Visiting Sportsmen & Their Firearms In Old India

Oct 28, 2018
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Wyong new south Wales Australia
Hunting reports
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Based on how well received , my two previous accounts of Indian Shikar in the old days from 1947 to 1972 was , l have decided to continue to write a few more. The respectful and friendly forum Member , Mark Hunter requested a certain subject to be the topic of my article today and thus , l shall talk about
Visiting sportsmen of Old India and the fire arms that they would bring. Before we begin , l must give a small notice. I am an old man talking about arms and ammunition from a bygone era and so not consider myself to be an authority on giving opinions on the batteries of modern sportsmen. For that , please consult a modern professional hunter who is better read than l am. You will not be disappointed . I am merely narrating about fire arms and ammunition in my time . With the above precaution in mind , let us begin.
The visiting sportsman would be allowed to bring two fire arms into the country along with 250 cartridges for each fire arm. These two fire arms could be anything except a .303 bore which was prohibited . However , in light of the animals the visiting sportsman is pursuing , some foresight is required as to deciding what those two fire arms should be. Many sportsmen on this forum speak very highly of hunting four legged animals in India. However , l would think that they would find our bird shooting excellent as well . Thus , the appropriate battery for the sportsman who wishes to pursue four legged creatures and winged fowl would do well to consist of a good shot-gun and a rifle capable of taking all animals from the small Darjeeling bush boar to the large Gaur bison. Elephant shooting was unfortunately prohibited since 1873 and with the exception of rogue elephants , these could not hope to be shot ( it is my life's incomplete desire to shoot an elephant , but l have seen some shot in front of my very eyes either by poachers or by forest department officers , including my late friend Mohiyuddin ) .

The Shikaris who worked for Sundar Raj had developed a method of labelling clients based on their fire arms choices. The saying was that the client who would bring a .3006 for Royal Bengal tigers was arrogant and boastful of his shooting skills and always argued about how a light bullet in the right place mattered more than a heavy bullet in the wrong place. The saying was that a client who brought a magnum .458 Winchester for Royal Bengal tiger was simply a man trying to flaunt his wealth who believed that any hit from a big gun could kill a Royal Bengal tiger through sheer force alone . Then the saying was that a client who brought a magnum .375 was a client who respected the animal he was hunting , and gave equal priority to correct aim and power. I personally do not share this judgemental attitude and found it a little condescending towards our clients . A client should use what they shoot best , as long as they are reasonable.
The perfect rifle calibre for all applications and by far the most popular was the magnum .375 by the English firm , Holland and Holland. No better rifle cartridge exists in this world , in my humble view , atleast . A gentleman armed with such a rifle could ( and frequently did ) secure everything from a mouse deer to a large male Gaur , by using appropriate ammunition ( which l shall relate further down ). I had a proud German client who used German tailors , drank German beer ( still the finest in the world , in my opinion ) and was as proud of his German heritage as any patriot whom l have ever had the pleasure to cross paths with. When a patriot such as this chooses to use a British magnum .375 instead of any of the excellent German calibres , you know that this gem of a cartridge is one which has permeated all national boundaries and found a place in the battery of sportsmen from all over the world. The same could be seen of many of my proud American clients who treated this British cartridge with more fondness than some American cartridges.
Interestingly enough , while this excellent cartridge was made by the firm , Holland and Holland, and Holland and Holland now claim on their web page that they use the venerable mauser mechanism , l have never in my career as a professional Shikari ( 1962 to 1970 ) , actually seen a rifle from Holland and Holland in this calibre which used a mauser mechanism. I have only seen one Holland and Holland bolt operation rifle in magnum .375 and it was built on an Enfield mechanism ( a pattern 14 or 15 or 16 or 17 , if l recall the owner saying. Please forgive me as it escapes my memory. It was a teen number for certain ) It was an excellent gun . Please do not think that l am being dishonest , as l know that the gun was definitely built on an Enfield mechanism and not on a mauser mechanism ( which l was very familiar with , by that point of my career ).
The vast majority of magnum .375 rifles would be from the American firm of Winchester or from Belgian firms . Excellent weapons they were all of them. My former client , Don Fernando Delgado owned a magnum .375 Winchester rifle which had a Mauser type extracting claw device which other Winchester rifles of the same calibre lacked. Perhaps it was a custom order or a special order , but it certainly looked older than the other rifles. It had a stock that had split and was patched up with large bolts . However , it was excellent for dangerous animals . Mr. Mark Hunter was kind enough to educate me that such rifles are called control round feed rifles or crf in abbreviation. The best rifle of this calibre which l have ever seen was owned by a repeat British client of mine. He owned a beautiful magnum .375 made by the firm , John Rigby and co. on a large mauser mechanism . I almost envy him in a harmless way , for that rifle.
There is a certain Magnum .375 rifle l have seen which was owned by a repeat client . It was built on a mechanism which was similar to a mauser but with some modifications . It was called a Brevexe mechanism rifle and l actually had the chance to borrow it from the client and shoot a boar with it. Beautiful rifle , it was. I have never seen another Brevexe rifle in 53 years.

