by Samuel White Baker
"Game Eyes" for Wild Sports - Enjoyments of Wild Life - Cruelty of Sports - Native Hunters - Moormen Traders - Their wretched Guns - Rifles and Smooth-bores - Heavy Balls and Heavy Metal - Beattie's Rifles - Balls and Patches - Experiments - The Double-groove - Power of Heavy Metal - Curious Shot at a Bull Elephant - African and Ceylon Elephants - Structure of Skull - Lack of Trophies - Boar-spears and Hunting-knives - " Bertram" - A Boar Hunt - Fatal Cut.
In traveling through Ceylon, the remark is often made by the tourist that "he sees so little game." From the accounts generally written of its birds and beasts, a stranger would naturally expect to come upon them at every turn, instead of which it is a well-known fact that one hundred miles of the wildest country may be traversed without seeing a single head of game, and the uninitiated might become skeptical as to its existence.
This is accounted for by the immense proportion of forest and jungle, compared to the open country. The nature of wild animals is to seek cover at sunrise, and to come forth at sunset; therefore it is not surprising that so few are casually seen by the passing traveler. There is another reason, which would frequently apply even in an open country. Unless the traveler is well accustomed to wild sports, he his not his "game eye" open in fact; he either passes animals without observing them, or they see him and retreat from view before he remarks them.
It is well known that the color of most animals is adapted by Nature to the general tint of the country which they inhabit. Thus, having no contrast, the animal matches with surrounding objects, and is difficult to be distinguished.
It may appear ridiculous to say that an elephant is very difficult to be seen! - he would be plain enough certainly on the snow, or on a bright green meadow in England, where the contrasted colors would make him at once a striking object; but in a dense jungle his skin matches so completely with the dead sticks and dry leaves, and his legs compare so well with the surrounding tree-stems, that he is generally unperceived by a stranger, even when pointed out to him. I have actually been taking aim at an elephant within seven or eight paces, when he has been perfectly unseen by a friend at my elbow, who was peering through the bushes in quest of him.
Quickness of eye is an indispensable quality in sportsmen, the possession of which constitutes one of their little vanities. Nothing is so conducive to the perfection of all the senses as the constant practice in wild and dangerous sports. The eye and the ear become habituated to watchfulness, and their powers are increased in the same proportion as the muscles of the body are by exercise. Not only is an animal immediately observed, but anything out of the common among surrounding objects instantly strikes the attention; the waving of one bough in particular when all are moving in the breeze; the switching of a deer's ear above the long grass; the slight rustling of an animal moving in the jungle. The senses are regularly tuned up, and the limbs are in the same condition from continual exercise.
There is a peculiar delight, which passes all description, in feeling thoroughly well-strung, mentally and physically, with a good rifle in your hand and a trusty gun-bearer behind you with another, thus stalking quietly through a fine country, on the look-out for "anything," no matter what. There is a delightful feeling of calm excitement, if I might so express it, which nothing but wild sports will give. There is no time when a man knows himself so thoroughly as when he depends upon himself, and this forms his excitement. With a thorough confidence in the rifle and a bright lookout, he stalks noiselessly along the open glades, picking out the softest places, avoiding the loose stones or anything that would betray his steps; now piercing the deep shadows of the jungles, now scanning the distant plains, nor leaving a nook or hollow unsearched by his vigilant gaze. The fresh breakage of a branch, the barking of a tree-stem, the lately nibbled grass, with the sap still oozing from the delicate blade, the disturbed surface of a pool; everything is noted, even to the alarmed chatter of a bird : nothing is passed unheeded by an experienced hunter.
To quiet, steady-going people in England there is an idea of cruelty inseparable from the pursuit of large game; people talk of "unoffending elephants," "poor buffaloes," "pretty deer," and a variety of nonsense about things which they cannot possibly understand. Besides, the very person who abuses wild sports on the plea of cruelty indulges personally in conventional cruelties which are positive tortures. His appetite is not destroyed by the knowledge that his cook his skinned the eels alive, or that the lobsters were plunged into boiling water to be cooked. He should remember that a small animal has the same feeling as the largest and if he condemns any sport as cruel, he must condemn all.
There is no doubt whatever that a certain amount of cruelty pervades all sports. But in "wild sports" the animals are for the most part large, dangerous and mischievous, and they are pursued and killed in the most speedy, and therefore in the most merciful, manner.
The government reward for the destruction of elephants in Ceylon was formerly ten shillings per tail; it is now reduced to seven shillings in some districts, and is altogether abolished in others, as the number killed was so great that the government imagined they could not afford the annual outlay.
