Confiscated Homemade Poachers’ Guns from Zimbabwe

I had a chance to visit Hire Arms in Johannesburg – a movie arms supply company. Among many other things in their collection, they had an assortment of extremely crude handmade firearms confiscated from poachers in Zimbabwe. As something we don’t see much of here in the US, I thought they were pretty interesting, even if just in a train wreck sort of way. So I pulled out a couple of the most unusual to put on camera.


  1. At least one person was dumb enough to put overcharged ammunition into the antique. Can anyone estimate the user’s hospital bills?

  2. Now we talk “relic&curio”! For similar exhibits you might want to visit south-east Asia. Since civilians there cannot own modern firearms, they hunt with black powder and arrows from French colonial era.

  3. I have poachers on yearly basis. Axis deer are better than beef. Somwhen it gets cold ( Texas, Hillcountry) people start shooting , towards house , where ever but they don’t own land.

  4. Looking at definition of poaching:

    “According to Encyclopædia Britannica, poaching was performed by impoverished peasants for subsistence purposes and a supplement for meager diets.Poaching was as well set against the hunting privileges of nobility and territorial rulers.”

    So, at the bottom of it, this is an affair of social inequality. Basically, poacher wants to say: I want to eat too! Of course we all know who sets the rules and in who’s benefit they are intended. But as far as I know, poaching is not part of God’s commandments. Poaching is not necessarily stealing; it is merely act of self-sufficiency 🙂

    • That’s true unless we’re talking about poaching to sell something on the black market. I hate to imagine how many species of rhino went extinct because of poaching… to say nothing of people swiping felled walnut trees from Turkey in the hopes of selling the wood to high-end gun makers.

    • There is much less reason to poach today for “self-sufficiency” than in the old days. Black market criminals aside, today’s poacher is simply an OUTLAW who refuses to adhere to society’s norms and “render unto Caesar” for the good of all, as most people now do. Most poachers are a law unto themselves for no more reason than they think they can get away with it.

  5. And still, it’s the only way for some people (or most of them) to earn for a living. There are still a hundreds of men going into the marked minefields in Bosnia and Herzegovina on daily basis, trying to earn for a living by cutting woods or doing similar jobs. Writing critics from a cosines of a warm room with a full belly is always easier ad morally superior.

  6. Poaching works only if someone is willing to pay for
    whatever animal is killed and it’s parts sold. Penalize, jail, execute the buyers and the poaching stops.

    • Black market poachers are still at work because the buyers can “buy immunity,” whether by bribing the judge or hiring hitmen to kill the judge, jury, and all your policemen (to say nothing of making witnesses “disappear”). Jailing the poachers alone won’t solve the problem, and jailing the buyers works only if you can successfully prevent corruption/violent-annihilation of your legal system.

  7. Would there be any chance the breechloader might have been inspired by a PIAT? It seems much closer in concept than to a recoiless rifle.

    • Mostly, it seems to have been “inspired” by a “pen gun”;

      The structure and function are pretty much self-explanatory, there.

      Not being able to watch the video clear through (I suspect YT doesn’t like Ian- or the rest of us), I couldn’t tell if the trigger actually seared off the striker or if it was just there for looks. Pulling the striker’s cocking handle down out of the Sten/MP40 type safety notch and just letting go of it would seem to me to be the least-complicated way of firing this monster.

      As for the percussion muzzle-loader, I suspect that lock is a lot older than the rest of the gun. Under the wear, it’s either an original M1853 Enfield .577 percussion lock or a handmade copy of same, of considerably better workmanship than the rest of the weapon. Either way, it was probably salvaged from another gun and incorporated into this one.

      The two vertical grips are purely cosmetic. I think the “user” wanted it to look like an AK, probably the old Hungarian or Romanian versions with the “reverse-slant” or “reverse-curve” vertical foregrips. They were fairly common with the guerrillas fighting the old Rhodesian government forty-odd years ago.



      • Hard to imagine maker ever saw hungarian AK…

        Also seems far fetched these 2 countries exported their AKs to anywhere in southern Africa.

        • Thank the old USSR. They supplied a lot of arms to various “liberation movements” in Africa and elsewhere, but the actual weapons almost invariably came from “client states” notably in the Warsaw Pact. Among other things, that was how the Czech-made vz52 pistol and the vz52 rifle, plus the vz24 and vz26 SMGs, became common throughout the region.

          It was called “plausible deniability”.



  8. I recall seeing a documentary as I believe was from Kenya on any of her surrounding lands. Actually, the game of cat and mouse between enforcers and perpetrators is serious. Sometimes, poachers receive early warning and disappear literally between cops claws. Cops in documentary carried FAL rifles; that speaks for itself.

    There were signs left by actors at scene – some tusks and other bits of animals, pretty disgusting. Yeah, serious stuff.

  9. Constructive criticism or clarification on this piece… First: in all of Africa, I can say with complete confidence, the poacher’s weapon is, with the rarest exception, the AKM. Second: hand-made firearms are widespread throughout the continent and their use/possession is not limited to poachers – Ian did not exactly imply this but the uninformed could come away with that impression. Third and perhaps most importantly: the manufacture of black powder has been practiced in most of Africa for hundreds of years and regularly takes place in villages without electricity or cell service to this day. I have carried a piece of this locally-manufactured powder in my eyelid since the mid-90’s; souvenir from a hand-made flint-lock musket.
    I currently reside in Namibia and while I do not claim to know the continent, I have lived and worked in the Arab/North; Sub-Saharan West, Ethiopian (East) and South/South West, and thus believe to know that of which I speak.
    Poaching in Africa is an evil largely imposed by the Chinese. This international industry has already caused the effective extinction of the Black rhinoceros. Rhino and Elephant poaching is not the home-spun thing reflected by these firearms.
    Ian, hope you will read this and that you and Karl consider an InRange feature on anti-poaching units on your next trip here. Mooi werk, as always.

