ELEPHANT shooting is a kind of sport which few people can afford to indulge in owing to the expense. Only foreign princes and noblemen and millionaire globe-trotters care as a rule to pay Rs. 100 for the privilege of firing at a wild elephant. Very few licenses are taken out by local sportsmen.
It " goes without saying" that for elephant shooting as powerful guns as possible should be used. As shots are usually obtained at a few paces' distance, accuracy is not so much required as bone-smashing power and shock. A double No. 4 smooth-bore firing a hardened spherical bullet with 12 drachms of powder, is probably the best of weapons for the purpose. Elephants have however often been killed with a single shot from a light small-bore.
Any person about to go after elephants for the first time, would do well to carefully examine a skull at a museum or elsewhere to learn the exact position of the brain which is always the spot aimed at. In Africa, where elephants are found in the open and can be ridden after, body shots are usually given, but, in Ceylon, owing to the density of the cover and the consequent necessity of dropping the animal in its tracks, the head is almost invariably fired at.
The information given by villagers in remote districts regarding the wild elephants in the neighbourhood is usually fairly trustworthy. They are sometimes able to state the exact number in a herd and to add particulars, such as that one limped and that there was a young calf, etc. The old solitary bulls are often well known to them.
No sportsman will of course, knowingly fire at herd-elephants, that is at cows or half-grown elephants, of which herds usually consist. It is often necessary, however, tor track down a herd to see if there is any big bull among them. If a herd is come upon early in the morning while they are feeding they will be heard before they are seen, but if they are come up with towards mid-day, when they are standing still in some shady spot asleep or half-asleep, they will probably be smelt first owing to the strong odour of their droppings. In either case it is easy to get close to them without detection provided they are approached up-wind.
Sportsmen, after satisfying themselves that there was no bull worth shooting in some herd, have sometimes tried to stampede the cows and calves with a shout, but it is not always a safe amusement. Should any noise excite the alarm of a herd they will all wheel round with cocked ears and extend their trunks in the direction of the sound. The young calves always run under their mothers' bellies when danger threatens. An old cow will usually advance a step or two and will probably strike her trunk on the ground, blowing through it at the same time, thus producing a sonorous sound which is intended to intimidate the hidden enemy. After a few moments she will very likely come striding on, rumbling and squealing, flapping her ears and banging the brush-wood about with her trunk. If she happens to be the mother of a young calf she is likely to make things lively for the sportsman. Shouting is of little use to keep her off, but a shot even into the air, is generally enough to make the whole herd bolt. This is always a trying moment to a novice who is apt to think from the crashing of jungle going on all round that they are all chargiug down on him. Elephants never charge en masse, but there is, of course, danger that one of the herd might, in its consternation, bolt in the direction of the hunter, knock him down, and perhaps trample on him as it rushes past.
It is very difficult to distinguish the sex of an elephant in dense forest, and it is quite possible for an unusually big cow to be mistaken for a bull. No man should fire, however, till he has done his best to decide the doubt.
Legitimate elephant shooting is the following up to the death of full-grown bull elephants. The recent tracks of a solitary bull may easily be followed, even when the ground is dry and hard. If it be seen that it has gone straight on without stopping to feed or to throw earth over itself, it will be necessary to hurry to overtake it. Should it be going down-wind the chance of coming up with it is a poor one. If the hunter hears, under these circumstances, the sudden breaking of jungle ahead he should run forward at once as the elephant has probably winded him and is off. He may come up with it a few hundred yards further and find it standing sideways, listening with cocked ears, when, if he is quick with his shot, he may drop it dead.
It is not quite so easy to approach a solitary elephant as a herd, but if the wind is favourable and there are not too many fallen rotten branches and dead leaves on the ground there is little difficulty in getting within a few yards of it. Many elephants have been crawled up to and shot dead without their ever knowing what hurt them.
Should a solitary bull suspect danger near, it will stand rigid as a rock for a few moments listening and smelling, and will then turn and silently make off, Many a man who has got so close to one in dense forest as to distinctly hear it blowing through its trunk and flapping its ears has been amazed, on crawling up, to find the huge beast gone without a sound ; the yielding horny pad of its foot treading as softly as a naked human foot, and the undergrowth brushing noiselessly against its leathery sides as it fled.
Elephants are sometimes come upon, lying fast asleep on their sides. They should not be fired at in this position for more reasons than one. A slight noise is sufficient to waken the beast, and as it swings up its head to rise to its feet it may easily be shot dead.
