Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Date a guy who hunts.

Date a guy who hunts.


So, it was kind of a boring Saturday afternoon with nothing much to do, other than sit around and surf the net. Since I don’t watch television, don’t trust the media-propaganda news from around the world, I thought I might as well get some ideas to overcome my almost permanent writer's block.

And when it gets boring enough, I turn to blogspot to entertain me in more ways than one. The stories, the humour, the writing style, the intellect, the garbage, the ideas, oh well, you get the drift. Therefore, it was on blogspot that I came across this piece on biking.
This was a blog by a keen biker called Sam, which followed the format of “Date a Guy Who is a biker” which has been doing the rounds on the internet for a while now. I wouldn’t have read it, hadn’t it been for this lazy rainy Saturday morning, the first one after leaving my job and one before leaving for my next adventure. That set the wheels rolling, and my idle mind got to work.

Credit’s due where credit’s due; so I thank Sam and his fellow riders Gaurav and “bhatku” for inspiring me to modify their piece for my writing.

I am a hunter. While my friends shoot and hunt in a group, I do the solo bit pretty well. And you know what, it doesn’t matter whether you hunt alone or with a pack, the point is... you hunt. While a lot of professions have been explored under this format of posts, no one in my knowledge has done this for hunters.

Hunting has been a very integral part of our existence. Having heard the best and the worst about this love of mine, it dawned upon me that a lot of people have varied impressions about hunting and hunters. So I thought, “why not?”. Let me write about this!

So here goes:-

Date A Guy Who Hunts

Date a guy who has hunted across the length and breadth of the country. He’s the best storyteller you will ever meet.

Date a guy who will grab his gun and go off to hunt in any direction, only to realign himself with this world once again. Respect him for this, because every time he is upset about something, he’ll make sure it doesn’t spill-over at work. Or at home. And when he comes back, he’ll be more sorted than he was earlier.

Date a guy who knows how to zero a scope. Or glass bed a rifle. Or pluck a goose and gut a deer. Date a guy who can set up a tent, start a fire, cook his meals and clean up afterwards. Chances are, he’ll be able to sort out a lot of problems in his own life as well as yours, if you’re close to him. Without taking external help. You can rely on him for most of your problems. Even if they’re medical in nature. In that case, rely on him for first aid and then visit a doctor. (He’ll take you to the doc in his SUV.)

Date a guy who is as comfortable spending a night in the forest in the middle of nowhere as he is in the plush comfort of his house. Adaptability is something we as humans are kind of running short on these days.

Date a guy who will always, without fail, stop to help when he sees another one of his kind stranded in the woods. For that matter, even if he sees non-hunters. He understands what you’re going through at that moment.

Date a guy who gets excited at the mention of heading out into the countryside, into the hills. The forest paths teach him how volatile life can be. In addition to that, he knows how to respect the bush. Of all kinds. (You know what I mean).

Date a guy who can actually do serious damage to another man who is looking for unnecessary trouble with him. But he won’t, because he knows it’s not worth it and it’s not the solution to any problem. Yes, he respects everybody's opinions. He won't force his on you. Just make sure no one pushes him around too much.

Date a guy who will travel five hours just to have a chance of procuring that awesome dinner of braised venison or roast duck that even the best diner offers in the town next to the one you’re in cant offer. If this isn’t adventurous enough for a mundane day, what else do you think is?

Date a guy who will get so excited before each hunt that he won’t be able to sleep for a minute, even though he has done this a million times. He knows how to keep things fresh. Always.

Date a guy who makes sure he packs in everything that he might and most probably will need on a long hunt. He pays attention to detail. Chances are he’ll be sorted in most of the things in his life.

Date a guy who will never ever shoot his rifle without wearing eye and hearing protection. Who won’t carry a loaded gun with the safety turned off while climbing a tree stand. He knows his life is not just his own.

Date a guy who will pause and skip a few heartbeats every time he sees the sun rise over the horizon, or comes across a waterfall in the hills, or lays his eyes on the first snow-capped peaks in the ranges. He admires nature. The same nature you have chosen to ignore sitting in your cubicles.

Date a guy who will hunt just because he loves it, because it makes him feel free and liberated. Honestly, he is more free than anyone else, because he sees that crosshair, holds his breath, squeezes that trigger and hears the bullet head home.

Date a guy who would rather be sitting on his high seat thinking about God, and not sit in a place of worship and think of his rifle. He has his priorities in place.

Date a guy who has seen the dark side of shooting and has survived. He’ll give you tips and lessons you didn’t even know existed.
Date a guy who will go to any lengths to spend some quality time with his "brothers", even when there is no obvious blood connection. He understands relationships much more deeply.

Date a guy who can go wild on his hunting trips and can make everyone have a great time. With his gear and his stories. What's there not to like about this?

Date a guy who will look back at his life’s achievements and mistakes while waiting for that deer. He will chuckle a bit, smile a lot, sometimes shed a tear or two. And that’s what builds character.

Date a guy who has injury marks from hunts on his self. Warriors aren’t pretty. Barbie dolls are.

Date a guy who can keep his rifle like any other man would treat his wife. He’ll treat his wife like a queen.

I could go on and on about this, but I guess these should be enough for you to look past through that tough exterior of hunters and know that there is a tender heart and a loving person underneath all that grime, dirt and gunpowder.

And in case this wasn’t enough, come, spend some time with us. Hunt with us, to see us closely.

Until the next time, shoot safe.

Steady hands, calm & slow breathing

Shooter.

A link to the original article here.





Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The mystery of the missing holes.





“The next murder-scene scenario is as follows”, said my professor of forensic medicine.
“There is a dead body, a murder weapon is a handgun but there is just an exit hole but no entry hole. Who can explain this phenomenon?”

I was actually not sitting on the last bench for a change. The forensic medicine class was my favourite in whole of med school.  Especially the lectures on gunshot injuries and wounds.
“Hey shooter” said SKY, my best friend, I bet you know the answer.
But I wasn’t there. I had travelled a thousand miles and three decades to the shikarcamp of grandfather, and the rest of the gang.

XXX

The camp is breaking up and is accompanied by the hustle and bustle of loading the jeep with pots, pans, food, meat, hunted game, etc. It is getting dark and the citizens of the forest have made sure the departing shikaris (hunters) are bid a fitting goodbye. There is a cacophony of whistles, cackles, shrieks, barks, gobbles, hoots, chirps, roars, and every sound imaginable. Dusk comes earlier in the jungle and maybe it reflects the mood of the hunters as they leave the forest and return to the urban dwellings called home and town.

Hope is a sportsman’s best ally. It’s what keeps men going that extra mile. One last pheasant drive before sunset. One more minute at the pond flighting ducks. One more mile looking for that elusive tusker. One more hill to climb for that royal stag. It’s the hope for bagging that game which makes this sport so addictive, exhilarating and unpredictable.

Maybe it was this hope that made grandfather keep his rifle in his hand; hope that they might ambush some game on the way home. Maybe it was a sixth sense, developed after years of hunting that only hunters know. Maybe it was a co-incidence or just luck. Whatever it was the fact is that grandfather was sitting in the back of ‘909’, our jeep, holding on to his rifle, just in case.

Finding ones way out of forest around dusk can get a bit tricky especially in the absence of roads and signs. After a good half an hour, grandfather felt as if that area of the forest seemed familiar. They were going around in circles!

They got down investigating and the tracks on the dirt road confirmed that they had come where they had started from. But wait, there was something else, pugmarks of leopard over the tire treads! A leopard was following the jeep tracks!

