Back in 1983, having nothing better to do, I decided to go and look for the northern subspecies of the white rhinoceros - the Nimule National Park in southern Sudan seemed a good place to start, and I traveled through eastern Zaire to Uganda, and crossed into the Sudan from Juba. It was still possible then to go more or less where one wanted in the south of Sudan, though I was given a hint of what I would find in Nimule when, applying for a photographic permit in Juba, I glanced through a (black and white) tourist promotional calendar of Sudan and came across - I believe it was October - a photo of “A Dead Elephant in the Nimule National Park.” Dead for some time, too, by the look of it! I failed to find my northern white rhino - or even get back into Uganda, for that matter, owing to the playful antics of the Sudanese Liberation Army. I made my way home via Khartoum, on one of the last of the White Nile riverboats before guerilla rocket attacks curtailed that mode of transport. Bored again in 1985, I decided to try again - this time the Garamba National Park in northeastern Zaire. I never did get to see a northern white rhinoceros, but this particular preambulation took me throughout all of Zaire and most of the Central African Republic during the last six months of 1985. Very different bush to what I was used to in southern Africa, and a most enjoyable trip. Which is one reason I warmed immediately to Christian Le Noel’s background to, and reminiscences of, hunting throughout Cameroon (my sole experience in Cameroon being in acquiring a deportation stamp in my passport, but that’s another story), Chad, the Central African Republic, and the Congo.
But there are a number of reasons why Le Noel’s book stands out among the majority of its contemporaries.
Firstly, though a Frenchman, Le Noel’s command and clear descriptive use of English only partly makes On Target worth reading - not all professional hunters, no matter how impressive their anecdotes, are necessarily good writers, but Le Noel is. There is nothing worse than a good story poorly told, but no danger of that in On Target - the reader is vividly taken into Central Africa which feels familiar because of the historical background provided by the author. Give me a little history in any story - it only serves to enhance.
Secondly, - I say this at the expense of the conventional wisdom of the moment - the reader is entertained by good hunting stories, and not bored ad nauseum by ponderous ballistics tables, lists of what to take and what not to take, how to pack your vehicle, and the like. If I am going to go out and buy this book, I’ve probably hunted in Africa before, and I probably have a number of firearms which I’m happy with and will do the job if they haven’t already; I may be clueless about what to take into the bush with me, but my PH won’t be and that’s what he’s there for. If I am PH and I buy this book, I buy it out of interest’s sake and I’m not going to pack my bloody Land Rover the way So-and-So does anyway! Read Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa or Ruark’s Use Enough Gun - they are timeless, well-written stories - not do-it-yourself hunting manuals. Which is probably why they stand out as classics. Not that some enlightened discussion of one’s favourite rifles and calibres and hunting essentials can’t be informative, but many books cross into the realm of overkill.
On Target is filled with black and white photographs - some better than others - which follow the storyline, and some, such as traditional hunting headgear worn by the Calao natives of Chad are of special interest if one had been to that part of Africa.
It’s hard to choose favourites from Le Noel’s many lively first-hand anecdotes, but especially I like his account of the pursuit of a Barbary sheep in Chad in the late ’60’s which captures the essencee of the chase, a lion hunt which didn’t exactly go according to plan on the Chinko River in the Central African Republic in the ’80’s, and the tragic but incredible outcome of an elephant hunt on the Bornou River separating the Central African Republic and (then) Zaire. They are three tales out of many which flow from On Target’s 256 pages of historical, biographical and well-written text. Le Noel mentions one of his contemporaries in Central Africa, who “became interested in hunting because of the books he read as a child.” This is such a book - a lively and energetic book to rival The Green Hills of Africa, and comes highly recommended.
On Target is available from Trophy Room Books, P.O. Box 3041, Agoura, California 91301 USA.