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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter XX


No regular breeding season—Beliefs and prejudices of the natives about tigers—Bravery of the "gwalla," or cowherd caste—Clawmarks on trees—Fondness for particular localities—Tiger in Mr. F.'s howdah— Springing powers of tigers—Lying close in cover—Incident—Tiger shot with No. 4 shot—Man clawed by a tiger—Knocked its eye out with a sickle—Same tiger subsequently shot in same place—Tigers easily killed—Instances—Effect of shells on tiger and buffalo—Best weapon and bullets for tiger—Poisoning tigers denounced—Natives prone to exaggerate in giving news of tiger—Anecdote—Beating for tiger—Line of elephants—Padding dead game—Line of seventy-six elephants—Captain of the hunt—Flags for signals in the line—"Naka," or scout ahead—Usual time for tiger shooting on the Koosee—Firing the jungle—The line of fire at night—Foolish to shoot at moving jungle—Never shoot down the line—Motions of different animals in the grass.

Tigers seem to have no regular breeding season. As a rule the male and female come together in the autumn and winter, and the young ones are born in the spring and summer. All the young tigers I have ever heard of have been found in March, April, and May, and so on through the rains.

The natives have many singular beliefs and prejudices about tigers, and they are very often averse to give the slightest information as to their whereabouts. To a stranger they will either give no information at all, pleading entire ignorance, or they will wilfully mislead him, putting him on a totally wrong track. If you are well known to the villagers, and if they have confidence in your nerve and aim, they will eagerly tell you everything they know, and will accompany you on your elephant, to point out the exact spot where the tiger was last seen. In the event of a "find" they always look for backsheesh even though your exertions may have rid their neighbourhood of an acknowledged scourge.

The gwalla, or cowherd caste, seem to know the habits of the yellow striped robber very accurately. Accompanied by their herd they will venture into the thickest jungle, even though they know that it is infested by one or more tigers. If any member of the herd is attacked, it is quite common for the gwalla to rush up, and by shouts and even blows try to make the robber yield up his prey. This is no exaggeration, but a simple fact. A cowherd attacked by a tiger has been known to call up his herd by cries, and they have succeeded in driving oft his fierce assailant. Xo tiger -will willingly face a herd of buffaloes or cattle united for mutual defence. Surrounded by his trusty herd, the gwalla traverses the densest jungle and most tiger-infested thickets without fear.

They believe that to rub the fat of the tiger on the loins, and to eat a piece of the tongue or flesh, will cure impotency; and tiger fat, rubbed on a painful part of the. body, in an accepted specific for rheumatic affections. It is a firmly settled belief, that the whiskers and teeth, worn on the body, 'will act as a charm, making the wearer proof against the attacks of tigers. The collar-bone, too, is eagerly coveted for the same reason.

During the rains tigers are sometimes forced, like others of the cat tribe, to take to trees. A Mr. Mcl. shot two large full-grown tigers in a tree at Gunghara, and Baboo of my acquaintance bagged no less than eight in trees during one rainy season at Rampoor.

Tigers generally prefer remaining near water, and drink a good deal, the quantity of raw meat they devour being no doubt provocative of thirst.

The marks of their claws are often seen on trees in the vicinity of their haunts, and from this fact many ridiculous stories have got abroad regarding their habits. It has even been regarded by some writers as a sort of rude test, by winch to arrive at an approximate estimate of the tiger's size. A tiger can stretch himself out some two or two and a half feet more than his measurable length. You have doubtless often seen a domestic cat whetting its claws on the mat, or scratching some rough substance, such as the bark of a tree; this is often done to clean the claws, and to get rid of chipped and ragged pieces, and it is sometimes mere playfulness. It is the same with the tiger, the scratching on the trees is frequently done in the mere wantonness of sport, but it is often resorted to to clear the claws from pieces of flesh that may have adhered to them during a meal on some poor slaughtered bullock. These marks on the trees are a valuable sign for the hunter, as by their appearance, whether fresh or old, he can often tell the whereabouts of his quarry, and a good tracker will even be able to make a rough guess at its probable size and disposition.

Like policemen, tigers stick to certain beats; even when disturbed, and forced to abandon a favourite spot, they frequently return to it; and although the jungle may be wholly destroyed, old tigers retain a partiality for the scenes of their youthful depredations; they are often shot in the most unlikely places, where there is little or no cover, and one would certainly never expect to find them; they migrate with the herds, and retire to the hills during the annual floods, always coming back to the same jungle when the rains are over.