If a client could not handle a rifle of this calibre due to the recoil , then the suitable alternative would be either a 9.3 millimeter German mauser caliber or the American .338 by Winchester. However , common sense must prevail and it must be borne in mind that these will lack the punch of a magnum .375 , but only just. Unless one is going after a large male Gaur over 1500 pounds in weight , this is of little consequence if your aim is correct behind the shoulder.
The 9.3 millimeter was popular among European clients and indeed a great deal of execution could be accomplished with it . The bullet weighs a little over 280 grains and one client used to bring this ammunition in little boxes with " RWS" imprinted on them. There were metal envelope bullets and soft lead nose bullets for this caliber. German guns are flawlessly reliable in my humble experience and their mauser rifle is probably Germany's greatest gift to the world of sportsmen.
The American .338 by Winchester was certainly nothing to ignore either. With a bullet of little of 270 grains , it was an excellent performer on the Royal Bengal tiger . I have only ever seen soft nosed bullets for this American piece of ingenuity , although my fellow forum member , Hoss Delgado assures me that they do exist. These rifles were usually made by Winchester in the bolt operation configuration .
There are those sportsmen who sometimes liked something a little larger than a magnum .375 . This was invariably the magnum .458 by Winchester. Even though a decent number of my must clients used this calibre , only two come to my mind immediately. One was a gentleman with a bolt operation rifle from Birmingham Small Arms . His Shikar experience in India was not one to be envied , as my previous article " The Gaur Shikar which went very terribly wrong illustrates in good detail . The other gentleman owned a double barrel rifle in magnum .458 Winchester made by the excellent British firm , Holland and Holland. My young friend , Hoss Delgado refuses to believe that a double barrel rifle exists in this calibre. As knowledgeable as he is on fire arms , l know for a fact that the gun was a magnum .458 Winchester . My client was blessed by Divine Providence in his skills with that double barrel rifle , as three Gaurs ( all upwards of 2000 pounds ) and one Royal Bengal tiger can attest to. Cartridges for this calibre came from many firms , but it is the American firms of Winchester and Hornady which l remember most vividly. Bullets were invariably 500 grains or 510 grains. These either had a soft nose or a metal envelope. My former shikar partner , the late Karim Chowdhury was always a little distrustful of this cartridge . The first time , Karim had seen a client bring a fire arm of this calibre , the following happened :
Karim looked at the cartridges and said " Shahib ( sir ) , may l ask a question ? " . The client responded in the affirmative. Karim asked " Shahib , the magnum .375 cartridge is loaded with a lighter bullet of 300 grains , but it has a larger cartridge size to keep a larger charge of powder . If these bullets in your gun weigh 200 grains more , then should the cartridge size not be larger to accommodate a corresponding charge of powder . Why is it smaller than the magnum .375 ? ". The disastrous incident of that Shikar ( previously related ) did not help to improve Karim's view of this cartridge. I , however , am much more forgiving , based on my experiences with the client who owned the double barrel rifle in this caliber.
If a sportsman was not interested in shooting birds , then he would invariably bring a rifle of smaller calibre as his second gun , to shoot smaller animals , but as mouse deer , hares , barking deer or the Darjeeling bush boar .
A rifle of such caliber would typically be either a .3006 by Springfield , a magnum 7 millimeter by Remington or a magnum .300 by Winchester. Other calibres , l have of course seen , such as the .243 by Winchester or the .308 by Winchester , but their popularity paled in comparison to the aforementioned calibres.
The .3006 by Springfield is a true American Classic. I believe firmly that it will never die. Cartridges came in all forms and from all firms , but the heaviest, l believe is 220 grains and came from the American firm , Remington . Invariably , these were soft nose bullets. I have never seen blunt nose bullets with metal envelopes in this calibre , although Hoss Delgado tells me that they exist. It was an excellent cartridge for boar , deer and Nilgai , but a dangerous game cartridge , it is not. It had a tendency to wound more leopards than it killed and Karim and l were always a little unnerved when a client would appear with a rifle in this calibre and a license to shoot a leopard or a Royal Bengal tiger . Nevertheless , American gentlemen are marksmen of unrivalled skill. A gentleman from Texas killed not one , but three Royal Bengal tigers using the 220 grain soft nose variant of this cartridge and a model 1917 rifle by Enfield. The exception , however , is not the rule . Rifles of this calibre came from all firms , including but not limited to : Springfield , Winchester , Remington , Birmingham Small Arms and even the British firm of Westley Richards . I did have to endure a very specific problem with some sportsmen who would bring a rifle of this calibre. In order to be a bit frugal , these gentlemen would bring ammunition purchased from surplus military stores with pointed metal enveloped heads. These were available in green color containers and while excellent for war , has no place in the pursuit of wild beasts . For this application , they were foul things . Hoss Delgado has shown me a page from a book about a gentleman in Africa named Mr. Harry Manners who used a .3006 rifle by Winchester loaded with these pointed end bullets to shoot 40 elephants with mixed success. I have no doubts about Mr. Manners prowess , but he must have been exceptionally fortunate , as a pointed end bullet is not designed to go through the heavy bones of large animals without deviating from it's course. It has it's place in the battle field but not in the world of Shikar.
The magnum 7 millimeter by Remington was a good weapon and not surprisingly most rifles In this calibre came from the American firm of Remington . With it's heaviest bullet being of 175 grains in weight , it was an accurate and capable performer on any animal below a leopard in weight. I have only seen soft nose cartridges in this calibre , but Hoss Delgado , being more knowledgeable than l , suggests that metal envelope solid bullets in this caliber certainly do exist. Boars were classified as vermin in those days and there were no limitations on how many could be taken in a single season . A Canadian client of mine laid low five Darjeeling bush boars with five cartridges of a magnum 7 millimeter by Remington . That should speak well of it's quality.
The magnum .300 by Winchester was a cartridge which l consider the unrivalled best for shooting undangerous animals at longer distances. These rifles were invariably made by Winchester , but l have seen custom rifles buit on mauser mechanisms as well for this excellent calibre ( one of which will feature prominently in a future article ). The bullets would come in weights from 150 grains to 180 grains and very virtually always with a soft nose head. However , l am told by the redoubtable Hoss Delgado that solid bullets with a metal envelope are also available for this excellent cartridge . Ammunition was made by countless firms , but it is Winchester who l remember as being the most popular.

