THE first thing to be done by any one proposing to go on a shooting trip to the low-country is, if he is resident in Ceylon, to join the Game Protection Society, if he is not already a member. If he is only a visitor to the Island he will find that a donation to the funds of the Society will not be resented by the Hon. Secretary.
To enjoy a shooting trip it is almost necessary to have one or more congenial companions ; it is not often that a man is met with who prefers going alone. Most people are apparently of opinion that in a trip of this kind, as in love, "two's company, three's none," it being a matter of common experience that when more than two men go together, unless they are tried comrades and everything goes well, disagreements are almost certain to arise. The choice of a companion on a trip which may extend to several weeks is an important matter. To go with a bad-tempered man is fatal. During even the best-arranged trips accidents and delays are sure to happen, calculated to try the sweetest of tempers ; the weather becomes had, servants and coolies fall ill, stores and drinks give out, and a man who cannot put up with such troubles without curses and complaints will spoil the pleasure of any trip. Among persons to be avoided as companions on shooting trips are, the physically weak man who might 'knock up any day and bring the trip to an abrupt end ; the man who does not particularly care for sport, who will probably get tired of the outing and want to go home at the most inconvenient time ; the ultra-keen man, who is brokenhearted, and bores his companions with his wails if he misses an easy shot ; also the pig-headed, selfish man, who wants everything his own way.
The decision as to the best part of the country to go to on a shooting trip, depends, in the case of a resident in the Island, very much on where he happens to be living. A planter in the Matale district would naturally select Tamankaduwa, while another in the Haputale district would no doubt prefer Hambantota, in each case simply on account of its proximity. As a rule, the more remote a jungle district is from civilization, the better is the shooting to be got there, but such districts are not only difficult and expensive to get to, but valuable time is wasted on the way there. It is generally admitted that the best shooting is to be had in the Vanni, the great forest-district in the North, and in the almost uninhabited tract, half way between Batticaloa and Hambantota. Good sport may however be had, if properly looked for, almost anywhere in the low-country except south of Puttalam on the west coast, and east of Tangalle on the south coast.
It has sometimes happened that men, when about to start on a shooting trip, have heard that another party had just gone to the district to which they had proposed to go, and they have accordingly changed all their plans at great inconvenience, and gone somewhere else, under the impression that the other party would "disturb" the game, and make good sport impossible for a time for those following them. The absurdity of this idea will be manifest when it is considered that in that district scores of guns, in the hands of native hunters, are popping day and night. A few extra guns would make no difference whatever. Three or four parties might shoot in one district, from different camps, without materially spoiling each other's sport.
For all-round-shooting the best time for a trip to the low-country is between the middle of January and the end of March. By the earlier date the north-east monsoon is generally over, and cool, dry weather may be expected. The hot weather begins early in April and continues till the end of October. The south-west monsoon is little felt in the northern and eastern parts of the Island. Little rain falls, and dry hot winds blow from June to September which speedily dry up the tanks and river-pools. For night-shooting the best time is between the beginning of July and the middle of October, when there are few drinking-places left to which bears and other animals can go. If the south-west monsoon rains are unusually heavy night-shooting may not be possible till the end of August, The "sowing rains " in September sometimes spoil such sport.
A shooting trip at any season of the year should, if possible, be arranged to begin when the moon is a few days old. It is a great advantage and pleasure to have moonlight when travelling or camping in the jungle.
The most convenient and expeditious way of travelling in the low-country is with coolies. It is however expensive, and only planters and others who have command of labour, can, as a rule, obtain them. They are commonly not to be had in the villages, and if, with the help of Government officers and headmen, they are procured, they have to be so highly paid in proportion to the loads they carry, will only go such short distances, break down so easily and are altogether so unsatisfactory, that unless the distance to be travelled is very short, it is better to have nothing to do with village coolies. When harvesting paddy or clearing chenas their services cannot be got for "love or money." Bazaar coolies engaged in towns are usually drunken diseased scoundrels, who will bolt with their advances on the first opportunity.
Carts are convenient for the transport of baggage where there are roads, but on the arrival of a party at the shooting-ground, coolies are usually required to carry the things to camp some miles away in the jungle. The rate of cart hire all over the low-country is ordinarily Rs.1.50 per day.
Elephants, hired from Sinhalese headmen and contractors, have sometimes been engaged to carry the baggage of a shooting party, but they are very expensive, costing from Rs.4 to Rs.8 per day ; will carry comparatively small loads and get ill or galled very easily.
Tavalams or pack-bullocks or ponies have been tried for transport of baggage, but have never proved a success. The animals are constantly straying off and cannot be found when wanted, always take a long time and require skill and patience to load, and travel very slowly.
Horses should always be provided. As the stabling and food they will get may prove to be of the roughest, no valuable animals should, of course, be taken. Strong country ponies which will be none the worse for being out all night in the rain, and can live on grass if need be, are the best to take. They should be re-shod just before starting.