The wapiti trophy from Northern China

Hunting in Northern China

Today, you can’t legally go hunting in China. A century ago, however, things were different, and you can find testimony on pages of old books. Here we reproduce a few extracts from one such book, “Fur and Feather in Northern China” by Arthur de Carle Sowerby, F.R.G.S., published in 1914. Bats, admittedly, are mentioned only in passing, but we hope you’ll enjoy the stories about wild sheep, wapiti, and antelope. 

Wild Sheep

No one who has not experienced it can form more than the faintest idea of what “the long day’s patience, belly-down on frozen drift” while waiting to get a shot at the “head of heads feeding out of range” means.

Day after day the hunter goes out, and climbs the steep and rocky ascents to the sheep range : he crosses wind-swept uplands, white with the driven snow: he scales treacherous precipices, jagged with needles and spurs of crumbling granite : ever with his trusty glasses to his eyes he keeps spying, spying, spying, till one day he sees on some far distant ridge a ram bearing the “head of heads” he is seeking. Immediately he is seized with an overwhelming desire to have that head at all costs. If luck is with him, he may secure it in the next two hours; or he may have a long tiring day’s work before he gets it; or it may take him days and even weeks.

Men have gone mad in the pursuit of such a head, others have broken themselves in the endeavour to answer this, the most powerful call of the Red Gods. Those who survive it and come out triumphant will be changed men — the more the longer and harder the chase. Perhaps the change will not be noticeable to the outside world, but from that time on he will never look upon life in quite the same way. The creature he followed and shot will become increasingly sacred to him. That head becomes a fetish, and all his life his heart will beat quicker and the hot blood go surging through his being, as he recalls the memory of those days of toil, hours of almost agonized stalking and that final supreme age-long moment of suspense as he took aim, pressed the trigger and awaited the result of his death-messenger.

And who can describe the agony, the tenible stinging regret, that must last a lifetime, when that proud head, held high as ever, is born swiftly away and away never more to be seen except in bitter memory?

That is sheep hunting.

The mighty ram killed by the author

Wild Sheep of North China

The wild sheep of North China is of a dark fawn grey colour, with a very pronounced white croup disc, and cream coloured legs. The hair is thick and in places inclined to be woolly. There is a well developed mane, while the hair on the front of the neck is long. In very old rams the shoulders and back become flecked with white. They are very deep in the chest, light in the quarters, with long slender, though powerful legs. The tail is very short, being marked above with dark brown, which is connected with the brown of the back. The head is held erect, there being a tremendous development of tlie neck muscles and vertebrae to support the enormous weight of horn.

The country inhabited by 0. juhata consists of rugged mountain ranges radiating from extensive grassy and rolling uplands. These mountains average about 7,000 ft. in altitude, which is not veiy high for sheep. They rise abruptly from the plain, which is not more than 2,500 ft. above sea level. This gives a rapid ascent of over 4,000 ft., no mean climb if taken in a single day.

The Biggest Ram

My second visit to this district took place in the winter of 1913, and from a hunter’s point of view was much more successful and enjoyable. This time Captain T. Holcomb of the U. S. Marines accompanied me <…> I had not gone far when Holcomb’s rifle rang out, and looking round I saw a large herd of sheep breaking away to the west. I took one rapid shot, but failed to find a mark, and as the herd was well on its way up an opposing slope I reserved my fire for something more certain.

Those shots seemed to set all the game in the country moving. First a large covey of partridges rose from almost under my feet, and sailed off on whistling wings. Then a herd of six roe deer came bounding out of a little hollow in front of me, and swept away to the north. Next instant, from out a deep ravine to the east, where I had secured my first good head, walked a herd of sheep led by two old rams. This was what I sought. A ram with a herd was bound to be a good one.

Making my two shikarees crouch down in the long grass, I got out my pocket telescope and ascertained that both rams carried good horns, the second being slightly the larger. Obviously they were rivals for the ownership of the herd, and as such would be easier to stalk than lone rams, or those without a harem.

We were a long way from the sheep, but kept perfectly still till they had crossed a ridge and disappeared over the main divide. Then carefully noting the lie of the land, and the direction of the wind’, we cut across the slopes to head off the herd. The sheep had not been really scared, and we guessed that they would move slowly, once they were across the ridge. As a matter of fact they descended the shady slope about half way, and then stopped to feed.