Although the number of these animals is still so immense in Ceylon, they must nevertheless have been much reduced within the last twenty years. In those days the country was overrun with them, and some idea of their numbers may be gathered from the fact that three first-rate shots in three days bagged one hundred and four elephants. This was told to me by one of the parties concerned, and it throws our modern shooting into the shade. In those days, however, the elephants were comparatively undisturbed, and they were accordingly more easy to approach. One of the oldest native hunters has assured me that he has seen the elephants, when attacked, recklessly expose themselves to the shots and endeavour to raise their dead comrades. This was at a time when guns were first heard in the interior of Ceylon, and the animals had never been shot at. Since that time the decrease in the game of Ceylon has been immense. Every year increases the number of guns in the possession of the natives, and accordingly diminishes the number of animals. From the change which has come over many parts of the country within my experience of the last eight years, I am of opinion that the next ten years will see the deer-shooting in Ceylon completely spoiled, and the elephants very much reduced. There are now very few herds of elephants in Ceylon that have not been shot at by either Europeans or natives, and it is a common occurrence to kill elephants with numerous marks of old bullet wounds. Thus the animals are constantly on the "qui vive," and at the report of a gun every herd within hearing starts off for the densest jungles.
A native can now obtain a gun for thirty shillings; and with two shillings' worth of ammunition, he starts on a hunting trip. Five elephants, at a reward of seven shillings per tail, more than pay the prime cost of his gun, to say nothing of the deer and other game that he has bagged in the interim.
Some, although very few, of the natives are good sportsmen in a potting way. They get close to their game, and usually bag it. This is a terrible system for destroying, and the more so as it is increasing. There is no rest for the animals; in the day-time they are tracked up, and on moonlight nights the drinking-places are watched, and an unremitting warfare is carried on. This is sweeping both deer and buffalo from the country, and must eventually almost annihilate them.
The Moormen are the best hunters, and they combine sport with trade in such a manner that "all is fish that comes to their net." Five or six good hunters start with twenty or thirty bullocks and packs. Some of these are loaded with common cloths, etc., to exchange with the village people for dried venison; but the intention in taking so many bullocks is to bring borne the spoils of their hunting trip - in fact, to "carry the bag." They take about a dozen leaves of the talipot palm to form a tent, and at night-time, the packs, being taken off the bullocks, are piled like a pillar in the centre, and the talipot leaves are formed in a circular roof above them. The bullocks are then secured round the tent to long poles, which are thrown upon the ground and pinned down by crooked pegs.
These people have an intimate knowledge of the country, and are thoroughly acquainted with the habits of the animals and the most likely spots for game. Buffaloes, pigs and deer are indiscriminately shot, and the flesh being cut in strips from the bones is smoked over a green-wood fire, then thoroughly dried in the sun and packed up for sale. The deer skins are also carefully dried and rolled up, and the buffaloes' and deer horns are slung to the packs.
Many castes of natives will not eat buffalo meat, others will not eat pork, but all are particularly fond of venison. This the Moorman fully understands, and overcomes all scruples by a general mixture of the different meats, all of which he sells as venison. Thus no animal is spared whose flesh can be passed off for deer. Fortunately, their guns are so common that they will not shoot with accuracy beyond ten or fifteen paces, or there would be no game left within a few years. How these common guns stand the heavy charges of powder is a puzzle. A native thinks nothing of putting four drachms down a gun that I should be sorry to fire off at any rate. It is this heavy charge which enables such tools to kill elephants which would otherwise be impossible. These natives look upon a first-class English rifle with a sort of veneration. Such a weapon would be a perfect fortune to one of these people, and I have often been astonished that robberies of such things are not more frequent.
There is much difference of opinion among Ceylon sportsmen as to the style of gun for elephant-shooting. But there is one point upon which all are agreed, that no matter what the size of the bore may be, all the guns should be alike, and the battery for one man should consist of four double-barrels. The confusion in hurried loading where guns are of different calibres is beyond conception.
The size and the weight of guns must depend as much on the strength and build of a man as a ship's armament does upon her tonnage; but let no man speak against heavy metal for heavy game, and let no man decry rifles and uphold smooth-bores (which is very general), but rather let him say, "I cannot carry a heavy gun," and "I cannot shoot with a rifle."
There is a vast difference between shooting at a target and shooting at live game. Many men who are capital shots at target-practice cannot touch a deer, and cannot even use the rifle as a rifle at live game, but actually knock the sights out and use it as a smoothbore. This is not the fault of the weapon; it is the fault of the man. It is a common saying in Ceylon, and also in India, that you cannot shoot quick enough with the rifle, because you cannot get the proper sight in an instant.
