A Hunting Trip in India by Elliott Roosevelt

1895

Early in 1881 I landed at Bombay, intending to get as many varieties of big game shooting as possible during the course of the year. I was well armed with introductions, including many from the Department of State, and during my stay in India was treated by the English military officers, civil officials, planters and merchants with a hearty hospitality which I cordially appreciated. Thanks to this hospitality, and to the readiness with which all to whom I was introduced fell into my plans, I was able to get a rather unusually varied quantity of sport.

My first trip was in March, after tigers. On the 1st of March I started from Hyderabad with Colonels Fraser and Watson, and traveled by palanquin that day and night, and most of the next day, striking the foot of the Gāt at a place called Rungapore, and then going on over a great plain, beyond which we camped. The scenery was magnificent, and we heard much news of the devastation of tigers among the large herds of miserable-looking cattle belonging to the poor villagers roundabout. The thermometer went up to 96 degrees in the shade during the day, but the nights were lovely and cool. Thanks to Colonel Fraser, we were fitted out as comfortably as we could be, and the luxury of the camp life offered the strongest possible contrast to my experiences in roughing it on the buffalo range in northwestern Texas.

For the first two days we accomplished nothing, though several of the cattle we had put out for baits were killed, and though we started and beat the jungles with our elephants whenever we received khubber, or news. Our camp equipage included twenty elephants, forty camels and bullocks, thirty horses for the troopers, and fifty baggage horses. We had seventeen private servants, twenty-six police, fifty-two bearers, and an indefinite number of attendants for the elephants and camels, and of camp followers. An Indian of high position, Sir Salar Jung, was along also; so our total retinue comprised 350 men, in addition to which we employed each day of beaters 150 or 200 more.

On March 5th, one of the shikaris brought word that he had seen and heard a tigress and two cubs at a nullah about six miles away. Immediately we started up the valley, Col. Fraser, Col. Watson and myself, each on his own elephant. The jungle was on fire and the first beat was not successful, for we had to fight the fire, and in the excitement the brute got off. However, some of the watchers saw her, and marked her down in another small ravine. Through this we again beat, the excitement being at fever heat. I was, of course, new to the work, and the strangeness of the scene, the cries of the beaters and watchers, the occasional explosion of native fireworks, together with the quantity of other game that we saw, impressed me much. In this ravine I was favored by good luck. The tigress broke right in front of me, and I hit her with a ball from a No. 12 smooth-bore. She sickened at once and crawled back into the jungle. In we went on the elephants, tracking her up. She made no attempt to charge, and I finished her off with another barrel of the smooth-bore and two express bullets. The crowd of natives ran up, abusing the tigress and praising me, while the two colonels drank my health. We then padded the tigress and rode back to camp, having been gone from half past 9 in the morning till 7 in the evening. This tigress weighed, when we brought her in, 280 pounds; her living weight must have been much more.

Next day we again got news of a tigress, with one cub, but we failed to find her. The following day, for a change, I tried still-hunting through the woods. There was not much game, but what we did see was far from shy, and the shooting was easy. The camp was on a terrace, and from it we went up a range of hills to the stalking ground. It was a stony country and the trees were scrubby. I shot two cheetul, or spotted deer, and also two of the little jungle cocks. The next day again was a blank, but on the 9th we got another tiger. Thanks to the courtesy of my friends, I was given the first shot, again hitting it with one barrel of the smooth-bore. The heat was very great on this day. It was not possible to touch the gun barrels without a glove, and the thirst was awful. In the evening the cool bath was a luxury indeed. By moonlight the camp was very fine. The next morning I was off at daybreak, snipe shooting around a big tank, seven miles away. On my return I found that my companions had gone out for a beat, and so, after a hurried breakfast, I jumped on my horse and rode after them. That afternoon we beat two ravines and got a tiger. This was the last tiger that we killed. The weather was getting very warm, and, though we stayed a week longer out, we failed to get on terms with Mr. Stripes again. However, I shot three sambur stags. Two of them were weighed in camp, their weight being, respectively, 450 and 438 pounds.

It was now getting hot, and I determined to start northward for my summer's hunting in the Himalayas and Cashmere, although it was rather early to try to get through the mountains. I left Lahore on April 6th for the Pir Pinjal. My transportation consisted of eight pack ponies and three native single-horse carts. I was shown every courtesy by Mr. McKay, a member of the Forest Department, at Gujarat. I intended to make a hunt for gorals and bears in the mountains around the Pir Pinjal before striking through to Cashmere. The goral is a little mountain antelope, much like the chamois, only with straight horns. The bear in the region in which I was hunting was the black bear, which is very much like our own black bear. Further on in the Himalayas is found the red or snow bear, which is a good deal like the great brown bear of Europe, or a small and inoffensive grizzly. After leaving Gujarat, I traveled for several days before coming to my hunting ground proper, although on the way I killed some peacocks, partridges, and finally some very handsome pheasants of different kinds. The country offered the greatest possible contrast to that in which I had been hunting tigers. Everything was green and lovely, and the scenery was magnificent beyond description—the huge steep mountains rising ahead of me, while the streams were crystal-clear, noisy torrents. The roads were very rough, and the wild flowers formed great carpets everywhere.

