The Very First Time I Ever Attempted To Hunt A Panther

Major Khan

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The English saying is “ There is a first time for everything “ . That is true. However , it is also true that the very 1st time 1 attempts to try their hand at something, they can be rather slovenly in the way they go about , with their work . This certainly held true for me. If there is any sport , which l consider to be the king of all sports , then it is panther shooting . With 20 panthers under my belt ( or braces , which l personally favor wearing to belts ) , it can be safely said that l am above average , in this sport. However, every shikaree has a beginning and some are more embarrassing than others. Tonight , l will tell you all the story of my very 1st attempt at trying to secure a panther and the comedy of errors which ensued in my grandfather’s and my attempts to pursue it . Our story begins in November , 1965 .

I had just successfully completed guiding a shikar for a large male royal Bengal tiger and had acquired a hefty 6000 Rupees to spend as l saw fit . Thus , l decided that l would treat my maternal grandfather for his birthday ( he had just turned 67 years old , at the time ) . Being a product of the British Raj , Nana was an avid lover of western food and he fortunately passed on his fondness to me . His favorite meal of all was a roast beef prime rib ( referred to , as a rib roast back in those days ) . Thus , we had dinner at a small restaurant named “ Ben Bow “ which was run by an elderly British lady . Their roasts were some of the finest in Nagpur at that time and my favorite was the roasted prime rib ( cooked to medium ) , hash browns and creamed spinach . And it comes as no surprise that , this was the meal which we had on that evening. We started talking about many things and it was natural that our mutually loved sport ( hunting ) arose as a topic. My Nana mentioned that a goat farmer in a farm , roughly 3 miles away from our family house had been facing problems from a very large forest panther which was responsible for killing a half dozen of his goats and that the farmer was desperately appealing to my nana to go and hunt down the panther and rid him of this menace . I had often heard many exciting stories from my good friends , Tobin Stakkatz and Kawshik Rahman ( in Darjeeling ) who sang praises about the excitement of hunting panthers , but l had not shot any till then myself . Thus , l seized my opportunity when my Nana mentioned the forest panther and l begged him to let me tag along and help him dispatch this animal . Having shot 4 panthers himself till then , my Nana agreed , but insisted that l listen to everything that he say. I solemnly promised to do , just that.
Had l only listened to him , l would have avoided making a fool out of myself .

Below , l have provided a photograph lent to me by my good friend , retired fellow professional shikaree and fellow forum member , Sergeant Kawshik Rahman , of a dressed panther skin of a panther shot and killed by Kawshik in Darjeeling. I am using it , because l do not wish to show a photograph of the panther , my Nana and l had to kill , until the climax of this article.
Screenshot_20191022-172022_01_01_01.png




In the next part of this 3 part article , l will relate how my Nana and I had to contend with this devious feline .
 

Major Khan

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My Nana , Ponual ( our servant ) and l went to the goat farmer’s land the next day early in the morning . We had a Model T Ford car , which was universally viewed as a status symbol in India back in those days . Since the farm was a full 3 miles away from our family home , we decided to take our guns , cartridges and other shikar equipment along with us from the very beginning .

I took my “ Magnum 12 Bore DBBL made in Belgium “ . I have already spoken a great deal about ( and even written an article here , dedicated to ) my old Belgian shot gun , so l will not waste my reader’s precious time by delving into the details of that grand , old gun again. Just know that l have been using that gun since the last 60 years and it afforded me nothing , but the greatest satisfaction on everything from a grouse to a forest panther .

Below , l have provided a photograph taken by myself , of my old Belgian shot gun
FB_IMG_1575727193927.jpg


My Nana took his old ( but well maintained) rifle , a Winchester Model 1895 lever rifle , burning a 300 grain .405 Winchester soft nose cartridge.
This was a weapon which he had purchased for a mere 50 Rupees during the days of the British Raj from an arms shop named " Manton and Co. " in Kolkata . After India became independent in 1947 and the import of new firearms and fresh cartridges ceased , my Nana used to purchase packets of .405 Winchester cartridges from ICI Kynoch , whenever we would visit Great Britain once every year ( in quantities of 250 cartridges at a time ) and thus he had built up quite a stock . However , by 1956 , ICI Kynoch was no longer manufacturing cartridges for the .405 Winchester calibre and that was when my Nana realized that he only had a finite amount of cartridges left . At the time of which l write , Nana was down to his last 15 cartridges .