Experienced shekarries know this trait of the tiger's character well, and can tell you minutely the colour and general appearance of the animals in any particular jungle ; they are aware of any peculiarity, such as lameness, scars, &c., and their observations must be very keen indeed, and amazingly accurate, as I have never known them wrong when they committed themselves to a positive statement.

An old planter residing at Sultanpore, close on the Nepaul border, a noted sportsman and a crack shot, was charged on one occasion by a large tiger; the brute sprang right off the ground on to the elephant's head; his hind legs were completely off the ground, resting on the elephant's chest and neck; Mr. F. retained sufficient presence of mind to sit close down in his howdah ; the tiger's forearm was extended completely over the front bar, and so close that it touched his hat. In this position he called out to his son, who was on another elephant close by, to fire at the tiger; he was cool enough to warn him to take a careful aim, and not hit the elephant. His son acted gallantly up to his instructions, and shot the tiger through the heart, when it dropped down quite dead, to Mr. F.'s great relief.

Some sportsmen are of opinion, that the tiger when charging never springs clear from the ground, but only rears itself on its hind legs; this however is a mistake. I saw a tiger leap right oif the ground, and spring on to the rump of an elephant carrying young Sam S. The elephant proved staunch, and remained quite quiet, and Sam, turning round in his howdah, shot his assailant through the head.

I may give another incident, to show how closely tigers will sometimes stick to cover; they are sometimes as bad to dislodge as a quail or a hare; they will crouch down and conceal themselves till you almost trample on them. One clay a party of the Purneah Club were out; they had shot two fine tigers out of several that had been seen; the others were known to have gone ahead into some jungle surrounded by water, and easy to beat. Before proceeding further it was proposed accordingly to have some refreshment. The tiffin elephant was directed to a tree close by, beneath whose shade the hungry sportsmen were to plant themselves; the elephant had knelt down, one or two boxes had actually been removed, several of the servants were clearing away the dried grass and leaves. H. W. S. came up on the opposite side of the tree, and was in the act of leaping off his elephant, when an enormous tiger got up at his very feet, and before the astounded sportsmen could handle a gun, the formidable intruder bad cleared the bushes with a bound, and disappeared in the thick jungle.

The following adventure bears me out in my remark, that tigers get attached to, and like to remain in, one place, Mr. F. Simpson, a thorough-going sportsman of the good old type, had been out one day in the Koosee dyaras; he had hail a long and unsuccessful beat for a tiger, and had given up all hope of bagging one that day ; he thought therefore that he might as well turn his attention to more ignoble game. Extracting his bullets, he replaced them with No. 1 shot. In a few minutes a peacock got up in front of him, and he fired. The report roused a very fine tiger right in front of his elephant; to make tlie best of a bad bargain, he gave the retreating animal the full benefit of his remaining charge of shot, and peppered it well. About a year after, close to this very place, O. A. S. bagged a fine tiger. On examination, the marks of a charge of shot were found in the flanks, and on removing the pads of the feet, numbers of pellets of Xo. -i shot were found embedded in them. It was evidently the animal that had been peppered a year before, and the pellets had worked their way downwards to the feet.

On another occasion, a man came to the factory where George was then residing, to give information of a tiger. He bore on his back numerous bleeding scratches, ample evidence of the truth of his story. While cutting grass in the jungle, with a blanket on his back, the day being rainy, he had been attacked by a tiger from the rear. The blanket is generally Added several times, and worn over the head and back. It is a thick heavy covering, and in the first onset the tiger tore the blanket from the man's body, which was probably the means of saving his life. The man turned round, terribly scared, as may be imagined. In desperation he struck at the tiger with his sickle, and according to his own account, he succeeded in putting out one of its eyes. He said it was a young tiger, and his bleeding wounds, and the persistency with which he stuck to his story, impressed George, with the belief that he was telling the truth. A search for the tiger was made. The man's blanket was found, torn to shreds, but no tiger, although the footprints of one were plainly visible. But some months after, near the same spot, George shot a half-grown tiger with one of its eyes gone, which had evidently been roughly torn from the socket. This was doubtless the identical brute that had attacked the grass-cutter.

