The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"The Heart Of The Hunter"

A book truly from the heart!

Last week Thursday I had a meeting in Kalamazoo, MI, and arriving too early I decided to go hunting...for hunting books, in used book stores, which is one of my favorite forms of prospecting for potentially forgotten gems.

At Bicentennial Bookshop Inc. (820 S. Westnedge Avenue, Kalamazoo, MI) I spent a good hour spot and stalking their overflowing shelves, and finally decided on taking three new specimens home and at least one (for I have not yet read the other two) proved to be a great trophy!

I had never heard of Edison Tesla Marshall (1894-1967) before, but after researching a bit I found him to be a prolific writer sold his first story to Argosy magazine while a freshman in college, giving him confidence to pursue writing as a career, and later in life "he traveled around the world and earned a reputation as a big game hunter and adventurer in search of story material." It looks to me that Mr. Marshall worked very hard to create and sell fantasy stories to others so he could live a full life as if in a fantasy story!

There is no bravado in "The Heart of the Hunter," but an honest discussion of the anguishes and contradictions of the chase, the pursuit of big and many times dangerous game, the excitement and fear, but never cowardice. Mr. Marshall takes us from his native Indiana where he first started hunting small game with a .22 rifle he received as a birthday gift in the first decade of the XX century, and moving to Oregon, to where his family relocated in 1907, and where he fell in love with ducks, which he hunted with an old Winchester hammer pump gun, the same gun with which he accidentally shot himself losing his left hand thumb and a piece of his left ear. According to him "Ducks are the big game of small game."

He started his big game adventures in the Yukon and Alaska, where in three different trips he hunted caribou, moose and grizzly and brown bear in ever more desolated and wild places. For all his hunts in the Northern Wilds Marshall used a Springfield 30-06, which he called .30 U.S.

After that he traveled to then British East Africa on safari with the famous expatriated American white hunter Bwana Cottar with whom he hunted "plains game," rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion, but not elephant as he considered the fifty pound extra license fee as so high. To The Whispering Veld he took the Springfield and a 9,5x57mm Mannlicher-Schönauer that he had won on a bet. He clearly did not like the later rifle due to his fierce recoil, and eventually used Cottar's Winchester 1895 in .405 for much of the dangerous game hunting. During his African safari Marshall starts to question his quest for big game trophies and his passion for conservation, leading to discussions and potentially disagreements with Bwana Cottar.

A couple years after Africa Marshall travelled virtually halfway around the world to the Big Jungles of French Indochina to where he took a Mauser .404 Jeffery, "shooting sixty grains of cordite and a four-hundred-grain bullet - much more powerful than Cottar's lever-action .405, well-balanced, stoutly fashioned, and one of the most positive if not foolproof arms I had ever put to my shoulder." In the luxuriant jungles of Indochina Marshall hunted for saladang, water buffalo, sambar deer, wild boar - as big, if not bigger, than the ones that destroyed the fields of France - leopard and his special kind of Golden Fleece, the tiger! "Without tigers it could not fill the bill. Tigers were the incarnation, the titulary goldhead, of the jungle." Besides the .404 Mauser, he also took a Remington .35 pump-action rifle, Model 14, as requested by "an American manufacturer."

Two years after his return from IndoChina, he traveled overland from the Gulf of Tonkin all the way down to Bangkok, and two years after that he arrived at the Jungle of Mowgli, where he hunted the Duars of Bhutan specially for tiger, sitting for countless hours over malodorous baits, and not shooting from the back of trained elephants while local villagers drove fields and forests., but also for water buffalo and other smaller antlered game.

Twenty two months afterwards he returned in the Pursuit of the Giants, hunting not the younger jungle tigers, but older and bigger tigers that grew to heavy to hunt wild game and now feasted on domestic livestock and eventually on their herdsmen in the fallow fields around villages. In pursuing this most dangerous game he again brought the .404 Mauser, but also another rifle. "This was no less than the double-barreled .470, made by the great George Gibbs of Bristol, and the grandest piece of ironmongery I had ever seen. Its long cartridge contained a five-hundred-grain bullet propelled ninety grains of cordite."

During this shikari Mr. Marshall first shot a smaller jungle tigress, and then a gigantic Grandfather of Tigers that measured a full ten feet in between pegs, as large as the famous Bachelor of Powalgarh, hunted by the dean of all tiger hunters, Jim Corbett. He shot another male tiger almost as large, and then during a drive for deer and boar a tiger - Kala Bagh, the black tiger, so called because of his black soul for he always killed the herdsmen prior to killing the cattle - appeared from nowhere and mauled one of the beaters, that probably had his life saved by Marshall due to the first aid provided and him taking to a hospital for treatment.

Marshall then had to travel to Burma where he was unable to collect much material for his book, but where he hunted a gigantic rogue elephant that was fully ten feet tall and had twenty inches tracks. Its broken tusks were eighteen inches in circumference and weighed just short of sixty pounds apiece.

He then returned to India, to find that during the previous five weeks Kala Bagh had set a blood record, killing six cattle, one buffalo, one pony, and oddly enough, three goats in the same night, and probably in the same minute. "And the great tigers of the grasslands had been piling up that kind of slaughter for years." Eventually both hunters met in a fierce battle.

Edison Marshall in Indochina with a "small" tiger (1931)

I am not sure if Mr. Marshall ever met Robert Ruark (1915-1965), both being accomplished writers as well as hunters, but both had enough sense to use enough gun. By the end of "The Heart of the Hunter" Edison Marshall writes the following: "I had hunted enough big game that when I told of it, or wrote of it, I would receive a respectful hearing. Never again would I remain silent when hunters urged the adequacy of light rifles against heavy game. These made for straighter shooting at long ranges. But let the hunter take more time and care in the stalk; and then hit as hard as he can, for surely noble quarry deserves a quick dispatch. This is the least we can give."

I had great pleasure reading "The Heart of the Hunter," even if I know that am unable to write nearly as well as Edison Marshall did and I am certain that in our rather stupid times I will never hunt the beautiful and elusive tiger, but I can at least try to live as full a life, turning my dreams and fantasies into reality.

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