|Newspaper Title||The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1875 - 1929)|
|Trove Title||A Christmas Bighorn|
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A CHRISTMAS BIGHORN, BY LIEU.-COL. ANDREW HAGGARD, D.S.O., Author of ' Dodo and I,' ' Under Cres cent and Star,' &e.
The scene is a little camp, in an open glade, sheltered by a grove of spruces, near the borders of that far away nor thern lake, Winnepegosis. The firelight, llaring up from the huge Jjgs blazing merrily in lront of two little white tents, reveals a truly Canadian scene. Two white hunters assisted by a full-blooded saturnine Indian, named Iron Claws, are .suspending various joints of moose moat from the branches of neigh Louring trees from which it is lust neces sary to shake the slight covering of snow. It is Christinas Eve. At last my comrade breaks the silence Rising on his elbow and tapping out the ashes of his pipe against an axe lying handy, he says : 'This woodland and prairie hunting i- awfully jolly work, old fellow, especially when I lie camp i- full of meat as it is to night, but X should like just for a diunge to have some of that Rocky Moun tain limning for Bighorn sheep that 1 have heard of. Say ! were you ever luckj enough to kill a liighorn V '? Indeed I was, my boy, and a beautj he was too,' I reply proudly ; ' his head is now one of my dearest possessions/' 'Oh, have you really,' cried my young companion excitedly. 'Come, tell me all about it. It will serve to pass the tinn while Baptist?, is cooking the dinner. Isn't it awfully dangerous work that shoe) hunting, and where did you get him ? J should like to hear all about it.' Thus encouraged. I in turn knocked oui the ashes of my pipe, and taking a sea' upon our provision box near the fire, com nienced my yarn. ' Pome few years ago, accompanied b} my friend, Hilly Moore. I went down int- the country south of the Okanagan Lake in British Columbia, to hunt mule deer, 01 black-tail deer, as some call them, on tin slopes of the Gold Range, which is an off shoot of the Rockies. ' It was in the full winter season, beim the middle of December, but the lake which is ninety miles long, stretching du- north and south, was not yet frozen uj and we managed to get down to th- south ond at Penticton all right by watei instead of following the very dangerou trail along the mountains that sloped ab mptly down into the lake. My wife, wh- was fond of backwoods work, had accom panied us, but we intended to leave he: in a little wooden shanty rejoicing in th grand name of the Penticton Hotel, whicl said shanty formed the whole of the Citj of Penticton in those days, and for all 3 know may do so still. It served as i stopping place to miners going through b; the stage to some mines in the mountain of Fair View, a day's journey south, am very near the Yankee border. There wen various ranches, and an Indian village o bo dotted about here and there in thi park-like country, enclosed by two range of mountains, to the south of the lake lying on both sides of the river Okanagan and of another lake called Dog Lake, t few miles further south. We soon founc that the whole of this country was ful of deer, for in the light snow lying on th- lower slopes of the mountains, even quit* close to the Pentieton Hotel itself, theii foot tracks were everywhere. As then were plenty of trees on the slopes of th- rocks and ravines, stalking seemed easy We were also met by the welcome new; that there were ' sheep ' in the neigh bourhood, although it was said that the\ were very shy and only kept to the highe; and more dangerous crags and peakis Nevertheless, if they were there why ehoulr not one get them ? we argued. As th« weather was bitterly cold, with the ther mometer often below zero, wlule a pierc ing wind was always blowing along tin \ alley between the' two lakes, we soor gave up the idea of camping out, for in deed it was not necessary. Procurinp some rough Indian horses, and two well known half-bred guides and hunters named Shuttleworth, whose uncle is an English baronet by-the-bye, we were soon enjoying most excellent sport. ' Billy would ride off as far as possible up into the mountains with Harry Shuttle worth in one direction, and I would gc with George Shuttleworth in another, and thus we used daily to stalk and shoot several deer, getting some splendid heads. We used to tie the horses up to a tret ?when we had got them up the mountain? rs high as we could go, and leave the pool brut*1* there all day while we went stalk ing up the ravines and gulches. Although when we came back we would find lonp icicles hanging from their nostrils and the corners of their eyes, their long thick hair protected them from the cold and they were never any the worse, but for that matter my own beard wan often one big icicle also! There were wild horses too in thosfl mountains, whose tracks I have seen in the snow on the very highest peaks, for they can apparently climb like goatB.