It is sometimes wonderful how easily a large and powerful tiger may be killed. The must vulnerable parts are the back of the head, through the neck, and broadside on the chest. The neck is the most deadly spot of all, and a shot behind the shoulder, or on the spine, is sure to bring the game to bag. I have seen several shot with a single bullet from a smooth-bore, and on one occasion, George tells me he saw a tigress killed with a single smooth-bore bullet at over a hundred yards. The bullet was a ricochet, and struck the tigress below the chest, and travelled towards the heart, but without touching it. She fell twenty yards from where she had been hit. Another, which on skinning we found had been shot through the heart, with a single smooth-bore bullet at a distance of one hundred and fifty yards, travelled for thirty yards before falling dead. Meiselbach, a neighbour of mine, shot three tigers successively, on one occasion, with a Xo. 18 Joe Manton smooth-bore. Each of the three was killed by a single bullet, one in the head, one in the neck, and one through the heart, the bullet entering behind the shoulder.

On the other hand, I once fired no less than six Jacob's shells into a tiger, all behind the shoulder, before I could stop him. The shells seemed to explode on the surface the moment they came in contact with the body. There was a tremendous surface wound, big enough to put a pumpkin into, but very little internal hurt. On another occasion (Apiil 4, 1874), during one of the most exciting and most glorious moments of my sporting life-—buffaloes charging the line in all directions, burning jungle all around us, and bullets whistling on every side—I fired twelve shells into a large bull before I killed him. As every shell hit him, I heard the sharp detonation, and saw the tiny puff of smoke curl outward from the ghastly wound. The poor maddened brute would drop on his knees, stagger again to his feet, and, game to the last, attempt to charge my elephant. I was anxious really to test the effect of the Jacob's shell as against the solid conical bullet, and carefully watched the result of each shot. My weapon was a beautifully finished No. 12 smooth-bore, made expressly to order for an officer in the Royal Artillery, from whom I bought it. From that day I never fired another Jacob's shell.

My remarks about the tiger springing clear off the ground when charging, are amply borne out by the experience of some of my sporting friends. I could quote pages, but will content myself with one extract. It is a point of some importance, as many good old sportsmen pooh-pooh the idea, and maintain that the tiger merely stretches himself out to his fullest length, and if he does leave the ground, it is by a purely physical effort, pulling himself up by his claws.

My friend George writes me: "In several cases I have known and seen the tiger spring, and leave the ground. In one case the tiger sprang from fully five yards off. He crouched at the distance of a few paces, as if about to spring, and then sprang clean on to the head of Joe's tusker. An eight-feet-nine-inch tigress once got on the head of my elephant, which was ten feet seven inches in height. Every one present saw her leave the ground. Once, when after a tiger in small stubble, about six feet high, I saw one bound over a bush so clean that I could see every bit of him." And so on.

For long-range shooting the rifle is doubtless the best weapon. The Express is the most deadly. The smooth-bore is the gun for downright honest sport. Shells and hollow-pointed bullets are the things, as one sportsman writes me, "for mutilation and cowardly murder, and for spoiling the skin." Poison is the resource of the poacher, No sportsman could descend so low. Grant that the tiger is a scourge, a pest, a nuisance, a cruel and implacable fue to man and beast; pile all the vilest epithets of your vocabulary on his head, and say that he deserves them all, still he is what opportunity and circumstance have made him. lie is as nature fashioned him; and there are bold spirits, and keen sights, and steady nerves enough, God wot, among our Indian sportsmen, to cope with him on more equal and sportsmanlike terms than by poisoning lam like a mangy dog. On this point, however, opinions differ. I do not envy the man who would prefer poisoning a tiger to the keen delight of patiently following him up, ousting him from cover to cover, watching his careful endeavours to elude your search; perhaps at the end of a long and fascinating beat, feeling the electric excitement thrill every nerve and fibre of your body, as the magnificent robber comes bounding down at the charge, the very embodiment of ferocity and strength, the perfection of symmetry, the acme of agility and grace.

Natives are such notorious perverters of the truth, and so often hide what little there may be in their communications under such floods of Oriental hyperbole and exaggeration, that you are often disappointed in going out on what you consider trustworthy and certain information. They often remind me of the story of the Laird of Logan. He was riding slowly along a country road one day, when another equestrian joined him. Logan's eye fixed itself on a hole in the turf bank bonniling the road, and with great gravity, and In trust-inspiring accents, he said, "I saw a tod (or fox) gang in there."

"Did you, really?" cried the new comer.

"I did," responded the laird.

"Will you hold my horse till I get a spade?" cried the now excited traveller.