With rifles calibres discussed , let our topic now shift to shot-guns. The universal shot-gun calibre is the 12 bore . Cartridges for this calibre come in 65 , 70 , 76 and 89 millimeter lengths. I do not think too highly of the 89 millimeter cartridge and fortunately these monstrosities did not exist when l was an active Shikari ( unfortunately , now l have to teach many young shot-gun shooters in Bangladesh how to fire these large abberations , which is a story for another day ). My personal fondness is lies with the classic 70 millimeter 12 bore cartridge , however the 65 millimeter and 76 millimeter cartridges are decent chamberings . The 65 millimeter cartridge makes an excellent choice for quails and pigeons ( creatures for which my foolish young pupils now think than an 89 millimeter cartridge is required ). The 76 millimeter cartridge is excellent for those shooters who are fond of shooting ducks and geese from a distance greater than thirty yards.
American clients always brought either the 12 bore or the 20 bore. The 20 bore cartridges were of 70 millimeter length , however the knowledgeable forum member , Co Elk Hunter has educated me that a 76 millimeter variant of the 20 bore cartridge exists today. It was excellent for shooting any bird that was not not of the water fowl category.
A calibre practically unknown to my American clients , but very popular among the European clients was the 16 bore. With lighter recoil than a 12 bore , but a larger bore diameter than a 20 bore , it was used successfully by my many of clients for everything up to teal . A client even used one of these 16 bores ( A beautiful side by side shot-gun made by a Belgian firm ) on geese with success , but l would personally feel more comfortable with a 12 bore for these large birds .
We now come to which form of shot-guns were popular. The answer is that they all were used in India for bird shooting. There was the side by side , the over-under , the pump operation and the auto loader. For the side by side shot-guns , English firms were the most popular and with good reason. The grand gun makers like Holland and Holland , Westley Richards , Purdey , I Hollis and William Wellington Greener were the most skilled makers of the side by side configuration which l have ever seen. Alongside the quintessential English bird shooters , even American gentlemen liked these .My respected young colleague , Hoss Delgado does not think too highly of the English side by side. His reasoning is that the shot-guns have a narrow splinter type fore end which forces the shooter to grip the gun by the muzzles with his non firing hand. Unless one wears a glove , their hand could get blistered after a few firings. While Hoss is correct , l do not think of the need to wear a glove as being any noticeable disadvantage. Surely , a man who can afford to purchase fire arms , can also afford a glove . Every shot-gun in my youth , was taken to the field with a light leather gloves being worn on the shooter's non firing hand. Belgian side by side shot-guns were not far behind in beauty and reliability either , with Joseph Saive being a very popular firm among many continental clients .
American side by side shot-guns were rugged and durable . They were beautiful in a different kind of way. The model 21 by Winchester built to take the 76 millimeter cartridge with full choked barrels above 30 inches in length was used by one of my clients to great effect against a dozen geese , as a picture here will illustrate.

