The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Killers in Africa

I just finished reading "KILLERS IN AFRICA, The Truth About Animals Lying in Wait and Hunters Lying in Print" by Alexander Lake, published in 1953, and while it is an absolutely entertaining book, it raised some questions about another book, from one of my favorite "non-serious" writers, Peter Hathaway Capstick. But more about that later.

Mr. Lake was born in Illinois and raised in Michigan, and moved to Africa with his father (or family) in his teenager years. He apprenticed under prominent hunter Nicobar Jones and made a life out of hunting and guiding during the first half of the twentieth century.

According to Mr. Lake there is very little real danger in hunting big-game (by big game we should understand as "the ones that bite back!"), but "Each man was mauled or killed through his own ignorance, or careless, or reckless, or a poor shot, or hysterical, ir dependent on native gunbearers for support." Or in the words of the great Brazilian writer Jorge Amado, "those that are not competent cannot get established."

Besides the Big Five (Leopard, Lion, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant), the book covers Hippos, Crocodiles, Snakes, Baboons and Antelopes. Mr. Lake's closest calls came while hunting chacma baboons and that reminded me of a history that Ed, a professional hunter that I met during my first time hunting in Africa with Mankazana Safaris. Ed told about a Norvegian hunter that was a police sniper and that would come to Africa and spend most of his time hunting baboons, because it was so close to hunting people! Ed was very clear about how afraid he was of the viciously dangerous baboon, particularly when they had to enter thick bush after a wounded baboon, 12 gauge pump gun in hand.

Regarding animals that are called "plains game" nowadays (what a misnomer), Mr. Lake says that "There is satisfaction in African antelope hunting beyond anything the big-game hunter will ever know. There can violence, too, for wounded kudu, sable, or bushbuck can be ugly customers whose slashing hoofs and sweeping horns can kill as surely as lions' fangs and claws."

Mr. Lake rightly did not believe in "shock" killing power and did not favor big-bore or double Express rifles ("Don't kid yourself that you can hit a big-game beast just anywhere with a .600 Nitro-Express and drop him cold every time."). He advocated careful bullet placement, and preferred "a military Lee-Enfield .303. If deprived of my .303 I'd be perfectly happy with a 6,5 mm Mannlicher-Schoenauer and a 160 grain bullet; with a .270 Winchester and a 150 grained soft-nosed bullet; or, for that matter, i'd be satisfied with any good modern rifle of comparable size."

One of my favorite passages in the book is when he is teaching a young prospector named Sachse how to hunt and engages on a discussion with other members of the expedition and says: "True hunting is never butchery. It's almost one hundred per cent sportsmanship. A true hunter has a sympathetic bond with animals. He tries to kill quickly and cleanly and never permits a wounded animal to suffer for long. Just now Sachse spoke of an 'urge' to hunt. Shows he's normal. Hunting's an atavistic urge and usually a healthy one."

The other is his discussion about the proper diet for a person that wants to hunt in Africa. "Unless you've been on a good meat diet and eaton your food well salted, you'll find yourself strangely weak and listless when energy is most needed. If you're a man who lives exclusively on fruits, vegetables, and grains, chances are you won't be able to endure a prolonged African hunting trip." And for a couple pages he goes on about the importance of carnivorous diet. I apologize for my good vegetarian friends in India, but I just love it!

But back to Capstick! The structure of Capstick's "Death in the Long Grass" (1977) is REALLY similar to that of "Killers in Africa" (1953), but a quarter century later. And if you read the Snakes chapter in both books you will find frigthening similarities on the stories about a matting couple of black mambas, especially when both snakes' heads appear over the long grass! I really love and cherish Peter Hathaway Capstick books and the way he writes, but for a long time people have questioned if he wrote fact or faction, and of all the adventures that he wrote about happened to him or to someone else. Well, in this case, evidence is against him.

In any case, I will read again Capstick's books and will look for more Alexander Lake books as well! And I recommend you to do the same, as both have had significant more hunting experience and write much better than I.


  1. Back in the time the hunting must have been different, but Africa is the place where you can definitely find the old traditions.
    I was wondering that maybe some of your readers look for hunting trips? Our company helps to organise them. Please, contact me at so we can talk about the details.

  2. I read and love Adrian Lake's Killers in Africa, and find it one of the best books I've read on the subject of African hunting.

    Like him, I became a professional hunter out of love for the bush, animals, and conservation. And I deeply share his views on the whole thing - including his veiled contempt for what he calls "hunting tourists", even though they are ultimately the ones who pay the bill to keep wildlife alive in Africa.

    But a real hunt shared with a real hunter is an unforgettable experience, and once you have known that you'll come back to the bush again and again...


  3. Enjoy discounted prices for outdoor supplies at