CHAPTER XXXVI. A BIG GAME PARADISE

A few months previous to our arrival, Mr. Abertsen had discovered a splendid hunting ground near the village of Hui-yao, about eighty li from Teng-yueh. He had been shooting rabbits and pheasants and, while passing through the village, the natives told him that a large herd of gnai-yang or "wild goats" lived on the side of a hill through which a branch of the Shweli River had cut a deep gorge.

Although Abertsen was decidedly skeptical as to the accuracy of the report he spent two days hunting and with his shotgun killed two gorals; moreover, he saw twenty-five others. We examined the two skins and realized at once that they represented a different species from those of the Snow Mountain. Therefore, when we left Teng-yueh our first camp was at Hui-yao.

Heller and I started with four natives shortly after daylight. We crossed a tumbledown wooden bridge over the river at a narrow canon where the sides were straight walls of rock, and followed down the gorge for about two miles. On the way Heller, who was in front, saw two muntjac standing in the grass on an open hillside, and shot the leader. The deer pitched headlong but got to its feet in a few moments and struggled off into the thick cover at the edge of the meadow. It had disappeared before Heller reached the clearing but he saw the second deer, a fine doe, standing on a rock. Although his bullet passed through both lungs the animal ran a quarter of a mile, and he finally discovered her several hours later in the bushes beside the river.

In a short time we reached an open hillside which rose six or seven hundred feet above the river in a steep slope; the opposite side was a sheer wall of rock bordered on the rim by an open pine forest. We separated at this point. Heller, with two natives, keeping near the river, while I climbed up the hill to work along the cliffs half way to the summit.

In less than ten minutes Heller heard a loud snort and, looking up, saw three gorals standing on a ledge seventy-five yards above him. He fired twice but missed and the animals disappeared around a corner of the hill. A few hundred yards farther on he saw a single old ram but his two shots apparently had no effect.

Meanwhile I had continued along the hillside not far from the summit for a mile or more without seeing an animal. Fresh tracks were everywhere and well-cut trails crossed and recrossed among the rocks and grass. I had reached an impassable precipice and was returning across a steep slope when seven gorals jumped out of the grass where they had been lying asleep. I was in a thick grove of pine trees and fired twice in quick succession as the animals appeared through the branches, but missed both times.

I ran out from the trees but the gorals were then nearly two hundred yards away. One big ram had left the herd and was trotting along broadside on. I aimed just in front of him and pulled the trigger as his head appeared in the peep sight. He turned a beautiful somersault and rolled over and over down the hill, finally disappearing in the bushes at the edge of the water.

The other gorals had disappeared, but a few seconds later I saw a small one slowly skirting the rocks on the very summit of the hill. The first shot kicked the dirt beside him, but the second broke his leg and he ran behind a huge boulder. I rested the little Mannlicher on the trunk of a tree, covering the edge of the rock with the ivory head of the front sight and waited. I was perfectly sure that the goral would try to steal out, and in two or three minutes his head appeared. I fired instantly, boring him through both shoulders, and he rolled over and over stone dead lodging against a rock not fifty yards from where we stood.

The two natives were wild with excitement and, yelling at the top of their lungs, ran up the hill like goats to bring the animal down to me. It was a young male in full summer coat, and with horns about two inches long. Our pleasure was somewhat dampened, however, when we went to recover the first goral for we found that when it had landed in the grass at the edge of the river it had either rolled or crawled into the water. We searched along the bank for half a mile but without success and returned to Hui-yao just in time for tiffin.

In the afternoon we shifted camp to a beautiful little grove on the opposite side of the river behind the hunting grounds. Heller, instead of going over with the caravan, went back along the rim of the gorge in the pine forest where he could look across the river to the hill on which we had hunted in the morning. With his field glasses he discovered five gorals in an open meadow, and opened fire. It was long shooting but the animals did not know which way to run, and he killed three of the herd before they disappeared. Our first day had, therefore, netted us one deer and four gorals which was better than at any other camp we had had in China.

We realized from the first day's work that Hui-yao would prove to be a wonderful hunting ground, and the two weeks we spent there justified all our hopes. At other places the cover was so dense or the country so rough that it was necessary to depend entirely upon dogs and untrained natives, but here the animals were on open hillsides where they could be still hunted with success. Moreover, we had an opportunity to learn something about the habits of the animals for we could watch them with glasses from the opposite side of the river when they were quite unconscious of our presence.