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Tracking and the Brain Shot
Hunting and Tracking
Several features of elephants pose special problems to the hunter. The first is obviously its size. Elephants are BIG:- 8 to 10 times the weight of a Cape buffalo. They are also incredibly strong, with a mature bull easily capable of picking up a Landrover on its tusks and flipping it over or pushing over a tree of up to one metre (3.3ft) in diameter without much difficulty. The herd structure, with its complex social ties, simply adds to a hunter’s complications.

Zimbabwean parks records show that when a hunter is killed by an elephant, in over 50% of recorded instances, it is by an individual other than the original quarry which has charged to a comrade’s assistance. Their intelligence also makes them formidable adversaries when wounded, for, although they seem to lack the intrinsic cunning of lion, leopard and buffalo, they are capable of planning an ambush with all too human-like care. In fact, elephant are probably the most intelligent animal that a sportsman is likely to ever shoot (Chimps, gorillas and whales being off limits to sportsmen).

Tracking elephant is not difficult, per se. The very size of the footprint tends to leave some marks, somewhere, even on very stony ground, whilst aerial spoor is usually conspicuous for any elephant who is not trying to evade a hunter. Elephants generally feed everywhere they go and consequently leave a clearly defined trail of destruction in their wake. Even when they are moving quickly, such as a crop raider returning to the sanctuary of a park, or a bull that has picked up your scent more than once, the aerial spoor is usually adequate. An animal of that bulk cannot move without leaving traces of its passing. .See 'Fact Files: Elephant'

Elephants also produce copious quantities of dung (over 100kgs/220lbs per day), which add to the trail and by its freshness gives a good indication of how far ahead the animal is. Two things that must be borne in mind are how quickly an elephant can move, even when walking slowly, and how silently it can move. An elephant’s casual pace is about 6', and so at a seemingly slow walk he is actually moving at human jogging speed. Unless an elephant stops to eat or drink, you’re not going to overtake him on foot.

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One can usually hear an elephant in thick bush long before you can see him, as the sound of snapping branches when feeding and even their stomachs rumbling can be heard for a considerable distance. An elephant can, however, walk virtually silently, due to the unique design of its feet. Its feet are soft, with a cartilage ‘shock absorber’ mechanism between the centre of the pad and the bone. This means that the outside of the pad hits the ground slightly before the centre of the pad, and all sounds of the footfall are trapped. Many a hunter has been able to hear or see his quarry, and then ducked off through some cover to obtain a favourable shooting position or get the wind in their favour, only to find when they have reappeared, that their elephant has caught a whiff of them and silently sped away.

Elephants have excellent hearing and a fantastic sense of smell, but relatively poor eyesight. But, as they have no wild predators once they are over five years old (crocodile and lion take young calves), they tend to be fairly lax about security unless they are heavily hunted. Even then, any approach made into the wind will almost always be successful. In short, it is manoeuvring so as to have the wind in one’s favour that is critical to the success of the final stages of a stalk. Even with a gentle breeze, an elephant can smell a man at half a kilometre, and consequently most hunters carry an ash bag when out after elephant. If you don’t watch the wind you won’t find your jumbo, and if you keep bending down to pick up some soil, or worse kick up some dust to see the breeze, you will soon make enough noise to alert an elephant.

Go to Page: 1 2 3 4 Related Articles: Hunting African Elephant Part 2
Hunting African Elephant Part 3
Fact File: African Elephant
Firearms: .375 on Elephant
African Hunter Vol.5 No.2 April 1999
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