Friday, 27 April 2012

On the subject of WDM Bell: Small Bores Versus Big Bores

The food ran out. The boys had eaten all the elephant meat they had bought with them. My food was finished, but the cartridges were not, thank goodness. I remember ordering a cartridge belt from Rigby to hold fifty rounds. He asked me what on earth I wanted with so many on it. I said I like them and there was a time when it paid to have them.
WDM 'Karamojo' Bell 

Small Bores Versus Big Bores was written almost 30 years after his last African adventure Bell's piece for American Rifleman gives an insight into what he believed were the criteria when choosing a rifle for hunting dangerous game.

There is a bit of controversy about this article, not because of what Bell wrote, but because of what others have mis-read into it. Some say it was badly edited, some say Bell had access to preproduction rounds. I've seen this misunderstanding quoted several times, but as it's Col. Cooper the armchair heros are parrotting..

First a note from Col. Cooper
A lot of static was thrown our way when we mentioned that article by Karamojo Bell, which appeared in the American Rifleman many years ago pointing out that if he went back to Africa he, Bell, would take with him a 308. It turns out that the 308 had not appeared at the time Bell's article was published. About all I can assume here is that we have an editorial mishap. My best guess is that Bell stipulated 303, and that his copy was "corrected" by somebody in the composition room.

Here's what Bell actually wrote. Emphasis added by me

'The new short version, [of the 30-06] the .308, with a suitable bullet may yet prove to be the answer to the hunter 's prayer. Sufficient diameter, enough penetration with no bending, is a specification that would answer others' than the hunter ' s dream.'

Now that we've got that cleared up lets take a look at Bell's prescription:
  • Reliable ammunition: (both on ignition and on impact), available and affordable. 
Rigby's .275 rounds were only 10% of the price of the 'express' calibres used by the famous London double rifles.

  • Reliable ejection 
Spits the empty case out every time - when you need a second shot - you NEED a second shot

  • Short action'd rifle  [straight pull perhaps?]
Short bolt stroke -  when you need a second shot - you NEED a second shot PRONTO

  • Light weight 
There's a lot of walking involved.

Double rifles are around 10-12lbs unloaded. Bell's Rigby would have been roughly 7lbs and his 50 round ammunition belt works out at: 185gr case and primer + 200gr copper solid + 40gr powder = 425 X 50 = 21,250grains. Which is 1,376.9Kg AKA 3.03lbs
Big shout to The Bambi Basher who had a .275 Rigby case and scales to hand.

...the extraordinarily severe nature of the work may be judged from the fact that Mr. Bell informs me that his average yearly consumption of boot leather amounted to 24 pairs, and he estimates that the total mileage covered on foot, including going to and returning from hunting grounds, amounts to 73 miles for every elephant killed...

  • Take-Down Rifle 
Much appreciated when travelling by Camel, Donkey, Canoe, Biplane, Bicycle or on Foot

Which brand and model of rifle would Bell be carrying today?
Your answers in the comments section please!

I picked up my copy of the magazine on Ebay for $10 inc. shipping.
You can read his piece for American Rifleman HERE

More soon
Your pal

Picture credit goes to Will on this thread


hodgeman said...

Good stuff...I was surprised to see the length of the piece, gun writing these piteous days is much shorter in length and much less technically inclined.

What would Bell tote today? I'm thinking the .308 or the 7-08, or perhaps one of the short mags using the TSX or Woodleigh bullet.

Steve Bodio said...

Of course a Rigby (again, as you know) would be nice though not the most available ammo in the back country.

New (so to speak) possible "blue collar" option: Mitchell's Mauser Tanker model which IS available in .308 here.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


7-08 would be my guess too, and after the first trip a Blaser R8 (for which the 7-08 isn't yet available off the shelf)


The Suburban Bushwacker said...


Sweet although i think he would have valued being able to add a moderator for the surprise factor when trying to shoot more than one member of a herd.


Bambibasher said...

Nice write up fellah, looking forward to getting out again, I have something interesting you will like!

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


I'm fighting the kids at the mo, call you later

Josh said...

Great post! My money's on the .308, due to availability and overall awesomeness.

Yes, I just said awesomeness.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


A very practical choice, however with Bell's known preference for lower recoil 7mm08?

Of course you are allowed to say 'awesomeness' you live in California

Anonymous said...

The confusion is needless. Walter Bell died on 30th June 1954, two years after the .308 came out.

The 1951 date from the dustjacket of Karamojo Safari, which is a misprint (Or Townsend WHelen was mistaken.)

hodgeman said...

I don't know where the controversy comes from...the article was published in Dec 1954. .308 Winchester was introduced in 1952. The T65 military version wasn't adopted until a couple years after that, but the .308 commercial round was out.

What's the big deal?

LSP said...

Thanks for that, Bushwhacker. I love the old Rifleman mags and the awesome .308.

Now don't be a slouch. Come to Texas and try out some mighty .303 on hogs.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


Seriusly on my way, just a few more grand to pay off.