ran, but apparently unable to stop him. All dogs, including the Airedales were coming our way. I was sure one of us would get a shot, but the lion passed 100 yards too far out in the cover and swung back toward the foot of the hill and then down to the plains below, taking the dogs out of hearing once more. Mr. Stewart had been in the best position to witness this chase and he signaled for us to join him. It took a long time to climb through thick undergrowth.

We learned that the dogs has run the lion very well indeed and had stayed close to him for nearly 30 minutes. But when the lion got the dogs out into the open plains where there was nothing for them to dodge behind, he wiped out. Three or four dogs stayed with the lion on the open plains, but they, too, were soon wiped out and began returning to us. This lion was unusually active. After running almost six or seven miles, the lion crossed a donga near a bunch of trees. By the time we reached the area, it would be so hot and dry that the dogs would be unable to pick up the scent again.

However, we had come to hunt lion, so I proposed we continue, with dogs on leads, but not on the lion’s trail. Instead, we would head to the spot where the cat was last seen before letting the dogs free. We changed into leather boots and started. It was hot, dry and mid-morning before we reached the trees. Two of the gun bearers went down into the donga and located the lion’s tracks. I let the dogs down in the place where the lion had come out of the donga. Some got the scent but mainly they trailed slowly and with much difficulty. They trailed almost at a walk, which enabled us to keep up with them. But at the top of a rise, where the sun was hottest, they lost the trail.

We spread out, looking in sandy places for lion spoor, which was soon discovered by one of the gun bearers. We called in the dogs, they got straight again, but they lost the trail and this scenario repeated a dozen times or more. It was still good hound work. They trailed slowly for there was scarcely any scent at all and it required the keenest of noses and utmost stability. The last loss was at the top of a rise where a small hill, about one acre in size, stood in front of us but some distance away. It was covered with huge boulders, some nearly as large as a house, and out of the center grew a euphorbia tree. I thought, “There is no use laying the dogs out now. That is the place the lion is making for. From where we stood, the plains were perfectly open for miles and this hill provided the only bit of cover that could be seen anywhere.

Kamow, Shelley’s Gun-Bearer and the Man-eater

We advanced and divided the men into squads of two or three and assigned each a place to stand, thus almost surrounding the hill. Every direction was well guarded except that from which the lion had come. Roy Stewart and I went straight up the hill with the dogs in that direction. As we came to the hill, we let the dogs loose, throwing stones among the boulders as extra inducement for them to go in and hunt. They flew into the rocks and began searching. One long rock seemed to run all the way across. It was six or eight feet high and acted as a barrier. None of the dogs could get over or under it. But one dog found an opening and got past it. No sooner had he done so, he started barking. I recognized his bark; it was Champion, one of the better dogs. This caused other dogs to run up and down the rock and jumped to the top only to fall back again. This one dog continued barking for ten minutes and then no other sound was heard.

Eventually we climbed over the big rock, put down our guns and began picking the dogs up in our arms and lifting them over the top of the rock. As soon as we put them down, they disappeared on the other side and promptly joined Champion in barking. But no other sound was heard. As we kept passing reinforcements, the barking continued. Each one of us had a dog in his arms that was being lifted to the top.

Suddenly the lion rushed in our direction and almost knocked the dogs out of our arms. His huge paws nearly struck us in the face as he went clear over us and the dogs came tumbling after him. The man-eater swung around the pile of rocks and started west. One of the hunters with us got off a couple of shots, but that lion was like a flying target and no shot had any effect. The lion then turned to the north, the very direction from which he had come, AND THE ONLY DIRECTION LEFT UNGUARDED. Thus, Stewart and I each took two long shots with our Express rifles and then my gun bearer promptly handed me my .350 Rigby Mauser. By this time, the other men considered the lion out of range (he was more than 400 yards away) and quit shooting. As I started shooting with the .350 the lion was past 400 yards and running so fast that he gained on the dogs with every stride.

The ground was sandy here and made an excellent target, as the bullets hutting into the sand kicked up a small cloud of dust that could plainly be seen. My first shot hit the ground several feet behind him. So I pulled in fifteen feet ahead and still shot behind, drawing farther ahead at every shot. My fourth shot struck so close that it could not have missed by more than an inch! So for my fifth shot, it seemed to me, I held fully 25 feet ahead…and I heard the thud of the bullet. The lion changed ends twice and lay full length on the ground. I hesitated a moment but it was too late to fire one last shot because he was completely covered in dogs. Upon examination, I found that the bullet had hit him squarely in the neck and shattered the bone, killing him instantly.

While we were standing by the dead lion, a boy came running to us to say that the other men who had gone to a larger hill were watching ten lions through their glasses and wanted us all to come. But we needed to find water to give the dogs a drink, and a rest. It turned out that the ten lions were in the valley we had crossed earlier in the day and apparently had stayed there all day.–Selected and edited by Ellen Enzler Herring of Trophy Room Books

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2 thoughts on “Hunting Big Game With Dogs In Africa – An Armchair Safari with Er M. Shelley”

  1. This is a fascinating story. I am very interested in historical as well as contemporary recounts of hunting African Game with dogs. Where can I buy this book? Are there any other sources anyone can point me too? Thank you all for any assistance provided. I owned Rhodesian Ridgeback of African breeding who I hunted on U.S. furbearers. He was biddable, willing and fast but more of a sight than scent dog.

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