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Across Mongolian Plains A Naturalist's Account of China's 'Great Northwest' By Roy Chapman Andrews Characters: 22112

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Shansi Province is famous for wild boar among the sportsmen of China. In the central part there are low mountains and deep ravines thickly forested with a scrub growth of pine and oak. The acorns are a favorite food of the pigs, and the pigs are a favorite food of the Chinese-and of foreigners, too, for that matter. No domestic pork that I have ever tasted can excel a young acorn-fed wild pig! Even a full-grown sow is delicious, but beware of an old boar; not only is he tough beyond description, but his flesh is so "strong" that it annoys me even to see it cooked. I tried to eat some boar meat, once upon a time-that is why I feel so deeply about it.

It is useless to hunt wild pig until the leaves are off the trees, for your only hope is to find them feeding on the hillsides in the morning or early evening. Then they will often come into the open or the thin forests, and you can have a fair shot across a ravine or from the summit of a hill. If they are in the brush it is well-nigh impossible to see them at all. A wild boar is very clever at eluding his pursuers, and for his size can carry off more lead and requires more killing than any other animal of which I know. Therefore, you may be sure of a decidedly interesting hunt. On the other hand, an unsuspecting pig is easy to stalk, for his eyesight is not good; his sense of smell is not much better; and he depends largely upon hearing to protect him from enemies.

In Tientsin and Shanghai there are several sportsmen who year after year go to try for record tusks-they are the real authorities on wild boar hunting. My own experience has been limited to perhaps a dozen pigs killed in Korea, Mongolia, Celebes, and various parts of China.

Harry Caldwell and I returned from our bighorn sheep and wapiti hunt on November 19. He was anxious to go with me for wild boar, but business required his presence in Foochow, and Everett Smith, who had been my companion on a trip to the Eastern Tombs the previous spring, volunteered to accompany me. We left on November 28 by the Peking-Hankow Railroad for Ping-ting-cho, arriving the following afternoon at two o'clock. There we obtained donkeys for pack and riding animals. All the traffic in this part of Shansi is by mules or donkeys. As a result the inns are small, with none of the spacious courtyards which we had found in the north of the province. They were not particularly dirty, but the open coal fires which burned in every kitchen sometimes drove us outside for a breath of untainted air. How it is possible for human beings to exist in rooms so filled with coal gas is beyond my knowledge. Of course, death from gas poisoning is not unusual, but I suppose the natives have become somewhat immune to its effects.

Our destination was a tiny village in the mountains about eight miles beyond Ho-shun, a city of considerable size in the very center of the province. Tai-yuan-fu, the capital, at the end of the railway, is a famous place for pigs; but they have been hunted so persistently in recent years that few remain within less than two or three days' journey from the city.

It was a three days' trip from the railroad to Ho-shun, and there was little of interest to distinguish the road from any other in north China. It is always monotonous to travel with pack animals or carts, for they go so slowly that you can make only two or three miles an hour, at best. If there happens to be shooting along the way, as there is in most parts of Shansi, it helps to pass the time. We picked up a few pheasants, some chuckars, and a dozen pigeons, but did not stop to do any real hunting until we entered a wooded valley and established ourselves in a fairly comfortable Chinese but at the little village of Kao-chia-chuang. On the way in we met a party of Christian Brother missionaries who had been hunting in the vicinity for five days. They had seen ten or twelve pigs and had killed a splendid boar weighing about three hundred and fifty pounds as well as two roebuck.

The mountains near the village had been so thoroughly hunted that there was little chance of finding pigs, but nevertheless we decided to stay for a day or two. I killed a two-year-old roebuck on the first afternoon; and the next morning, while Smith and I were resting on a mountain trail, one of our men saw an enormous wild boar trot across an open ridge and disappear into a heavily forested ravine. I selected a post on a projecting shoulder, while one Chinese went with Smith to pick up the trail of the pig. There were so many avenues of escape open to the boar that I had to remain where it was possible to watch a large expanse of country.

Smith had not yet reached the bottom of the ravine when the native who had remained with me suddenly began to gesticulate wildly and to point to a wooded slope directly in front of us. He hopped about like a man who has suddenly lost his mind and succeeded in keeping in front of me so that I could see nothing but his waving arms and writhing body. Finally seizing him by the collar, I threw him to the ground so violently that he realized his place was behind me. Then I saw the pig running along a narrow trail, silhouetted against the snow which lay thinly on the shaded side of the hill.

