'How would you like to go on a duck Shoot ?' ,said Colin Bone, my step-father, to me and my brother Mark. To a 12 and 11 year old boy, this was manna from heaven to my ears . I couldn't think of anything more exciting, and was full of questions about where we were going and who else was coming. It was happening this coming weekend, Saturday in fact, just two days to go. Colin got his kit ready; Greener side by side, double-barrel ,hammer ,12 bore shotgun- check ! 2 boxes of Eley-Kynoch English No. 6 shot cartridges, 25 per box -check ! Rough clothes including a jumper, because Colin said it would be cold, and a kerosene Primus camping stove to make the tea after the shoot.- check. I stacked it all together in a safe place as Colin gave me the responsibility for the kit, and even made a list for the final check. It was an early start, 5 am, with 3 cars leaving together from our house. There were 10 shooters in all, plus Mark and me, and it would take a full hour to get to the jheel that had been selected. It was pitch dark- it added to the tension for us kids, but the grown-ups were happily chatting away, not at all bothered. They had done this before ,many times.
We parked up almost a mile from the tank. Everyone got their kit out . No slamming of car doors. No shouting. Noise was kept to a minimum. It was still dark, but we followed a bullock-cart track ,and the going was easy. Mark and I followed behind Colin, and I carried the cartridge boxes, 25 cartridges in each box. 30 minutes and we were there, approaching the jheel from the earth bundh side, so as to be hidden from the water surface and ,hopefully any ducks that might be there. No one knew if there would be any. It was always pot- luck in this duck shooting game. One of the shikaris walked away to the right on his own, taking a wide track, and keeping away from the water. I asked Colin quietly where he was going. 'Wait and see ' said Colin.
Dawn was breaking from behind us. The sun would be behind the hunters ,and would help light up the ducks when they started to fly over. 'Are you sure they will fly in this direction ?' asks I. 'Wait and see ' says Colin. Slowly, ever so slowly the men moved up the slope of the bundh, moving between the lantana bushes gently so as not to make any noise whatsoever. The success of the whole operation was dependent on total quietness. The ducks must not even guess there were humans around, or they would be off like a shot, and the hunt ruined before it started. Colin asked me for one of the cartridge boxes, and poured all 25 cartridges into the caverness pocket of his hunting jacket. This was the quickest way to get the next pair when reloading the gun. Some shikaris used a gun- belt with spaces to slot in the cartridges, but this surely slowed down the process. The sun was just about to clear the horizon, and Colin raised his arm slowly and looked left and right to get a nod from all, that they were ready. Everyone had loaded cartridges into their guns, but thankfully no-one slammed their gun shut. The noise would have been disastrous at this critical stage.
Now it was just a waiting game. I got fidgety. What are we waiting for ? One minute rolled into another minute. Nothing happened !!
And then ,all of a sudden a shot rang out, there on the right hand side of the jheel. Two seconds later another shot, from the same place. Everyone snapped shut their guns and lifted them onto their shoulders. No one spoke, no one shouted. But all were prepared-- they had all done this before. Experts every one !
What had happened was that the shikari who walked off to the right earlier, had skirted around widely and had approached the tank at right angles to us, some 100 yards away. His was an important job. Apart from guageing the right time to start the event off when the sun had started clearing the horizon, he executed what is termed the KITCHEN SHOT ! It was his gun we heard first. And the purpose was to kill as many ducks as possible while they were still sleeping on the water !! Guaranteeing that at least some ducks made it to the dining table. Kitchen shot -- get it ! Also his position ensured that the ducks heard his shots and noted where they came from, and therefore flew away from him, and in the direction where the other shikaris were waiting. Then all hell broke loose ! Every gun was fired, in single and double shots. This was a war zone. Bang, bang ,bang ! I ducked automatically ! Mark moved closer to me for protection. Again and again ! My ears were ringing with the noise. I now know why competitors at shooting tournaments were ear muff defenders . I looked up over the bushes. Ducks were still in the air, some wheeling away to the left and off to safety. But some wheeled to the right and the kitchen -shot whalla who had ducked down in the bushes out of sight now managed to take out another couple of ducks with some good shooting. All that was left to do was to finish off the few ducks on the water that had been winged but were still alive. Picking up the shot ducks around the tank and wringing the necks of those still alive was the last task.
Or was it !!
'Take your shirts off boys ' yelled Colin, looking at me directly. I looked around. All the men were looking at us with mischievous smirks. Now the penny dropped ! Now I realised why Colin asked us to come today ! All these macho shikaris, some of them brave man- eater hunters, yes, --but THEY COULDN'T SWIM ! And this jheel was a deep tank, and to get the shot ducks on the water, you had no option but to swim. This was not a problem for Mark or me . We were good swimmers. Champions in fact, with loads of cups won at school sports day. But this was something different. I felt scared and Mark looked at me for support, wild eyed ! Just pretend it's the Bangalore Club pool. It's only water. But first we had to walk through the weeds in the shallows, and I had heard plenty of stories of people getting caught up in pond weed and dying ! There was nothing for it, we had to go. Everyone was watching us. We set off, gingerly, using
breast stroke at first, I going to the right ,Mark to the left. I shouted over to him grab them by the neck in one hand and swim back using sidestroke. In the end it was easy enough, and we took our time. 5 ducks at a time held by the necks. I needed 3 trips out, Mark just needed 2. They layed out all the birds on the ground, nearly 40 this time, a good days work.
'Come here boys ' called out Colin to us. As we came over to him he picked up a particularly bloodied duck. He put his hand on my head and turned it round so he could see my cheek. Then he wiped the blood over my cheek saying 'I HEARBY BLOOD YOU AS A SHIKARI ' He did the same with Mark. All the guys were clapping their hands and shouting and patting us on the back 'Shabash, Shabash ' . My head was up, my chest was out--- I was so proud ! I was blooded-- I was now a shikari !