Grandfather got into the back of the jeep; on the lookout. It had now gotten really dark and no one can hear a leopard approach. So one had to rely on the sentries of the forest the birds etc announcing the leopard’s movements. But at this time, the whole forest was a wildlife orchestra with Mother Nature herself the conductor.
All senses alert, my grandfather ordered the driver to start the jeep and make a move. Was it his imagination or was it some noise over and above the noise of the engine. He leaned forwards to take a better look and...

BANG!!

Was it the engine backfiring, everyone wondered, the jeep having started just a few seconds back? But my grandfather brought their attention to the dead leopard lying in the dirt track just behind the jeep.

He later explained that leaning out; he saw the leopard, mouth open ready to spring upon him. I won’t say it was a man-eater tracking them; maybe it was just curious. But as they say, curiosity kills the (big) cat.

“What a tale” said his friend A.U. “you expect us to believe that your reflexes were faster than a leopard.”

“That’s right”, said his brother P.P. “it was inches away from you and you still were fast enough to shoot it before it could attack you.

“But I did”, said grandfather. “You all heard the shot and here’s the empty case to prove it.”

“But you missed. Fired in the air” said A.U. “the poor thing died of a heart attack hearing the noise”.

“With all due respect to Saki, this is not Mrs. Packletide’s tiger”, said grandfather. This is a healthy male in the prime of his youth.

“Well, there should be an entry and exit wound”, everyone agreed.

But look as they might, no one could locate an entry or exit wound or bullet holes. But my grandfather was convinced that he had not missed. He decided to check the insides of the leopard to prove his point.

And guess what? He was right; the leopard had been hit but where were the bullet holes?

You see when granddad started to raise his gun, the leopard, opened its mouth not knowing what a rifle is, saw it as the part of the shooters body or an appendage being thrust towards it and did what any beast would do. He tried to grab the muzzle of the rifle in its mouth. At the same moment, my grandfather squeezed the trigger.

When any animal opens, its mouth it automatically comes in a straight line with.........

XXX

“Roll number 55, daydreaming again?” said the professor snapping me back to reality.

“I have been explaining about various scenarios possible regarding entry and exit wounds while you were sleeping. Sine you don’t need to hear it from me, perhaps you shall be so kind to explain to the class.”

“Certainly sir. You see class; it’s even possible for a dead body not to have any entry or exit wounds. That is when a bullet enters through one natural orifice and exits through another. For e.g. in through the mouth and out of the backside.”

The laughter was deafening.

The look on the professors face was as if he had been slapped in the face.

The leopard skin still adorns a wall in our family house and is the most intact trophy, free from all blemishes and holes.




Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Sophia Diary: Squalor, sophistication and Robbie the sportsman.



“Driven Boar hunt in Bulgaria”

“Biggest Red deer in Europe”

“Trophy Mouflon in Bulgaria”

“Driven pheasant shoots”

The wonderful Balkan country promises a lot of excitement for a sportsman searching the internet for hunting destinations in Europe.

Having never hunted there, I cannot confirm if it is a premier hunting venue in Europe, but if the quotations for hunts were anything to go by, the prices certainly are premier.
“How can a country, where everything else is so affordable, be so expensive for hunting?” I wondered.

Thus I decided that when next there, I would try to look for local connections and maybe discover some affordable guides and outfitters.

Sofia, the city of churches, laden with history. Centuries of governments changing hands have led to Bulgaria being an amalgamation of Greek, Turkish and Balkan culture traditionally with a more recent eastern bloc flavour. All of this seemed to be epitomised in the capital, Sofia.

The block like purpose built housing estate, beggars on the streets, dilapidated buildings, cracked pavements and roads with potholes, all pointed towards toward a city that had seen better days.

In contrast, the farmers market, the food stalls, the bakeries, all modest in appearance, promised flavours and aromas to rival eateries the world over.

Most of the shops in town were small, not demanding a second glance. True, in one district one did have an odd international jeweller boasting a tasteful showroom but on the whole the marketplace was rows of small, plain looking shops selling average quality consumer goods.

I had gotten addresses of a few gun shops in Sofia and had hoped to run into people who had connections with hunting operators there.

I was making my down the streets of Sofia keeping a sharp lookout for the shop(s) lest I miss them. I needn’t have bothered.

The first shop –and the subsequent ones I visited- was not only big and posh by Sofia standards; they were grand and tasteful by any standards; at least by my experience of visiting similar shops across 4 continents.

The lighting, the interiors, the glass were as if done by a professional designer. The sales people and the clients appeared sophisticated; the goods stocked were all from reputed international brand and the prices were more than I had seen anywhere in the western world! The way the customers were shopping, they didn’t seem to care either.

“Excuse me”.

“Yes”

“I am looking for some information about hunting in Bulgaria”.

The sales girl’s expression (Yes, the gun shops in Sofia have sales girls who seemed to be perfectly comfortable showing semi automatic rifles to customers and answering their questions) suggested she didn’t understand English so with a polite nod, she got another sales person to help me out.

The other person, though was better at English, couldn’t understand that I didn’t want a Sako or a handgun despite (or maybe because of?) me showing him various pictures of me with game on my mobile.

A customer, sensing the confusion, came to my rescue and kindly offered to help me. Pulling out his mobile, he wrote down a number from his contact list.

“Call Robbie. He will help you”, he said with a flourish.

I left the shop thanking him. Not exactly how I had envisioned it. I was hoping to run into a group of hunters who I would befriend and who in turn would tell me how to go about hunting in Bulgaria without taking out a second mortgage. Or maybe even invite me out to go with them.

Continuing my journey through Sofia, I couldn’t noticing that the city once grand but ageing with the burden of time was seeing some renovation like an aging actress getting a facelift. It reminded me of the state of hunting in general. Once the grandest of sports, now neglected and forgotten by all but a few.

Thus lost in such thoughts I came to a second shop and made similar enquiries about hunting in Bulgaria. This time one of the customers gave me a visiting card asking me to “just call. Everything else will be taken care of”. This was more like it. Just as I was about to thank him for his hospitality, he said “This is Robbie’s number. He will arrange a hunt for you.”

I compared the two numbers. They were the same. Maybe there was hope. Maybe this Robbie was the answer to my questions. Maybe Robbie would arrange a big driven boar shoot for me. Or should I ask him for a moufflon hunt?

I wandered around thinking of full curl mouflon, thick palmated fallow deer, imperial red stags and giant boars.

I looked up to find myself in a vegetable market which seemed to be away from the touristy paths as I seemed to be the only outsider. The locals went around their business of buying their fruits and veggies and the stall owners eyed me with mild amusement, correctly assuming that I had lost my way.

Taking out my map, I found my way out and strolled towards another part of town. I chanced upon a grand double storey building that could well have been a flagship store of a designer label.

“What a grand showroom. Looks like a major fashion brand flagship store.” I thought. Suddenly I saw the famous trident of the Beretta logo. This was a gun shop!

I went in and what a sight for sore eyes! Double glass door entrance, trophies on the wall, wood panelling, and glass showcases with soft spotlights focussing on the goods inside. Sections for semi-auto sporting rifles. There were two sales girls who professionally asked me if they could help.

I complimented them on how aesthetically pleasing this gun shop was and how we didn’t have shops of such calibre (no pun intended) in the UK.

After looking around, I went through the routine of trying to explain that I was looking for hunting and if they could help. They went in to fetch their boss who came out holding a glossy magazine in Cyrillic. Though I couldn’t read what it said, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it was a high end hunting magazine. He held open a page showing a handsome man sitting over various trophies he had bagged.

“You know this man, yes?” enquired the boss.

Now I admit that I might not follow celebrity gossip but do read books about shooting. And I certainly do not recognise any famous hunters other than Corbett, Bell and a few more. However these photographs were new and which current hunter was famous enough to be recognised just by his photo?

