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2500 words
9 pics
Submitted by-
R. F. Sanderson
724 Edgewater St.
Portage, WIS


Rob F. Sanderson

The World’s Largest Rodent makes some of the world’s most interesting shooting for the scatter gunner in the land down under the Orinoco River. This is indeed a sport these men could not live without, for, without the meat, these men could not complete their geological exploration before the advent of the next rainy season drove from the jungle.

*pronounced: “She-gwee’-ree”.


           In the mixed jungle and savanna equator ward from the Orinoco River dwells the World’s Largest Rodent. Combining the agilities of a beaver in the water and a wild pig on land, the capybara, as the books cal him, commonly attains a weight of a hundred pounds on his diet of aqueous plants and tree bark. Compared to ordinary pocket sized rodents, that’s colossal!

           This unusual amphibian attracted my attention the first day my geological expedition arrived in his part of South America. We were sampling alluvial gravels along a jungle river when in the damp sand I spied fresh tracks plainly delineating four toes on each front foot and three on each rear.

           As I bent to study the strange prints one of my helpers peered interestedly over my shoulder. The hind prints were longer than a cigar and narrower than the front. Despite slight webbing all feet were obviously firm and hard, just as capable of swift sure travel across difficult ground as they were of fast underwater swimming. There was plenty of weight on those prints, too. Some animal!

           “A chiguirri, Senor Sandy,” Raphael identified it at once, pronouncing in “she-gwee-ree”. “And how good to eat!”

           Immediately I remembered the case of unappetizing corned beef we had brought upriver by dugout canoe, and the thought of a delicious fresh meat supply close at hand brightened me all over. Late that afternoon I set out with my shotgun and Indian for a series of lagoons, which lay between the savanna and the rainforest not far from the river. The evening sun fades quickly in the tropics, and after the quick fireworks of sunset, dusk was velveting into dark when my Indian gave a low hiss.

           Ahead in the shallow water, alerted from its meal of water plants, poised a good-sized animal. The direct attitude of my Indian assured me what my part in the program was to be. I raised my gun, drew a coarse bead in the weak light, and let the hammer fly into a load of number three buck

           There was a pandemonium of splashing. Then the animal broke into spasmodic kangaroo leaps toward deeper water. It submerged with commotion of a drowning threshing machine. Then all was silent except for my breathing and the click of my gun going on “safe” again.

           “He much hit,” said the Indian, crouching stolidly on his heels as if to wait a long time.

           Now just that afternoon I had seen a nine-foot snake and had not the least desire to stay out at night in unfamiliar wild country; I said so and left for camp. My Indian arrived about nine o’clock, aided by an early moon and his machete. He was well covered with blood from the freshly dressed chiguirri on his shoulders, an animal weighing between seventy and eighty pounds on the hoof. Then the Indian told me another of the many interesting things about chiguirris -if you kill and sink one in the water, wait thirty minutes or so and it will float to the surface

           For breakfast we ate some of the meat; it was tender and sweet and a welcome change. But by the weekend we were back to bully beef because, as among natives of the North, scarcity is the common condition and the natives of the jungle consume amazing quantities of food when it is available

           At a duck hunter’s hour on Sunday morning I set out up a nearby tributary in the dugout with Raphael. The main river was not preferred hunting grounds; chiguirris are not partial to such steep vertical banks and, from our point of view, a shot animal gaining the water would be immediately lost in the dark swirls of current.

           About three miles up the tributary as the snake crawls, the eastern shore of the stream still lay in deep shadow. I looked across the channel and saw the glint of low sunlight on the hair of an animal moving along the far shore. I was quick to sense my hunter’s advantage; to see us the animal would have to squint directly into the sun, and we were floating well within the shore shadow. The animal was weakly screened by the fine lace of driftwood branches.

           Now the animal stopped moving; I felt it suspected our presence. The air was utterly stagnant and the slightest sound would give us away. I hesitated to move closer for , if it were a chiguirri, at first alarm it would plunge into the water and disappear for good. I chose to shoot under the opportunity of the moment, sighted surely, and fired

           The report echoed sharply across the water and a turtle plopped off a log. It echoed dully far into the jungle and in the distance the gargantuan roaring of the howler monkeys quieted. I reloaded and seconds passed. Then the animal on shore, as if in the excitement of the moment it had temporarily forgotten what to do, suddenly contorted, collapsed, and rolled down the bank into nine feet of water.

