Peter Hathaway Capstick was born in January 1940 in New Jersey. A 19th-century man dropped incongruously into a 20th-century world, Capstick abandoned a successful Wall Street career in his twenties seeking adventure. Like Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway before him, Capstick found that for which he quested.
Capstick started out in Latin America, earning his hunting chops while striving to master the Spanish language. With a few years of jungle experience, he returned to New York and started a business arranging guided hunting excursions for well-heeled clients. This led to a stint working for Winchester Adventures and, in 1968, his first trip to Africa.
With that trip, Capstick found his true calling. For years afterward, he worked in Zambia, Botswana, and Rhodesia as both a game ranger and a safari guide. As a professional hunter Capstick mastered the nuances of stalking deadly game and, along the way, had some truly epic adventures. In 1977 he published his first book, Death in the Long Grass, and ignited the imaginations of countless youngsters comparably yearning for adventure. I was one of them.
Setting the Stage
In 1975 Capstick was working in Rhodesia, the recent civil war in Zambia having run him out of that volatile country. He set up his headquarters in an abandoned adobe house some fifty miles south of Victoria Falls. The locals knew this area as Vlakfontein.
Capstick had his loyal band of porters, gun bearers, and indigenous Zulu comrades, all of whom were integral parts of his hunting and guiding excursions. As they settled into their new digs they began having problems with the neighbors. Such social friction is an unfortunate aspect of the human condition. However, the neighbors, in this case, were a nearby 100+-strong troop of yellow baboons.
The yellow baboon is a ubiquitous finding in south-central Africa. A large Old World monkey, these primates are complex social creatures and remarkably intelligent. They can live for up to thirty years.
A big male yellow baboon weighs some ninety pounds and sports outsized canines. They are immensely strong and terrifyingly fast. Baboons are omnivorous, eating almost anything they can catch. Their very intelligence is what makes them at times deadly.
Like most of us primates, these have a natural cruel streak and will at times kill just for the thrill of it. Their predation on livestock and incursions into human settlements can make them nuisance animals. Under the wrong circumstances, it can be much, much worse.
The woman was weeding her garden with her four-month-old child swaddled to her back in the African fashion. She was unarmed and in a place where the sundry threats endemic to the African continent seemed distant and unimportant. Sensing in that weird way that she was being watched the young woman turned around to find four large male baboons stalking her as a group.
One of the big animals held her attention, while the other three circled around to gain an advantage. She shouted and flailed at the creatures, yet still they came closer. While the lead animal distracted her one of the other beasts ran in and snatched the child off her back with his jaws. She fought mightily as only a mother will, suffering grievous wounds in the process, but was unable to save the child.
Two of Capstick’s assistants were nearby and heard the woman’s cries. They killed one of the animals with a spear and dispersed the other three, but they were too late. After numerous close calls and uncomfortable encounters, the baboons had taken human life.
Stalking a Band of Killers
Capstick found the troop easily enough. They called a thick grove of Prince of Wales feather trees home, and the stench of their excreta was detectable for a great distance. In daylight, the animals would forage in search of food and mischief. At night they returned to their roost for protection and company. With the troop out and about Capstick and his men went to work.
They gouged a shallow trench all the way around the grove and sloshed it with some one hundred gallons of kerosene, gasoline, and old motor oil leaving a narrow opening at one end. As the sun faded Capstick and his spearmen posted themselves at this opening. In addition to small flashbang pyrotechnic noisemakers and a few parachute flares, Capstick also carried a remarkably specialized military weapon.
Guns in a Land with No Rules
Africa is a land awash in bountiful natural resources not altogether conceptually dissimilar to our own continent. Africa has space, minerals, oil, farmland, and manpower. However, the indigenous peoples cannot seem to stop killing each other long enough to get properly organized. If the continent could set aside its differences, join forces, and start projecting power we’d all be paying taxes to them.
One of the odd attributes of living in a perennial war zone is the ready availability of state of the art military hardware. In 1975 this was the tidy little MAC-10 submachine gun. How the weapon got to the continent in the first place has been lost to history. However, Capstick bought the diminutive bullet hose with gold sovereigns from a local farmer who decided to move someplace safer. The gun came with a sound suppressor, 1,800 rounds of 9mm ball ammo, and thirty box magazines. Capstick kept the gun in a custom buffalo hide holster in the event of incursions by two-legged predators.
The Military Armament Corporation M-10 was a simple pressed steel submachine gun developed by Gordon Ingram in 1964. The gun was designed from the outset to accommodate a screw-on sound suppressor, a radical appendage for its day, and was available in either 9mm or .45ACP. The guns sold for $120 apiece retail. While we all refer to this compact stuttergun as the MAC-10, the company never promoted this term.
The MAC-10 saw limited employment by Special Forces in the latter part of the Vietnam War and was used operationally by the Navy SEALs, the Israeli Sayeret Matkal, and the British SAS. The gun’s small size and blistering rate of fire made it a formidable close-quarters combat tool. However, these same attributes also made it a poor general-purpose weapon.
The MAC-10 weighed more than six pounds empty. This made the gun almost as massive as an M16A1 rifle. Additionally, the collapsible stock wobbled, and the stubby barrel invited the errant defingering. The 9mm gun’s greatest detriment, however, was its 1,250-rpm rate of fire.
The MAC-10 burns ammo at a profligate rate and is difficult to control. The MAC Company tried desperately to cajole the US Army into replacing their venerable 1911A1 pistols with MAC subguns. One can only imagine the number of perforated Privates that might have resulted had the Big Green Machine bought a couple hundred thousand of these rascals.
A flare conflagrated the combustibles, and the baboons went, as it were, ape. Spurred on by flashbangs fired from slingshots the beasts charged insensate for the exit only to meet the sputtering muzzle of Capstick’s MAC-10. He left the sound suppressor off so as to enhance the chaos. With a gun bearer providing fresh magazines the professional hunter cut the unhinged primates down by the drove. Those that successfully raced past were addressed by Capstick’s spearmen.
When the dust settled, Capstick had exterminated about a third of the troop. He wrote that he was filled with a mighty pathos later that evening by the uncanny humanity and intelligence of these animals. However, the troop was harassing the locals and had killed a child. Capstick’s crew and the local citizenry were thrilled at developments.
The remains of the baboon troop retired to a more remote location. Years later Capstick came back through the area and noted that the population of birds and smaller creatures that had been pressed to extinction by the troop had made a robust comeback. The baboons had settled some twenty miles away and were no longer a bother.
Such pitiless primal carnage seems unimaginable to our sensitive constitutions today. I will admit that it surprised me to revisit this tale of my youth and appreciate that it happened well into the modern era. However, Africa is not Mississippi, and, unlike my particular corner of paradise, the animals thereabouts can legitimately kill you. Regardless, this was a simply riveting anecdote.
Capstick masterfully authored some thirteen books. I‘ve consumed most of them. Those that I have read were truly superb. I’d start with Death in the Long Grass, but don’t blame me if you can’t put it down.
Peter Hathaway Capstick was a hard-drinking chain smoker and a throwback to a different time. However, such a lifestyle comes at a cost. Capstick died of heart disease in 1996 in Pretoria, South Africa, at age 56. He was an archetype, a traditional man of action at a time when the world was ridding itself of such. We just don’t grow them like Capstick anymore.
The MAC-10 is a fun range toy, but I wouldn’t want to go to war with it.
I once read that a machinegun shoot without a MAC-10 is like a day without sunshine.