Whoever makes use of this argument must certainly be in the habit of very random shooting with a smoothbore. How can he possibly get a correct aim with "ball" out of a smoothbore, without squinting along the barrel and taking the muzzle-sight accurately? The fact is, that many persons fire so hastily at game that they take no sight at all, as though they were snipe-shooting with many hundred grains of shot in the charge. This will never do for ball-practice, and when the rifle is placed in such hands, the breech-sights naturally bother the eye which is not accustomed to recognize any sight; and while the person is vainly endeavouring to get the sight correctly on a moving object, the animal is increasing his distance. By way of cutting the Gordian knot, he therefore knocks his sight out, and accordingly spoils the shooting of the rifle altogether.
Put a rifle in the hands of a man who knows how to handle it, and let him shoot against the mutilated weapon deprived of its sight, and laugh at the trial. Why, a man might as well take the rudder off a ship because he could not steer, and then abuse the vessel for not keeping her course!
My idea of guns and rifles is this, that the former should be used for what their makers intended them, viz., shot-shooting, and that no ball should be fired from any but the rifle. Of course it is just as easy and as certain to kill an elephant with a smooth-bore as with a rifle, as he is seldom fired at until within ten or twelve paces; but a man, when armed for wild sport, should be provided with a weapon which is fit for any kind of ball-shooting at any reasonable range, and his battery should be perfect for the distance at which he is supposed to aim.
I have never seen any rifles which combine the requisites for Ceylon shooting to such a degree as my four double-barreled No. 10, which I had made to order. Then some persons exclaim against their weight, which is fifteen pounds per gun. But a word upon that subject.
No person who understands anything about a rifle would select a light gun with a large bore, any more than he would have a heavy carriage for a small horse. If the man objects to the weight of the rifle, let him content himself with a smaller bore, but do not rob the barrels of their good metal for the sake of a heavy ball. The more metal that the barrel possesses in proportion to the diameter of the bore, the better will the rifle carry, nine times out of ten. Observe the Swiss rifles for accurate target-practice - again, remark the American pea rifle; in both the thickness of metal is immense in proportion to the size of the ball, which, in great measure, accounts for the precision with which they carry.
In a light barrel, there is a vibration or jar at the time of explosion, which takes a certain effect upon the direction of the ball. This is necessarily increased by the use of a heavy charge of powder; and it is frequently seen that a rifle which carries accurately enough with a very small charge, shoots wide of the mark when the charge is increased. This arises from several causes, generally from the jar of the barrel in the stock, proceeding either from the want of metal in the rifle or from improper workmanship in the fittings.
To avoid this, a rifle should be made with double bolts and a silver plate should always be let into the stock under the breech; without which the woodwork will imperceptibly wear, and the barrel will become loose in the stock and jar when fired.
There is another reason for the necessity of heavy barrels, especially for two-grooved rifles. Unless the grooves he tolerably deep, they will not hold the ball when a heavy charge is behind it; it quits the grooves, strips its belt, and flies out as though fired from a smoothbore.
A large-bore rifle is a useless incumbrance, unless it is so constructed that it will bear a proportionate charge of powder, and shoot as accurately with its proof charge as with a single drachm. The object in a large bore is to possess an extra powerful weapon, therefore the charge of powder must be increased in proportion to the weight of the ball, or the extra power is not obtained. Nevertheless, most of the heavy rifles that I have met with will not carry an adequate charge of powder, and they are accordingly no more powerful than guns of lighter bore which carry their proportionate charge - the powder has more than its fair amount of work.
Great care should be therefore taken in making rifles for heavy game. There cannot be a better calibre than No 10; it is large enough for any animal in the world, and a double-barreled rifle of this bore, without a ramrod, is not the least cumbersome, even at the weight of fifteen pounds. A ramrod is not required to be in the gun for Ceylon shooting, as there is always a man behind with a spare rifle, who carries a loading rod, and were a ramrod fitted to a rifle of this size, it would render it very unhandy, and would also weaken the stock.
The sights should be of platinum at the muzzle, and blue steel, with a platinum strip with a broad and deep letter V cut in the breech-sights. In a gloomy forest it is frequently difficult to catch the muzzle sight, unless it is of some bright metal, such as silver or platinum; and a broad cut in the breech-sights, if shaped as described, allows a rapid aim, and may be taken fine or coarse at option.
The charge of powder must necessarily depend upon its strength. For elephant-shooting, I always rise six drachms of the best powder for the No. 10 rifles, and four drachms as the minimum charge for deer and general shooting; the larger charge is then unnecessary; it both wastes ammunition and alarms the country by the loudness of the report.