           My first reaction was disappointment. But my companion, selecting a dry cigarette from a pack moistened by the leaky floor of the dugout, paddled over to the far bank and marked the location with a draft slice of his machete. Now I remembered the animal was sure to float soon

           “Fairly shot,” he said. “Now let’s fish a while and pick him up on the way back.”

           We traveled upstream and fished for about an hour. The little cannibal fish, the vicious caribes, were stealing our bait. I tied on a small long- shanked hook and caught a dozen of them (they are good to eat though boney) before changing hooks to a larger size. Meanwhile my gun was ready alongside, and once when looking at it I mused what a good job my buckshot loads were doing in this style of hunting. At this moment a splash from ahead snapped my hand to my gun grip. A small chiguirri was taking to the water from an undercut ledge along the riverbank.

           Occasionally, when not much alarmed, these animals swim along the surface instead of diving. This one did just this thing. Everything but his nose, eyes and ears were below water as he cut a quick moving V into the current. I centered the large brass bead front sight on my quarry and squeezed off a load of standard pills. They hit about the chiguirri’s head like hailstones

           They had no effect on the animal. I reloaded and fired another dose of pills. Water splashed all about the creature’s head just as before. Unharmed again, he dived quietly, later reappearing swimming upstream along the other bank. I blasted a third time with the shotgun and the creature disappeared unscathed, this time for good. I was perplexed. I could not blame the ammunition because it was a factory fresh, direct from the states

           Traveling downstream on our way to camp we stopped where Raphael had spotted the vine with his machete. Sure enough, floating almost at the surface was the chiguirri I had first fired upon that morning. As we hauled the tailless, blunt- nosed rodent over the gunwales of the dugout canoe I saw that the forward half of the coarsely haired skin was solidly pocked on one side with buckshot holes. My faith in these sizable pellets, used under proper conditions, was in large measure restored

           The sun was now high and warm. The monotony of our travel down the twisting slit in the jungle was broken only by gaudily colored parrots crossing and recrossing the river, usually in pairs or trios, uttering shrill squawks. Occasionally upon rounding a bend we surprised monkeys climbing down scraggly networks of vines to the water, but more often spied small ‘gators torpedoing into the water. Though I did not suspect it then, in the headwaters of the main river I would one day be shooting these reptiles for food

           That night by campfire I reconsidered how the second chiguirri had escaped from the center of three loads of buckshot. With so few shot to a load, it was possible that none connected with the small part of the target above the waterline. As far as hits underwater, I well knew that water is a great lead stopper and recalled the futility of shooting at a duck sitting on the water. I felt the answer lay in more shot per shell. With this in mind I prepared a few loads of BB shot (heading the advice of a fellow explorer I came equipped to hand load my own shells). I was tired of throwing gravel at mosquitoes, and felt the denser patterns of BBs were almost sure to score a hit even on the small part of head kept above water by a swimming chiguirri

           The next few days of geological operations were routine except for the alarming rapidity of river level fall. I had timed the expedition to arrive at the end of the rainy season, and to work gradually south to the headwaters, making mineral explorations enroute. However the river was treacherously studded with rapids, reefs, boulders and gravel bars for worse than I had feared. A new fear grew upon me. The water had fallen two meters in the past fifteen days, and if it fell more than another meter I doubted if we could navigate upstream with an outboard motor. This prospect was serious; to pole and line our heavy dugouts this distance would cost us at least five weeks of precious dry season time, and would require re-out-fitting with more boatmen and provisions and another canoe to carry later. Further, a monkey wrench of this size in my plans left no margin of delay for eventualities upstream; I knew not their nature, only they were sure to appear in some form

           Meanwhile Raphael spread the report of our new hunting and fishing grounds to his fellow workers with the enthusiasm of Ponce de Leon describing his Florida discoveries to the Queen of Spain. On our next food foraging jaunt two of his converts were eager to accompany us. This was all for the better. We badly needed a supply of meat for our forthcoming journey upstream, and planned a two-day forage trip