My former partner , the late Karim Chowdhury said something which l will repeat here " The over-under is a science , but the side by side is an art " . I agree with his statement.
Over -under shot-guns were relatively recent in our time , but not so rare , so as to be uncommon . The first over-under , l had seen a client bring into India for Shikar was a 12 bore made by the firm , Browning. I later saw many Beretta over-under guns as well and thought that one day l would like to own one. English sportsmen at the time thought poorly of them , but continental sportsmen and American sportsmen held them in high esteem. These invariably came with the new single trigger , which at the time , was unheard of , in India. You could move a switch which would control which barrel would be fired first. The fact that my shot-gun of choice today is a 12 bore Beretta s686 Special over-under with a full choke barrel over a modified choke barrel speaks how highly l think of this design.
We now come to the topic of repeater shot-guns. The traditional pump operation shot-gun evokes images more in line with the American duck hunter than the Indian Shikari , but they were extremely popular as well. Models from Winchester , Remington and Ithaca were popular. An American client used a model 1897 from Winchester in 12 bore loaded with number 1 shot to kill nine teals with twelve cartridges. He also told me stories about how the American Expeditionary forces during the first and second world war would use the American equivalent of SSG in the model 1897 Winchester to devastating effect on the enemies in trenches ( perhaps somebody here could confirm this for me ). It would finally be in Bangladesh in 1997 , that l was able to try a model 1897 from Winchester in a friendly skeet shooting competition with the other members of Bangladesh shooting federation ( for actual competition , the over-under is requisite ) .
Among auto loaders , the only models which l have seen during my time as a professional Shikari , would be the models from Belgium in 12 bore. Excellent pieces , they were too. They held five cartridges and an American client used one such shot-gun loaded with German lead slug projectiles to kill a Royal Bengal tiger

The shot-guns would come in all chokes . Different quarry require different levels of constriction . The goose requires a full choke while the quail is contented with the quarter choke. I find that for guns with permanent chokes , the half or modified choke was best for all Indian winged game as long as the shooter takes care . During my career , l had actually seen a few shot-guns with adjustable chokes. One was an American 12 bore auto loader shot-gun made by the firm , Hi Standard . The other was a single barrel shot-gun made by the English firm , William Wellington Greener which looked very much like the Martini Henry rifles seen in the film " Zulu " . Today the removable choke system is popular but my fondness lies with the permanent choke as it is the system of my childhood.
View attachment 308248
The armaments of two clients after a successful Shikar of leopards. The fact that they were brothers shows in their choices. Two .3006 rifles by Springfield and two William Wellington Greener single barrel shot-guns in 12 bore with adjustable chokes.