Below , l have provided a photograph of my grandfather and l on a day in 1963 when we killed 2 royal Bengal tigers .
Nana holds the Winchester Model 1895 in his hands . This photograph was taken by Ponual .
Screenshot_20191201-080801_01_01.png


I took my usual stock of Eley Alphamax Lethal Ball cartridges , but l also had gotten my hands on a new sort of shot gun ammunition . A client had left behind 6 cartridges of Eley Alphamax LG . These 2.75 inch cartridges held 8 pellets inside and l was eager to see how they would work .
I used to repeatedly hear from Kawshik about the number of panthers which he was successfully killing with SG cartridges in Darjeeling . Knowing that an LG cartridge held bigger pellets than an SG cartridge , l was curious to see how it would do , on a panther .
( If only , l had once taken care to ask Kawshik exactly what he had to go through , to kill these brutes with SG , then it would have saved me a great deal of trouble as the story will detail ) .

When we reached the farm , we spoke to the farmer who complained that the panther was coming every alternate night and killing 1 of his goats . Since the last time the panther had struck was 2 days previously , we knew that the panther would be back that night .

We took to surveying the area and my Nana pointed at some strange marks of the bark of a tree. He explained that they were the marks of a panther's claws and that a panther would always clean it's claws on the bark of a tree , before making a kill . I was so fascinated by this , that l took a photograph of the tree bark which l have provided below .

IMG_20191211_005017_01_01_01.jpg


We then looked around for panther tracks and indeed found them very easily leading out towards the forest . As he followed them , we noticed that the tracks were going into deeper and deeper vegetation , towards the directions of a series of caves . My Nana immediately told me to go back to the farm and get a goat from the farmer , while he ordered Ponual to dig a hole in the ground , with a shovel which we had brought along in our Model T Ford .

I went to the farm and asked the farmer to lend us a goat to use as live bait . The poor , frail man begged me not to take anymore goats from him , because he had already lost 6 to the gluttonous forest panther . I then bullied the poor man into giving me the goat , by threatening that if we did not get our live bait , then we would simply walk out of the forest and drive back home . Then , the panther would be his problem and he would have a great deal more to worry about , than 6 goats . I further went on , to assure the farmer that l would return the goat to him safe and sound . The poor man , then gave me 1 of his old she goats and l proudly led the goat out of the farm and towards the forest . I showed the goat to my Nana . By then , Ponual had already finished digging the hole in the ground,
covering it with green tarpoulin cloth
and my Nana had lit a small fire inside the hole to drive out any insects or snakes , in the ground .

I tied the goat to a tree in the area , where we saw the most panther paw prints , which was about 30 feet away from where our hole was . The sun was setting and much to my surprise , my Nana sent Ponual away . I asked Nana why we were not sending Ponual up in a tree with a pair of binoculars , to be our spotter.
My Nana said that this would not be necessary , and went on to explain why.
This was when my Nana taught me a lesson which made my jaws drop .
In Indian forests , a bird exists called " Ti Ti pakhee " . A Ti Ti pakhee has a certain peculiar quality . If there is large carnivora nearby , the Ti Ti pakhee begins to call repeatedly . My Nana pointed out to me the large number of Ti Ti pakhee in the part of the forest where we were in and said that if a panther were to come through this area , the call of the flocks of Ti Ti pakhee would be our alarm . As difficult this sounds to believe , l trusted my Nana with my life and knew what a good shikaree he was ( having taken 4 panthers and 2 royal Bengal tigers prior to this ) .
And thus , as the sun set , we settled into the hole to wait for our adversary .
I loaded with old Belgian shot gun with an Eley Alphamax Lethal Ball cartridge in the left barrel and 1 of those Eley Alphamax LG cartridges in the right barrel . My Nana told me that shot of any size should not be used for anything larger than a mouse deer and that l was acting foolish not to load both barrels with Lethal Ball cartridges . However , l arrogantly disregarded his suggestion . My reasoning was that 8 pellets of LG would allow me a greater scope to hit the panther at dark , than a single Lethal Ball bullet . The whole idea was to get a spread . Knowing that it was no use reasoning with me , my Nana sighed and we waited in that hole . The goat , confident that it was alone , had begun to bleat.