He was easily three hundred and fifty yards away and I had little hope of hitting him, but I selected an open patch beyond a bit of cover and fired as he emerged. The boar squealed and plunged forward into the bushes. A moment later he reappeared, zigzagging his way up the slope and only visible through the trees when he crossed a patch of snow. I emptied the magazine of my rife in a futile bombardment, but the boar crossed the summit and disappeared.

We picked up his bloody trail and for two hours followed it through a tangled mass of scrub and thorns. It seemed certain that we must find him at any moment, for great red blotches stained the snow wherever he stopped to rest. At last the trail led us across an open ridge, and the snow and blood suddenly ceased. We could not follow his footprints in the thick grass and abandoned the chase just before dark.

Two more days of unsuccessful hunting convinced us that the missionaries had driven the pigs to other cover. There was a region twelve miles away to which they might have gone, and we shifted camp to a village named Tziloa a mile or more from the scrub-covered hills which we wished to investigate.

The natives of this part of the country were in no sense hunters. They were farmers who, now that the crops were harvested, had plenty of leisure time and were glad to roam the hills with us. Although their eyesight was remarkable and they were able to see a pig twice as far as we could, they had no conception of stalking the game or of how to hunt it. When we began to shoot, instead of watching the pigs, they were always so anxious to obtain the empty cartridge cases that a wild scramble ensued after every shot. They were like street boys fighting for a penny. It was a serious handicap for successful hunting, and they kept me in such a state of irritation that I never shot so badly in all my life.

We found pigs at Tziloa immediately. The carts went by road to the village, while Smith and I, with two Chinese, crossed the mountains. On the summit of a ridge not far from the village we met eight native hunters. Two of them had ancient muzzle-loading guns but the others only carried staves. Evidently their method of hunting was to surround the pigs and drive them close up to the men with firearms.

We persuaded one of the Chinese, a boy of eighteen, with cross-eyes and a funny, dried-up little face, to accompany us, for our two guides wished to return that night to Kao-chia-chuang. He led us down a spur which projected northward from the main ridge, and in ten minutes we discovered five pigs on the opposite side of a deep ravine. The sun lay warmly on the slope, and the animals were lazily rooting in the oak scrub. They were a happy family-a boar, a sow, and three half-grown piglets.

We slipped quietly among the trees until we were directly opposite to them and not more than two hundred yards away. The boar and the sow had disappeared behind a rocky corner, and the others were slowly following so that the opportunity for a shot would soon be lost. Telling Smith to take the one on the left, I covered another which stood half facing me. At the roar of my rifle the ravine was filled with wild squeals, and the pig rolled down the hill bringing up against a tree. The boar rushed from behind the rock, and I fired quickly as he stood broadside on. He plunged out of sight, and the gorge was still!

Smith had missed his pig and was very much disgusted. The three Chinese threw themselves down the slope, slipping and rolling over logs and stones, and were up the opposite hill before we reached the bottom of the ravine. They found the pig which I had killed and a blood-splashed trail leading around the hill where the boar had disappeared.

My pig was a splendid male in the rich red-brown coat of adolescence. The bullet had struck him "amidships" and shattered the hip on the opposite side. From the blood on the trail we decided that I had shot the big boar through the center of the body about ten inches behind the forelegs.

We had learned by experience how much killing a full-grown pig required, and had no illusions about finding him dead a few yards away, even though both sides of his path were blotched with red at every step. Therefore, while the Chinese followed the trail, Smith and I sprinted across the next ridge into a thickly forested ravine to head off the boar.

We took stations several yards apart, and suddenly I heard Smith's rifle bang six times in quick succession. The Chinese had disturbed the pig from a patch of cover and it had climbed the opposite hill slope in full view of Smith, who apparently had missed it every time. Missing a boar dodging about among the bushes is not such a difficult thing to do, and although poor Smith was too disgusted even to talk about it, I had a good deal of sympathy for him.

We had little hope of getting the animal when we climbed to the summit of the ridge and saw the tangle of brush into which it had disappeared, but nevertheless we followed the trail which was still showing blood. I was in front and was just letting myself down a snow-covered bowlder, when far below me I saw a huge sow and a young pig walking slowly through the trees. I turned quickly, lost my balance, and slipped feet first over the rock into a mass of thorns and scrub. A locomotive could not have made more noise, and I extricated myself just in time to see the two pigs disappear into a grove of pines. I was bleeding from a dozen scratches, but I climbed to the summit of the ridge and dashed forward hoping to cut them off if they crossed below me. They did not appear, and we tried to drive them out from the cover into which they had made their way; but we never saw them again. It was already beginning to grow dark

and too late to pick up the trail of the wounded boar, so we had to call it a day and return to the village.