I had several opportunities of stalking and shooting them, which my guide wanted me to do, as tlie ranchers hate them for various reasons. 1 could not, however, ever find it in me to pull the trigger and shoot a horse, although 1 occasionally stalked them for the sake of observation, and got within easy range. 'After several days of this successful deer stalking, my wife remarked to me one evening as it was getting near Christinas, when Billy and 1 had both, so I remember, come home with some fine heads. ' ' Why don't you go and get me a nighoru sheep, old fellow, jn.st by way o' a Christmas present V 1 think we should like a little mutton for a change from a I1, this venison.' In reality it was not the mutton she wanted, but she was ambitious, you see, on my behalf. ' Billy and I here looked at each other out of the corner of our eyes. We had not only already soon sheep tracks in tlu frozen snow, but we had both also seen little groups of three or four sheep each, but failed to got near enough to shoot them. He had, in their unavailing pur suit, already nearly been killed twice, hav ing slipped down Iwo iee slopes to the very edge of precipices, while I had my self been nearly killed once in a simihn way while trying to get a shot, by slipping on an ice-covered crag hanging about a thousand feet above a ravine, f had on thnt occasion cut my breeches through, and e\cn as 1 speak to you f can feel the old pain in my knee-caps where ( fell. Hut I had not none quite over the cliff, as von -oo, my hoy, or 1 should not have been varning away to you now. However, 1 u;avo my lillc a horrid dint, in the stock. ' But to return 1o our muttons. After this remark i determined, as you can imagine, to get a sheep or die in the at '.pinpt, and this notwithstanding that, hav ing in the meantime boon told by an old rancher that 'sheep hunting was very dangerous,1' my wife begged me next morning to stick to the deer after all and to leave tlie said muttons alone. 'The next day I saw an interesting sight in the shape of four Bighorn sheep, i ram and throe ewes, being chased along the sides of a ravine by a cayote, or prairie wolf. I was in a very dangerous position it the time, and they were about four hundred ya*rd» away, but I managed to .jet ofl' one shot from my Winchester at the ram. and another at the cayote before they finally vanished from my gaze for nor. ' The day following was Christmas Eve. Starting very early with George Rhuttle .vorth, T rode a long way down the valley 'o the mountains on the eastern side of ^)og Lake. They wore far more precipi tous and rocky even than those nearer 'ionic. They wove also far more bare of vegetation. After a long climb we soon saw abundant traces of Bighorn, for along '.he higher 1 edges of the rocks there were regular little roads of their square-toed footprints in the frozen snow, exactly like the tracks in a farm lane at home. But never shall I forget the awful exe.r 'ion of that day's climb ! What with 'inking in the deep snow in crevices where t lodged, and slipping about, for my mo ?assins would not keep a grip on ice ?overed rocks, T was simply steaming with perspiration the whole time. And yet my ild hunting clothes were worn as thin as j-aper and hanging in rags, and the cold was in reality so intense that as soon as -ver I moppod my face my handkerchief froze as stiff as a board. Suddenly, and while in this distressing state of heat, my 'ialf- breed guide grasped my arm violently, whispering at the same moment, in a voice lrembling with excitement, that one caba ?istical word 'sheep I' ' At the same moment he dropped to Mie ground, I doing the same— in fact he lraggod me down with him. 'Gradually I raised my head and peeped vrer the edge of a little ravine upon the fop of which we had just debouched from v gorge. ' Despite the drops of perspiration, which were blinding me, I soon saw on the rock in the other face of the ravine and below no, a dark brown patch looking like a '-rown soda water bottle with a white ex ?remity. It was a splendid ram lying down ibout a hundred yards away. ' Although trembling with excitement, I took a steady enough aim for his right dioulder. I knew T aimed straight. Crack went the rifle with a reverberating roar fhrough the mountains, and oh, horror ! the sheep springs to his feet and bounds xway. At the same time three more rams that had been unseen in the ravine also spring up the hill-side with a clatter and bound away. ' I fired two more shots in rapid suc cession from my Winchester, but not one of the sheep stopped. All of them have gone on ! ' I look nt ray hunter guide aghast, and ashamed. ' ' Never mind.' he cries consolingly. ' Perhaps you've hit them all the same, so come on fast after them.' And he bounds down the ravine and up the other slope as fast as a. sheep itself, I following also at break-nock speed, leaping lightly over places that would have been impossible in cold blood. ' There was no snow for a space on the rocks, but suddenly we came to a patch which was covered with a shallow sprink ling of fleecy white all clotted with spots of brijrht vermillion. 'All right, here's the blood,' roared George excitedly. ' On we go, following the ever increas