The boss didn’t offer any answers assuming that if I were a hunter, I must know who this man was.

Well in the last couple of hours, there was only one name I had come across so I hazarded a guess.

“Robbie?”

“Yes correct!” said the boss, not overly impressed. After all, this was the great hunter Robbie and I had taken half a minute to place him.

“Take his number, call him and he will arrange everything for you.”

“Thanks, I already have his number.”

The boss looked puzzled. Why was I asking for hunting contacts if I had Robbie’s number?

I found no other hunting contacts during my visit to Sofia. However I did discover why the hunting prices were the way they were. It seemed to be controlled by one man.

I still have Robbie’s number with me and look forward to meeting this king of hunting in Bulgaria and sharing this story with him.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The indestructible porcupine



“There is no such thing as ghosts. Superstition, supernatural, occult is simply fiction. They may just be names for things that science has not been able to explain.”

Grandfather’s words are still as fresh in my mind as they were decades ago when I was a young boy who used to stay up late into the night every weekend as he enthralled me with his tales of hunting.

Back then there was a lot of illiteracy in India and belief in the supernatural, ghosts, etc. was very common. Grandfather, being a doctor was a man of science and did his best to instill in me logical thinking based on facts.

“Take for example cases of ‘goddess possession’ in housewives”, he would explain. “Often these women are neglected by husbands and abused by the in-laws. Once her bodies become a medium for the goddess, she gets a lot of care attention and respect by her family.”

“That is all fine”, said uncle. “But then how do you explain the case of the indestructible porcupine.” During his hunts, uncle had been deep into remote forests and had seen old tribals, ruined lost cities and enough mysteries to make a television series on discovery channel.

“What porcupine grandfather?” I asked perking up at the thought of another exciting story.

****

It was a cold winter night. ‘The gang’ was on its way to its weekend hunting retreat. It was a new area, not hunted often. They stopped in a remote village enquiring about the route.

“Do not go there sir”, said a wizened old man. “You can’t hunt there; that area is protected”.
“What nonsense”, said grandfather. “That is not a protected area. It’s outside the national park”.
“No hukam (sire). It’s protected by the spirits. No one can hunt there. The animals are protected as there is a ‘devsthan’ there (place of god-referring to a shrine).”

“Thanks for the warning old man and now the directions, if you please”, said grandfather, bemused.
The old man gave them directions reluctantly but warned them not to invite the wrath of the jungle spirits by going there.

This probably ignited the spirit for adventure in ‘the gang’. They probably took it as a challenge. The poor driver, however believed in the legend and meekly tried to protest but it was discounted with an air of dismissal. Since when were drivers allowed to voice their opinions?

The forest was primeval deciduous forest which had no roads not even dirt roads. There were only old game paths which one had to navigate; off-roading at its best. Encountering game paths without previous car tracks is usually a good sign; it signifies an area not frequented by hunters meaning less hunting pressure and hence better hunting.
909’ was going slowly along the narrow windy game track. The forest was alive with the sounds of the jungle promising a great hunt ahead. Suddenly the driver brought the jeep to a halt.
“What’s the matter?” enquired everyone.
“There’s a porcupine crossing the path ahead”.
Those of you who are familiar with the scuttling gait of a porcupine, will know that it should take but a moment for it to cross a dirt path in jungle.
Or should it?
No sooner than it reached the edge of the dirt track, it turned around and started walking back across the track, not looking at the headlights of the jeep.
It did it again and again walking across the track, like a guard outside a protected building; what was it protecting?
“It’s a sentry”, murmured the driver, “protecting the forest that lies beyond. We can not cross.”
As if it understanding the driver, the porcupine seemed to have changed its gait to a march.
Left-right-left.
Left-right-left.
“Toot the horn”, said someone. The driver was in no condition to protest.
But a blaring horn, which even causes a tiger to flee, had no effect on the ‘sentry’.
Left-right-left.
Left-right-left.
“Sentry my foot”; said a ‘gang member’. “I think its time we rewarded our tracker.”- Tribal forest dwellers are often employed as trackers and consider porcupine meat a delicacy.
Saying this, he raised his shotgun to his shoulder and BANG.
The ‘sentry’ went on with his ‘duty’.
Left-right-left.
Left-right-left.
“Ha-ha. You missed. Twenty yards, slow moving target and he still misses. The rest of the gang were laughing at their friend’s terrible shooting.
“I’ll show you how its done”, said another member but with the same result.
Left-right-left.
Left-right-left.
“Maybe the porcupine’s quills are dispersing the shot”, someone rationalised.
“We’ll see about that”, said grandfather taking his rifle out of the case. This mighty weapon had accounted for a few big cats, bears and crocs.
However:
Left-right-left.
Left-right-left.
The porcupine not only kept at its ‘duty’ but also seemed to be unfazed by the sound of gunfire.
It became a matter of personal pride and every hunter wanted to be the one to halt the porcupine in its tracks.
Around 35-40 shots were fired that night by six different people who had more than a century’s worth of shooting experience between them. The various weapons used were adequate for everything from a sparrow to an elephant.
But none of them could even touch the porcupine.
Left-right-left.
Left-right-left.

***
There were seven witnesses to this incident including the driver but none of them could say why no one thought of running over the porcupine with the jeep.
Was it a respect for this unusual adversary or the message that maybe they weren’t meant to go hunting that day, no one can tell but they decided to call it a day and return home.
I mean, if one can’t hit a porcupine at 20 yards with 40 odd shots, what chance would one have at game.
The gang went on to have more adventures; the weapons and the ammunition, checked on return, were working fine.
“I don’t know what happened that day”, concluded grandfather. “But I refuse to believe in supernatural”.
Having read works of many hunters about hunting in India, including those written by foreigners, it is not uncommon to come across the stories of protected forests and animals. The most famous of these was the case of ‘temple tiger’ by the world famous hunter and author Jim Corbett. Despite his best attempts, he was unable to bag the ‘protected’ tiger.
But that was a tiger. The gang, to their ever-lasting embarrassment, was bested by a mere porcupine.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Can hunting endangered animals save the species?

Inspired by the comments on the Sun's story "twisted sisters", and videos made by ignoramuses like SKY news, below:



I am posting a video done not by hunters or hunting organisations but by CNBC 60 minutes.

See for yourselves before deciding. Hunters are the biggest conservationists. Be proud to be a hunter. The video below is just an excerpt as youtube wont allow me to embed the full video. However i am providing the link to the full video.




Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Voice of India


To,

The honourable Cabinet Minister,
Ministry of Forestry and environment,
New Delhi.


Dear Sir,

Sub: A humble appeal to improve the state of affairs associated with the ministry of forestry and environment.

I am a citizen of your country and voted for your government in the last elections. It is with a lot of sadness that I look upon the current state of affairs associated with your ministry.

India today is different from the India of snake charmers and fakirs. India is rising and shining and able to give any superpower a run for its money.

All the other ministries like finance, education, external affairs, railways, defence have performed really well in the recent years and today our exports; rail system and military rival any in the world. The Indian academic has made his mark around the world.

Sir, we live in a democracy and it is logical that the government hears what the majority of the people want and desire from the government. It is with great regret I point out that out of all the departments of the government, it is your ministry that hasn’t delivered what the people want.

People want a strong army (stronger than Pakistan’s): Defence Ministry delivered
People want a strong economy: Finance Ministry delivered
People want a strong cricket team (stronger than Pakistan’s): Sports Ministry delivered
People wanted better transport: Both railways and aviation Ministries delivered

Sir I can go on and on but in a nutshell, all departments listen to the voice of the people and act accordingly. In doing this, your department has failed. As a result the turnover of your department has fallen from 1.7% of the GDP to 0.9% of the GDP.