One of our men carried my shotgun and we killed half a dozen pheasants on the way back to camp. The birds had come into the open to feed, and small flocks were scattered along the valley every few hundred yards. We saw about one hundred and fifty in less than an hour, besides a few chuckars.

I have never visited any part of China where pheasants were so plentiful as in this region. Had we been hunting birds we could have killed a hundred or more without the slightest difficulty during the time we were looking for pigs. We could not shoot, however, without the certainty of disturbing big game and, consequently, we only killed pheasants when on the way back to camp. During the day the birds kept well up toward the summits of the ridges and only left the cover in the morning and evening.

Our second hunt was very amusing, as well as successful. We met the same party of Chinese hunters early in the morning, and agreed to divide the meat of all the pigs we killed during the day if they would join forces with us. Among them was a tall, fine-looking young fellow, evidently the leader, who was a real hunter-the only one we found in the entire region. He knew instinctively where the pigs were, what they would do, and how to get them.

He led us without a halt along the summit of the mountain into a ravine and up a long slope to the crest of a knifelike ridge. Then he suddenly dropped in the grass and pointed across a ca?on to a bare hillside. Two pigs were there in plain sight-one a very large sow. They were fully three hundred yards away and on the edge of a bushy patch toward which they were feeding slowly. Smith left me to hurry to the bottom of the ca?on where he could have a shot at close range if either one went down the hill, while I waited behind a stone. Before he was halfway down the slope the sow moved toward the patch of cover into which the smaller pig had already disappeared. It must be then, if I was to have a shot at all. I fired rather hurriedly and registered a clean miss. Both pigs, instead of staying in the cover where they would have been safe, dashed down the open slope toward the bottom of the ca?on. At my first shot all eight of the Chinese had leaped for the empty rifle shell and were rolling about like a pack of dogs after a bone. One of them struck my leg just as I fired the second time and the bullet went into the air; I delivered a broadside of my choicest Chinese oaths and the man drew off. I sent three shots after the fleeing sow, but she disappeared unhurt.

One shell remained in my rifle, and I saw the other pig running like a scared rabbit in the very bottom of the ca?on. It was so far away that I could barely see the animal through my sights, but when I fired it turned a complete somersault and lay still; the bullet had caught it squarely in the head.

Meanwhile, Smith was having a lively time with the old sow. He had swung around a corner of rock just in time to meet the pig coming at full speed from the other side not six yards away. He tried to check himself, slipped, and sat down suddenly but managed to fire once, breaking the animal's left foreleg. It disappeared into the brush with Smith after it.

He began an intermittent bombardment which lasted half an hour. Bang, bang, bang-then silence. Bang, bang, bang-silence again. I wondered what it all meant and finally ran down the bottom of the valley until I saw Smith opposite to me just under the rim of the ravine. He was tearing madly through the brush not far behind the sow. As the animal appeared for an instant on the summit of a rise he dropped on one knee and fired twice. Then, I saw him race over the hill, leaping the bushes like a roebuck. Once he rolled ten feet into a mass of thorn scrub, but he was up again in an instant, hurdling the brush and fallen logs, his eye on the pig.

It was screamingly funny and I was helpless with laughter. "Go it, Smith," I yelled. "Run him down. Catch him in your hands." He had no breath to waste in a reply, for just then he leaped a fallen log and I saw the sow charge him viciously. The animal had been lying under a tree, almost done, but still had life enough to damage Smith badly if it had reached him. As the man landed on his feet, he fired again at the pig which was almost on him. The bullet caught the brute in the shoulder at the base of the neck and rolled it over, but it struggled to its feet and ran uncertainly a few steps; then it dropped in a little gully.

By the time I had begun to climb the bill Smith shouted that the pig might charge again, and I kept my rifle ready, but the animal was "all in." I circled warily and, creeping up from behind, drove my hunting knife into its heart; even then it struggled to get at me before it rolled over dead.

Smith was streaming blood from a score of scratches, and his clothes were in ribbons, but his face was radiant. "I'd have chased the blasted pig clear to Peking," he said. "All my shells are gone, but I wasn't going to let him get away. If I hadn't kept that last cartridge he'd have caught me, surely."

It was fine enthusiasm and, if ever a man deserved his game, Smith deserved that sow. The animal had been shot in half a dozen places; two legs were broken, and at least three of the bullets had reached vital spots.