In the next part of this article , l will detail our actual melee with that panther.
 

Major Khan

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At about 15 minutes past 10 , those Ti Ti pakhee began to violently start calling , just like my Nana had predicted . Why had l not noticed that ever before ? I had already been s professional shikaree for 4 years by that time , and l had never once thought about the implications of bird calls . " Wo Agiya , hamara Chita Baagh " said my Nana (our panther is here ) .
My Nana readied his .405 Winchester lever rifle and l , my shot gun .

We cautiously peeked out of our hiding spot . In the dark , l could barely make out the shape of the forest panther creeping towards the bleating goat . I saw him clean his claws on the bark of a Neem tree and make his way towards the goat . My Nana took careful aim with his .405 Winchester and l with my shot gun ( both of which had a pencil torch light attached to the barrels with masking tape ) . My Nana was about to take a shot with his .405 Winchester lever rifle , but l whispered to him eagerly, to let me shoot the panther , as l was eager to bag my first panther and what could be a grander night than that night ? So , taking aim at the panther's shape , l flicked on the pencil torch light and the minute the beam fell on the panther's head , it turned towards me and l pulled my right trigger , firing the charge of LG shot . What happened next , was unthinkable to me ( at the time ) . The goat dropped dead and the panther disappeared into the forest .

My Nana and l leapt out of the hole and ran to the dead goat . It had been hit by 4 pellets of LG . That blast of LG , which l so confidently assumed would drop the panther dead , instead dropped the goat dead . However , there were a few spots of blood , leading towards the forest . The panther was hit too . I shamefully looked at my Nana , knowing that this situation could easily have been avoided had l merely listened to him and used an Eley Alphamax Lethal Ball cartridge . Nana , however was too preoccupied to scold me . Instead , he said " Wo Chita Baagh jongol mey gaya . Chulo mere saath " ( The panther went into the forest . Come on )

I opened my shot gun and removed the empty LG cartridge and replaced it , with an Eley Alphamax Lethal Ball cartridge , a proven stopper of dangerous game . Closing the gun , l followed my Nana as he clutched his .405 Winchester lever rifle . The pencil torch lights attached to both our guns was turned on .

We started following the blood spots . But the blood spots were very small and it is difficult to see them in the darkness of a moonless night , using the beam of a pencil torch light on the forest floor .
Suddenly , we heard many bullocks calling wildly . We knew that there was a small farm about 7 minutes away from this part of the forest where bullocks were reared . We ran towards the direction of the farm and as we neared , my Nana and I observed the bullocks in a state of panick . Bullocks were madly running in 3 directions , but they were staying clear of the 4th direction . Why ?
Nana knew why . He shouted " Chita Baagh yaha heye ! " ( The panther is here . They are running from the panther ) .
So , we rushed past those maddened bullocks , but suddenly all was quiet .
There was nothing there , except a large banyan tree . What happened next , happened in 2 seconds , but after 55 years , it still plays in my mind , as if time had suddenly slowed down . The panther sprung out of the tree and leapt at us , bent on doing mischief . My Nana snapped up that .405 Winchester lever rifle to his shoulders as if it was a light 28 calibre shot gun and pulled the trigger . The 300 grain soft nose bullet , blew right into the panther's head , under where the right eye was . And there , he dropped at our feet on the spot . He was a marvellous brute , weighing 187 pounds .

The next day , both the farmers marvelled in awe at the size of the huge brute . Ponual , my Nana and l slung the brute on a pole , to replicate the pose he had struck when he was about to attack us by jumping down the tree upon us. I took a photograph with my camera , which l have provided below .
Screenshot_20191212-010521_01_01_01.png


Upon doing a post mortem of the brute , l saw that 4 LG pellets had struck him in the neck and shoulder and pierced the skin . However , all 4 lead pellets had flattened on the muscles of the brute without offering a millimeter of penetration .

In the next and final part of this article , l will share some reflections on this shikar .
 

