How Longbow Hunter Howard Hill Prepared to Kill an...

The Longbow and the Recurve for Bowhunting

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When Bowhunter Howard Hill Took an Elephant

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Three months later, armed with bow and arrow, camera crews, trucks, jeeps and mechanics, Howard Hill prepared to set sail from New Orleans, Louisiana, on the “Rio Grande.” The world press caught the excitement of the story and featured headlines that read, “Howard Hill Sails For Africa To Kill Elephant. Will This Be His Final Hunt?” After the story reached Kenya, Hill received a telegram in the U.S. stating that he would not be allowed to hunt an elephant with his bow there. Ignoring the message, Hill and his crew left New Orleans in 1950. Upon arrival in Kenya, Howard went straight to the magistrate’s office. He told the men who he was, and what he intended to do.

“Mr. Hill, we’ll issue you permits to hunt anything you’d like to in Africa – but not an elephant,” the authorities told him. “An elephant never has been taken here with a bow and arrow, except by natives using poison darts, and we know you don’t use those. Killing an elephant as you propose is impossible. At best you only may wound one of the animals. Besides, you must engage a white hunter to accompany you.”

Now Howard Hill was a man of pride and the suggestion that a guide might be needed for him to bowkill an elephant enraged the veteran bowman. Howard’s impossible dream was not only to take an elephant with a bow but to track it, stalk it and face it with nothing more than the keenness of his eyesight, the swiftness of his shot and the deadly killing power of the broadhead he had hand-fashioned. That was his dream, and it left no room for compromise. So, he told the Kenyan authorities, “This is how it is. I’ve got $1/4-million (a huge amount of money in 1950) to spend in your country making a movie and killing an elephant. Now, if you won’t allow me to hunt and take my elephant my way, I’ll take my money, go to India and shoot one there. I’ll sign any kind of papers you want me to sign releasing your government from any responsibilities for my crew and me if necessary.”

So, one more windmill fell in the face of the determination of the dedicated archer in the quest of his impossible dream. Many a small windmill already had been overthrown. But that one last challenge, that mountain of death and destruction – a rogue, bull elephant – still remained and now presented itself to the man who only had dreamed of such a beast when he was a boy in the southern cotton rows.

As Hill remembered, “The moment of truth was at hand. There he was, the largest animal on land, and there I was, a man of 50, with a bow and arrow trying to take the elephant without being killed in the process. I crawled through the high grass and hid behind a large ant hill. Rising up on top of the mount, I took aim with my 125-pound longbow and let my custom arrow fly. The arrow hit its mark, penetrated 33 inches into the 12,000-pound elephant and passed all the way through both lungs, hitting the back of the front shoulder a little high.

“When the mountainous elephant fell over dead, the impossible dream of the young country boy from Alabama had come true. Howard Hill used the video footage and the story from his African hunt to finally make the highly successful movie, “Tembo.” (See Day 4)

To learn more about hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ book, “How to Hunt Deer Up Close with Bows, Muzzleloaders, and Crossbows” in Kindle, print and Audible versions at

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