On the 16th of April I began my shooting, having by this time left my heavy baggage behind, and having with me only what the coolies could carry. I had two shikaris, four servants and twelve coolies, besides myself. On April 16th I killed my first goral. I had hunted in vain all day, but about 5 o'clock one of the shikaris advised my starting out again and climbing around the neighboring cliffs. I did this for two and one-half hours, and then got a close shot and killed the little beast. This was my first trial of grass-shoes, and my first experience in climbing over the stupendous mountain masses; for stupendous they were, though they were only the foothills of the Himalayas proper. Without grass-shoes it is impossible to climb on these smooth, grassy slopes; but I found that they hurt my feet a great deal. The next day I again went off with my two shikaris over the mountains. Each of them carried a gun. I had all I could do to take care of myself without one, for a mis-step would have meant a fall of a thousand or two feet. In the morning we saw five gorals and I got one. At 10 I stopped and a coolie came up with a lunch, and I lay reading, sleeping and idly watching the grand mountains until the afternoon, when we began again to examine the nullahs for game, being all the time much amused by the monkeys. At 4 we started again, and in a jagged mass of precipices I got another goral. The next day I repeated my experience, and had one of the characteristic bits of bad luck, offset by good luck, that come to every hunter—missing a beautiful shot at fifty yards, and then, by a fluke, killing a goral at 300 yards. The animal, however, fell over 1,000 feet and was ruined. I myself had a slip this day and went down about fifty feet. The following day I again went off to climb, and the first ascent was so steep that at the top I was completely blown, and missed a beautiful shot at a goral at fifty yards. I then arranged a beat, but nothing came from it, and the morning was a blank. In the afternoon I gave up beating and tried still-hunting again. It was hard work, but I was very successful, and killed two gorals and a bear.

At this time I was passed by two English officers, also going in to shoot—one of them, Captain S. D. Turnbull, a very jolly fellow and a good sportsman, with whom I got on excellent terms; the other, a Captain C., was a very bad walker and a poor shot, and was also a disagreeable companion, as he would persist in trying to hang around my hunting grounds, thus forcing me continually to shift.

On April 21st I tried driving for gorals, and got four, and on the next two days I got three gorals and two bears. So far I had had great luck and great sport. The work was putting me in fine trim, except my feet, which were getting very sore. It was very hard work going after the gorals. The bears offered easier stalking, and, like our American black bear but unlike our grizzly, they didn't show fight. The climbing was awful work. The stones and grass-shoes combined bruised and skinned the soles of my feet, so that I could not get relief without putting them in clarified butter and then keeping them up in the air. Accordingly I tried resting for a day, and meant to rest the following day too; but could not forbear taking a four hours' stroll along the banks of the brawling, snow-fed river, and was rewarded by shooting a surow—a queer, squatty, black antelope, about the size of a Rocky Mountain white goat and with similar horns. The next day I rested again, hoping my feet would get better. Instead they got worse, and I made up my mind that, as they were so bad, I might as well get some hunting anyhow, so off I tramped on the 27th for another all-day jog. It would be difficult to describe the pain that my feet gave me all day long. However, it was a real sporting day. I suffered the tortures of the damned, but I got two gorals and one tahr—a big species of goat with rather small horns—and then hobbled back to camp. Next day I stayed quietly in camp, and then started back to the camp where I had left my heavy baggage. On the way I picked up another black bear. My feet were in a frightful condition, but I had had a fortnight's excellent sport.

I then went on to Cashmere, and on May 6th reached Siringur. The scenery was beautiful beyond description, and the whole life of the natives very attractive to look at. However, something did not agree with me, for I was very sick and had to go to bed for several days. There were one or two American friends there, and these and the Englishmen, to whom I had letters of introduction, treated me with extreme courtesy. As soon as I got well, I started off for the real mountains, hoping especially to get ibex and markhoor. The ibex is almost exactly the same as the European animal of that name. The markhoor is a magnificent goat, with long whitish hair and great spiral horns. They also have in these Cashmere valleys a big stag called the barramigh, which is a good deal like our wapiti, only not half so large. On May 21st I started off, first by boat, but I was bothered from the beginning by chills and fever. I was weak, and glad I didn't have to march. At first, all I did in shooting was to have my coolies beat some brush patches near camp. Out of one of them they started a little musk-deer, which I shot. Soon I began to get very much better and we took up our march. I was going toward Astor, but encountered much snow, as it was still early in the season for these high mountains. I saw some grand barramigh, but their horns were, of course, only just growing, and I didn't molest them.

