Fire-Hunting by Night in South Carolina: A Pursuit of British Officers


September 11, 2019
by Ian Saberton Also by this Author


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While George Hanger was for a time in limbo, waiting in mid May 1780 for a decision on his part in the British arrangements for administering South Carolina, he took time out to go fire-hunting for deer by night.[1] “I was,” he tells us, “an eyewitness to this amusement when I first went about 30 miles up the country just after the siege of Charlestown with my old, intimate and worthy friend, Colonel Simcoe, then commanding the Queen’s Rangers and undoubtedly one of the very best officers in our service.”[2]

Two backwoodsmen went with him, all three of them on horseback lest, creeping along the edge of swamps, they might tread on a rattlesnake, of which there were plenty nearby. It is a fact, he notes, that “the rattlesnake, when he hears the stamp of a horse’s foot, flies away, for divine nature has so ordained it that this deadly animal avoids you as much as you wish to avoid it, and no person is bitten by a rattlesnake excepting he come on it when it lies coiled up asleep and basking in the sun.”

One of the backwoodsmen brought with him a large frying pan with a very long iron handle and put in it about half a dozen middling-sized knots of pine, which were full of turpentine. When he lit them, they gave off a great and very strong light. Placing the pan over his left shoulder so that the light was carried behind his head, he mounted his horse with a musket in his right hand loaded with buckshot, having first put strong, thick sacks over the horse’s rump to prevent any fire falling down and burning the animal. The other man followed about 70 or 100 yards behind with a bag of turpentine knots to replenish the fire in the pan. Close after him came Hanger on horseback. The effect was twofold. First, as far off as 200 yards the eyes of any deer appeared just like two balls of fire. Second, the deer, astonished and surprised at so strange a light, would stand stock-still, terrified, and, while gazing at it, would permit the huntsman to approach very near.

“We had not been out long,” says Hanger, “walking our horses very gently by the side of a swamp, where the deer at night feed, when we found one. Before we came within 100 yards of him, he ran away. To the best of my recollection one of our horses snorted. We had not gone a quarter of a mile further ere we found another. The backwoodsman did not go directly up to him but took his way about 30 yards on one side of the deer. The animal, I am certain, let him come within less than 40 yards of him. He then pulled up his horse, which was going only at a very slow walk, laid his arm over the handle of the frying pan, supported his musket with his left hand, fired, and shot the deer. The deer was standing rather sideways to him with his head turned round to the light, so that he shot him in the forequarters just behind the fore elbow. The animal did not run five yards. We threw him over his horse and returned home.”[3]

Hanger was aware that an Act of the South Carolina Assembly had been passed imposing a fine on any person who should fire-hunt by night, “for some persons, not approaching near enough to distinguish plainly that it was a deer and no other animal, have shot young colts, oxen and heifers,” whose eyes at night appeared just the same as those of a deer. Dated August 23, 1769, the Act had expired five years later but would be revived in the mid 1780s.


[1]George Hanger (1751-1824) was presently a staff captain in the Hessian Jäger Corps. Later in May he would be appointed deputy to Major Patrick Ferguson, the Inspector of Militia in South Carolina, but would not occupy the post for long, becoming major and second-in-command to Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton in the British Legion. In later life he would become equerry to the Prince of Wales and a member of the peerage, though he would refuse to adopt his title of Lord Coleraine.

[2]John Graves Simcoe (1752-1806) was lieutenant colonel of the Queen’s Rangers, a British American corps—part infantry, part cavalry—that was used for light and active service. After the war he would become lieutenant governor of Upper Canada and a lieutenant general.

[3]George Hanger, Colonel Hanger to all Sportsmen, and particularly to Farmers and Gamekeepers (London, 1814), 107-111.

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