There are several minutiae to be attended to in the sports of Ceylon. The caps should always be carried in a shot-charger (one of the common spring-lid chargers) and never be kept loose in the pocket. The heat is so intense that the perspiration soaks through everything, and so injures the caps that the very best will frequently miss fire.
The powder should be dried for a few minutes in the sun before it is put into the flask, and it should be well shaken and stirred to break any lumps that may be in it. One of these, by obstructing the passage in the flask, may cause much trouble in loading quickly, especially when a wounded elephant is regaining his feet. In such a case you must keep your eyes on the animal when loading, and should the passage of the powder-flask be stopped by a lump, you may fancy the gun is loaded when in fact not a grain of powder has entered it.
The patches should be of silk, soaked in a mixture of one part of beeswax and two of fresh hog's lard, free from salt. If they are spread with pure grease, it melts out of them in a hot country, and they become dry. Silk is better than linen as it is not so liable to be cut down by the sharp grooves of the rifle. It is also thinner than linen or calico, and the ball is therefore more easily rammed down.
All balls should be made of pure lead, without any hardening mixture. It was formerly the fashion to use zinc balls, and lead with a mixture of tin, etc., in elephant-shooting. This was not only unnecessary, but the balls, from a loss of weight by admixture with lighter metals, lost force in a proportionate degree. Lead may be a soft metal, but it is much harder than any animal's skull, and if a tallow candle can be shot through a deal board, surely a leaden bullet is hard enough for an elephant's head.
I once tried a very conclusive experiment on the power of balls of various metals propelled by an equal charge of powder.
I had a piece of wrought iron five-eights of an inch thick, and six feet high by two in breadth. I fired at this at one hundred and seventy yards with my two-grooved four-ounce rifle, with a reduced charge of six drachms of powder and a ball of pure lead. It bulged the iron like a piece of putty, and split the centre of the bulged spot into a star, through the crevice of which I could pass a pen-blade.
A ball composed of half zinc and half lead, fired from the same distance, hardly produced a perceptible effect upon the iron target. It just slightly indented it.
I then tried a ball of one-third zinc and two-thirds lead, but there was no perceptible difference in the effect.
I subsequently tried a tin bill, and again a zinc ball, but neither of them produced any other effect than slightly to indent the iron.
I tried all these experiments again at fifty yards' range, with the same advantage in favor of the pure lead; and at this reduced distance a double-barreled No. 16 smoothbore, with a large charge of four drachms of powder and a lead ball, also bulged and split the iron into a star. This gun, with a hard tin ball and the same charge of powder, did not produce any other effect than an almost imperceptible indentation.
if a person wishes to harden a bill for any purpose, it should be done by an admixture of quicksilver to the lead while the latter is in a state of fusion, a few seconds before the ball is cast. The mixture must be then quickly stirred with an iron rod, and formed into the moulds without loss of time, as at this high temperature the quicksilver will evaporate. Quicksilver is heavier than lead, and makes a ball excessively hard; so much so that it would very soon spoil a rifle. Altogether, the hardening of a ball has been shown to be perfectly unnecessary, and the latter receipt would be found very expensive.
If a wonderful effect is required, the steel-tipped conical ball should be used. I once shot through fourteen elm planks, each one inch thick, with a four-ounce steel-tipped cone, with the small charge (for that rifle) of four drachms of powder. The proper charge for that gun is one-fourth the weight of the ball, or one ounce of powder, with which it carries with great nicety and terrific effect, owing to its great weight of metal (twenty-one pounds); but it is a small piece of artillery which tries the shoulder very severely in the recoil.
I have frequently watched a party of soldiers winding along a pass, with their white trousers, red coats, white cross-belts and brass plates, at about four hundred yards, and thought what a raking that rifle would give a body, of troops in such colors for a mark. A ball of that weight with an ounce of powder, would knock down six or eight men in a row. A dozen of such weapons well handled on board a ship would create an astonishing effect; but for most purposes the weight of the ammunition is a serious objection.
There is a great difference of opinion among sportsmen regarding the grooves of a rifle; some prefer the two-groove and belted ball; others give preference to the eight or twelve-groove and smoothbore. There are good arguments on both sides.
There is no doubt that the two-groove is the hardest hitter and the longest ranger; it also has the advantage of not fouling so quickly as the many-grooved. On the other hand, the many-grooved is much easier to load; it hits quite hard enough; and it ranges truly much farther than any person would think of firing at an animal. Therefore, for sporting purposes, the only advantage which the two-groove possesses is the keeping clean, while the many-groove claims the advantage of quick loading.