Since your ministry will not listen to people, I will tell you what people want. They want a stronger India, richer India. This is what they associate with national pride (The following list is limited to what your ministry can help achieve for example there is no point writing to you about Indians’ wish of winning the Cricket world cup). The good news is that you can help with what most Indians perceive to be indicators of development and growth.

Shopping malls: the bigger the better
More MacDonald’s and Pizza huts per city
More luxury hotels
More access to better and luxurious cars (not necessarily less polluting)
Better roads to drive these cars on
Luxury apartments
High-rises
More properties per person.
Latest model of cell phones
“Branded” clothes


Sir as I see it, you have got your priorities wrong. The people DO NOT want nor care about the following:

More tigers
More elephants
Wildlife corridors
Biodiversity
Pollution
Animal welfare
“Gregarious flowering of Muli bamboo” (your dept. spent Rs. 460000000 on it)

Sir forget the common man, even your own government doesn’t really want all this. Nowhere in the “India rising and shining” types of campaigns and adverts do these useless animals and trees feature. What features are things like industries, bank notes, mega cities, skyscrapers etc. The only place where the above are mentioned are the campaigns and adverts by Ministry of tourism. (Let's not kid ourselves; how many tourists come to India for tigers and elephants? The golden triangle of tourism and the Goan rave parties can do without tigers, nicobar pigeon, golden cat and the clouded leopard).

Sir don’t you feel that the India the land of tigers and elephants sounds more like the land of the rope trick and nail beds than the India of skyscrapers, luxury, purchasing parity? Isn’t the former image something we were trying to get rid of for a long time?

Well all is not lost, I have a list of suggestions which will not only confirm to the present image of itself that India wants to portray and help you give the people what they want but also bring a lot of revenue to your department.

1)      Forests: These green economic wastelands are sitting atop the most expensive rural land in the world. (Even around London, rural agricultural land costs about £5000 an acre, that’s less than Rs.400000; compare that with rural land around Delhi costing upward of Rs.15000000).

According to your ministry India has 71 million hectares of “forests”. However a lot of this is bush land and barren (definition of ‘forest area’ by the govt). Therefore actual area with jungles is around 35 million hectares (exclude POK). Now forests if logged for timber can yield between Rs 50000 to Rs 200000 a hectare. Once we chop down all those trees, your ministry could make (approximately) Rs. 375000000000. Sir this figure is extremely conservative at best. In 1994 in just Karnataka, the amount of illegally felled timber was estimated to be worth Rs. 1000000000. Going by those figures, by chopping down all of India’s forests, you could easily generate Rs. 10000000000000.

Sir, we need not worry about a supply of wood for our luxury homes since there are many countries in Africa logging trees and exporting them to India. The forests of Africa will easily last for more than 50 years. By then most of us will be dead so why worry.

Now we have 71 million hectares of land. Prime land. The third largest mall in the world has a ground area of 42 hectares and floor area of 4.2 million square feet and more than a thousand shops. By the same calculation, constructing the world’s largest mall with the floor area of 7.1 million square feet shouldn’t require more than 71 hectares. Given our government’s lax attitude towards car parking space in malls, we could even do it in 55 hectares. It could have 1200 shops. With each such shop giving an annual rent of Rs 1000000, one could easily make Rs. 1200000000 per year. Make One million such malls and you get Rs. 1200000000000000 per year! And we have only used 55 million hectares.

Out of the remaining 16 million hectares (38 million acres), there’s enough land to make three quarters of a billion luxury apartments overlooking these malls. These, with the right marketing tools can be sold to the people who want more than one apartment. All these luxury apartments would have walled perimeters where no beggars, hawkers or other ‘poor riff raff’ (except maids of course) can enter. That way everyone can truthfully say they have seen no poverty in India.

If these luxury apartments are sold at Rs. 10000000 each, it will fetch the govt. Rs. 7500000000000000. If these are given for 99 year lease, then even more money can be made. Not only will it bring revenue to the department, it will also give people to buy many luxury apartments and a chance to have a choice of one million world’s largest shopping malls. Then the people will be really happy and proud to be Indians.

But that’s not all, every year you save Rs. 1419000000, the money spent on forest conservation, forest research, training officers, salaries, and other such useless activities.

Sir, what I have suggested, in terms of possibilities is only the tip of the iceberg. Imagine what you could do with your team of planners and financers. We could be the only country in the world to have one billion MacDonald’s. Or maybe 10 million Mercedes showrooms or many number of similar things that have come to signify national pride. You can also set up mobile towers for rent to the big network providers. This will help people use those latest model cell phones.

Our deforestation rate is 0.6%, more according to some sources. At this rate, we will lose our forest cover anyways. So might as well make some money out of it.

Oh, and lest I forget, you will also save Rs. 1000000000000 that your ministry has pledged to invest by 2020 for reforestation efforts.

Some fake so-called scientists claim that forests bring rain and are helpful in water conservation. With that money you could import Evian and sell it for a profit. Our ‘brand’ hungry or rather thirsty people will lap it up.

2)      Wildlife: There are so many useless animals living in these forests that have no bearing to national pride. Neither can they bring Pizza hut to villages, neither shopping malls, nor can they satisfy the aim of people to have 10 houses. I mean seriously do you really think we need rhinos and elephants and tigers? Shouldn’t we be setting up factories to produce Ferraris, or Hayabusa?

There are about 1600 tigers, 8000 leopards, 400 lions, 20000 elephants, 1000 Rhinos, 12000 bears, 1500000 deer and antelope (maybe more) and Innumerable wild boar. Add to this millions of birds and we have a veritable treasure trove on our hands. There will be many international hunters willing to pay Rs. 20000000 to kill a tiger or a lion and Rs. 1000000 for a leopard. Rs. 5000000 for a rhino. I could go on and on but I’m sure you have got the idea. In total we could actually make money and get rid of these animals. These beasts won’t have a place to live after we have cut down the forests. So rather than them enter cities and attack people and then having them declared man-eater and then paying a reward for their killing, we might as well get paid for someone to take care of them.

All in all we can earn Rs. 2000000000000 by killing off tigers and lions, Rs. 8000000000 from leopards, Rs.2200000000 from elephants, Rs. 600000000 from bears, Rs.75000000000 from deer etc and Rs. 20000000000 from wild boar. Sir these figures are merely indicative and I have not even started talking about clouded and snow leopards, tahr, markhor, gorhal etc. Lesser mammals like feral cats, wild dogs, badgers, wolves, jackals, hyenas can be trapped and killed for fur and their furs are given to our famous fashion designers to make fur coats which can be sold in our world’s largest malls.

We only have half the world’s tigers so why should we put in the most efforts? 2% of this revenue can be donated to tiger saving programmes in other countries and we can name some of our ultra luxurious malls after lions, tigers etc. You can also make an official “save the tiger-project tiger” page on facebook where people can click ‘like’.

We were the world leaders in trapping and exporting exotic birds but unfortunately have fallen behind due to spoilsport birdloving (birdbrained would be a more apt description) tree-hugging politicians, your predecessors. With your blessings, the bird business can flourish again. Why have these birds disturb our morning sleep and who needs their cacophony when we can have the latest iPhone (bought from the luxury malls) playing our favourite tunes. Ditto for snakes, pythons, lizards which can all be sold off for their skin. Surely India will be a safer place without these creepy crawlies and our malls can do without cobra scares. Also we want to be moving away from our image as the land of snake charmers. These skins may be supplied to European shoe makers with a clause that these have their exclusive world release in the form of fashion shows in India which will bring in more revenue and further increase national pride. Instead of Lakme India fashion week, we could have Prada, Dior, Gucci, Armani, Ferragamo, Jimmi Choo, Blahnik etc having their fall/spring collections launching in India. This could be coupled with a rock concert held in the newly cleared forest land in the arcade of a luxury mall. The people of this country do not care what happens to these creatures they don’t even know, nor want to know the difference between a deer and an antelope or a lion and a tiger. If killing them can help bring a fashion revolution then bring it on!