Still the brute kept on. Any one who thinks pigs are easy to kill ought to try the ones in Shansi! The sow weighed well over three hundred pounds, and it required six men to carry the two pigs into camp. We got no more, although we saw two others, but still we felt that the day had not been ill spent. As long as I live I shall never forget Smith's hurdle race after that old sow.

Although I killed two roebuck, the next day I returned to camp with rage in my heart. Smith and I had separated late in the afternoon, and I was hunting with an old Chinese when we discovered three pigs-a huge boar, a sow, and a shote-crossing an open hill. Crawling on my face, I reached a rock not seventy yards from the animals. At the first shot the boar pitched over the bluff into a tangle of thorns, squealing wildly. My second bullet broke the shoulder of the sow, and I had a mad chase through a patch of scrub, but finally lost her.

When I returned to get the big boar I discovered my Chinese squatted on his haunches in the ravine. He blandly informed me that the pig could not be found. I spent the half hour of remaining daylight burrowing in the thorn scrub without success. I learned later that the native had concealed the dead pig under a mass of stones and that during the night he and his confrères had carried it away. Moreover, after we left, they also got the sow which I had wounded. Although at the time I did not suspect the man's perfidy, nevertheless it was apparent that he had not kept his eyes on the boar as I had told him to do; otherwise the pig could not possibly have escaped.

We had one more day of hunting because Smith had obtained two weeks' leave. The next morning dawned dark and cloudy with spurts of hail-just the sort of weather in which animals prefer to stay comfortably snuggled under a bush in the thickest cover. Consequently we saw nothing all day except one roebuck, which I killed. It was running at full speed when I fired, and it disappeared over the crest of a hill without a sign of injury. Smith was waiting on the other side, and I wondered why he did not shoot, until we reached the summit and discovered the deer lying dead in the grass. Smith had seen the buck plunge over the ridge, and just as he was about to fire, it collapsed.

We found that my bullet had completely smashed the heart, yet the animal had run more than one hundred yards. As it fell, one of its antlers had been knocked off and the other was so loose that it dropped in my hand when I lifted the head. This was on December 11. The other bucks which I had killed still wore their antlers, but probably they would all have been shed before Christmas. The growth takes place during the winter, and the velvet is all off the new antlers by the following May.

On the way back to camp we saw a huge boar standing on an open hillside. Smith and I fired hurriedly and both missed a perfectly easy shot. With one of the Chinese I circled the ridge, while Smith took up the animal's trail. We arrived on the edge of a deep ravine just as the boar appeared in the very bottom. I fired as it rushed through the bushes, and the pig squealed but never hesitated. The second shot struck behind it, but at the third it squealed again and dived into a patch of cover. When we reached the spot we found a great pool of blood and bits of entrails-but no pig. A broad red patch led through the snow, and we followed, expecting at every step to find the animal dead. Instead, the track carried us down the hill, up the bottom of a ravine, and onto a hill bare of snow but thickly covered with oak scrub.

While Smith and I circled ahead to intercept the pig, the Chinese followed the trail. It was almost dark when we went back to the men, who announced that the blood had ceased and that they had lost the track. It seemed incredible; but they had so trampled the trail where it left the snow that we could not find it again in the gloom.

Then Smith and I suspected what we eventually found to be true, viz., that the men had discovered the dead pig and had purposely led us astray. We had no proof, however, and they denied the charge so violently that we began to think our suspicions were unfounded.

We had to leave at daylight next morning in order to reach Peking before Smith's leave expired. Two days after we left, one of my friends arrived at Kao-chia-chuang, where we had first hunted, and reported that the Chinese had brought in all four of the pigs which we had wounded. One of them, probably the boar we lost on the last night, was an enormous animal which the natives said weighed more than five hundred pounds. Of course, this could not have been true, but it probably did reach nearly four hundred pounds.

What Smith and I said when we learned that the scoundrels had cheated us would not look well in print. However, it taught us several things about boar hunting which will prove of value in the future. The Chinese can sell wild pig meat for a very high price since it is considered to be a great delicacy. Therefore, if I wound a pig in the future I shall, myself, follow its trail to the bitter end. Moreover, I learned that, to knock over a wild boar and keep him down for good, one needs a heavy rifle. The bullet of my 6.5 mm. Mannlicher, which has proved to be a wonderful killer for anything up to and including sheep, has not weight enough behind it to stop a pig in its tracks. These animals have such wonderful vitality that, even though shot in a vital spot, they can travel an unbelievable distance. Next time I shall carry a rifle especially designed for pigs and thieving Chinese!

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