The latter is by far the more important recommendation, especially as the many-groove can be loaded without the assistance of the eye, as the ball, being smooth and round, can only follow the right road down the barrel. The two-grooved rifle, when new, is particularly difficult to load, as the ball must be tight to avoid windage, and it requires some nicety in fitting and pressing the belt of the ball into the groove, in such a manner that it shall start straight upon the pressure of the loading-rod. If it gives a slight heel to one side at the commencement, it is certain to stick in its course, and it then occupies much time and trouble in being rammed home. Neither will it shoot with accuracy, as, from the amount of ramming to get the ball to its place, it has become so misshapen that it is a mere lump of lead, and no longer a rifle-ball. My double-barreled No. 10 rifles are two-grooved, and an infinity of trouble they gave me for the first two years. Many a time I have been giving my whole weight to the loading rod, with a ball stuck half-way down the barrel, while wounded elephants lay struggling upon the ground, expected every moment to rise. From constant use and repeated cleaning they have now become so perfect that they load with the greatest ease; but guns of their age are not fair samples of their class, and for rifles in general for sporting purposes I should give a decided preference to the many-groove. I have had a long two-ounce rifle of the latter class, which I have shot with for many years, and it certainly is not so hard a hitter as the two-grooved No. 10's; but it hits uncommonly hard, too; and if I do not bag with it, it is always my fault, and no blame can be attached to the rifle.
For heavy game-shooting, I do not think there can be a much fairer standard for the charge of powder than one-fifth the weight of the ball for all bores. Some persons do not use so much as this; but I am always an advocate for strong guns and plenty of powder.
A heavy charge will reach the brain of an elephant, no matter in what position he may stand, provided a proper angle is taken for attaining it. A trifling amount of powder is sufficient, if the elephant offers a front shot, or the temple at right angles, or the ear shot; but if a man pretend to a knowledge of elephant-shooting, he should think of nothing but the brain, and his knowledge of the anatomy of the elephant's head should be such that he can direct a straight line to this mark from any position. He then requires a rifle of such power that the ball will crash through every obstacle along the course directed. To effect this he must not be stingy of the powder.
I have frequently killed elephants by curious shots with the rifles in this manner; but I once killed a bull elephant by one shot in the upper jaw, which will at once exemplify the advantage of a powerful rifle in taking the angle for the brain.
My friend Palliser and I were out shooting on the day previous, and we had spent some hours in vainly endeavouring to track up a single bull elephant. I forget what we bagged, but I recollect well that we were unlucky in finding our legitimate game. That night at dinner we heard elephants roaring in the Yallé river, upon the banks of which our tent was pitched in fine open forest. For about an hour the roaring was continued, apparently on both sides the river, and we immediately surmised that our gentleman friend on our side of the stream was answering the call of the ladies of some herd on the opposite bank. We went to sleep with the intention of waking at dawn of day, and then strolling quietly along with only two gun-bearers each, who were to carry my four double No 10's, while we each carried a single barrel for deer.
The earliest gray tint of morning saw us dressed and ready, the rifles loaded, a preliminary cup of hot chocolate swallowed, and we were off while the forest was still gloomy; the night seemed to hang about it, although the sky was rapidly clearing above.
A noble piece of Nature's handiwork is that same Yallé forest. The river flows sluggishly through its centre in a breadth of perhaps ninety yards, and the immense forest trees extend their giant arms from the high banks above the stream, throwing dark shadows upon its surface, enlivened by the silvery glitter of the fish as they dart against the current. Little glades of rank grass occasionally break the monotony of the dark forest; sandy gullies in deep beds formed by the torrents of the rainy season cut through the crumbling soil and drain toward the river. Thick brushwood now and then forms an opposing barrier, but generally the forest is beautifully open, consisting of towering trees, the leviathans of their race, sheltering the scanty saplings which have spring from their fallen seeds. For a few hundred yards on either side of the river the forest extends in a ribbon-like strip of lofty vegetation in the surrounding sea of low scrubby jungle. The animals leave the low jungle at night, passing through the forest on their way to the river to bathe and drink; they return to the low and thick jungle at break of day and we hoped to meet some of the satiated elephants on their way to their dense habitations.
We almost made sure of finding our friend of yesterday's trek, and we accordingly kept close to the edge of the river, keeping a sharp eye for tracks upon the sandy bed below.
We had strolled for about a mile along the high bank of the river without seeing a sign of an elephant, when I presently heard a rustle in the branches before me, and upon looking up I saw a lot of monkeys gamboling in the trees. I was carrying my long two-ounce rifle, and I was passing beneath the monkey-covered boughs, when I suddenly observed a young tree of the thickness of a man's thigh shaking violently just before me.