           As things worked out on our hunting trip, we were grateful for the help of two more men, as lining the canoe through some of the rapids we were to encounter was feat enough for the four of us. The first day of our forage trip up the tributary began monotonously. The early morning hours, ordinarily the best for hunting, passed into mid-morning without action. About eleven o’clock, fresh tapir dung floating in the current stimulated interest

           I exchanged the buckshot load in the chamber for a rifled slug and we proceeded cautiously upstream. We had about given up hopes of action when, rounding a sharp bend, we faced a group of five chiguirris frozen motionless on a narrow sand ledge along the right shore. With no time to change loads I sighted hastily. It was a difficult shot because I was shooting far to the right from a cramped position. Centering on the largest animal, I fired. Whereupon all five took to the water.

           A medium sized animal was the first to surface. I quickly caught him with a pattern of the BB experimentals. He contorted violently and sank dead on the spot. Now I spotted the large animal I had first wounded; he was swimming toward the opposite shore. I sprayed his swimming head with a load of BBs and he rolled and sank to the shallow bottom near shore.

           One of the boys behind me in the canoe yelled and pointed to another chiguirri surface swimming along the far shore. My first load of BBs sent it into surface convulsions, the second load dispatched it. Underwater branches surrounding it prevented it from sinking. The other twosome of the original five animals, the smallest, never reappeared

           We recovered the animal from the branches, and the one from the shallows by sounding for it with a paddle. The two in hand we butchered while waiting for the third to float. These chiguirris are tough-hided animals, not nearly as easy to skin out as, for example, a deer. Before we had finished, the submerged animal floated and my third helper tied into it with knife and machete.

           The tops of all three animals’ heads were well grouped with shot holes. I was glad to have the effectiveness of the smaller shot proven on swimming animals. The large chiguirri I shot first with a slug showed the lead had drilled in at an angle through the last ribs and the slug remnant was lodged just under the skin on the opposite rear leg.

           That night, on a rocky ledge between the steep bank and the water we worked over our meat by firelight until late. Meanwhile the boys caught fish on hand lines baited with fresh meat, fishing in a hole in the current not twenty feet from the campfire.

           Bananas grew here about in abundance and in the morning, while Raphael and I finished slabbing and salting the meat, I sent the other two fellows to forage a canoe load of the yellow fruit in various stages of ripeness, so that they would keep longer. Our two projects finished at almost the same time, just before noon.

           With the dugout low-gunwaled by a heavy cargo of banana stalks, piled high on top with the drying meat and about thirty pounds of good fish caught on the meat scraps and now doubled open to catch the sun, we swung the prow out into the current and downstream toward base camp. Travel was fast and easy except at the rapids; with our heavy, unwieldy load we dared not risk shooting them, but instead lined and walked the boat down through the fast stretches stern first.

           Arriving in the lower reaches of tributary, fresh sediment exposed on the bank told us that the main river had fallen even more during our absence. Sensing how much our load of provisions meant to the success of the party under these conditions, the boys were so elated I had to caution them about talking and singing lest they cost us game enroute. However to myself I was bound to confess that my elation was greater than theirs, as now it was certain we had enough food supplies to make the trip upriver without time-consuming stops to shoot and gather food.

           Near the mouth of the river, not ten minutes after I shot a large wild duck, and the last chiguirri ran down the sandy beach and into the water. The shallow depth did not permit him to dive and I was ready with a load of BBs. The first shot stopped him on the spot. As Raphael pulled the fat creature from the water and held it high. I saw the animal was just right for eating and earmarked him for the big feed at camp that night. By this time the boat was so overloaded that Raphael solved the space problem by sitting atop our latest kill

           It was the last chiguirri I was to shoot for several months, because the next morning we left early for the upstream unknown. Soon the jungle closed solidly on both banks, strangling and filling in to nothing all the scattered little savannas that spell home for the chiguirri, the capybara; the Largest Rodent in the World.


© 2003 Chronicles of Bob