In firing at an elephant the effect of the shot depends very much on the sportsman's position. It is as well not to fire in a crouching attitude as the ball is likely to miss the brain, going over it. If the animal is standing broadside on, a shot in the hole of the ear from a standing man ought to kill it instantly. If the right angle be taken, according as the elephant stands with its head partly turned towards or away from the hunter, the brain may easily be reached. The front shot is the most difficult as the ball may strike on the massive frontal bone and penetrate but a little way. The shoulder shot is certain to kill sooner or later, but should never be given unless there is every chance of the animal being followed up to the death. Some men have fired under the tails of bolting elephants with some idea of breaking their backs, also at their legs ; but such actions are not commendable.
An elephant on being fired at and only wounded, generally goes crashing headlong through the forest in its terror for a few score yards and then subsides into its usual long noiseless stride. The sudden cessation of the noise is apt to make an inexperienced sportsman think that the animal has either dropped dead or has halted close by, but if he does not follow it quickly he is not likely to see it again that day. There is generally very little blood on - the traij unless the bullet has cut a large artery in the head in which case the elephant will not go far. After going some distance it may stop to rub its wounded head against a tree which will be found smeared with blood. A wounded elephant generally drops its dung soon after bolting, as is the case with all hurt or frightened animals.
It is easy enough, as a rule, to keep in the wake of a bolting elephant in open forest, especially if it is badly wounded, but it should be very cautiously followed in dense thorny jungle, as it may, if hard pressed, turn suddenly and charge its pursuer. In such circumstances the only thing to be done is to stand steady and fire the instant the brute's head appears, and then to scramble out of its way. Care should be taken not to trip, as most of the men who have lost their lives while after elephants have been killed through falling in their path when charging.
To be caught by a furious bull elephant is to be in a very unpleasant position, but is not the certain death it would seem, as elephants are so purblind and naturally inoffensive that they fail as often as not in their clumsy efforts to crush the life out of men completely in their power. Sometimes an elephant making a rush, which is half a charge and half a bolt, will, with a half turn and a quick swing of its head, strike a blow with its fcrunk at the hunter as it passes, who, if he gets the full force of it, will be lucky if he escapes with only a broken arm or crushed ribs. Elephants rarely charge more than once, as the first well-planted head-shot generally takes all the fight out of one. They charge in different ways according to their dispositions, courageous ones with heads held high, ears cocked, and trunks extended, but more timid ones with swinging heads, flapping ears, and coiled up trunks.
The coup de grace is often given to wounded elephants on being come up with, standing besides some pool to which they have resorted, thristy with loss of blood and unwonted exertion. They rarely make any sound on being fired at. If very "sick" they will sometimes stand, and receive shot after shot in silence, touching each fresh wound with a quick movement of the trunk. When the brain is touched the huge beast instantly sinks dead, generally falling on its side but sometimes remaining on its knees for a time in an upright position, There have been many cases of elephants dropping stunned by a heavy bullet, which have afterwards scrambled up and made off, to the amazement of the hunter. .Some have even had their tails cut off while lying senseless.
The feet may be cut off with a strong sharp knife, but a light hatchet enables the operation to be more quickly performed. This latter tool is also required to cut out tusks or tushes, but it is better to leave these in the animal's head and to send for them a week or so later when they can be drawn out of their sockets without injury. There is little or no risk of their being stolen, as no thief would be able to dispose of such articles without detection. The tail is always taken as a trophy. The ears are often cut off but it is difficult to cure them properly, and they are generally thrown away after poisoning the air of the camp for several days.
Pieces of the thick hide are sometimes taken to make table-tops, the long leg bones to make stands for verandah or hall lamps, and the vertebrae to be mounted as inkstands. Bracelets of elephant hair may be bought, and, though not pretty, are worth having as curiosities. The teeth are sawn into slabs by native jewellers and form handsome caskets, knife handles and other articles.
It is so difficult to measure correctly the height of a dead elephant lying on the ground, that it would be well if foot-measurement were universally adopted. It is commonly said that the height of an elephant is exactly twice the girth of its forefoot. Though this is not the case, there being big elephants with small feet, and small elephants with big feet, the variations are slight, and, if the girth of the forefoot is given, the height of the animal at the shoulder may be calculated to within an inch or two. The feet should be measured soon after death, as after being cleaned out and dried they shrink several inches.