It happened that the jungle was a little thicker in his spot, and at the same moment that I observed the tree shaking almost over me, I passed the immense stem of one of those smooth-barked trees which grow to such an enormous size on the banks of rivers. At the same moment that I passed it I was almost under the trunk of a single bull elephant, who was barking the stem with his tusk as high as he could reach, with his head thrown back. I saw in an instant that the only road to his brain lay through his upper jaw, in the position in which he was standing; and knowing that he would discover me in another moment, I took the eccentric line for his brain, and fired upward through his jaw. He fell stone dead, with the silk patch of the rifle smoking in the wound.
Now in this position no light gun could have killed that elephant; the ball had to pass through the roots of the upper grinders, and keep its course through hard bones and tough membranes for about two feet before it could reach the brain; but the line was all right, and the heavy metal and charge of powder kept the ball to its work.
This is the power which every elephant-gun should possess: it should have an elephant's head under complete command in every attitude.
There is another advantage in heavy metal; a heavy ball will frequently stun a vicious elephant when in full charge, when a light ball would not check him; his quietus is then soon arranged by another barrel. Some persons, however, place too much confidence in the weight of the metal, and forget that it is necessary to hold a powerful rifle as straight as the smallest gun. It is then very common during a chase of a herd to see the elephants falling tolerably well to the shots, but on a return for their tails, it is found that the stunned brutes have recovered and decamped.
Conical balls should never be used for elephants; they are more apt to glance, and the concussion is not so great as that produced by a round ball. In fact there is nothing more perfect for sporting purposes than a good rifle from a first-rate maker, with a plain ball of from No. 12 to No. 10. There can be no improvement upon such a weapon for the range generally required by a good shot.
I am very confident that the African elephant would be killed by the brain-shot by Ceylon sportsmen with as much case as the Indian species. The shape of the head has nothing whatever to do with the shooting, provided the guns are powerful and the hunter knows where the brain lies.
When I arrived in Ceylon one of my first visits was to the museum at Colombo where I carefully examined the transverse sections of an elephant's skull, until perfectly acquainted with its details. From the museum I cut straight to the elephant-stables and thoroughly examined the head of the living animal, comparing it in my own mind with the skull, until I was thoroughly certain of the position of the brain and the possibility of reaching it from any position.
An African sportsmen would be a long time in killing a Ceylon elephant, if he fired at the long range described by most writers; in fact, he would not kill one out of twenty that he fired at in such a jungle-covered country as Ceylon, where, in most cases, everything depends upon the success of the first barrel.
It is the fashion in Ceylon to get as close as possible to an elephant before firing; this is usually at about ten yards' distance, at which range nearly every shot must be fatal. In Africa, according to all accounts, elephants are fired at thirty, forty, and even at sixty yards. It is no wonder, therefore, that African sportsmen take the shoulder shot, as the hitting of the brain would be a most difficult feat at such a distance, seeing that the even and dusky color of an elephant's head offers no peculiar mark for a delicate aim.
The first thing that a good sportsmen considers with every animal is the point at which to aim so to bag him as speedily as possible. It is well known that all animals, from the smallest to the largest, sink into instant death when shot through the brain; and that a wound through the lungs or heart is equally fatal, though not so instantaneous. These are accordingly the points for aim, the brain, from its small size, being the most difficult to hit. Nevertheless, in a jungle country, elephants must be shot through the brain, otherwise they would not be bagged, as they would retreat with a mortal wound into such dense jungle that no man could follow. Seeing how easily they are dropped by the brainshot if approached sufficiently near to ensure the correctness of the aim, no one would ever think of firing at the shoulder who had been accustomed to aim at the head.
A Ceylon sportsman arriving in Africa would naturally examine the skull of the African elephant, and when once certain of the position of the brain he would require no further information. Leave him alone for hitting it if he knew where it was.
What a sight for a Ceylon elephant-hunter would be the first view of a herd of African elephants - all tuskers! In Ceylon, a "tusker" is a kind of spectre, to be talked of by a few who have had the good luck to see one. And when he is seen by a good sportsman, it is an evil hour for him - he is followed till he gives up his tusks.
It is a singular thing that Ceylon is the only part of the world where the male elephant has no tusks; they have miserable little grubbers projecting two or three inches from the upper jaw and inclining downward. Thus a man may kill some hundred elephants without having a pair of tusks in his possession. The largest that I have seen in Ceylon were about six feet long, and five inches in diameter in the thickest part. These would be considered rather below the average in Africa, although in Ceylon they were thought magnificent.
