In the village we passed humble huts with ramshackle kraals. Elephants were feeding in a line across the trees. Word of our hunt had spread, and people spilled out of their huts. “You must stay back,” Anton called firmly to them time and again.
Ideally, one closes within 10 yards of an elephant, gets a steady rest and communicates with the professional hunter over the precise inch of a specific wrinkle to put the bullet. “We will not get closer,” hissed Anton. “Shoot from here, now. Right between the eyes.” More urgently, “You must shoot. Now!”
At the shot, my bull turned and took a few steps and the others turned and started moving. The critical first shot, taken at 1X from 40 yards, was 6 inches low. Anton fired a shot into its hip, slowing it before it locked its legs and went to its haunches. We ran up to the herd. After years of studying elephant anatomy, I searched for the imaginary line that runs from ear hole to ear hole and fired repeatedly. Finally, it dropped. In retrospect, my mistake on the initial shot was the best thing that could have happened. When my bull turned, the rest of the herd moved out of the village. Had it dropped from a proper brain shot, eight scared and angry bulls would have been in our midst. As Anton said after the fact, “It could have been a problem.”
It was the Fourth of July and Christmas rolled into one. It was all smiles, backslaps and handshakes. The contents of the local shebeen (it was apparently happy hour) arrived with more smiles, this time of the enhanced variety. As I took in the gravity of the moment, one intoxicated Caprivian rolled me in a hug that was all stale breath, unwashed body and inebriated joy. One simply does not get that way by missing a single shower. I must say, I have the same guy, just a different size and shape, at my favorite watering hole during Redskins games, and neither Virginians nor Caprivians should be judged upon the hygiene of one individual.
It was the children that set the tone of excitement and wonder. They clambered over the bull as if it were a jungle gym. Many will live in the village their entire lives and never get another chance to use an elephant’s backside as a trampoline. Carpe diem. Next the children turned their attention to the other oddities, including the foreigners who had dropped the bull. “Mister, mister, take my picture,” they would cry. Then they would scurry to the backside of the camera to ensure the image was of sufficient quality before requesting another.
The next day, tusk removal went quickly with chain saws wielded by the game department. The Kasika people began the process of distributing the more than 5,000 pounds of protein. Meat was flayed from the bones until nothing remained.
Over the next three days we remained in the Caprivi before moving on to Panorama Camp to hunt plains game, and the elephants never returned. On my final morning, a boy, perhaps 10 and a less than enthusiastic student, asked politely, “Mister, mister, would you bring the elephant back?” It seems he had a mathematics test and was hoping for another Caprivi snow day.
In a text message later that day:
Mark Keefe: “Jumbo down! I just shot an elephant in my own underwear.”
Mrs. Keefe: “I can’t see the underwear in the picture. Turn him over and I’ll let you know if they are really yours.”