Bear in a cave – a hunter’s tale

Found in an unpublished  typescript -a real life account of big game hunting in India- the author was almost certainly Lieutenant Colonel J. W. Wray. The manuscript was in an envelope with 3 other chapters addressed to him at 'The Croft, Guildford' and he is known to have written With Rifle and Spear : reminiscences of Lt.-Col. J.W. Wray. COPAC gives his dates as 1851-1924 and record this book as being published by The General Press, Ltd.,. They estimate the date as 1925. Certainly these accounts mention rifles and spears, Wray was a dedicated game hunter. The manuscripts came from a couple of very old soldiers - Basil and Russell Steele.

No copies of the book are available and it has not been digitised, apart from an earlier chapter at Jot. Web archives reveal he was in the 108th Foot Regiment and he was a member of the Northumberland and Northern Counties Club. Punch mentions him and his wife in 1916 - the victim of a Pooter like misprint: 'Mrs. Wray entertained the recruiting staff, numbering £21, to tea at Brett's Hall, Guildford, on Thursday.' They add 'Sterling fellows obviously'.


    In one of my previous Chapters I have described the following up of a wounded bear into his cave and finding him dead in there. I knew before I went in that he could not possibly be alive, and I merely went in to make sure of this before allowing any of the beaters to go in and drag him out.
    I daresay that some who have been good enough to read this little book of mine may have wondered why I did not fire at that bear in his cave to make certain of him instead of throwing pebbles on to him, but when they read this story they will understand.
    Knowing that this was the time of year when bears would be getting together attracted by the fruit on the jungle fig trees and trees and thus be tempted to remain out a little later in the mornings instead of going back to their caves before day-break, I sent out a message to my shikarri to put out men to watch and to send me news as soon as he thought it any use. As a rule he devoted himself more to tigers than anything else and was rather apt to "throw in" a bear or two by way of consolation if he could make nothing of some tiger he had been hoping to mark down for me - Consequently I had always to make a special demand on his energies for news of bear or in fact of any other animal but a tiger unless of course I happened to be actually out in the jungle and then he was keen to follow up everything and anything that was about. In a few days I received a message from him that he had seen several bears quite late in the morning feeding under the trees on a large plateau belonging to a range of forest hills about 20 miles away from my headquarters happened to be actually out in the jungle and then he was keen to follow up everything and anything that was about. In a few days I received a message from him that had seen several bears quite late in the morning feeding under the trees on a large plateau belonging to a range of forest hills about 20 miles away from my headquarters.
    I immediately put in for 3 days leave and despatched my 80 lb. tent - servant and kit - giving him 24 hours start and the next afternoon I rode off and reached my little encampment in time for dinner.
    This reminds me that I must pay a slight tribute to the marvellous energy and ingenuity of native servants in Camp life. At perhaps not more than a few hours notice they are told to start off for a 3 days or a 10 days or a month's expedition taking everything they think may be wanted, and they do it scarcely ever forgetting a single detail and on the contrary taking really more than is necessary in spite of the extra trouble it entails upon them in the packing. Then when one arrives in Camp in the dark evening tired & thirsty, there is the welcome light moving along the field towards you to show the way to the tents and there are the servants nicely dressed in clean white tunics smiling their welcome and showing no signs of having been travelling the whole night themselves either walking by the side of a cart or being jolted on the top of it - at the rate of 1 mile an hour.
    The bath is ready and then comes dinner - as good a one as if it had been cooked on an Eagle range instead of one 2 bricks over a small wood fire under a tree, sheltered from the wind by a piece of matting or the top of one of the deal boxes that has brought  out the kit. Then as soon as Dinner is over the shikarri is announced who gives his report & the plans & prospect for to-morrow are discussed and one tumbles into the neat little Camp bed with its snow white Musquito curtains, appreciating all these comforts the more for knowing how eager the faithful servants have been to provide them, and little realizing how terribly one will someday miss them and all their happy associations when the time comes for "retirement" which means eking out ones days in the conventionalities of a humdrum English life.
    In the conference with the shikarri overnight it was decided that a very early start should be made in order to come upon the bears feeding, that is to say that a few beaters were to get round to the further side of the plateau before day break and by advancing silently in line merely tapping the trees gently with their sticks, drive the bears towards the ravine where there were several Caves in which they were accustomed to live. Once the top of the ravine was reached & the bears were headed down it,  the beaters were to make as much noise as they could to get the bears down to the Caves and to me, my position to be near the first of these Caves which was on the left side of the ravine.
    At about 3 a.m. we started, the shikarri, the gunbearer and I and after clambering over many rocks and scrambling in and out of innumerable mullahs (water courses) we came to the bottom of the ravine.
    By this time it was daybreak and as we followed the windings of the little valley we saw what an ideal stronghold this must be for bears - miles away from any human habitation, sheltered from the winds and from the Sun and giving absolute freedom to come and go as they pleased.
    About three quarters of the way up the ravine we came to an exceptionally large opening in the side of the rock almost high enough to stand upright in and looking into it we saw that the opening extended downwards into darkness and this the shikarri said was the Cave in which the largest of the bears had been living and he confirmed this by showing me the bear's "pugs" or footprints, the freshest of them leading away from the Cave while there was nothing of the kind to show that he had returned and we were satisfied therefore that we should soon see him.
    My breech loading rifle was still with the Armourer Serjeant so I had again to borrow a muzzle loader which turned out to be a very inconvenient weapon for this particular adventure and was in fact the indirect cause of it.