Very soon I got into a country where the red bears literally swarmed. From May 26th to June 5th, during which time I was traveling and hunting all the time, I shot no less than sixteen, together with two musk-deer, but saw nothing else. The marching was very hard, and some of the passes dangerous. I met a British officer, Lieutenant Carey, on the 30th, who treated me very well indeed. The scenery was very beautiful, although rather bleak. I did not pick up strength as much as I had hoped. On June 3d I christened my camp Camp Good Luck, because of the phenomenal success I had with the bears. That morning we left by 4 to cross the river before the snow had melted. The thermometer would go down to 30 degrees, even in the valleys, at night, so that everything would freeze, and then would go up to 110 in the day, and when the snow melted the streams would come down in a perfect torrent. Not two miles beyond the river I saw three bears on the side of a hill, a she and two two-year-old cubs. My shikari made a splendid stalk and brought me within forty yards, and I got all three with a shot apiece. The delight of my camp followers was amusing. I then left the tents, and, taking only my blankets and a lunch basket with me, started off again. At midday I slept, and at 2 o'clock started up the nullah, seeing a number of bears. One of them I got within fifty yards, and two others, right and left, at 100 yards. The skinning took a long time, and the stream which I had to cross was up with the evening flood, so that I didn't get back to camp until 10 o'clock. I had shot unusually well, I had been happy and was all tired out, and it is needless to say how I slept.

Soon after this I began to suffer from fever, and I had to work very hard indeed, as I was now on the ibex ground. For several days, though I saw ibex, I was unable to get near them. Finally, on June 9th, I got my first one, a young buck with small horns. I had to hunt way up the mountain, even beyond bush vegetation, and the hot sun at midday was awful. Nevertheless, by very hard climbing, I managed on this day to get within shot first of a herd of nine females, which I did not touch, and then of the young buck, which I killed. On June 13th, by another heart-breaking climb, very high up, I got a second small buck. I did not get back to camp that night till half past 9—tired out, feet badly cut with the stones and bruised all over; but in spite of the fever I enjoyed every day—the scenery was so grand and the life so exhilarating. Four days afterwards came a red-letter day. I started early in the morning, clambering up among the high mountains. Until noon I saw nothing; then several flocks of ibex came in sight, one of them of eleven big bucks. I had to wait four hours to get into a position to stalk; then by quick work and awful climbing I came within close range and killed three. It was half past 10 in the evening before I got back to camp, very nearly done up, but exultant over my good luck.

The traveling now became very severe and I had a great deal of difficulty even with the coolies, and though I hunted hard I got little game until July 8th. I had been shifting, trying to get on markhoor ground, and on this day I killed my first markhoor. The shikaris and I left the coolies to go around the path while we went over the mountain, a five hours' climb, keeping a sharp lookout for game. Just at the beginning of the ascent we saw three fine-looking markhoor grazing in a nullah, and after a stalk of about a mile, during which time it began to rain, the beasts went into a jungle on the steep side of the mountain. Through this we still-hunted and I got a shot through the bushes at 100 yards. By good luck I hit and great was the rejoicing. Five days later I got two ibex, which at a distance we had mistaken for markhoor. Then I was attacked by a terrible dysentery and was within an ace of dying. For a fortnight I was unable to leave camp, excepting when I was carried slowly along by the coolies in the effort to get me out of the mountains. On August 1st I shot a second markhoor. We were journeying at the time. In the very rough places I had to walk, though awfully weak; elsewhere the coolies carried me. The markhoor was just below us, round a turn in the Indus Valley. I was in advance with one of the shikaris and got a quiet shot, and more by good luck than anything else—for I was very weak—I killed. I now began gradually to pick up strength, and when near Astor I got a urial, a kind of wild sheep.

I had no other experience of note till I got back to Siringur, where I stayed to recuperate, and at the end of August went off once more into the foothills, this time after barramigh. In a week's work I killed three, but again became sick, and had to give up and come in.

I forthwith returned to India, the hot weather being by this time pretty well over. As I was very anxious to kill an elephant, I went down to Ceylon, reaching that island the end of October and going out to Kandy. I met a number of Englishmen, who were very kind to me, as were some Eurasian gentlemen. On November 16th I left Minerva for a regular hunt. It was very interesting shooting through the tropical jungle and I had good luck. There were plenty of elephants, but at first I didn't get any, though I shot five spotted deer and a boar. Finally, however, I got two of the big brutes I was mainly after. One of them, which I killed on the 20th of the month, was said to be a rogue that had killed two villagers and done at intervals a good deal of damage to the crops. An old native tracker had guaranteed to show me this elephant. He kept his word. For three or four miles we had a very exciting track, and then came on him standing in the jungle, occasionally flapping his ears, and crept up to within thirty yards. I think he was asleep and I got a perfectly good shot, but, extraordinary to say, I missed. However, when he ran I went after him, and, getting very close, I shot him in the hip, so injuring his leg that he could not get away. He could still get round after us, and we passed a most lively half-hour, he trumpeting and charging incessantly, until, after expending a great quantity of cartridges, I finally put a bullet behind his eye, and down he went.

Soon after this I went back to Kandy, and early in December left India for good.