Driven hunt with the RWS Short Rifle
It’s already five to one in the afternoon. Just five minutes left until the hunt ends. Around this time, I would usually start gathering my kit. After the drive, I quickly collect the film cameras and take my pictures so that the head hunter doesn't have to wait long. But right in front of me, yet another herd of deer has wandered into view. “What a hunt”, I mutter to myself, shaking my head incredulously. But let’s start from the top ...
“It will be a terrible year to hunt wild boar” – Fears abound before the 2018 driven hunt season
It's Friday evening and I’m purring down the motorway towards the Eifel region, my Dachshund Jule beside me in the car. I have accepted an invitation from my hunting buddy Patrick to go on my second driven hunt of the season. Briefly caught up in a traffic jam, my thoughts start to wander. I am always pumped to explore new hunting grounds and to get out into the forest with friends. Patrick got me really excited about the deer hunt as well! And so I lazily imagine what the next day might bring. The wildest hunting adventures are spinning through my mind. So I quickly remind myself not to expect too much. After all, that’s the best way to end up disappointed.
Other thoughts intrude as well: “It will be a terrible year for wild boars. The dry weather and the abundance of acorns are worrying signs.” I have heard these sentences all too often in recent weeks. If the hunters were to be believed, the fields would be largely devoid of sows this year. The prevailing wisdom is that a large proportion of the young probably died during the extended drought. Now in the autumn, the boars are drawn to the groves of oak trees. I feel inclined to view this opinion with some healthy scepticism. But I saw for myself in spring and summer how hard the hunt has become due to the lack of water and the persistent heatwave. My suspicion is that the animals are fairly secluded, but have not disappeared entirely. The bottom line, though, is that I just do not know. I am determined to start my journey with an open mind and accept whatever comes my way. So I crank up the volume on the radio and dispel my pleasant thoughts about tomorrow’s hunt. “Let’s just get there first”, is my motto.
Harbingers of a successful driven hunt: Hoarfrost, blue skies and red deer on the doorstep
As soon as I step out of the house with Patrick the next morning at dawn, I’m hit by the realisation that today will be one of those days. Crisp and cold, the meadows are decked out in glittering hoarfrost, and at the end of the road a small pack of red deer is seen scampering into the forest. Surely they must be good harbingers for today's hunt! We still have a good 45 minutes' drive through the freezing cold Eifel ahead of us. But even now I can barely contain my excitement. If it were up to me, I would already be perched up on the high seat. The wait at our meeting point is a real test of my patience. I still listen to the announcements by the hunt managers, because the last thing I want is to make myself unpopular on my first visit to a new hunting ground. Today, we are free to hunt sows, roe deer and red deer – but not the stags. And then it's finally time to hop into the cars. Let's go hunting!
In the thick of things, surrounded by the rustling of beech trees – A command post!
Accompanied by Jule, I leave the motorcade as the last but one of our group. Ahead lies a steep slope that we need to climb. I had imagined it a little differently from Patrick's stories. But when I reach the first hilltop, I know for sure that he did not promise too much. On my left is a thicker section of woodland with a very auspicious gap in the vegetation. On the right, the natural rejuvenation of beech trees stands a little to the side, transitioning into a spruce forest at the bottom of the slope. I scurry to the stand as quickly and quietly as possible. Arriving there, I tell Jule to lie down and then place my backpack next to her. The first few moments are often the most crucial, especially when hunting red deer. I quickly mount the driven hunter’s platform and prepare my equipment. I can do all the movements in my sleep, so I use these brief moments to scan my surroundings. “What a place”, I think to myself! I smile briefly after glancing at the site map. Hunters often have to prove themselves before being assigned a good spot. But today I seem to be sitting in the thick of things, surrounded by the golden leaves of the beech trees, interspersed with the last vestiges of green. It’s a real command post!
The sheer tension of a driven hunt: It starts immediately ...
I’m suddenly startled by a loud crashing and rustling on my right. Immediately I jam the loaded magazine into the bolt action rifle and another silver RWS Short Rifle cartridge into my 47 cm barrel with silencer (my model: HAUSKEN JAKT JD 224 XTRM MK2), cock the rifle and place the butt firmly against my shoulder. I already know what’s coming, just by the sound, but still peer inquisitively up the slope. And then they come: one by one, prominent heads with long ears appear above the crest of the hill. A large herd of does. The last shooter in my group must have spooked them when aiming. There could be as many as 15 animals, but I'm not concentrating on counting. I immediately notice three calves standing a little to one side. But the lead animal has stopped at the horizon and I have nothing to stop the bullet’s trajectory. The old girl surveys the terrain with suspicious eyes. The wind is perfect and Jule is quiet, too. Everything looks perfectly set up. Just a few more metres ... The seconds feel like an eternity and I remain frozen in place. But the deer refuse to do me the favour of meandering onto my slope. It’s not clear precisely what is happening here, but the experienced leader seems to sense that something is wrong. So it turns around and heads back in the same direction, the herd trotting behind. Too bad, they would have been perfect for me! But I’ve only been here five minutes.
Plenty of deer in sight: but stags as well!
Things quieten down for a while after my initial encounter with the red deer. Occasionally I would here a loud bang off in the distance, but that could have been neighbouring hunts as well. All the same, I remain convinced that there is game lurking in the beech trees up ahead. I can almost smell them. So I unleash my dachshund at the agreed time, but Jule heads in precisely the opposite direction – down into the valley. And immediately I hear a shot being fired somewhere down below. Through the golden crowns I can clearly see a herd of deer breaking through the woods. I wonder if it’s the same herd that approached me at the start of the hunt.