    • Completely agree with you. The home made gun probably used for subsistence poaching in the early days. When i lived in Kenya in the early 70’s, poaching was largely subsistence, and the Game Wardens were armed with Lee Enfield bolt action rifles, by the time i left in the early 80’s the Game Wardens were outgunned by the Shifta armed with AK’s

      • Thanks for your concurrence.
        Sadly, it is not just equipment that is lacking in Southern Africa. Yes, in Botswana, the government decided that game wardens were no longer to be trusted with firearms (about a year ago) and the resulting slaughter of elephants ensued. The failure is one of vision. These animals are worth trillions and trillions of dollars in tourism, no matter what you think of our responsibility as stewards of the planet. A panga, in the hand of each member of a unified conservancy, will stop this vile business. An SMLE in the hands of a warden for every rhino (paid a decent wage), will defeat any technological advantage. Sorry, I do bang on…

    • In the Chinese market, powdered rhino horn is considered a form of mystical Viagra due to ancient superstitions. As such, rich, elderly Chinese men (especially important Party members) want it to enhance their amorous pursuit of young secretaries.

      Just as this ancient (and spurious) belief has nearly eradicated the rhinos in Kenya, it has also adversely affected the tiger populations in the Indian Subcontinent. There, it’s the tiger’s “lingam” (to use a genteel word) that is dried and powdered and taken as a sexual enhancer. And it isn’t all exported to Red China, either; a lot is used domestically in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

      So in spite of what you hear, socialism does not eradicate superstition. It just makes it easier for the ruling class to indulge irrational beliefs. (I.e., they’re the ones who can actually afford the fare, so to speak.)



        • So summing up some animal species have bad luck as their parts become sought after, sometime due to irrational reasons. Interestingly one elephant part was so sought after that one modern country is name after it, namely Côte d’Ivoire.

  10. A slightly different take on “poaching”

    Following 1066 (and the genocide and man made famine spanning several winters from 1068, to render northern England incapable of mounting or supporting opposition to Duke William the bastard).

    The Norman aristocracy claimed a number of wild critters as their property.

    Peasants who killed these were punished, and there are examples of the Bishop of Durham, having peasants hung for killing “his” game, during a famine. He already charged them rent and tithes for the land their families had been on since before 1066.

    Empire transplanted the feudal system of land tenure into India, Africa etc.

    Herds of wild critters that were previously un owned, we’re claimed as “game”

    any incentives for local people to tolerate the destruction of crops or the harassment of their domestic herds were removed

    As were any incentives to protect the wild Herds as a food source for years with poor harvests or disease amongst the domesticated animals.

    In places where the locals can get an income from wild animals – from sight seeing tourists (and sometimes hunting) in areas that are easily accessible

    And often from hunting alone in more remote and difficult to access areas

    Poaching is a lot less likely to happen.

    Another way is to recognise the animals as private property – and the private owners of game farms, parks and ranches will happily look after them.

  11. There is also a question of who the poachers are and what the reasons for the loss of animals and habit were.

    There was always a trade in ivory, and some dubious characters made money getting it, often across borders

    Smaller critters were killed to feed workers at mines or on railway building projects

    But the big killers were disease, for example rinderpest which decimated the herds on the south African high veldt

    And attempts to control disease, such as the slaughter of herds in ludicrous tsetse fly eradication schemes in the British East African colonies.

    As for more recent extermination of elephant and rhino

    According to a bunch of Kenyans who i know, the biggest ivory poachers in Kenya were allegedly (very important that I say “allegedly”!) the first president and his wife.

    The biggest poacher of rhino in Zimbabwe was allegedly the brother of the too long presiding president of a neighbouring country.

    On a smaller scale, I think that an analogy can be drawn with a game keeper on an aristocratic estate.

    At least two gamekeepers who i can think of, left multi millions £ sterling in their wills.

    They were the people who were supposed to be preventing theft, but they were the biggest thieves

    In one of those cases, i suspect that his lordship’s land agent had worked out what was going on

    And worked out that the bent gamekeeper was probably onto the land agent’s fiddles as well.

    On the larger and even more chaotic and incompetently run scale of state sector bureaucracies…

    I wonder who is selling the ivory, rhino horn, tiger bits etc?
    And I wonder who else is keeping quiet, lest their fiddles are laid bare as well?

    Even the bottom level guys who i met in game parks in Kenya were trying to extort my driver for obscure and bizarre “offenses”, just like the bent cops anywhere in Africa would.

  12. There’s an interesting facet of Mises “the problem of economic calculation in the socialist Commonwealth), shown by attempts to calculate the “value” of Kenyan lions.

    The Kenyan game dept were trying to divide the annual income to the Kenyan economy from tourism, by the number of lions…

    To arrive at a notional monetary “value” of a lion.

    (In a free market, and lion is simply “worth” what you can sell it for).

    The inner contradictions of the game department’s methodology were exposed when someone pointed out that you could double the value of individual lions by shooting (or poisoning) half of the lion population.

    I suspect that parts of the original purpose of the calculation were to justify
    1) the existence and budget of the game dept bureaucracy

    2) the continued ban on any legal hunting in Kenya

    Instead, that methodology would show shooting half of the lion population, to be neutral for tourist income and to increase the value of the remaining individual lions

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