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Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell
Born 1880
Clifton Hall near Edinburgh
Died June 1954
Nationality Scottish
Citizenship United Kingdom
Occupation big game hunter, adventurer, soldier and aviator

Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell (1880–1954), known as Karamojo Bell, was a Scottish adventurer, big game hunter in East Africa,[1] soldier, decorated pilot, sailor, writer, and painter.

Bell was an advocate of the importance of shooting accuracy, at a time when maximum firepower was the most common technique. He improved his shooting skills by careful dissection and study of the anatomy of the skulls of the elephants he shot. He even perfected the clean shooting of elephants from the extremely difficult position of being diagonally behind the target; this shot became known as the Bell Shot.[2]

Although chiefly known for his exploits in Africa, Bell also travelled to North America and New Zealand, sailed windjammers, and saw service in southern Europe during World War I.[citation needed]

Early lifeEdit

Bell was born into a wealthy family of Scottish and Manx ancestry, on the family's estate near Clifton Hall, Edinburgh in 1880.[3] Walter was the second-youngest of 10 children. His mother died when he was 2 years old and his father died when he was 6. He was brought up by his elder brothers but ran away from several schools, and he once hit his school captain over the head with a cricket bat.[4] At the age of 13 he went to sea,[5] and in 1897, at the age of 16, he hunted lions for the Uganda Railway using a single-shot rifle chambered in .303 British.[citation needed]

Yukon gold and the Boer WarEdit

Bell convinced his family to back him for a trip to Africa, where he obtained a job shooting man-eating lions for the Uganda Railway at the age of 16.[5][6] Afterward,[when?] Bell travelled to North America, where he spent a short time panning for gold in the Yukon gold rush[7] and earned a living by shooting game to supply Dawson City with meat. His partner cheated him of his earnings, and so joined the Canadian Mounted Rifles during the Boer War[8] in order to return to Africa. Bell was captured when his horse was shot from under him, but he escaped and managed to get back to British lines.[citation needed]

Big game hunterEdit

After the war ended in 1902, Bell remained in Africa and became a professional elephant hunter. Over sixteen years spent in Africa, he hunted in Uganda, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Central Africa and West Africa.

He became known as “Karamojo” Bell (Sometimes spelt Karamoja) because of his safaris through this remote wilderness area in North Eastern Uganda.[9]

Bell shot 1,011[10] elephants during his career; all of them bulls apart from 28 cows. He was noted for using high speed, smaller calibre bullets[11][12] rather than the slow speed, larger calibre bullets that were popular with other big game hunters.[13] Around 800 of his kills were made with Rigby rifles manufactured on the Mauser action in .275 Rigby(Also known as the 7x57mm Mauser, as the .275 was a "Rigby trademark") calibre. He also used a Mannlicher-Schoenauer 6.5x54mm[6] carbine, and a Lee Enfield sporting rifle in .303 British.[14] He insisted on using military Full Metal Jacket bullets weighing from approx 170 to 200 grains, rather than the 400+ grain bullets popular at the time[7] Bell refused to use soft point bullets under any circumstances.[15] The reason for his use of only Full Metal Jacket projectiles, is that on large animals like elephant and African buffalo a soft point hunting bullet does not have the penetration to reach the vital organs or brain. Bell used the brain shot extensively in order to put the elephants down quickly. He discovered that such quick kills did not alarm the rest of the herd and he could kill more bulls before the animals began to flee.[16]

World War IEdit

At the outbreak of World War I, he was hunting in the Congo and immediately headed back to England and enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps, becoming a pilot in Tanganyika (present day Tanzania). It is reputed that in the early days he sometimes flew without an observer so that he could take pot-shots at enemy aircraft with his hunting rifle.[citation needed] Later, he became a Flight Commander in Europe flying Bristol fighters.[citation needed]

Bell was one of the first to score an air victory in his squadron. He shot an Albatross down with a single shot when his machine gun jammed, and once shot an aircraft down with a machine gun that did not have its sights aligned with the bore.[citation needed]

Bell was decorated with the Military Cross by General Smuts and received a bar to his MC for service in Greece and France. He finished the war with the rank of Captain.[citation needed]

Later yearsEdit

His safaris continued into the early 1920s, garnering a large fortune from the ivory he collected.[citation needed]

Bell retired to a 1,000 acre highland estate at at Garve in Ross-shire, Scotland,[17] named "Corriemollie", with his wife Kate, whom he had married at the end of World War I. He wrote three books about his exploits in Africa, illustrated with his own sketches and paintings, and several articles about aspects of shooting and firearms.[citation needed]

Bell and his wife spent their later years sailing his racing yacht Trenchmere competitively.[18] He also hunted red stags in the Scottish hills and became a proponent of the .220 Swift calibre, writing of its superior effect on deer due to its high velocity bullet.[19] Bell died 30 June 1954.[20]


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This article does not contain any citations or references. Please improve this article by adding a reference. For information about how to add references, see Template:Citation.

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  • The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter (1923)
  • Karamojo Safari (1949)
  • Bell of Africa (1960)


  1. Wieland, Terry (2004). A View from a Tall Hill. Countrysport Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-89272-650-9. 
  2. "Lot 809 / Sale 1319". Christie's. Retrieved 21 September 2010. 
  3. Walker, John Frederick (2009). Ivory's Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants. Atlantic Monthly Press. p. 304. ISBN 978-0-87113-995-5. "Born in Edinburgh in 1880" 
  4. Holman, Dennis (1969). Inside safari hunting with Eric Rundgren. Putnam. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bull, Bartle (2006). Safari: A Chronicle of Adventure. De Capo Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-7867-1678-4. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Van Zwoll, Wayne (2004). The Hunter's Guide to Accurate Shooting: How to Hit What You're Aiming at in Any Situation. The Lyons Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-1-59228-490-0. "He'd hunted lions for the Uganda Railway and started a career as an ivory hunter." 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Passmore, James. "W.D.M. Bell and His Elephants". 
  8. MacKenzie, John M. (1997). The empire of nature: hunting, conservation, and British imperialism. Studies in imperialism. Manchester University Press ND. ISBN 978-0-7190-5227-9. 
  9. Walker, John Frederick (2009). Ivory's Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants. Atlantic Monthly Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-87113-995-5. 
  10. Barclay, Edgar N. "Chapter One - correspondence with WDM Bell and author". Big Game Shooting Records 1931. HF&G Witherby. 
  11. Wieland, Terry (2006). Dangerous-Game Rifles. Countrysport Press. p. 236. ISBN 978-0-89272-691-2. 
  12. Boddington, Craig. "Centerfire .22s For Big Game". Rifle Shooter. Retrieved 18 October 2010. 
  13. Wieland, Terry (2004). A View from a Tall Hill. Countrysport Press. p. 270. ISBN 978-0-89272-650-9. 
  14. (Australasian) Sporting Shooter Magazine, July 2010, Nick Harvey P14.
  15. Boddington, Craig (March 2007). "A Solid Argument". Guns&Ammo. Retrieved 18 October 2010. 
  16. Bell, WDM. "Chapter One". Karamojo Safari. Safari Press. 
  17. The Empire of Nature: Hunting, Conservation and British Imperialism, p154
  18. Bell of Africa (1960)|author WDM Bell|Edited by Townsend Whelen
  19. American Rifleman (1949). "The Neck Shot"|author WDM Bell
  20. Letter from his widow to Mr Louis F Weyreres : Dated 23 August 1954. Source Elephant Hunters, Men of Legend by Tony Sanchez-Arino. ISBN 57157-193-0.
  • White Hunters: The Golden Age of African Safaris. Brian Herne, 2001.

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