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Leisure: Hunting

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Diary (1902-1904): 29th January-1st February 1903 (p.52-53) [LDGSL/348/2/3]. Click to enlarge.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone of the period, as well as observing wildlife, Fermor was very keen on shooting it. On 2nd December 1902, he discovered that ‘the reason [he] had been previously unsuccessful in shooting, was that [he] had used Swan-Shot for pigeon-shooting’. On switching to ‘no. 8 shot’, he ‘killed 6 birds in 8 shots’, and never looked back. Hunting is probably the most frequently-mentioned activity in his diary, with targets including many types of bird, antelope, deer, and occasionally big cats. Birds and animals that he had shot provided him with the means to examine wildlife closely, taking measurements and describing appearances in detail.

A white man hunting blackbuck in southern India, with two Indians, c.1897-1899. Although Fermor does not specifically mention blackbuck, he did hunt other antelope and deer. [By Wiele & Klein, Madras [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.]

Shooting for small birds such as pigeons seems to have often been carried out alone, or in the regular course of a day. Hunting for larger prey, however, required the aid of a shikari (a native Indian hunter), the erection of a machan (a hide or platform in a tree from which to shoot), and sometimes the employment of beaters (individuals to ‘flush out’ the desired birds or animals). One of the largest examples of a hunt in Fermor’s diary occurred towards the end of his second field work season, when staying with another Englishman:

In the morning we had four beats employing 50 or 60 beaters. In the first beat I shot a fox, in the second the beaters beat away from us, in the third I saw 3 doe Sambar at close quarters and 2 buck and 2 doe Sambar at a distance. The shikari fired one shot at a chauranga or four-horned antelope, but missed [...]. In the fourth beat I saw 4 chital rush past at a distance, and missed and then when the beat was over I fired at a huge boar rushing past and also missed.

20th April 1904

Despite the size of the hunt, Fermor and his companions seem to have been fairly unsuccessful!

The opportunity arose for Fermor to hunt a big cat whenever a report came from a local village that livestock had been killed. There are a couple of instances of this happening, such as in mid-February 1904. A cowherd reported that a tiger had killed one of his animals, and Fermor responded by gathering six men, having a machan prepared, and obtaining a live goat to use as bait. In the late afternoon this was tied up near the carcass of the cow, and eventually ‘[t]he goat became silent and then [he] suddenly saw a long cat-like animal creeping over its first kill. [...] With a quick run it seized the goat and then started perhaps to drink the goat’s blood’ (18th February 1904). He then shot the animal several times, and on returning the following morning found that it was a panther. ‘[A]long the curves’ it was over 7 foot long, according to Fermor, and ‘[i]n the tail were 22 vertebrae’ (19th February 1904).