Letter from Burma 18
6 July, 1935
Dear Dick and Una,
How are things with my favourite (and only) sister and brother-in-law? I thought I would keep in touch, now that we have seen each other again at the funeral. How is Mother settling in at your house in Suffolk? We do miss having you out here, and were hoping you might come again to visit, but realise that is now not very likely to happen.
Remembering your fascination with hunting here, Dick, I thought you might enjoy
hearing about my latest trek.
With the end of the monsoon season, my friends Mack, Hugh and I decided to pack up our gear and head out to the rain forest for a few days of hunting and fishing. I think I told you that I have a bungalow up there now, so we are much more comfortable. We took the elephant with his mahout of course, and the local Shikarie and about 10 of the villagers, who were on foot. We proceeded to the top to the mountain between the Siam and Burmese boarders.
Not having any luck on the high land, we headed for the bottoms. There was head high
brush growing out of muskeg swamp, accompanied by the fear of a 12 foot cobra popping up at any time.
We decided that we would hunt a hill top where we had noticed sambar feeding the night before. Climbing the mud soaked hill in 101 to 110 degree temps really was a work out.
We heard a slight noise coming up the trail. I thought that the sound could be coming
from a rogue tiger! As I focused my attention in the direction of the sound, a slight hint of a dark flick appeared. Upon first seeing this deer, I was almost convinced I was looking at a small spike whitetail deer. After seeing the goat shaped horns, I decided that I would take the shot. I raised the Remington pump and with the roar of the shot my first Barking deer hit the ground like a sack of rocks. They are called that because they bark repeatedly like a dog when they are being defiant or in a panic.
Even though the weather was very hot, it was nice to sit by a camp fire outside the bungalow and dry out the wetness of the rain forest. Besides using a camp fire as a means to dry sweat and rain soaked garb, its primary purpose is to keep away the millions of malaria carrying mosquitoes. It was nice to visit the local waterfall for a shower.
It is somewhat curious that in the dense, uninhabited forests of Burma, untrodden by man from year's end to year's end, except when visited at rare intervals by some adventurous sahib, both tigers and panthers,which abound, should so seldom be met with, especially in the mornings or evenings. But though fresh tracks of both will be found daily, the animals themselves are rarely seen. They are just as wary as in the more frequented forests. I do not think this is owing to an instinctive fear of man; for in such out-of-the-way places they have probably never seen a human being. It would appear rather as if they hid from the sight of other animals, instinct teaching them that to make themselves conspicuous in the daytime would result in their going without a meal at night. That this is so seems to be borne out by the fact that when either a tiger or panther
is met with in one of these distant spots, it evinces no fear of man; but boldly stares at the intruder, eventually quietly taking itself off.
Since we arrived here in 1926, I have spent several weeks each year, wandering, off and on, in the forests of Burma at all seasons, I only remember to have met tigers twice and a leopard once. On one occasion I was steaming up the river on a Government stern-wheeler. I was at breakfast at the time, when a shout from a lascar brought me outside. Looking up the river, I saw a large tiger drinking on the bank about 200 yards ahead of us. The steamer was slowed down, and I rushed into the cabin for my camera, returning just in time to see the tiger disappear into the dense jungle, the brute having taken alarm at the
steamer and the churning of the paddle.
Another time I was following bison when one of the trackers stopped suddenly and said "four thit (leopard)". There was nothing to be seen - the beasts had vanished. But on going some twenty yards or so farther on, we came to a waterfall tumbling from some rocks in a ravine. Instinctively I pulled up to have a look; it was just the place for a panther to lie up in. While glancing about, I suddenly caught sight of what looked like the upper part of the head and the two ears of a panther sticking out of the long grass on the hillside some forty yards or so above us. But it might have been the stump of a tree. Not wishing to disturb the ground unnecessarily, I used my binoculars, and as soon as I had got the glasses on the spot, saw that my first impression was correct. There was the panther sitting staring at us, its body concealed in the grass but nose and ears visible. But it caught scent of us and was soon slinking off into the wild.
I had left my tent before dawn one morning, and was surprised by the sound as of a heavy beast bounding in the jungle close to the path. It was not a deer: there were two distinct thuds as of a tiger or panther bounding. I made record time back to the tent, and when it got a little lighter, set out again to examine a 'quin' for tsaing, accompanied by the moksoh, and followed by an elephant, intending, if unsuccessful in finding tsaing, to mount the elephant and try for a shot at sambur, of which there were a good number in the surrounding jungle. Arrived near the 'quin,' I halted the elephant and crept on with the moksoh. The 'quin' was deserted, so I returned to the elephant, and found the mahout in a great state of excitement. He told me, that just after I had left, a huge tiger walked out into the path, and stood there staring for over a minute at the elephant, not twenty yards away.
Having satisfied his curiosity, he strolled on into the jungle as leisurely as he had arrived. I went to the spot pointed out by the mahout, and there, sure enough, were the pugs of a huge tiger. I followed at once on the elephant, but saw nothing of the tiger; so returned to camp, after bagging a sambur stag.
In Burma, to be successful as a hunter, elephants are requisite, and we are lucky to
have one here. I far prefer shooting on foot to shooting out of howdahs. Just to list the game that can be found in this area, from the deer family you have sambut, hog deer, barking deer, mouse deer, samp or marsh deer, the thamine and the sarow. Then there are wild hogs and wild dogs and jackals. And the big carnivores - the tiger, leopard, panther, buffalo, rhinoceros, the Gaur, the Gayal, The Tsine. You can hunt elephants if you get a special license - and they aren't very difficult to get.
Knowing the local people and their language helps a lot when you go hunting. The leading hunter is called a Shikarie - who is paid for his efforts with a few rupees, a little tobacco, tea, sugar and rum. Many are chary of going out feeling that if anything goes wrong, they will be blamed. On the few occasions when I was lucky enough to slay a stray sambur, a thamine, or a hog deer, I kept very little of the meat to myself, and gave the rest to the Burmans which they jerked and sold to the people.
It is very important to have the right gear. You should not sleep on the ground, so we
recently bought trestle cots, each with a large waterproof cover, and two mosquito curtains, one of fine muslin, to be used as a precaution against sandflies, and another of net for mosquitoes, together with a cork mattress to put inside, and a pneumatic pillow.
I have been out hunting most months, but to attempt to shoot during the height of the monsoon is a misery around here, and you get very little owing to the nature of the jungles, which are so heavy that you can see no game until you all but touch it, and few animals are so confiding as to let you get to such close quarters.
I guess that is enough for one letter. Give my love to Mother and to you both, of