    After showing me exactly how the bears would come down the hill, the shikarri went off to superintend the beat and I remained with the man who was carrying my shot gun and ammunition. As soon as I had loaded the rifle I got into position behind a Corinda bush close to the opening into the bear's Cave and just behind it that is - in the direction from which they were to come, and the man then moved off to the top of the rocks taking with him my gun and ammunition. I did not notice this at the moment and as I could hear that the beat had commenced I thought nothing about it. In a few minutes the shouts began and a couple of bears appeared on the top of the hill, coming a great pace toward me - one of the other and as he saw the man on the rock he made a half turn to his right and went on past me to the Cave. I didn't fire because I was reserving myself for the big one which was evidently making straight for the Cave.
    He came along a tremendous pace down the hill and as he passed me I fired - aiming well in front of him. The first shot evidently missed him, but at the second he rolled head over heels, but was up again in a moment and facing round towards me he came slowing along seeming very little the worse for the one or both bullets I had fired at him. It turned out afterwards that my first shot had missed him and the second one had only gone through his snout for I had fired too much in front of him - he was therefore practically unwounded, but he was exceedingly angry and as he advanced towards his front door he was making a great noise.
    Both my barrels were empty and I glanced round quickly thinking the man would be at my elbow with my shot gun but instead of that I caught sight of him running as hard as he could go up the hill towards the beaters. By this time the bear was quite near to the opening in the rock and the only thing to do was to get there before him and hit him on the head with my rifle. It was only a few strides and I was there before the bear and I stood with my rifle clubbed to receive him but I am ashamed to say when he came close up and stood upright on his hind legs with his mouth open and roaring, I did not like the look of him and in other words I "funked" and springing aside I let him go in.
    It was the first time I had had a bear actually standing up to attack - Since then I have had several and I never ran away again, but I took care never to have an empty gun only to defend myself with.
    Anyhow on this occasion, as I have said above, I "funked" and let the bear go by and he disappeared down into the darkness of the Cave, his roars reverberating for some minutes after he had entered and lessening as he went further into the recesses of his stronghold and I felt more and more ashamed of myself as the roars died away in the subterraneous distance and I determined I would make up for my cowardice by going down after him.
    Presently the beaters all came up and my shikarri and with them the man who had bolted with my second gun and ammunition and I quickly reloaded the rifle. The shikarri was disgusted with me and that made me all the more eager to start down into the Cave but he protested and made many difficulties saying I could not go in without a torch or a dog and that neither was obtainable and so on, but presently a bheel produced a strip of his turban, wound it round the handle of his axe and asked me for some "dharoo" (brandy) from my flask, with which he anointed the improvised torch and I was ready to start.
    The opening of the Cave was fairly high, but as soon as I was inside I had to climb down some rocks into a regular passage the roof of which became lower every step I took, till I was obliged to advance first on my hands & knees and finally on my elbows & knees.
    It was then time to light the torch & I did so, holding it in front of me with my left hand with my rifle in the right, while I dragged myself along as well as I could till I heard the bear beginning to growl, first gently, then more loudly till the growl became a continuous thunder which reverberated terrifically through the low dark murky tunnel. In another minute I heard the sniff which is peculiar to bears and I knew I must be quite close to him so I placed my torch behind me for half a second, holding the rifle up to my shoulder, and I saw the two eyes gleaming through the darkness and I expected him on to me every instant, but the torch kept him off and he only roared more loudly and stayed where he was. I didn't because I was out of breath and my muscles were strained with the crawling which made me rather unsteady for the moment, so I kept the torch in front of me and waited for a few seconds till I could depend upon my shot, and then suddenly dropping the torch I aimed steadily between the two eyes and fired.
    I shall never forget that moment - the terrible noise of the report - the dreadful feeling of suffocation from the smoke and then the shuffling sounds in front which made me wonder what the effect of my shot had been and whether the bear would be on top of me the next instant. Meanwhile to add to the awkwardness of the situation the torch was spluttering and was nearly out and I realized that if that went out altogether and my shot had not been fatal, I should have the bear on to me at once.
    With the greatest luck I was able to revive the torch by waving it and holding it in front of me once more. I reserved my second barrel in case the bear tried to break through past me, but almost before the smoke had found it's way out by the crevices and left me to breathe again, all was silent.
    Once more I put the torch down behind me (not gently this time) and peered into the darkness. The eyes were gone. I lay perfectly still for a little and then revived the torch with a little more brandy and picking up some small stones I threw one after the other to where the eyes had been, but there was no movement and no response and I was certain that my shot had not failed. I then crawled slowly on for I dare not wait too long or the torch would not last, and then about 6 yards from where I had fired I came upon the bear stone dead. Taking out some bristles to convince the beaters that they could stand up and very thankful I was to reach the mouth of the Cave once more and to be in the fresh air and daylight.
    My shikarri was delighted and he headed the procession into the Cave to fetch the bear and in a short time they brought him out and there was a great rejoicing.
    The first shot as he was going down the hill past me was through the snout which hardly affected him except to make him very angry and my shot inside the Cave was not through the head as I expected but right in the middle of the white mark in the chest which is called the horseshoe and which is quite the most vital spot in a bear.
    He was a very large male and the beaters who had come from the neighboring villages were glad he had been destroyed for he had been infesting their forest lands for some time and the woodcutters were afraid to go to their work knowing that an old bear, like an old bear, will generally attack unprovoked.

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