Sir I can assure you this flora and fauna is overrated. It’s not as if the sun will stop shining if they disappear. The tiger population is going down by 5% a year. They are gonna vanish in a decade. We don't have time to waste. Jim Corbett, the famous killer of tigers before he became senile and advocated saving them called the tiger a "large hearted gentleman". Im sure any such gentleman would want his death to be of benefit to as many people as possible. You will be saving Rs. 636500000 in forest ranger salaries, tiger census, radio collars, wildlife preservation projects etc. Project tiger budget is Rs. 2000000000 per year; that will be add some more coins into the piggy bank.

3)      Environment: Sir this is one of the most overrated things the world has known. It is the western countries’ conspiracy to keep us from driving cars and building our industry. India proudly owns Jaguar and Land Rover; we want more Bentleys, Rolls Royce, BMW, Mercs on our streets rather than deer in the countryside. Global warming is a myth and car-pools are for people who are so poor they have to check the price of fuel. India is now beyond that. For example we are the world’s largest leather exporters and they want us to shut down that industry giving an excuse of river pollution. These people do not realise no matter how many chemicals go into the Ganges, it will always remain holy and pure. It’s not about the nitrite count in the water; it’s about our religious beliefs, something these cow-killing, non-vegetarian foreign scientists and policy makers will never understand.

Sir by removing the ‘environment’ restrictions, you can help India become much more industrialised. We will have more people in the Forbes richest list and more people will be able to afford BMW’s, wear ‘branded clothes’, and have the latest cell phones.

Sir there are many dogs on the streets which are a menace as they aren’t of a good breed. They mate with our good breed dogs and spoil their litter and as a result we can’t sell them. These stray dogs are no use to anybody. Everyone knows only foreign breeds are good and preferably from dog show winning parents. Maybe some of these funds can be used to capture them and sell them to companies abroad for scientific research. That way you can make back the money you spent.

Sir if you implement the steps taken above, your ministry can earn about Rs. 100000000000.
Half of this can distributed within various members of your department, 20% kept by you, 5% given to conservation, environmental, reforestation efforts in other countries, 20% can go back into the Govt. budget as revenue and the rest divided equally amongst the following things so important to us:

i) Money spent on India shining campaigns proving there is no poverty here.
ii) Temples for Rajinikanth
iii) Various charities in need of money like especially those run by various godmen.
iv) If you could allocate Rs. 100 to every person signing this petition, I could easily get enough signatures to enable this letter being taken seriously.

As for the few dozen crazy weirdo eccentrics who might not agree with this and believe in silly ideals of nature, conservation, outdoors etc.... well they are dinosaurs who have no place in the new rising and shining India. Their days are numbered and they don’t make the vote-bank anyways. I feel Wendell Phillips got it wrong. In reality Governments exist to protect the majority. It is the majority who form the votebank. The minorities have a few friends so why bother. If anything, these acts will give them closure. There wont be a sword of Democles hanging over their heads; ever wondering how many tigers there really are; how long they will last, when will they be extinct. Trust me you will be doing these losers a favour; then they could focus their energies on something more meaningful like buying property.

I do hope that this letter opens your eyes to what your voters really want. I would have given more suggestions but I also have to write to the ministry of sports requesting them to ban all sports other than cricket.

Thanking you,
Sincerely yours,

A citizen of rising and shining India

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Lion of Zion



“Hunting mountain lion with dogs is so easy, it’s not even sporting”

                                                                     An American hunter with whom I spoke during my research.

“Hunting lion is like shooting a glorified house cat”

                                                                     A shooter from France. 

“Two local elk hunters froze to death in a snowstorm.” 

                                                                    Excerpt from Field and Stream Feb 2012 





Preface

I had been planning a mountain lion hunt for the past two years and after a lot of searching, research and emails to and fro, the Utah fish and game department finally accepted my UK deer stalking certificate as per their hunter safety exam requirement. 

I spent a lot of hours researching a cougar hunt and even studied the couagar identification manual issued by the New Mexico fish and game department. 

I thought I was ready but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.





Acknowledgements

I would like to thank all those people I consulted before going for the hunt. 

Thanks are also due to my friends Vince Cilli and John Posoli who patiently endured and answered all my questions about hunting gear.

Last but not the least, I would like to thank Shaneal Bess who helped me get my license and tag and answered my queries re: the miscellaneous aspects of the trip and the hunt.




Dedication

I humbly dedicate this hunt to my grandfather from whom I inherited my love for hunting in general and big cats in particular. He gave me my first shooting and hunt lessons.

I gratefully dedicate this hunt to my guide Jake Bess without whose hard work this hunt wouldn’t be possible.




Prologue



“No matter what what you do, do not fall asleep, otherwise you could freeze to death. I will come back to rescue you. I just need to find a way of getting back”

“In case you can’t make it by the morning, my passport and driving license will have the contact details for my family”. I said.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Just keep the fire alive. Do NOT let it die. I will come as soon as I can”



Day 0

I was aboard the shuttle to St. George, Utah where my guide Jake was waiting to pick me up. If the beginning was anything to go by, it was going to be a great hunt. I had boarded the shuttle like a taxi; I had to wait less than a second to board it and I was the only passenger so no stops en-route. We made good time and reached St. George 30 minutes before expected. Jake was there in his pick-up truck with 6 hounds and a 4X4 ATV and a snowmobile in tow. We loaded up my gear and headed over to Mount Caramel in Utah where he had set up camp in preparation for the hunt. It was a good 3 hour drive during which we made one stop for dinner and spoke about gun culture and shooting, comparing and contrasting the differences between the UK and the US. For example he had a rifle right next to him in front of the car. It was there even we stepped out for dinner. He told me all his trucks had a rifle in them; always had. He also carried a revolver with him in case a lion mauled a dog and it needed to be put down. I asked him why they had cartridges in the magazine. He said that a rifle was a rifle only when it had ammunition in it; without ammunition it was just a stick. So why keep a rifle without a full magazine? I for one couldn’t argue with this logic. 

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The rifle and the handgun in the truck.



He then explained to me the structure of the hunt. We were to start really early in the morning and drive around the canyons and hills looking for mountain lion tracks. Once the tracks were located, a pack of hounds would track the lion and we would follow them. The pack would eventually either tree or corner the lion and give me a shot at it. We would return to camp if we didn’t locate tracks by one in the afternoon. The reason is that it may up to 3-4 hours to get to the lion after the tracks are located. Add to that some more time for shooting, skinning, photographing plus the journey back. If starting the chase after 01 PM, there won’t be simply enough daylight left. The shooting in itself is not very challenging in that the shots are from close range but the chase is very exciting and hard. A favourite anecdote was that of a NFL athlete who was good enough to play in superbowl (name withheld) found the climb and the pace so hard that he threw up! It is rare to find the lion within minutes. Jake also told me that he has guided for bear, deer, elk, mountain goat, antelope but a lion hunt is by far the most demanding hunt a person could have. So exiting and hard is this chase that many hunters don’t actually shoot the lion. They merely chase the lion with the pack of hounds and once they ‘catch’ it, they turn back. For example my guide told me he had personally shot only 4-5 lions but chased more than 350 (not including chasing for clients). Wow! This was going to be fun, for I have always believed that the excitement is not in the kill but in the chase. Pulling the trigger involves the last half second of a hunt; it’s the time before that that makes hunting so addictive.