Nothing produces either ivory or horn in fine specimens throughout Ceylon. Although some of the buffaloes have tolerably fine heads, they will not bear a comparison with those of other countries. The horns of the native cattle are not above four inches in length. The elk and the spotted deer's antlers are small compared with deer of their size on the continent of India. This is the more singular, as it is evident from the geological formation that at some remote period Ceylon was not an island, but formed a portion of the mainland, from which it is now only separated by a shallow and rocky of some few miles. In India the bull elephants have tusks, and the cattle and buffaloes have very large horns. My opinion is that there are elements wanting in the Ceylon pasturage (which is generally poor) for the formation of both horn and ivory. Thus many years of hunting and shooting are rewarded by few trophies of the chase. So great is the natural inactivity of the natives that no one understands the preparation of the skins; thus all the elk and deer hides are simply dried in the sun, and the hair soon rots and fills off. In India, the skin of the Samber deer (the Ceylon elk) is prized above all others, and is manufactured into gaiters, belts, pouches, coats. breeches, etc.; but in Ceylon, these things are entirety neglected by the miserable and indolent population, whose whole thoughts are concentrated upon their bread, or rather their curry and rice.
At Newera Ellia, the immense number of elk that I have killed would have formed a valuable collection of skins had they been properly prepared, instead of which the hair has been singed from them, and they have been boiled up for dogs' meat.
Boars' hides have shared the same fate. These are far thicker than those of the tame species, and should make excellent saddles. So tough are they upon the live animal that it requires a very sharp-pointed knife to penetrate them, and too much care cannot be bestowed upon the manufacture of a knife for this style of hunting, as the boar is one of the fiercest and dangerous of animals.
Living in the thickest jungles, he rambles out at night in search of roots, fruits, large earthworms, or anything else that he can find, being, like his domesticated brethren, omnivorous. He is a terrible enemy to the pack, and has cost me several good dogs within the last few years. Without first-rate seizers it would be impossible to kill him with the knife without being ripped, as he invariably turns to bay after a short run in the thickest jungle he can find. There is no doubt that a good stout boar-spear, with a broad blade and strong handle, is the proper weapon for the attack; but a spear is very unhandy and even dangerous to carry in such a hilly country as the neighbourhood of Newera Ellia. The forests are full of steep ravines and such tangled underwood that following the hounds is always an arduous task, but with a spear in the hand it is still more difficult, and the point is almost certain to get injured by striking against the numerous rocks, in which case it is perfectly useless when perhaps most required. I never carry a spear for these reasons, but am content with the knife, as in my opinion any animal that can beat off good bounds and a long knife deserves to escape.
My knife was made to my own pattern by Paget of Piccadilly. The blade is one foot in length, and two inches broad in the widest part, and slightly concave in the middle. The steel is of the most exquisite quality, and the entire knife weighs three pounds. The peculiar shape added to the weight of the blade gives an extraordinary force to a blow, and the blade being double-edged for three inches from the point, inflicts a fearful wound: altogether it is a very desperate weapon, and admirably adapted for this kind of sport.
A feat is frequently performed by the Nepaulese by cutting off a buffalo's head at one blow of a sabre or tulwal. The blade of this weapon is peculiar, being concave, and the extremity is far heavier than the hilt; the animal's neck is tied down to a post, so as to produce a tension on the muscles, without which the blow, however great, would have a comparatively small effect.
The accounts of this feat always appeared very marvellous to my mind, until I one day unintentionally performed something similar on a small scale with the hunting-knife.
I was out hunting in the Elk Plains, and having drawn several jungles blank, I ascended the mountains which wall in the western side of the patinas (grass-plains), making sure of finding an elk near the summit. It was a lovely day, perfectly calm and cloudless; in which weather the elk, especially the large bucks, are in the habit of lying high up the mountains.
I had nine couple of hounds out, among which were some splendid seizers, "Bertram," "Killbuck," "Hecate," "Bran," "Lucifer," and "Lena," the first three being progeny of the departed hero, old "Smut," who had been killed by a boar a short time before. They were then just twelve months old, and "Bertram" stood twenty-eight and a half inches high at the shoulder. To him his sire's valor had descended untarnished, and for a dog of his young age he was the most courageous that I have ever seen. In appearance he was a tall Manilla bloodhound, with the strength of a young lion; very affectionate in disposition, and a general favorite, having won golden opinions in every contest. Whenever a big buck was at bay, and punishing the leading hounds, he was ever the first to get his hold; no matter how great the danger, he never waited but recklessly dashed in. "There goes Bertram! Look at Bertram! Well done, Bertram!" were the constant exclamations of a crowd of excited spectators when a powerful buck was brought to bay. He was a wonderful dog, but I prophesied an early grave for him, as no dog in the world could long escape death who rushed so recklessly upon his dangerous game.* His sister "Hecate," was more careful, and she is alive at this moment, and a capital seizer of great strength combined with speed, having derived the latter from her dam, "Lena," an Australian greyhound, than whom a better or truer bitch never lived. "Old Bran," and his beautiful son "Lucifer," were fine specimens of grayhound and deerhound, and as good as gold. *Speared through the body by the horns of a buck elk and killed shortly after this was written.