The laird assented. Away hurried the man, and soon returned with a spade. He set manfully to work to dig out the fox, and worked till the perspiration streamed down his face. The laird sat stolidly looking on, saying never a word; and as he seemed to be nearing the confines of the hole, the poor digger redoubled his exertions. When at length it became plain that there was no fox there, he wiped his streaming brow, and rather crossly exclaimed, "I'm afraid there's no tod here."

"It would be a wonder if there was," rejoined the laird, without the movement of a muscle, "it's ten years since I saw him gang in there."

So it is sometimes with a native. He will fire your ardour, by telling you of some enormous tiger, to be found in some jungle close by, but when you come to inquire minutely into his story, you find that the tiger was seen perhaps the year before last, or that it used to be there, or that somebody else had told him of its being there.

Some tigers, too, are so cunning and wary, that they will make off long before the elephants have come near. I have seen others rise on their hind legs just like a hare or a kangaroo, and peer over the jungle trying to make out one's whereabouts. This is of course only in short light jungle.

The plan we generally adopt in beating for tiger on or near the Nepaul border, is to use a line of elephants to beat the cover. It is a fine sight to watch the long line of stately monsters moving slowly and steadily forward. Several howdahs tower high above the line, the polished barrels of guns and rifles glittering in the fierce rays of the burning and vertical sun. Some of the shooters wear huge hats made from the light pith of the solah plant, others have long blue or white puggrees wound round their heads, in truly Oriental style. These are very comfortable to wear, but rather trying to the sight, as they afford no protection to the eyes. For riding they are to my mind the most comfortable head-dress that can be worn, and they are certainly more graceful than the stiff unsightly solah hat.

Between every two howdahs ate four or five pad elephants. These beat up all the intervening bushes, and carry the game that may be shot. "When a pig, deer, tiger, or other animal has been shot, and has received its amp de grace, it is quickly bundled on to the pad, and there secured. The elephant kneels down to receive the load, and while game is being padded the whole line waits, till the operation is complete, as it is bad policy to leave blanks. Where this simple precaution is neglected, many a tiger will sneak through the opening left by the pad elephant, and so silently and cautiously can they steal through the dense cover, and so cunning are they and acute, that they will take advantage of the slightest gap, and the keenest and best trained eye will fail to detect them.

In most of our hunting parties on the Koosee, we had some twenty or thirty elephants, and frequently six or eight howdahs. These expeditions were very pleasant, and we lived luxuriously. For real sport ten elephants and two or three tried comrades—not more—is much better. With a short, easily worked line, that can turn and double, an l follow the tiger quickly, and dog his every movement, you can get far better sport, and bring more to bag, than with a long unwieldy line, that takes a considerable time to turn and wheel, and in whose onward march there is of necessity little of the silence and swiftness which are necessary elements in successful tiger shooting.

I have been out with a line of seventy-six elephants and fourteen howdahs. This was on 16th March 1875. It was a magnificent sight to see the seventy-six huge brutes in the river together, splashing the water along their heated sides to cool themselves, and sending huge waves dashing against the crumbling banks of the rapid stream. It was no less magnificent to see their slow stately march through the swaying, crashing jungle. What an idea of irresistible power and ponderous strength the huge creatures gave us, as they heaved through the tangled brake, crushing everything in their resistless progress. It was a sight to be remembered, but, as might have been expected, we found the jungles almost untenanted. Everything cleared out before us, long ere the line could reach its vicinity. We only killed one tiger, but next day we- separated, the main body crossing the stream, while my friends and myself, with only fourteen elephants, rebeat the same jungle and bagged two.

In every hunt, one member is told off to look after the forage and grain for the elephants. One attends to the cooking and requirements of the table, one acts as paymaster and keeper of accounts, while the most experienced is unanimously elected captain, and takes general direction of every movement of the line. lie decides on the plan of operations for the day, gives each his place in the line, and for the time, becomes an irresponsible autocrat, whose word is law, and against whose decision there is no appeal.