Finally we reached the camp area which was adjacent to Zion national park. There was an old sheep camp which he had modified into a hunting camp. It was adorned with mule deer antlers, rattle snake rattles and similar stuff. It had a gas, sliding beds, solar operated light bulbs, and an old fashioned wood stove for heating. Situated in a canyon, surrounded by hills, with a stream gurgling by, miles of wilderness would be our backyard and the outhouse! For the next seven days we were to live in this wilderness, away from civilization, away from mobile signals, away from internet access, even away from a postal address.

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View from the camp


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The stream behind the camp


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The 'outhouse'




Day 1

We awoke before day break only to discover the door had frozen shut solid; we were locked in! But nothing a few powerful kicks couldn’t resolve. Jake told me he had seen the dew freezing and thus sealing the door but never when there were two persons inside with heating! We didn’t have a thermometer but one can only imagine how cold it must have been.

We started early and went around the canyons and mountains looking for lion tracks. Though lion tracks are more commonly found on the tops of ridges than canyons, we were paying attention everywhere. For me it was proving to be a good learning experience as we came across mule deer slots, coyote tracks, dog tracks, and other animals’ prints.

Each track told its story.

Look here a herd of mule deer passed by last night, 3-4 of them. In fact there were so many of them that I called it “MacDonald’s for lion”. Not surprisingly, we soon came across a herd looking at us curiously.

This coyote was here a few hours ago.

The jackrabbit was heading towards those bushes to our right.

Hello! What do we have here? A hunter with 3 dogs was looking for something….. Could it be a lion? Did they find a trail? Let’s follow their tracks; they headed off the road. Oh no! They only needed to use the bathroom and returned back to their car.

One thing that struck us as out of ordinary was the number of car tracks in this remote part. It appeared that every hunter in the county had decided it was a good time to visit this wilderness. There were at least 4-5 different tyre treads in the tracks ahead of us. This didn’t look promising. If these people were any good they would get a lion before us and if bad, they would scare it away.


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Starting our hunt on day 1. I was hoping to see coyotes but no such luck.

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It would be unlikely to find cougar tracks in such country.

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A typical view of the canyons

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Looking for Lion tracks in this beautiful wilderness

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This was the only area not hit hard by other hunters

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You can see the amount of snow on day 1 BEFORE the snowstorm.



Soon we met a hunter coming our way. He only ‘caught’ lions and then let them go without shooting them. He introduced us to his 11 year old son and told us how hunting was a family activity for them. We then discussed various lion sightings in the area. He told us he had just been scouting the area ahead of us and there was nothing there. He told us a few other hunters had sighted a lion kill behind the hills where we had camped. We thanked him for the tip and parted ways.

We decided to leave the hunter-beaten path and changed course going over other areas but no luck. Soon it was one o’clock. We headed back to the camp where I stayed behind while my guide took the ATV and went to look for the kill. If the kill was to be located, it would give us lion tracks which we would follow.

In the meanwhile, I decided to go and explore the small hills behind the camp. 

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By chance I came upon an eaten leg of a mule deer. I wasn’t sure if a lion had killed it or a hunter but since there was no more meat left on it, I wasn’t hopeful of a lion coming for it.

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Mule deer bone


After some time, my guide returned having seen no sight of the kill. Well, it was a seven day hunt and how lucky does one have to be to get a lion on day 1. We discussed about the cold freezing the snow solid and the sun melting it making it difficult for us to find lion tracks. We had checked the weather predictions and it was supposed to snow either later that day or that night. We decided to call it a day early so that we could have an early start the next day. I went to bed praying for a good measure of snow and dreamt of lions.


Day 2.

I awoke a couple of times that night disappointed that there was no snow. Finally it was five a.m. and I could stay in bed no more. I went to the stove to put some wood in it and my guide pointed that it had started snowing. 
What the ..........! We couldn’t hunt while it was snowing and I was a bit sad on realising that a day of hunting would be wasted. I took solace in the fact that it would give us fresh snow to track the lions. We sat in the camp drinking coffee and looking out at the snowfall. I soon realised that I wouldn’t be able to go to the ‘outhouse’ in this snowfall. So we decided to go to a gas station further down the highway to use the facilities there. 

We spent some time at the gas station looking around as he had many mounted trophies and other items I found interesting. Due to its proximity to Zion national park, this station catered to tourists and had a lot of “western” stuff for sale. The receptionist told me that this snowstorm was expected to last at least for half a day. Bummer! There goes any hope of a hunt today. 

We decided that we would enjoy the snowfall and drive around towards Zion national park; since we couldn’t hunt, might as well do some sightseeing. Later we would return to the camp for some breakfast.

We were driving around looking at the mountains and canyons. The white and red landscape from the previous day had been transformed to a pure brilliant white.

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After we had gone a few miles, we chanced across fresh deer slots. Following these slots visually, we saw 6-7 mule deer climbing the hill adjacent to the road. It was really wonderful to see these graceful creatures climbing the hill with the snow falling all over the place.

After we had watched for a while, we had to move on as it wasn’t safe or advisable to stand in the middle of the narrow undivided road in the middle of a snowfall. We drove off but suddenly Jake braked and turned around looking at the road exclaiming “never in a million years could have I thought it possible.... right in the middle of a snowstorm”!

“What is it?”I asked.

“Lion tracks” said Jake. “Judging from the amount of snow in them, they are 30-45 minutes old; an hour at the most.”

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Lion tracks with the drag mark of the tail

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Lion track with snow in it.

Because of the cold and the snow, the hounds were in their dog cages in the back of the truck and the rifle in the truck ready as ever but if you recall, the purpose of this trip was to use the facilities at the gas station; I was therefore dressed in track-suit and slippers! We couldn’t follow lion dressed like this.
We had a quick discussion. We would go back to the camp, change and track this lion. This sighting was out of the ordinary; I believed that it was meant for me; I wasn’t passing up this opportunity.

We couldn’t just park where we had spotted the lion so we pulled up at the nearest country road, the dogs had the radio collars placed around the neck and off we went. By this time the snow was more than ankle deep and we were climbing a small hill. Within five minutes of walking I was reminded how out of shape I was. 

“It's not so bad” I thought. The lion has only had 90 minutes of head start on us. He wouldn’t have gone far. Jake had told me it can take up to 3-4 hours to get to a lion but this one should be closer.”

The GPS showed the dogs getting further and further. After they went a mile, the signal stopped. 

“Probably reached the other side of the mountain and lost signal”, said Jake. The remaining dogs with us can follow them and we should get a signal when we get to the other side of the mountain”

I had a sip of water and followed Jake and the 3 dogs that were still with us. This small hill was actually the smallest one we would climb. This led to a higher one and that in turn to yet another higher one. I mean a 100 m high hill can’t block out the GPS signal. Higher and higher we climbed. I was lucky that Jake had to stop and turn on his GPS and wait for the dogs signal and failing that, look for their tracks in the snow. This would give me time to catch up with him.

Higher and higher we climbed, one hill after another. It was still snowing and snow was now calf to knee high at places making going more strenuous. The higher we climbed, the more breathtaking the scenery became and I suppose that filled me with renewed vigour and energy. But even after 2 hours of climbing, there was no signal from the dogs. 

“They must be over that mountain”, said Jake pointing at the next hill. I don’t know how high that was; but his arm, while pointing at it, was raised at an angle of 45 degrees. 