ing stream of blood on the snow, but now and then losing it again in places where the rocks were altogether bare. ' Suddenly, ' There he is,' 1 cry, as, quite out of breath, I paused to dash the per spiration from my eyes. For there, on a pinnacle, far above us, with his brown body and white rump, is my ram standing and calmly looking at us. A hasty shot proves useless, and he is off again, we after him as before. He does not now go at all fast, that is not fast for a mountain sheep; but for a man it was far too fast among those awful crags. At least so I found it, especially having the heavy Winchestei to carry. The half-breed following tin trail is nearly out of sight ahead of me alien I call him back, for 1 am exhausted. ' ' Take the ritle, and go on,' 1 cry, ' 1 will try and follow your trail wherovci there is snow.' The blood has ceased, then ire sheep's tracks everywhere, all mixed ill). I cannot any longer pick out ni\ ram from the rest. ' He seizes the rillo, and hounds ahead out of sight, 1 following the light imprint i-f his mocassin-clad font the best way 1 ?-?an, but 1 find it dilliciilt for want o, snow, and begin to fear 1 shall lose my ?self in the rocky defiles. 1 hear him even now and then letting oiT a cartridge, but T know lie will hit nothing, for although x good tracker and stalker ho is, like maii\ other half-breeds and Indians, a very pool shot. Besides I know that lie is onl\ taking impossible simp shots, ami that hit lim must under (ho circumstances lu» un steady and his hand trembling. At len»tli all is silpni. I have reached a wind swept plateau of rock when- there is no longei any vestige of a trail. Thoro is nr -( li I n-j to bo seen save two huge, eagles circlin» and wheeling overhend. ' The. solitude and grandeur of tho* mvful mountains is intense, as hrcnthlcs-- and exhausted I gaze hopelessly around me for a sign of cither the man or tin shoe)). But alas ! both are. lost, and 1 f'oar I am lost myself. J am jirst bo^-in ning to experience that deadly sickening sensation at the. heart that only those win are lost in the backwoods can feel when f am frightened almost out of my sense- by the ?nost awful blood-curdling yell. Again it is repeated, and again ! filling tlu whole air with its fearful shriek, and re verbrating and re-echoing from crag t- frag. The horrid sound seems to come froin a dark and gloomy ravine beyond tin pdfje of the plateau, the only possible des '?out into which is alongside a tree trunk standing on the brink of the precipice. ' Rushing to this tree trunk 1 see, by the broken soil and a little disturbed snov near the roots, that both the man. and the sheep have gone down that way. I peev over and down the gloomy govge, but can see nothing, when suddenly again loudov and more terrible than ever, arises that fearful cry. ' Not a second longer do I hesitate. 1 am now convinced that it is not, as I had at first imagined, the cry of one of the hungry wolverines with which the moun tains abound, but that of a man in pain. George must assuredly have broken Iup leg or worse. I reach the bottom of thr precipice in record time only to find a shorl way down the gorge— what do you think ? Only my half-brood companion practising the war dance of his ancestors around thr carcase of an enormous Bighorn, while letting off oar-piercing war whoop on war whoop just from sheer ebullition of feel ing. 'Exhausted and delighted T fall upon thnt ram's body and clasp it round the nock for joy. ' My first shot, fired from above him. had boon the only one that had struck tin beautiful animal, but that had gone in at its back right through and out at its belly. ' How the animal had over run so fai was a wonder, but how we ever got tin skin, the huge head with its grand curving horns, and two legs of mutton as well, up that precipice again, was a greater wonder still. The rest of him we loft to the eagles still wheeling overhead. 'My wife met us in a pino wood by a rancho a« I was n earing home, and gave a scream of delight as she saw the lovely horns suspended by a leather lariat froiii my saddle bow. ' For you see, my dear boy, I had brought back the mutton for the Christ mas dinner after all. So that is an end of my story, and here comes Bapliste with the moose soup. Hurrah, for moose soup, say I.' ' And hurrah for Bighorn shooting,' added lny companion. 'I will certainly have a go at it some day.' There Mas no time to talk nny roore after that, and in an hour's time such silence reigned in the camp that you might have almost heard the flakes of snow fal ing. The End. Love and good dinner are said to be the only things which change a man's character. The late Field-Marshal Von Wrangel, of I rtiFsia, was a great martinet, and on one occasion nn officer called on him wearing s;;urs that did not conform to the army regulations. Wrangel imposed upon him the penalty of twenty-four hours' con finement. The officer, seeing that Wrangel wore the same kind of spurs himself, called bis attention to the fact. ' That is so,' paid the Marshal grimly ; ' you nrp right. You may therefore remain under twenty four hours' additional arrest for me.'