Certainly there are stags: a young buck is the first to emerge from the beech trees and venture down the slope into the valley. A spike buck follows him just a brief moment later, taking a different path that presents his entire flank to me as it traverses the slope just 40 metres away. What a parade! Both animals would have been perfect, and the spike buck especially would have been easy prey. But I am not allowed to shoot stags today. And the dogs in the beech trees start barking when the beaters reach my stand shortly afterwards. Another group of red deer dashes out of the protective thicket, but on the other side. For now, I need to catch my breath.
Red is followed by black – Wild boars in the beeches
Things are quiet around my stand for the next 30 minutes. But still I feel a little gobsmacked. I can't remember when I last saw so many red deer on a hunt. But at the same time, I didn’t have a single chance to get a shot away. Absorbed in my thoughts, I notice a movement between the beeches, where two sows are apparently scarpering. The two-year-olds scurry through the dense foliage, oblivious to their surroundings. Again and again I see flashes of the dark hide between the small gaps in the leaves. But there are just too many leaves! I curse the long, dry summer. The sows keep me busy for almost ten minutes, but never show enough for a shot. All of a sudden I hear a rustling to my left! A female with seven striped piglets emerges onto the slope, moves towards me and into the danger zone.
It seems almost as if someone has flipped the switch from red to black. The time for the red deer is over, and now the wild boars seem perfectly at home in the beech trees up ahead. Again and again, I see a flash of innumerable sows dashing through the forest and disappearing just as quickly. “Damn it! How can one have so much to see, but so little to shoot?”, I say, a little exasperated. The best thing to do would be to send my dachshund into the fray, but a quick glance at the dog tracker tells me she is hunting far away from my location.
Drive hunting wild boar: sows, sows and more sows ...
Wild boars again! A group darts invisibly through the woods, charting the same path as the couple of sows before them. My mind is already wandering. “I've played this game before”, I think to myself. But – for whatever reason – they make an unexpected, sweeping turn and start gradually approaching me through the dense vegetation. Now’s the time! Barely hesitating, I dispatch a Silver Arrow on its way. Although the selected youngster is partially hidden, I have learned that you can shoot a deformation bullet like the RWS HIT directly through bushes in front of the game without a worry. My hit on the young boar is a little soft, but it still drops to the ground. Its companions, though, are racing away, but then stop in a gap between the beech trees around 20 metres further along. Evidently they are confused as to the direction from which my suppressed shot was fired. I take aim at one on the fringes and drop the animal in its tracks. The RWS .308 Win. Short Rifle HIT is truly a trusty companion! Not only does this relatively new ammunition promise full power from short barrels with fitted suppressor, it also keeps its word. The pack makes a break from out of the beech copse, fleeing from right to left for the high forest just 50 metres away from my position. But the opportunity passes as they remain in tight formation ...
Now I can finally report some success on the hunt to Patrick. I pull out my mobile phone and send him a voice message. I gave up texting on driven hunts after allowing game to slip through my fingers once too often. Jabbing away at smartphones is best way to miss opportunities! While whispering my message, I continue to scan the area, catching sight of some sows moving across to my perch. Unfortunately, the sow sees me putting my mobile away, turns tail and charges back the way she had come, right in front of my nose. I take aim at the young boar following her path, but miss, not once but twice, as it zips away. The second shot even goes into a tree. “Fantastic. Smartphones and missed opportunities!” crosses my mind.
The horn sounds to end the hunt
And so I spend the last few minutes with my smartphone tucked safely away – concentrating fully on the hunt! Two single sows are still being driven into the beech trees. Deer follow suit five minutes before the end of the hunt. But this barely warrants a mention, compared to my other hunting experiences over the course of the day. What a hunt! I can’t remember ever having seen so much game on a driven hunt ... Satisfied, I head off to pick up my prey, even if I could certainly have bagged more. I try to imagine how the day would have gone today without so many leaves and with lots of snow. But things are always different in the real world, so I’m not complaining.
I pick up Jule down at the track, who had teamed up to help the beaters. They tell me that she was fantastic at hunting down sows. And although she brought nothing my way and I didn’t even see her in action, she will certainly have benefited other hunters. At the end of the day, that’s what gave me the most pleasure! Patrick didn't shoot anything, unfortunately. But he is the perfect host and delighted about my two sows. I would like to wait and watch the prey being presented, but sadly I have to head back to the forest. Although I'm certain I missed the fast young boar, I always report any probable misses. The supervisor finally confirms my suspicion. I feel a great sense of relief at the assurance that I did not hit and seriously injure an animal! I hang around to load up some game and help with another inspection. And then the night is gradually closing in.
An eventful day draws to a close with a fantastic presentation of the killed animals by torchlight and with a warm bonfire. I am incredibly grateful to Patrick for the opportunity to hunt in the fairy tale setting of the Eifel forest in autumn. Contrary to predictions, there were wild boars a-plenty. I am a little irked at my shooting performance, but take it as an opportunity to learn. At least I bagged two boars! Overall, I am heading home with a satisfied sense of a hunt well done. The memories and impressions of this driven hunt will surely remain with me for a very long time!