In less than half an hour we were peeping cautiously over one of the side ridges at the unsuspecting animals. The big ram was lying down, while his ewes fed all round him. The other ram had crossed the valley, and stood like a sentinel on a small spur of rock. This rendered stalking quite impossible as each ram, kept watch, as it were, for the other, and either taking alarm would warn the other.

We decided to lie and wait for a change that would be more favourable, but after a most uncomfortable hour, during which we slowly chilled down to numbness in the biting wind, there was no change in the positions of our quarry, except that the sentinel across the valley, had settled himself comfortably to enjoy his daily sun bath, and several of the ewes had joined their lord, and lay quietly ruminating by his side.

I did not care to risk a long shot, so finally decided to get nearer. If only I could cross a small coverless stretch at the bottom of the main valley I could creep up to within easy range. In any case, if the sheep took alarm, and moved off, they would probably offer me a better chance of stalking them. I crept slowly down to the grassy stretch, which I tried to cross, but the moment I showed myself the old ram rose to his feet, and started off to where the other ram kept watch. This animal also took alarm, and before long every sheep was out of sight in a side ravine on the north of the main valley.

I hurried to get to a favourable spot, but before I could do so the leading ram appeared on the next side ridge. Sinking down behind a boulder, I waited till the herd rounded the shoulder into the next side ravine. Then I hurried up the slope, arriving at the shoulder just in time to see the herd cross the main ridge. Now, however, they seemed to have got over their fears once more, and were moving slowly, grazing and playing with each other as they went. They crossed a wide gentle slope, and entered another side ravine. This time they did not reappear till I was well within range, and gave me the chance I sought. Drawing a bead upon the big ram, who stood end on to me, I pressed the trigger.

A spirt of dust rose from the slope in front of his nose. He turned and dashed away, followed by his herd of ewes, while I lay in the grass, cursing the eagerness, which had made me forget that my rifle carried high at close range. All my care in stalking, had gone for nothing; my patience in the cold north wind was wasted. The day was far spent: there was nothing to do but go home, empty-handed. When, oh when, would I learn to think before pressing the trigger?

We started homeward depressed and chilled, when suddenly came one of those turns in fortune, when the fickle Dame seems to take pity on the one she has flouted, and gives him one more chance. On rounding the shoulder, we spied the herd away on the shady side of a distant ridge. By rights we should never have seen that herd again, but there it was, and the sheep instead of fleeing with those long graceful bounds, that take them over the hillsides eight feet at a jump, were standing gazing along their back-trail.

Dropping out of sight, we doubled round the hill top, crossed a grassy slope, skirted the sunny side of the ridge on which we had seen the sheep, and topped it between two rocky crags. There, sure enough, was the old ram with two ewes, still foolishly gazing along their back-trail. This time I made no mistake, and almost as I pressed the trigger I heard the thud of a bullet which has found its meat.

The author with his biggest ram

Once more the ram dashed off, vanishing into the next hollow and reappearing on the next ridge. The next time we saw the herd, there were only the ewes. A few minutes later I was bending over my prize, admiring the head, which bore the longest horns I had yet measured. Dame Fortune had indeed showed her smiling face, like old Sol bursting through a rift in the thunder clouds.

The horns measured 50 inches in length, and had a basal circumference of 17 inches. The old ram stood 44 inches at the shoulder and must have weighed at least 300 lbs. It was all the hunters could do to pack home, hide, horn, and the four quarters.

Wapiti

In the autumn after the antlers have dried and the velvet has been rubbed off against the tree trunks, the rutting season commences, and then the big stags begin to send forth their roaring challenge, and fight desperate duels with each other, the successful ones gathering large harems round them. By the end of November the bulls begin to leave the hinds and go off in twos and threes. Then the herds are led by old hinds, and gradually split up, till in the spring (May) when the fawns are born their mothers may be seen in twos and threes like the bucks. The fawns are pretty little creatures of a reddy-fawn colour spotted with white. Just before they are born their mothers are hunted unmercifully, as at this stage of their existence the little creatures are considered most valuable as medicine. A month later the big bucks come in for their share of persecution, for their horns are in velvet, and are then worth from Tls. 30 to Tls. 80 per pair to the Chinese apothecary (Manchurian wapiti horns are worth double this figure). The horns are then called “shueh chiao” (blood horns) by the natives, while hartshorn is known as “lujung” (deer wool). This product is considered by wealthy Chinese to be of the utmost efficacy, and they spend large sums of money upon it.

