There’s really no such thing as a “small” hunt in Pakistan. It’s a long way to travel, and once there, it’s a huge country with the various hunting areas widely dispersed. With four huntable sheep, two ibex, three markhors—and nine other species—covering some ground must be anticipated. And with fierce competition for relatively few permits, the sheep and goats aren’t inexpensive.
This time I wasn’t there for the mountain game. Instead, it was a short hunt in just one area down south near the Indian border. In part I guess you could call it a “cleanup hunt.” One of the animals that had eluded me on previous hunts in Pakistan was the Indian wild boar, similar to its Eurasian cousin but typically a bit smaller and, from what I’ve seen, uniformly lighter in color.
Remembering that Pakistan was part of India until 1948, they’re plentiful in much of southern Pakistan, but not where I’d been. Another was the Asian jungle cat, a bit smaller than our bobcat, also plentiful in thick cover in well-watered areas, but nocturnal and elusive. I had a shot at one in 2011. It was not a tough shot, but I had to take it standing unsupported and I saw the crosshairs wobble just as the trigger broke. I missed, and haven’t seen another one since then.
Pakistan is a long way to go for a pig and a small cat I probably wouldn’t see, so the real hook was the chance to hunt a native, free range axis deer unavailable on previous trips. The axis deer is a tropical deer, so southern Pakistan is the northern fringe of their range. No, they don’t get as big as they do in Texas, but to me the axis deer is the most beautiful deer in the world, and I’d long wanted to hunt one where they come from.
I set the hunt up with Pir Danish Ali of Indus Safaris, and he was totally honest. “We don’t have a lot of axis deer, but we have some in our hog deer area near the Indian border. We should get one in four or five days. A boar is no problem; there are lots of them. The cat is another story; we see them often, but seeing one when you want one takes some luck.”
Things didn’t start out well. The plane from LAX to Abu Dhabi was delayed six hours for a mechanical issue, so I missed the connection to Karachi and lost a day. I give Etihad Airlines high marks; they put me up in a very nice hotel in Abu Dhabi—but remember, it was a short hunt, so the loss of a day concerned me.
Eventually we cleared the bustle of Karachi and made the four-hour drive to Danish’s deer camp. The area was heavy agriculture, wheat and canola fields, groves of mangos and bananas, bordered by extremely thick cover. In other words, perfect country for deer and wild hogs. The camp, well-staffed and comfortable, sat on the shore of a small lake with the lounge and dining area on a gazebo 50 yards out in the lake and joined to shore by a wide dock. Clever and cool, the latter important because southern Pakistan is warm country. Danish’s partner, Mir, greeted me wearing a baseball cap with the inscription “Make America Great Again.”
We hadn’t been out of camp an hour when we saw an axis buck slipping along the edge of the cover. Danish was clearly excited, and the antlers looked too good to pass. I shot him without hesitation. It was a good call. There are some big axis deer in our book from the old days in India, but those days are over and this will be the biggest one from Pakistan.
On the way back to camp, we spotted a jungle cat mousing on the edge of a field, next to thick reeds—too close to the thick reeds. I think if I were right-handed I could have gotten a shot, but the angle was dead wrong for left-handed me. He was gone before I could bring the rifle to bear, and although I was kicking myself, there was nothing I could do about it. We backed off and did some soft calling, but we’d been pretty close and probably gave that cat too much of a fright.
I figured that was the last jungle cat I’d see, but of course we had to keep trying. At camp we dropped our deer for skinning and I traded Danish’s Blaser .300 for the camp 7×57–still plenty of gun for pigs and maybe a bit less damage on a cat. A couple hours later I shot a very nice boar–typical gray-brown in color with good tusks. So far a pretty good start!
Jet-lagged and travel-worn, I was ready to call it, but I suggested just maybe we should cruise slowly by the spot where we’d seen that cat, hoping it might have come back out after things settled down. We never got that far. A half-mile short of that area there was a little clearing with a big tree in the middle. Under the tree, stretched out on the ground, was a jungle cat—its mate just behind and to the left. This time I didn’t mess up!
Somewhere in there I shot a golden jackal as well. It was an amazing and unprecedented run of luck, but it wasn’t quite over. We were back in camp, relaxing around the fire and congratulating ourselves when yet another jungle cat stepped into the track leading into camp and sat down in the pool of light. He stared at us for several seconds, then turned and walked away. That’s four jungle cats in one evening, and four species taken on the first hunting day. The staff, all really good guys, gave me a new nickname, “Lucky Colonel,” but I seriously doubt if any of us will ever repeat that performance!–Craig Boddington
Originally appeared in April Safari Times