NIGHT-SHOOTING is almost the only kind of "sport" indulged in by natives, many of whom are keen hunters, which, however, does not prevent them from murdering does and fawns or any other animal which they think will pay them to kill. As Europeans usually shoot purely for love of sport, and are not actuated by commercial motives, the less they employ native methods the better. Night-shooting is only allowable when bears and leopards, and perhaps wild boars and porcupines, are the object of sport, as these animals are rarely met with in the day time.
Though it cannot be regarded as quite a legitimate kind of sport, there can be no doubt that it is a very fascinating one. The pleasure consists in the feeling of being almost alone in the depths of the jungle at night when all wild creatures are afoot, the weird beauty of the moonlit forest, the deep silence, broken only by the distant cries of prowling beasts and startled birds, and the uncertainty as to what wild animal might at any moment come to drink. It is almost impossible for a novice at the sport to sleep, and he will sit for hours, straining his eyes into the darkness and listening intently for sounds indicating the approach of some animal. If he is ambushed on the bank of some dry river, perhaps some solitary bull-elephant will come striding down the river-bed, the scrunch of the sand under its huge feet distinctly audible in the stillness. The temptation to have a shot at it, under the excuse of being in danger, will be almost irresistible, but should be resisted. A shout will be sufficient to scare the huge beast away. A herd of cow elephants and calves might come, when the hidden sportsman will do well to make no sound, for a more interesting sight than elephants drinking he will never see, and, unless on the ground or very near the water, he will be quite safe. A pair of sambhur or a herd of cheetul, or wild pigs might emerge from the forest and hasten to the water with outstretched necks, heedless in their thirst of the possibility of an enemy lurking near. Porcupines often appear singly or in pairs and play about, snapping at each other and rustling their quills.
Night-shooting is only practised on moonlight nights from June to October, when most of the drinking-places in the forest are dry, or have been so stirred by the jungle people in catching in baskets the fish with which they swarm and by the wallowing of pigs and sambhur, as to contain fluid mud rather than water. The wild beasts, being unable to drink at these tanks and pools, go and dig for water in the sandy beds of the dry rivers. The spots chosen are generally at the bends, where the streams in the rains have scoured deep hollows under the banks. Here the elephants and sambhur dig great holes in the wet sand with their feet, wild pigs with their snouts and hoofs, and bears with their paws. In some places there are springs which never dry, and in time of drought the forest in the neighbourhood becomes so infested by thirsty wild animals that natives are afraid to venture near the spot.
As a rule, it is of no use to attempt night-shooting till the moon is in its third quarter, both because its light will not be strong enough and because it will set too soon. Shooting may be obtained for several days after full moon, as, except in very hot, dry weather, wild animals do not usually come to drink much before midnight.
The choice of the place at which to sit up had better be left to the native guide, also the selection of the spot at which the ambush is to be put up. Natives often construct ambushes at the edge of tanks, but it is not a satisfactory-mode of night-shooting, except that, being in the open, the wind may be depended on and there is plenty of light. The great stretch of water makes it impossible to calculate at what point animals are likely to come to drink, and the sportsman will probably be disgusted to see indistinct black objects moving about at the edge of the tank just out of range. Moreover, bears and leopards rarely come to tanks to drink. The best places for night-shooting are pools in the forest, rock-holes in which rain water has collected, and water-holes dug in dry river beds. There are, in different parts of the country, drinking-places which are believed by the villagers to be haunted by devils, which maliciously frighten away the deer and pigs coming to drink. Native hunters will never attempt to shoot at such places, believing that it would be useless. The real reason why shots are never obtained at these pools is that, owing to the shape of the rocks or trees surrounding them, the wind eddies about, and animals approaching the spot are able to detect the presence of the hidden hunter wherever he may be crouching. At every drinking-place there is some spot which the natives have learnt by experience is the best place for the ambush, as it is situated to the leeward of the water during the night-wind prevailing in the dry season. The clay banks behind favourite drinking places in dry river beds are sometimes small lead mines, owing to the numbers of bullets fired into them by generations of native hunters at animals which they missed I It is a common practice for villagers to dig out these bullets with sharp sticks.
On reaching the spot where it is proposed to sit up, the first thing to be done is to ascertain how the wind is blowing. It may be moving in one direction above the trees but in quite a different one in the opening in the forest below, owing to its rebound from the wall of trees opposite. The swirls and eddies of wind along the bends of winding dry river beds are most puzzling. Many a blank night has resulted from the shifting of the wind during the earlier part of the night. The easiest way to find out how the wind is blowing is to blow a few whiffs of tobacco smoke, or to set alight some dry elephant dung or dead leaves. In the latter case all traces of the fire should be removed. The margin of the water-hole should not be approached, except for a few moments to ascertain from the foot-prints in the mud what animals had drunk there the previous night. If possible, a water-hole should be selected well out in the open which will not be overshadowed by the trees when the moon begins to sink.