The question now about rifles comes to this : Were double barrel rifles or bolt operation rifles popular ? Considering that American cartridges were more popular than English Cartridges at the time of which l write , the answer is bolt operation rifles. However , l have also had a good quantity of loyal clients come for Shikar with double barrel rifles . These were invariably in magnum .375 calibre. However , as previously mentioned , a good sportsman also came with such a rifle calibrated for magnum .458 Winchester made by the firm , Holland and Holland and it was as beautiful as it was efficient. Is any better than the other ? After six decades of hunting , eight years of which was as a professional Shikari , l have this to say. Both are good . It depends on what you are comfortable with. There are clients who can operate a bolt mechanism rifle fast enough to empty the entire magazine in less than five seconds. Then , there are clients who could fire off both barrels from a double barrel rifle , reload it ( by keeping the cartridges between their fingers ) and fire off two more shots in the same time period.
However , l am of strong opinion in one matter. For those clients who use a double barrel rifle , l will strongly discourage them from purchasing a double barrel rifle for dangerous animals which has automatic safety mechanism. The automatic safety in the double barrel rifle prevents the shooter from reloading the rifle and firing off a second pair of shots swiftly , in the case of an emergency. Of course , for an ethical and enjoyable Shikar the objective is to ensure that the first bullet is placed correctly . This eliminates the need for any extra shots. However , nobody knows what fate might have planned for you on a particular day. It is better to err on the side of caution.
There is , however , one circumstance where the double barrel excels and the bolt operation falls a little behind. If you are pursuing a leopard into thick vegetation, l would highly recommend a double barrel shot-gun with Large projectiles in each barrel. Leopards average in weight between 200 to 270 pounds and are extremely quick. I would recommend SG 12 pellet cartridges , as l have had great success with on leopard. However , the modern hunter may perhaps benefit from solid slug type projectiles.
Regarding bolt rifles , Are rifles with Mauser type extracting claw devices better than those rifles which lack these features ? My clients have done a great deal of execution with both configurations , so clearly both work. However , in risky situations where a panicked shooter operates the bolt too fast ( which can happen to anybody , no matter how proficient one is, on an unfavorable day. ) , mauser type claw extractor is decidedly advantageous. However , l believe that the rifles without claw extracting devices are too harshly criticized by some ( namely , my learned colleague , Hoss Delgado ). It is true that they can jam in certain situations ( for instance , if they are dirty or if one operates the bolt improperly ) . However , this happens a lot less frequently than some would think. At any rate , l believe that for shooting animals which are not dangerous , a bolt rifle without a claw type extractor will not suffer. However , for dangerous animals , my preference lies with the mauser type extracting claw device as l value my life and the lives of those hunting with me. These rifles were invariably loaded only from the magazine .My learned colleague and forum member , Hoss Delgado is fond of filling the rifle magazine and then putting another round into the chamber of rifles by getting the extractor to slip over the rim of the cartridge. I believe the term used is " topping off " .While this is alright with rifles with no extracting claw device , l would be very cautious about doing this with mauser type rifles . A client of mine had actually broken the extractor of his magnum .300 ( Winchester firm) calibre rifle which was built on a mauser mechanism by repeating this practice frequently. Perhaps newer rifles with mauser mechanisms will not suffer this way. Nevertheless , a great deal of strain is placed on the extractor . I would like to add my experience with a certain rifle which l hear mixed views on : The model 700 Remington. Some like it . Some dislike it. I have seen 18 specimens in my professional career , mostly in .3006 calibre. I have only seen two which jammed . It was certainly alright for undangerous animals. Barring the absence of the mauser type extracting claw device , l cannot think of any reason why it would be poor for dangerous animals as well. A client of mine did , infact , kill a Royal Bengal tiger with it. Nevertheless , for dangerous animals l prefer a rifle with a Mauser type extracting claw device . I do respectfully disagree with my fellow hunter , Hoss Delgado about these rifles firing on their own. I have never seen a model 700 from Remington fire without someone pulling the trigger. It is my view that this must have happened when some well meaning gentlemen tried to alter the trigger pulling weight .