There was not a single elk track the whole of the way up the mountain, and upon arriving at the top, I gave up all hope of finding for that day, and I enjoyed the beautiful view over the vast valley of forest which lay below, spangled with green plains, and bounded by the towering summit of Adam's Peak, at about twenty-five miles' distance. The coffee estates of Dimboola lay far beneath upon the right, and the high mountains of Kirigallapotta and Totapella bounded the view upon the left.
There is a good path along the narrow ridge on the summit of the Elk Plain hills, which has been made by elephants. This runs along the very top of the knife-like ridge, commanding a view of the whole country to the right and left. The range is terminated abruptly by a high peak, which descends in a sheer precipice at the extremity.
I strolled along the elephant-path, intending to gain the extreme end of the range for the sake of the view, when I suddenly came upon the track of a "boar," in the middle of the path. It was perfectly fresh, as were also the ploughings in the ground close by, and the water of a small pool was still curling with clouds of mud, showing most plainly that he had been disturbed from his wallowing by my noise in ascending the mountain-side.
There was no avoiding the find; and away went "Bluebeard," "Ploughboy," "Gaylass" and all the leading hounds, followed by the whole pack, in full chorus, straight along the path at top speed. Presently they turned sharp to the left into the thick jungle, dashing down the hillside as though off to the Elk Plains below. At this pace I knew the hunt would not last long, and from my elevated stand I waited impatiently for the first sounds of the bay. Round they turned again, up the steep hillside, and the music slackened a little, as the bounds had enough to do in bursting through the tangled bamboo up the hill.
Presently, I heard the rush of the boar in the jungle, coming straight up the hill toward the spot where I was standing; and, fearing that he might top the ridge and make down the other side toward Dimboola, I gave him a halloo to head him back. Hark, for-r-rard to him! yo-o-ick! to him!
Such a yell, right in his road, astonished him, and, as I expected, he headed sharp back. Up came the pack, going like race-horses, and wheeling off where the game had turned, a few seconds running along the side of the mountain, and then such a burst of music! such a bay! The boar had turned sharp round, and had met the hounds on a level platform on the top of a ridge.
"Lucifer" never leaves my side until we are close up to the bay; and plunging and tearing through the bamboo grass and tangled nillho for a few hundred yards, I at length approached the spot, and I heard Lord Bacon grunting and roaring loud above the din of the hounds.
Bertram has him for a guinea! Hold him, good lad! and away dashed "Lucifer" from my side at the halloo.
In another moment I was close up, and with my knife ready I broke through the dense jungle and was immediately in the open space cleared by the struggles of the boar and pack. Unluckily, I had appeared full in the boar's front, and though five or six of the large seizers had got their holds, he made a sudden charge at me that shook them all off, except "Bertram" and "Lena."
It was the work of an instant, as I jumped quickly on one side, and instinctively made a downward cut at him in passing. He fell all of a heap, to the complete astonishment of myself and the furious pack.
He was dead! killed by one blow with the hunting knife. I had struck him across the back just behind the shoulders, and the wound was so immense that he had the appearance of being nearly half divided. Not only was the spine severed, but the blade had cut deep into his vitals and produced instant death.
One of the dogs was hanging on his hind quarters when he charged, and as the boar was rushing forward, the muscles of the back were accordingly stretched tight, and thus the effect of the cut was increased to this extraordinary degree. He was a middling-sized boar, as near as I could guess, about two and a half hundredweight.
Fortunately, none of the pack were seriously hurt, although his tusks were as sharp as a knife. This was owing to the short duration of the fight, and also to the presence of so many seizers, who backed each other up without delay.
There is no saying to what size a wild boar grows. I have never killed them with the hounds above four hundredweight; but I have seen solitary boars in the low country, that must have weighed nearly double.
I believe the flesh is very good; by the natives it is highly prized; but I have so strong a prejudice against it from the sights I have seen of their feasting upon putrid elephants that I never touch it.
The numbers of wild hogs in the low country is surprising, and these are most useful in cleaning up the carcases of dead animals and destroying vermin. I seldom or never fire at hog in those districts, as their number is so great that there is no sport in shooting them. They travel about in herds of one and two hundred, and even more. These are composed of sows and young boars, as the latter leave the herd when arrived at maturity.