Rifles and Big Game

From: Wild Beasts and their Ways, Reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa and America
by Sir Samuel W. Baker F.R.S., F.R.G.S., etc., etc. Volume 1, 1898



The following experience of a sportsman in the Deccan is from the
Secunderabad paper of 14th June 1888:—

"Mr. Cuthbert Fraser had a most miraculous escape from a tiger the other day at Amraoti. The lucky hero of this adventure is a District Superintendent of Police in Berar. He is well remembered in Secunderabad as Superintendent of the Cantonment Police before Mr. Crawford. A son of Colonel Hastings Fraser, one of the Frasers of Lovat, he has proved his possession of that nerve and courage which rises to the emergency of danger—on which qualities more than all else the British Empire in India has been built, and on which, after all is said, in the last resort, it must be still held to rest. To quote the graphic account of a correspondent, the escape was about as narrow as was ever had. Mr. Fraser was told by his orderly that the tiger was lying dead with his head on the root of a tree. The orderly having called him up, he went to the spot. Mr. Fraser then sent the orderly and another man with the second gun back, and knelt down to look. Just then the tiger roared and came at him from about eighteen feet off: he waited till the tiger was within five feet of him and fired. As the tiger did not drop, he fired his second shot hurriedly. The first shot had hit exactly in the centre of the face but just an inch too low. It knocked the tiger's right eye out and smashed all the teeth of that side of the jaw. The second shot struck the tiger in the chest, but too low. What happened then Mr. Fraser does not exactly know, but he next found himself lying in front of the tiger, one claw of the beast's right foot being hooked into his left leg, in this way trying to draw Mr. Fraser towards him; the other paw was on his right leg. Mr. Fraser's chin and coat were covered with foam from the beast's mouth. He tried hard to draw himself out of the tiger's clutches. Fortunately the beast was not able to see him, as Mr. Fraser was a little to one side on the animal's blind side and the tiger's head was up. Suddenly seeing Mr. Fraser's orderly bolting, he jumped up and went for the man, and catching him he killed him on the spot. Mr. Fraser had lost his hat, rifle, and all his cartridges, which had tumbled out of his pocket. He jumped up, however, and ran to the man who had his second gun, and to do so had to go within eight paces of the spot where the tiger was crouching over his orderly. He heard, in fact, the crunching of the man's bones and saw the tiger biting the back of the head. He now took the gun from his man. The latter said that he had fired both barrels into the tiger—one when he was crouching over Mr. Fraser, and the other when he was over the prostrate body of the orderly. The man had fired well and true, but just too far back, in his anxiety not to hit the man he would save, instead of the tiger. When afterwards asked if he was not afraid to hit the Sahib, 'I was very much afraid indeed,' he replied, 'but dil mazbut karke lagaya: I nerved myself for the occasion.' 'A good man and true!' a high officer writes, 'who after firing never moved an inch till Mr. Fraser came to him, although close to the tiger all the while. He is one of the Gawilghur Rajputs—a brave race, Ranjit Singh, a good name.' The man said he had no more cartridges left and so they both got a little farther from the tiger, as the orderly was evidently done for. Afterwards they found one more cartridge for the gun and tried to recover the body, but it was no use. The tiger was lying close, most of the buffaloes had bolted and the Kurkoos would not help. Mr. Fraser then sent six miles off for an elephant. But the animal did not arrive till dark, so Mr. Fraser went home in great grief about the poor orderly and at having to leave the body. His own wound was bleeding a great deal, it being a deep claw gash. Next day they got the body and the tiger dead, lying close to each other. Perhaps no narrower escape than Mr. Fraser's has ever been heard of. To the excellent shot which knocked the beast's eye out he undoubtedly owes his life. He says that he felt that he had the tiger dead when he fired, but the Express bullet unfortunately broke up. Probably, he thinks a 12-bore would have reached the brain."

I could produce numerous instances where failures have occurred, and I know sportsmen of long experience who have given up the use of hollow bullets except against such small game as black-buck and other antelopes or deer.

So much for the Express hollow bullet, after which it is at the option of all persons to please themselves; but personally I should decline the company of any friend who wished to join me in the pursuit of dangerous game if armed with such an inferior weapon. In another portion of this volume I shall produce a striking instance of the result.

The magazine rifle, which is destined to become the military arm of the future, can hardly merit a place among sporting rifles, as it must always possess the disadvantage of altering its balance as the ammunition is expended. The Winchester Company have, I believe, produced a great improvement in a rifle of this kind, '400, which carries a charge of 110 grains of powder; but even so small a bore must be unhandy if the rifle is arranged to contain a supply of cartridges. For my own use I am quite contented with one '577, a '400, and a No. 12 Paradox - all solid bullets, but varying in hardness of metal according to the quality of game; for the largest animals a pair of No. 8 rifles with hard bullets and 14 drams of powder.

I can say nothing more concerning rifles for the practical use of sportsmen, although a volume might be devoted to their history and development. Shot guns are too well understood to merit a special notice.

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