It is difficult to say whether this popular appreciation of the medicinal worth of hartshorn is favourable or otherwise to the preservation of the wapiti. From my own experience I am inclined to look upon ife as a blessing in disguise, for, as far as the Shansi deer are concerned, it provides them with a very long close season and a comparatively short open one. I found that the majority of native hunters, so far from hunting the deer when their horns are not in velvet, resent outsiders doing so. I have always found it extremely difficult to secure hunters who would guide me to the haunts of these deer and the sika, and have been led on many a fruitless chase. I also found this to be the case in Manchuria, though in places like Kansu and the regions westward, where wapiti still seem to be plentiful, and where the natives cannot fall back on farming during the rest of the year, the wapiti is certainly hunted without intermission. It is these districts which supply by far the greater part of the big demand for hartshorn, and huge caravans of mules and camels laden with horns, dried as well as in velvet, may be seen corning in from these western regions.

In hunting the wapiti various methods are adopted. In Manchuria advantage is taken of the stag’s habit of rolling in certain spots in the open glades of the forests, and pitfalls are made. Pitfalls are also made along the deer-patJas in the woods. If by any chance a deer is taken alive and uninjured, it is carefully kept, and the horns, if it be a male, are shorn off annually when they are at the right stage of development. If it be a female it is kept for breeding purposes. In many places there are large deer farms.

In Shansi the native hunters resort to driving, several men with guns being posted round a wood, wherein the deer are known to be hiding, while others beat through it towards the guns.

In Kansu and westward stalking or lying in wait for the deer seem to be the favourite methods employed by the natives.

The wapiti trophy from Northern China

Encounter with a Big Bull

Next day, leaving camp before it was light, with the hunters at my back I set off towards the wapiti “yard” where Holcomb had wounded his first buck. It was empty, so we struck off over the snow-covered uplands.

Before long we came upon the fresh trail of a large herd of deer, and followed it up. It lead us several miles in an easterly direction and then turned southward along the eastern side of a massive ridge, ribbed with side ridges and deep wooded ravines. Suddenly out of one of these two large bucks appeared, one with a good pair of horns. They did not seem frightened, but crossed the adjacent ridge into the next ravine.

With bated breath we crept to the spot where they had vanished, but could not see them for the dense birch brush. Sending the two hunters into the woods, I took up a commanding position near the head of the ravine. However, the only game that came my way were a couple of roe deer and a herd of twelve wapiti does. Finally I saw the blue smoke of a fire curling up from a spot in the woods, and descending to it, found my hunters having their lunch. They said that the two bucks had broken cover and gone out at the bottom of the ravine, a most unusual thing.

After we had satisfied our cravings for food, we picked up their trails, and followed them back into the first ravine. Before long we saw them just topping the crest of the opposing ridge. They crossed it and disappeared once more, and there was nothing for us to do but follow, though by now we were pretty tired, and the sun was fast slanting westward. Over the top of the ridge the trail turned back towards the west, and I knew that the deer were heading for the “yard,” we had visited earlier in the day. As straight as an arrow the tracks led, while we followed, and at last we came in sight of the wood. There sure enough, with my glasses, I could make out a great stag lying in the snow.

We ducked out of sight, dodged round the crest of a low ridge, followed down the gentle hollow and, when, about opposite to the place where the deer were lying, crept stealthily up to the shoulder. In the gathering gloom I could make out what appeared to be a large deer with good horns tying within about 150 yards of me. Taking a careful aim I fired. The deer rolled over, and I was about to give vent to my feelings in a joyous shout, when up rose the form of a huge stag with spreading antlers, such as any sportsman might wish to own.

One moment he stood gazing in my direction, and then with head low, and horns held back to avoid the branches, he commenced to run through the birch trees. I fired several shots. His pace slackened, but he gained the shoulder of the ridge. There he stood with the last rays of the setting sun lighting up his superb antlers, and his hot breath coming in clouds of vapour. Steadying, myself, and taking more careful aim, I pressed the trigger, there was a click but no report. Magazine and chamber were empty. Next instant the stag vanished over the ridge, and though I did not know it, I had lost my last chance of getting a big wapiti.

Antelope

The Mongolian gazelle ranges from Western Gobi right across Mongolia and is also found all along the Chinese border. It occurs in vast herds often containing hundreds of head. If is larger than either of the other two species, and ‘has longer horns. The tail is extremely short.