Scouts are sent out during the night, and bring in reports from all parts of the jungle in the early morning, while we are discussing chota haziree, our early morning meal. If tiger is reported, or a kill has been discovered, we form line in silence, and without noise bear down direct on the spot. In the captain's howdah are three flags. A blue flag flying means that only tiger or rhinoceros are to be shot at. A red flag signifies that we are to have general firing, in fact that we may blaze away at auy game that may be afoot, and the white flag shows us that we are on our homeward way. and then also may shoot at anything we can get, break the line, or do whatever we choose. On the flanks are generally posted the best shots of the party. The captain, as a rule, keeps to the centre of the line. Frequently one man and elephant is sent on ahead to some opening or dry water-bed, to see that no cunning tiger sneaks away unseen. This vedette is called naka. All experienced sportsmen employ a naka, and not unfrequently where the ground is difficult, two are sent ahead. The naka is a most important post, ami the holder will often get a lucky shot at some wary veteran trying to sneak off, and may perhaps bag the only tiger of the day. The mere knowledge that there is an elephant on ahead, w ill often keep tigers from trying to get away. They prefer to face the known danger of the line behind, to the unknown danger in front, and in all cases where there is a big party a naka should be sent on ahead.

Tigers can be, and are, shot on the Koosee plains all the year round, but the big hunts take place in the months of March, April, and May, when the hot west winds are blowing, and when the jungle has got considerably trampled down by the herds of cattle grazing in the tangled wilderness of tall grass. Innumerable small paths show where the cattle wander backward and forward through the labyrinths of the jungle. In the howdah we carry ample supplies of vesuvians. "We light and drop these as they blaze into the dried grass and withered leaves as we move along, and soon a mighty wall of roaring flame behind us attests the presence of the destroying element. We go diagonally up wind, and the flames and smoke thus surge and roar and curl and roll, in dense blinding volumes, to the rear and leeward of our line. The roaring of the flames sounds like the maddened surf of an angry sea, dashing in thunder against an iron-bound coast. The leaping flames mount up in fiery columns, illuminating the fleecy clouds of smoke with an unearthly glare. The noise is deafening; at times some of the elephants get quite nervous at the fierce roar of the flames behind, and try to bolt across country. The fire serves two good purposes.

It burns up the old withered grass, making room for the fresh succulent sprouts to spring, and it keeps all the game in front of the line, driving the animals before us, as they are afraid to break back and face the roaring wall of flame. A seething, surging sea of flame, several miles long, encircling the whole country in its fiery belt, sweeping along at night with the roar of a storm-tossed sea; the flames flickering, swelling, and leaping up in the dark night, the fiery particles rushing along amid clouds of lurid smoke, and the glare of the serpent-like line reddening the horizon, is one of those magnificent spectacles that can only be witnessed at rare intervals among the experiences of a sojourn in India. Words fail to depict its grandeur, and the utmost skill of Dore could not render on canvas, the weird, unearthly magnificence of a jungle fire, at the culmination of its force and fury.

In beating, the elephants are several yards apart, and, standing in the hovvdah, you can see the slightest motion of the grass before you, unless indeed it be virgin jungle, quite untrodden, and perhaps higher than your elephant; in such high dense cover, tigers will sometimes lie up and allow you to go clean past them. In such a case you must fire the jungle, and allow the blaze to beat for you. It is common for young, over-eager sportsmen, to fire at moving jungle, trusting to a lucky chance for hitting the moving animal; this is useless waste of powder; they fail to realise the great length of the swaying grass, and invariably shoot over the game; the animal hears the crashing of the bullet through the dense thicket overhead, and immediately stops, and you lose all idea of his whereabouts. When you see an animal moving before you in long jungle, it should be your object to follow him slowly and patiently, till you can get a sight of him, and see what sort of beast he is. Firing at the moving grass is worse than useless. Keep as close behind him as you can, make signs for the other elephants to close in j stick to your quarry, never lose sight of him for an instant, he ready to seize the first moment, when more open jungle, or some other favourable chance, may give you a glimpse of his skin.

Another caution should be observed. Never fire down the line. It is astonishing how little will divert a bullet, and a careless shot is worse than a dozen charging tigers. If a tiger does break back, let him get well away behind the line, and then blaze at him as hard as you like. It is particularly unpleasant to hear a bullet come singing and booming down the line, from some excited dunderhead on the far left or right.

A tiger slouching along in front moves pretty fast, in a silent swinging trot; the tops of the reeds or grass sway very gently, with a wavering, side to side motion. A pig rushes boldly through, and a deer will cause the grass to rock violently to and fro. A buffalo or rhinoceros is known at once by the crashing of the dry stalks, as his huge frame plunges along; but the tiger can never be mistaken. When that gentle, undulating, noiseless motion is once seen, be ready with your trusty gun, and remove not your eye from the spot, for the mighty robber of the jungle is before you.


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