Major Khan

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My Nana later sarcastically told me " Yay tumara LG kardiya " ( This is what your LG cartridge can do ) when l was making Ponual flay the brute and we were doing a post mortem of the forest panther .
He then gave me a good scolding for not listening to him . I was so disgusted with the performance of buck shot that , since that night of 1965 , l never used buck shot of any size , on any animal ever again . I would use Eley Alphamax triple A cartridges for mouse deer and Eley Alphamax Lethal Ball cartridges for anything larger ( including forest panthers ) . And l was never let down . Up to 30 yards , an Eley Alphamax Lethal Ball bullet was extremely accurate through the choked barrels of my shot gun , and nothing settled a panther better than the devastating damage of a Lethal Ball cartridge .

When l curiously asked Kawshik later that month , exactly how he was killing panthers with SG cartridges in Darjeeling , my simple minded friend merely replied " Char paach baar guli Kori " ( I shoot it 4 or 5 times ) . If only, l had asked this question to Kawshik , previously . Then , it would have saved me from all this trouble and the risk of facing a panther charge .
By the end of that year , using every thing which l had learnt from my Nana that night , l was successfully taking panthers , left and right without any more... complications.
I deeply regretted my arrogance with the poor farmer and apologized to the poor man for accidentally killing his prized goat. The man was crying badly , lamenting about how he lost 7 goats directly and indirectly , to this forest panther . I offered the man a good 15 Rupees for the goat ( which was what you paid for a healthy kid goat , back in those days ) , but he was still complaining that the goat was a prized pet of his family's for the last 3 years and that money could not replace their pet .
My Nana gave the man the skin of the panther ( which , we were originally supposed to keep ) to compensate for the goat which l had accidentally killed . Strangely enough , the minute my Nana offered the man the skin of the panther , the man's tears vanished . Why will it not ? Imagine how many goats , a single forest panther skin is worth .
Indeed , my Nana had a heart of gold . He was my hero . And he always will be.

As l think of that shikar , l think of the arrogance of youth . When we are young , we all think that we know more than our elders and every one else , more experienced than us . We think that we are invincible , but as we grow older , we slowly come to realize that a man must know his limitations , if he is to survive in this world . And he must abandon all arrogance , when some one more experienced than him , gives him a suggestion .
My Nana eventually ran out of cartridges for the .405 Winchester lever rifle . Thinking that cartridges for the rifle will never be made again , l foolishly let my Nana sell that old rifle . From , then on , my Nana would use my Belgian shot gun , loaded with Eley Alphamax Lethal Ball cartridges whenever he would go to hunt a sambhur or a cheetal deer in the outskirts of Nagpur. In 1971 , he had gone to Dacca University in what was then East Pakistan to attend a music function there on the 20th of March . That was the last time , l ever saw him alive . On the 25th of March , during " Operation Search Light " , the West Pakistani army's name for a nation wide genocide in all the schools and universities , my beloved Nana was shot to death by scouting " soldiers " .
The irony was that my Nana was not even East Pakistani , but merely happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time .
East Pakistan would become Bangladesh on the 16th of December , 1971.


Gone was the man who raised me since childhood and gave me the love of a father , a mother and a friend , all in the form of 1 person . Gone were the days of us , hunting in the forests outside Nagpur and of me , hearing his exciting stories of shikar . What l would give , to have my maternal grandfather back ...only some one who has lost a dear 1 to war , will know . I often wished that it was me whom they slaughtered and not him .
However , l know that if my Nana were alive , he would not have wanted me to think this way . He would have wanted me to cherish life and value my life .

I dedicate this article to my Nana , Sepoy Jalaluddin Khan , the bravest man l have ever met . If there is a heaven , l know that he is in it and l hope that he is happy.
 
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Major Khan

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Fascinating how Nana used the birds, to alert him of panthers presence. I recall Jim Corbett using langur monkeys and barking deer to do the same thing. I would have never thought of that.
It never occurred to me until that day either , Master Smith . Those old world shikarees really knew how to exploit their environment and surroundings , to their advantage .
 

Kawshik Rahman

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Poton
I still remember you telling us this story at Imperial Restora . Antora was laughing heartily , hearing that you tried to secure a leopard Puroshkaar and ended up securing a domestic female goat ! I also burst out laughing , hearing your situation .
There was another lesson to learn in all of this . Never try an experimental munition for the first time in the field ... especially when your test subject is a dangerous hunting leopard !
 