He must have seen the expression on my face for he said “Don’t worry, we’ll get there we just got to keep moving” I had told him that I planned to dedicate this hunt to my grandfather so he used that to encourage me “do it for your grandfather”. At this time I felt really bad for slowing him down. I told him I was sorry that I couldn’t keep up the pace and requested him to take a few breaks which he graciously agreed to.

It took more than an hour to climb that hill. It had stopped snowing by now and the snow had covered every inch of the mountain. Every fallen tree branch, every rock and stone was covered by a fresh blanket of snow. This made footing dangerous as the snow made everything appear flat and steady. To make matters worse, I had forgotten my sunglasses in a hurry and realised for the first time why it is difficult to see without them on snow covered mountains
Jake told me to place my feet in his tracks. I slipped and fell a few times but managed to reach the top with all my bones and spine intact. The view from there made sure I’d never need to take a Grand Canyon helicopter tour.

It had been four hours since we began our trek but still no sign of the dogs. But our other dogs had smelled something and left us. We could just about hear their frantic barking. 
“They are probably there” said Jake pointing halfway up a still higher mountain in the distance. 

Even if there were no tears in my eyes, I’m sure my expression was as miserable. 
“Do you see the small straight line without any trees?” said he. “That’s a private road. We could follow it to the next canyon; that will make our going easier.”

Climbed down to the road and suddenly the GPS beeped!

“All the dogs are in one place and not moving. This means they have treed a lion and are holding him. Come on we must hurry. They are only 1.8 miles away”

1.8 miles; most of it on a road doesn’t sound bad does it. Well it wasn’t but it wasn’t a cake walk either. In the hills, the trees had sheltered the ground from the snow so at many places it was calf high but only ankle high at others especially the steep gradients. Also while climbing; ones feet go up and down so the most tiring part is the climb itself. But on the road it was uniformly calf high plus while walking ones legs go forwards and backwards. It’s amazing the amount of resistance that calf high snow can give.

I just put my head down and put one foot after the other in his tracks and repeated this action for a couple of minutes and then rested to catch my breath. The multiple layers and the heavy parka and shoes etc I was thankful for were now being cursed for piling me with their extra weight. The intervals to catch my breath got shorter and shorter and the time taken for Jake to stop and let me catch up with him got longer.

“Come on. Only 1.6 miles to go” Said he.

“1.6”? I asked flabbergasted. ”I’ve been walking for 10 minutes.”

“The lion jumped the tree. The longer we take to get there, the more the chances of the lion jumping and getting further away. Its treed at the moment so the sooner we get there, the better it is”, informed Jake.

Once or twice more the lion jumped but I was too tired to care. By the time the last kilometre remained, I was stopping every 15 steps to catch my breath and rest my tired limbs. I now know why the NFL player had thrown up. I asked Jake to go ahead to the lion and I would come following. He told me it was no good him getting there but I insisted he go on. 

After a few minutes, I heard frantic barking and Jake shouting me to hurry up. I understood they had located the lion and were calling me. But my legs belonged to someone else. They refused to obey me. Even a gradient of a few feet appeared like a hill. Finally I was near enough to see the dogs. It was a narrow canyon with the Virgin River flowing through it. The base of the canyon must have been 50 metres wide and hills on both sides surrounding it. The dogs were at the other side maybe 80 metres up the hill and had surrounded a tree. Jake was there waving at me and pointing to that tree.
He said there was a crossing 100 metres ahead. When every step is a struggle, one can’t walk 100 metres. Since I had my waterproof clothes and boots on, I decided to wade through the ankle deep stream. Reaching the other side of the canyon, I began climbing the wall like hill (or so it seemed). 
Every time I stopped to take a breath Jake would say, “It’s getting nervous, it’s going to jump”. This got me moving. Close and closer it got till I was only 20 metres away from the tree. And then I saw it. A magnificent golden brown feline, graceful in its movements, in its jump. 

Yes you heard that right. It jumped. While I was 20 metres away. And to make matters worse, went in the direction I came from. The dogs followed and the GPS showed they had treed it again. 

“Come on, it’s only 200 metres away” said Jake and set off towards the it, towards where I came from. But at this place the snow was hip high. It was 4 feet deep and for a minute even he seemed to struggle climbing the hill. My heart sank. How would I ever make it to the top of that hill? Just as I was struggling to get up the slope, the lion jumped again and went where I had missed it originally. 

“Come on buddy, It’s gone to where it was previously” Said Jake. 

“Jake, I can’t”, I said. “I can’t move or take another step”

“You have to” said he. “This lion is jumpy. Probably been treed and fired at before. It only sits on the tree long enough to catch its breath and then it jumps. We need to get to it before it regains its breath”

Is he kidding me, I thought. That’s a Mountain lion, an animal. Here I am catching my breath before I can start after it. Who do you think will catch its breath first? There’s no way I could do this.

“No Jake I really can’t. I never realised it would be this bad. I’m not used to the mountains and the altitude and the snow. I had a good time but next time I’ll be better prepared”

“You can’t turn back. Think of your grandfather”, he said.

“Man I can’t even breathe, let alone walk. And there’s no way I can regain my breath before the lion”, I said. 

“To return, you have to go back on to the road 200m away. The lion is 400 m away. If you walk away now, we are done. Do you want to walk away from a treed lion?” he said visibly angry (and rightfully so). “It’s your decision. This is what separates the men from the boys”.

“Ok I’ll do it but I can’t walk fast. I’ll try”. I said.

At this point he took a rope and slipped around my wrist. He held the other end and pulled me. This went off for a few minutes when my legs buckled and I fell. He waited patiently for me to get up and told me I could do it. Soon we were at the foot of the hill where the lion was.
We decided that I would shoot it from a distance rather than climb all the way up. Jake agreed that I could shoot if I could see it.

Unfortunately due to the trees being dense, it wasn’t possible to get a visual even from 30 yards away. I had to get to the base of the tree. Jake kept encouraging me and I kept climbing. The final 50 metres were really steep and hard climbing. I slipped and fell twice but finally as I was 15 metres away, the lion jumped yet again!

This time it crossed the canyon and climbed the hill on the other side. Another 300 metres. 

This was getting nowhere. I told Jake that I didn’t want to shoot the lion. I told him to take the shot and keep the lion. I would return to the UK, get fit and come again.

“You will do it” said Jake. “You have come here all the way from the UK investing so much time and money. It’s your lion and no one else is going to shoot it but you. Just think if you can’t get this one, you will have to do the same thing tomorrow.”

That did it. There was NO way I could have done a similar trek the next day or even for the next week. He was right; it had to be done today. I realised one way of saving on walking and running was to roll down hill. The knee high snow would cushion my fall and I could cover half the way really fast.

I knew from my antics in the hill stations that rolling down on snow covered slopes deposits snow in ones backside but since I was wearing bibs and parka, I wasn’t worried about that. So off I went but what happened was that my trouser legs tucked into my boots became un-tucked and snow went into my boots from the top. This small inconvenience, ignored then was going to have a bearing on the later part of my story.

I again crossed the river and started the climb uphill. This time the slope wasn’t very steep and I tried to press the pace as much as my weak body would allow. I finally reached where Jake stood ready with the rifle. I took the rifle and was just looking into the scope when the lion jumped again!
I knew this was all the punishment that my body could take. I sank to my knees, my face in my hands.
So this is how the day ended. And we had to start looking for the tracks again, climb similar mountains again.

“Hey” Jake’s voice jolted me back to reality. The dogs had treed the lion just 20 metres uphill. I gritted my teeth and somehow managed to get there. Jake handed me the rifle saying we didn’t have enough time for me to catch my breath as it might jump again. I put the crosshair on the chest and fired and could see the white hair fly in the scope. It was a hit. The bright red spray confirmed a lung hit. 