This antelope is a fine looking animal, especially in its winter coat. In summer it is of a rich orange-fawn colour, with white underparts and croup. The winter pelage is much lighter and is without the orange tint. The horns, which are only present in the males, rise at a slight backward angle from the head for four or five inches. They then slope more sharply backward and outward, finally turning in and slightly upward at the tips. They are nicely annulated for three-quarters of their length. The record measurements up to date are 16 inches in length and 4 inches in girth with a spread of 6f inches at the tips.

This is the animal that used to be sent annually to the Palace in Peking as tribute from the Mongol Princes. Doubtless the reader has seen them for sale in the markets here and in the Capital. Only good sized males could be sent down, and these had to have the front legs crossed over the back of the neck. The flesh is excellent especially during the winter after it has been kept in a frozen condition for some time.

The Mongols have several ways of hunting the antelope. They may chase them on horse back with hounds, or stalk them on foot; but neither of these methods could be used to supply the big demands from Peking. For this the chiefs have to organize big drives, which are conducted in the following manner. Two lines of pits or trenches are dug commencing far apart and gradually converging till they meet. In the last dozen or so pits, men, chosen for their marksmanship, are hidden. Then a large body of horsemen ride out and round up a herd, or several herds of antelope, and drive them into the wide end of the two lines of pits. The antelope will not attempt to jump over the pits, and so crowd together and are driven down the narrowing lane. When they reach the marksmen, the latter open fire and inflict terrible slaughter. The rest of the herd, driven by fear, finally escape across the lines.

I do not know how the Mongols conduct the chase with hounds, but should imagine that relays must be used, for the antelope is far speedier than any hound. One European of my acquaintance, who lived in Mongolia, told me of a Russian wolf hound that he had, whdch couldi follow a herd of antelope keeping just three or four leaps behind the hindmost, but could never catch up those last few yards. Of course this hound was extremely useful in catching wounded animals.

Stalking on foot requires considerable skill and knowledge of the habits of the antelope. Usually two or three hunters go out on horse back. When a herd is sighted one jumps off and worms his way over the ground till he reaches a satisfactory position. Meanwhile the others have ridden round and attempt to drive the buck towards the man with the gun. This method can only be practised in hilly country, as the antelope are much too sharp-sighted to be deceived in this way on the flat open plain.

The author with a Mongolian Gazelle he shot

Riding After Antelopes

Our mode of procedure was to ride out to the herd of ponies and there change our mounts for fresh ones. Then we would set out for one or other of the groups of hills that lay along the horizon. Reaching these, generally by midforenoon, we would climb ridge after ridge till we spotted a herd of buck. It may be explained that the bucks with the best heads were always to be found in twos and threes amongst the hills. Having located our quarry, we would take careful note of the lie of the land and the direction in which the antelopes were moving. We would then get out of sight behind the ridge and attempt to work round to some point of vantage. It was no easy task to decide which was the particular knoll that one had noted so carefully before, and we would frequently be disappointed in not getting within easy range of the animals. Still, when we did succeed in stalking and bringing down a nice buck it made up for a lot.

My best head I secured after riding a couple of buck down, by taking full advantage of the rolling nature of the plain and urging my pony to its utmost speed each time they disappeared into a hollow, and slacking into a trot each time they reappeared. In this way I gradually decreased the distance between them and me, and, when they were within range, jumped off my pony and took a quick successful shot.

The beauty of this sport was that one never need give up hope of getting a shot, even when one had turned one’s pony towards camp; for at any moment a buck might spring up from the long grass and stand a few seconds ere it broke away. Sometimes a herd would come sweeping by in full flight from some danger in its rear. At such times one might get several shots in before the antelopes reahzed that a new danger threatened them.

Bats

The Chinese look upon the bat as a thing of evil. They say it has an evil spirit, and never lose an opportunity of subjecting it to cruel torture.

As a matter of fact there are few animals that are prettier to watch or that make more interesting pets than bats. There is so much that is wonderful about them. They seem to have a sixth sense that warns them when they are in the vicinity of any object, for in a room full of ornaments and bric-a-brac, even in daylight when they are practically blind, thay can flitter about without so much as brushing a single article with their outspread wings. And what a wonderful membrane it is that stretches over those long bony fingers!

Extracts from “Fur and Feather in North China” by Arthur de Carle Sowerby, F.R.G.S. With 30 line drawings by the author and 43 photographs. 1914. THE TIENTSIN PRESS, LIMITED, Victoria Road, Tientsin, North China.

 

Leave a Reply