Major Khan

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Poton
I still remember you telling us this story at Imperial Restora . Antora was laughing heartily , hearing that you tried to secure a leopard Puroshkaar and ended up securing a domestic female goat ! I also burst out laughing , hearing your situation .
There was another lesson to learn in all of this . Never try an experimental munition for the first time in the field ... especially when your test subject is a dangerous hunting leopard !
I remember it as if it were yesterday, Kawshik. Happier times , which exist now only in our memory.
 

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Great story and a fitting remembrance of your Nana.
 

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Good friends sharing memories of our past is what "old" hunters do. Hopefully younger hunters if present will laugh at times, but learn from our mistakes. Africa Hunting provides the "virtual" campfire around which we share a steak or burger and a beer with comrades from around the world. Thanks Poton for posting this story.
 

Major Khan

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Good friends sharing memories of our past is what "old" hunters do. Hopefully younger hunters if present will laugh at times, but learn from our mistakes. Africa Hunting provides the "virtual" campfire around which we share a steak or burger and a beer with comrades from around the world. Thanks Poton for posting this story.
There was something very philosophical and beautiful in the way which you described it , Shootist43. I do laugh even now when ever l think about that day. Thank you so much for enjoying the story.
 

Kawshik Rahman

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I remember it as if it were yesterday, Kawshik. Happier times , which exist now only in our memory.
Poton
When your Nana used to tell us stories of his Shikars , he mentioned that the .405 Winchester Under lever rifle jammed once or twice . Did you ever witness anything like this personally yourself ? During the one Shikar l went with your Nana , Ponual and you ( while he still owned that rifle ) , the rifle worked fine .
 

Major Khan

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Poton
When your Nana used to tell us stories of his Shikars , he mentioned that the .405 Winchester Under lever rifle jammed once or twice . Did you ever witness anything like this personally yourself ? During the one Shikar l went with your Nana , Ponual and you ( while he still owned that rifle ) , the rifle worked fine .
That is right , Kawshik . The gun would jam if you did certain things :
1) Even though the gun held 5 cartridges ( 4 in the magazine and 1 up the spout ) , it would jam if you loaded the gun with all 5 cartridges and operated the lever too fast . So , Nana loaded the gun with 4 cartridges and operated the lever slowly.
2) If you fired some of the cartridges in the magazine and then tried to re fill the partially empty magazine , then the gun would be more likely to experience a jam.
3) since the cartridges were rimmed , you had to be very careful when loading them in to the gun , or else you may experience a jam .

He , infact did experience a jam during the incident when we had to kill those 2 royal Bengal tigers together near Uttarakhand.
 

Kawshik Rahman

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That is right , Kawshik . The gun would jam if you did certain things :
1) Even though the gun held 5 cartridges ( 4 in the magazine and 1 up the spout ) , it would jam if you loaded the gun with all 5 cartridges and operated the lever too fast . So , Nana loaded the gun with 4 cartridges and operated the lever slowly.
2) If you fired some of the cartridges in the magazine and then tried to re fill the partially empty magazine , then the gun would be more likely to experience a jam.
3) since the cartridges were rimmed , you had to be very careful when loading them in to the gun , or else you may experience a jam .

He , infact did experience a jam during the incident when we had to kill those 2 royal Bengal tigers together near Uttarakhand.
Poton
Don Fernando Delgado's grandson also used to own a .405 Winchester model 1895 under lever rifle , made in 1931 . He experienced the same phenomenons in his rifle.
 

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We learn from mistakes, they say.
Some also believe that it is better to learn from other peoples' mistakes, instead of your own.

Thank you for another opportunity to learn!

:)
 

Major Khan

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We learn from mistakes, they say.
Some also believe that it is better to learn from other peoples' mistakes, instead of your own.

Thank you for another opportunity to learn!

:)
I am glad that you have enjoyed this article , Perttime. I indeed felt very foolish at the time to use an LG cartridge to try to kill that panther .
 

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Great story Major and wonderful reflections about your grandfather! Thanks again for sharing
 

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What an amazing story. I hope you don't mind, but I have copied the short paragraph you wrote about youth, believing you are invincible, arrogance and such so that I can look at it again and perhaps send it to my nephew and children. It is very well said. If we didn't learn from those that came before us, we would still be living in caves, or worse. I was very lucky to be surrounded by wise older people in my youth and still am today. I hope that my children learn what an amazing blessing this is for them as well.
 

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