“Hit it again”, said Jake and explained before I could protest. “It might die in a few seconds but even a few seconds are enough for it to attack us or the dogs.”

I certainly didn’t want to be attacked by a wounded cougar so fired again. This time it fell down dead on the ground.

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Note my trousers and visible right boot and see the ice forming on them.


We both realised there was no time for arranging the carcass for a picture and getting the pose right. It was 1630 and getting dark. The wind had picked up and the temperature was falling. The snow which had entered my boots and turned to water was now beginning to get cold. You can see in the picture my trousers and shoes are white. This isn’t the camouflage pattern but the ice crystals on them.
We needed to skin the lion and then make our way back before nightfall.

We just took some pictures hastily. And started skinning and cutting the back straps for the meat.

“Jake I don’t think I’ll be able to walk back.” 

“We have two choices. Walk back or freeze to death. Which one is it going to be?” He asked.

“Man we started at 0930 and reached this canyon after 5 hours. The last mile took me almost 2 hours to walk. And now I am tired. My socks and shoes are soaking wet. How long will it take for us to get back?”

We had seen an abandoned log cabin on our trek here. Jake suggested I start for it immediately and start a fire there and he would finish skinning the lion and catch up with me. He gave me a lighter and I set off. By now the wind had picked up and it was shaking them, forcing them to deposit the heavy snow on their branches onto the ground. So the snow was a few inches higher now even under the trees.

While I was halfway to the cabin, Jake caught up with me. He had finished skinning and packing the lion and was overtaking me on his way to the cabin. We agreed he would go and make a fire and I follow his tracks as quickly as I could. When I handed him the lighter, we realised it was broken, but only the part that supplies the gas; the part that made the sparks was still intact.

We would figure something out but the first priority was to get to the log cabin. It took me over an hour to get to the cabin. In so much snow, there was no dry firewood to be found. Jake had stripped the walls of the cabins of planks of wood; cut opened the rifle cartridges, sprinkled the gunpowder over them and thus stated a fire inside the cabin.

By this time it was 1800 and almost nightfall. It was too late to go over the mountains we came from the road was private so Jake didn’t know where it led to. We should have been hopeful that a road must lead somewhere but many people had built holiday homes in the vicinity of the national park and they might be empty. 

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The abandoned cabin

Jake told me I had to find more firewood and keep the fire alive. He left me the survival tools knife, lighter, gun and said he would come back on his snowmobile to get me as the road had knee high snow.

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knife and lighter

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rifle



“No matter what you do, do not fall asleep, otherwise you could freeze to death. I will come back to rescue you. I just need to find a way of getting back”

“In case you can’t make it by the morning, my passport and driving license will have the contact details for my family”. I said

“Don’t be ridiculous. Just keep the fire alive. Do NOT let it die. I will come as soon as I can. Break off all the walls of this cabin if you have to but keep the fire going. As long as you have the fire, you’ll be alive. If you freeze to death, it’ll be because you let the fire die.” Saying this he left.

Tempting though it was to sit by the fire and warm myself, the first thing I did was to break branches from the nearby trees, rip the shelving off the walls of the cabin, unearthed a cache of old firewood next to the cabin from under the snow, dismantled a cupboard plank by plank and arranged them neatly next to the fire in the cabin.

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The fire in the cabin

I then filled my empty water bottle with snow and placed that next to the fire to make water. I was determined to keep myself warm and hydrated. Though I hadn’t eaten anything since the morning, strangely, I wasn’t hungry.

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Making water from snow 

The cabin itself was old and dilapidated. It had no door or flooring. It had gaps in the planks on its roof. Many of the window panes were missing and the windows boarded up. It had the broken metal frame of an old bed. This became my seat after I dragged it sufficiently close to the fire and began the task of thawing myself. 

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The doorless cabin. You will notice some planks missing from the front, left of the doorframe.

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Snow covered gaps in the roof

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Broken windows


I fed two planks into the fire at a time. Those of you that have seen wet wood burn can imagine what it must have been like to be next to a bonfire of wet wood in the middle of a cabin with no chimney.
My gloves had frozen solid since I had taken them off to shoot the rifle and help in the skinning of the cougar. They had now taken the shape of the pocked and refused to slip onto my hands. So they were the first to go near the fire.

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Gloves frozen stiff in the crumpled shape in my pocket.

Next, my boots; the upper part was encased in ice, the laces frozen solid. Wanting to thaw this, I threw my feet into the fire. Gradually the ice melted and I could get them off but not before a bit of the sole on the side melted. Seeing that my hands were a ghostly white, with the skin peeling off, I couldn’t even imagine what were feet were going to be like. I couldn’t feel them and there were ice crystals on my socks. My pants had frozen solid in the crumpled shape they were in when I was rolling downhill. They stayed at mid calf length and wouldn’t come down. Due to this, a part of my leg had been exposed to the elements and ice crystals were beginning to form on my socks.

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Melted sole of the hunting boots


I plunged my feet a good way into the fire. Just before the feeling returned to my feet, I saw smoke emitting from my legs. The pants were thawing! Soon I felt a sharp stab at my feet. I looked down horrified. My socks were burning! My brand new under armour heavy duty hunting socks! The last thing one worries about at times like these is losing incidentals and I was happy to be alive and warm.

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Burned socks

The smoke from the burning socks and the steam from my clothes mixed with the wet firewood smoke in the cabin and made the atmosphere difficult to breathe in but warm.

Drip.

Drip.

What was that? Surely it can’t be rain. It was too cold for that. 

Drip. This time on my head. Yes that was water all right.

Drip. Drip. Drip. The rain was everywhere. It was raining!

But how could it be. With the temperature so low that even the snow in the cabin or even my water bottle wasn’t melting despite the fire, how could it rain?

Then I saw the answer. The snow on top of the cabin, covering the gaps in the planks was now melting due to the rising heat and was dripping down!

I put my hood back on and huddled close to the fire bending down. My chest was warm, my back and head wet, my limbs had feelings and my lungs had smoke in them. It was so cold in the cabin that the falling water was forming icicles on the metal bed frame 4 feet away from the fire!

Thank goodness for my waterproof parka that kept me dry and under armour that kept me warm. I didn’t want to feed the fire too fast as I wasn’t sure how long it would take for Jake to return. In a way it was good that it was ‘raining’ as this would prevent me from falling asleep and I could keep the fire alive.

I kept feeding the fire at regular intervals, comforted by its warmth. At around 2130 I heard an engine far away. Soon Jake was there on his snowmobile

But the adventure wasn’t over yet. 

“Where are the dogs?” he asked.

“I thought they were with you.”

“No. I had gone to get the snowmobile. I thought they had followed you to the cottage.”

“No. Only one did. He is right here, curled up by the fire.”

“So the others are still out there. We can’t leave them. They will freeze to death”.

He set out to get the dogs. We later found they were with the carcass of the lion in the canyon up the hill.

To cut the long story short, it was 2300 by the time reached the camp. We spoke about the day and how I was lucky to get a lion on the second day of my hunt. I asked him if I had been the worst client but he assured me that it was a difficult hunt and now all other hunts would seem easy compared to this. He was surprised at how much distance the lion had covered and how many times it had jumped. This was probably due to someone treeing and shooting at it before. I told him this was the hunt of a life time and we agreed the next time I would go in May to track the lions in dust and mud; a different experience altogether.

My future hunts may be easier or may involve a bit more adventure. However this Lion of Zion shall always be etched in my memory till the day I go to the happy hunting grounds.