Tips from a 19th-century tiger hunter that you can use on your next hunt

Sir Samuel White Baker: Hunting advice from a 19th-century tiger hunter

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Although the Bengal tiger is endangered today, back in the mid-1800s, it was considered premier dangerous game on the Indian subcontinent. Measuring up to 10 feet long and weighing as much as 400 pounds, these apex predators could summarily disembowel prey or its human pursuers with its four-inch-long canine teeth or retractable claws. The tiger’s stripes, as unique to each animal as a fingerprint to a human, helped them disappear amidst tall grass or the shadows of the jungle.

One of the tiger-hunting enthusiasts of this time was a man named Sir Samuel White Baker. As was the case with many figures from this era, Baker wore many hats. A British explorer credited with discovering the source of the Nile river, he was also a military officer, naturalist, big-game hunter, engineer, prolific author, outspoken believer in the righteousness of British colonialism, and an abolitionist.

His work titled “Man-eating Tigers of India” showcased his pursuit of the Bengal tiger, which were hunted one of three ways: baiting with cattle while hunting from an elevated blind or mucharn; by drives, where a long line of men on foot would push a tiger toward a waiting hunter by beating the underbrush and shouting; or from the backs of elephants that would push and ultimately surround the tiger.

Although tiger hunting was unlike the pursuit of any modern game, Baker’s insight and advice can still be of value to today’s sportsman.

Make sure your stand is comfortable and secure.

Anyone who has spent a few hours in a tree stand can attest to the importance of this point. There’s a direct correlation between this and your hunting success: The more comfortable your stand, the more likely you are to stay in it for a longer period of time. The more time spent in the field, the more likely you are to see game. A sturdy stand ensures a stable shot and a more likely kill. “A large, firm, and roomy mucharn fixed upon the boughs of a tree that will not wave before a gust of wind is the proper platform to ensure a successful shot,” said Baker. “I have a simple wooden turnstool, which enables me to shoot in any required direction; this is most comfortable.”

Match your bullet to your game.

This remains a vital aspect to successful and humane hunting today. For thin-skinned game, a properly expanding bullet delivers a decisive kill, whereas thick-skinned, heavy-boned game may require a hard-cast bullet that will penetrate deeply without deflection or expansion. Baker recalled placing a shot on a fast-moving tiger to little effect: “If that had been a soft leaden bullet he would have rolled over to the shot, but I had seen the dust start from the ground when I fired, and I knew that the hard bullet had passed through without delivering the shock required.”

Modify your gun to suit your needs.

A firearm straight from the factory is designed to deliver the most utility to the most users. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ideal for your specific needs. Aftermarket parts and modifications have been used for centuries, and for good reason. For improving a rifle’s utility in low-visibility conditions, for instance, Baker suggested the following: “There are several methods of rendering the muzzle-sights of the rifle visible in partial darkness. A piece of lime made into thick paste, and stuck upon the muzzle-sight, is frequently used by native hunters; but if it is at hand, there is nothing so effective as luminous paint; this can be purchased in stoppered bottles and will last for years.”

Play the wind.

Tigers possess a remarkable sense of smell, and so understanding wind direction and how to use it to one’s advantage was paramount when pursuing them. “It is always advisable if possible to arrange that the beaters shall advance downwind. If they do, the tiger may be generally managed so adroitly that it will be driven in the required direction; but if the beaters are traveling up the wind, the tiger must necessarily follow the same course, and it will probably obtain the scent of the guns that are in positions to intercept it.” The same principle applies to hunting most large game: Stay downwind of your quarry whenever possible if you want to remain undetected.

Stay calm, focused, and vigilant.

This may seem obvious, but it bears noting: If you get bored, lose focus, and become inattentive, you could miss a number of opportunities in the field, or could find yourself rushing a shot. “Tigers are frequently missed, or only slightly wounded, through utter carelessness in keeping a vigilant look-out. The watcher may have omitted to scan the details of the locality, and when unprepared for the interview, the tiger suddenly appears before him. Startled at the unexpected apparition, he fires too quickly, and with one bound the tiger vanishes from view.”

Learn your game’s unique habits.

All animals develop habits to stay comfortable or to improve their chances of survival. Whitetail deer, for instance, when pressured by hunters, tend to withdraw into thick cover and swamps for sanctuary. Pronghorn will almost never jump fences. Tigers, according to Baker, could reliably be found in thick stands of tamarisk, a feathery shrub. “The tiger, being a nocturnal animal, dislikes extreme heat, therefore it invariably seeks the densest shade, and is especially fond during the hottest weather of lying upon ground that has previously been wet, and is still slightly damp; it is in such places that the tamarisk grows most luxuriantly.” By learning your game’s idiosyncrasies, you’ll develop a better idea of where and when to find them.

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