For ammunition , solid metal envelope bullets were only popular among clients who had a Gaur or mouse deer on their mind. Other than that , soft nose bullets ( the Winchester silver tip being a particular favorite ) were used for everything else. For shot-guns , a large quantity of number 6 would be suitable for general bird shooting. However , deviations to this rule must be made for other creatures planned to be taken with the shot-gun . The snipe or the dove , for instance demands the number 8 , while the duck and goose demanded number 1 or BB. For cranes , the standard shot sizes were BB or AAA ( which l still use for cranes in Bangladesh today ).
Thus , l conclude this article with a small summary of what l would recommend for my clients in those days . For a client looking to shoot both beasts and fowl , l would recommend a 12 bore double barrel shot-gun for the fowl and hares . Side by side or over-under is a matter of preference . The two chokes of a double barrel were advantageous for bird shooting in India. If one disliked the recoil of a 12 bore , then a 16 bore would be serviceable alternative . For a client only wanting to shoot land fowl , a 20 bore would be no big disadvantage .
The rifle should be a magnum .375 preferably with a Mauser type extracting claw device . If they find the recoil of the magnum .375 to be too unpleasant , then the 9.3 millimeter Mauser is a serviceable alternative. If no Gaur is intended for Shikar , then the .338 by Winchester will do just fine.
If the client is not after birds , then the shot-gun may be substituted with a good rifle of lighter calibre for long distance shooting on undangerous animals . I would recommend the magnum .300 by Winchester over all others for this work. However , the .3006 or the magnum 7 millimeter by Remington were also proven performers in this field. I would like to finish this article by apologizing if l have seemed authoritarian in my choices . Or condescending towards anyone's choices. I do not claim to be an expert in anything , but am merely talking about fire arms from five decades ago. With so many excellent modern choices today , my choices in those days certainly are now antiquated. The homogeneous metal bullet seems to be the standard now for large thick skinned animals and with good reason . The design is a sturdy one. The humble Winchester silver tip has now been replaced by excellent bullets with controlled rates of expansion . High velocity bullets are common. However , l do not believe that ammunition for dangerous animals should have a higher velocity than 2400 feet per second. Anything less than 2000 feet per second is similar to the old black powder rifles of the days of Sir Samuel Baker ( author of the Rifle and the Hound , in Ceylon ) . Too high a velocity is just as detrimental as too low a velocity.
My Friend Kawshick
Another very well written and informative story by yourself. You make some excellent observations based on personal experience.
Yes the firm of Holland and Holland do make a double rifle in 448 Winchester magnum. On My one and only visit to the firm in London I jokingly said to my wife that I would like a double rifle. The one I saw was in 600 nitro express. On speaking to the gentleman there he said that they can make one in any caliber that I could think of. They have even made one in 22 savage hipower/5.6x51 in metric I think. This was made for a gentleman who used it for Roe deer. Today a Royal double Holland and Holland will cost £250,000 in the caliber of your choice.
The Enfield rifle was the P14 or M17 with the P13 being the experimental model.
Please keep writing my friend there are a lot of people that enjoy your writings. Do not let a troll worry you, we know your reputation and that you would not do as he has implied.
You have faxed riders, leopard, gaur and other dangerous game and survived. A troll has nothing on these it is just a pity we can't shoot these troublesome creatures as well.
Keep safe and well my Friend
Bob Nelson.


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May 8, 2021
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Thank you so much for the fine articles. Interesting you mentioned the .338 and heavy bullets. Woodleigh make a 300 grain soft and solid in .338 ,Swift make a 275 Aframe also. The .340 Weatherby eith 300 grain so loaded is one of the better performing cartridges in their range .

If one have a .358 of some kind, .358 Norma , Rigby or other larger ones, Woodleigh have a 310 grain soft and solid. Swift a 280 Aframe, other is also made.

They both are very similar to the .333 Jeffery and .350 Rigby .

But perhaps best today if one made one a .338 bullet in the .333 Jeffery case to combine both of best worlds .

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