It is to Spain what a battue is to France – a tradition. We were off to discover a Monteria, a hunting method that is sometimes condemned, through ignorance.
The last weekend in February marks the end of the driven hunting season for big game on the Iberian Peninsula. These hunts bear an evocative name, that triggers of a feverish passion from those that have caught the bug. We’re speaking of the Monteria. But the passion equally generates critical views, where a mixture of jealousy, ethical notions, and egotism are combined with a good dose of ignorance. To each to their own, but to establish the facts one way or the other, I booked a plane ticket to Madrid to make my own judgments.
We were in the province of Castilla la Mancha, three hours south of the Spanish capital. We met with Pascal Nordlinger, a French hunter enthralled by Spain and freshly installed in the region. Not content with just living here for a good part of the year, he decided to invest his time in the organisation of hunting trips. He organizes individual hunts on his property (stalking and stands), whereas for the driven hunts he associates with Sergio Lopez and Paco Ojeda, two aficionados of hunting, especially monterias. The first surprise for the newly arrived guests, was the fact that a Monteria cannot be organized by just anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Before being able to reunite several dozen rifles on a territory (even private land), the territory must receive a technical hunting framework approved by the local government officers of the Regional Environmental Delegation (delegacion del medio ambiante). They scrupulously verify a certain number of criteria such as the total surface area of the territory (a minimum of 500 hectares under a single tenant is required to obtain the right to organize a monteria), the animal density present for each species, the alimentary resources, past harvests, respect for the borders…
Once all the criteria have been compiled, the owner obtains his technical hunting plan (plan tecnico de caza) for five consecutive seasons, also holding the responsibility of fulfilling it and undergoing regular monitoring from the environmental officials of the guardia civile. To not sweep the main critique said against the monterias under the rug, we must underline that these hunting territories are enclosed by a fence allowing the restriction of its contours, the law is very precise in this matter. Only fences of a two-metre maximum are authorised and a 2,000 hectares minimum is required to fence it in.
D –day had arrived. At dawn, we met at a café to form a convoy of vehicles in which all the hunters sat. The caravan took off towards the territory, situated an hour away. As the kilometres flew by, day broke and the newly arrived hunting guests discovered the region’s grandiose countryside, where fertile fields alternated with arid hills covered by a sometimes sparse and sometimes impenetrable vegetation. In the villages we crossed, we regularly passed other convoys of 4×4’s whose passengers’ clothing left no doubt regarding their intentions. Today, in Spain, the guns were out. Finally, we passed a large white gate flanked by indicative signage: Coto privado de caza (private hunting territory).
Underneath the tires of our vehicles, tarmac made way for rocks and mud, and we had finally arrived at the hacienda, nestled in the bottom of a valley over which a light cloud of mist floated. The softness of the air and the songs of birds almost made us forget the objective of our presence here, until the mistress of the house invited us to enter into the hunting room where a copious breakfast was served by a careful staff. Men, women, and children mingled in a very…. Mediterranean… hubbub. Outside, Pascal, Sergio, and Paco were on the move, and for good reason. They had to verify the fine tuning of this perfectly oiled mechanism. There was a place for everything, and everything had its place. It was time to draw stands. Essentially, the 38 posts of the day were chosen by a draw of sorts.
The stands were in a formation of multiple lines, these last ones were supposed to close the escape paths of the game present in the drive. It was an exercise that required perfect command of the territory, all under control and with the help of the State’s agents’ presence over the course of the entire day. Around 11 there was but one group of hunters left to position, which did not stop one of the guns from expressing his discontent with the organizers. Childish impatience if you ask us!
For the novices that we were, it was difficult to keep one’s composure. Suddenly, the barking of the dogs rung out from the hill across from us. The secretario whispered “Jabali”, and a few seconds later a ball of reddish fur hurried through the green oak trees, followed by a second, and finally a third that became our first boar of the monteria. A dozen podenco dogs (see below) threw themselves at the young sow, but we quickly intervened to prevent them from devouring our game. The hunt could go on. All around us shots contributed to the up keeping of an ambiance at the top of its game, fortified by the encouraging cries of the beaters who led their packs with verve. For the posted hunters, the excitement was at its max. From our promontory, we regularly saw streams of red deer attempting to escape their followers, but the rifles were placed in strategic locations and the trap closed unforgivingly over the wild beasts.
Elsewhere, a stag approached our neighbour and the range finding binoculars allowed us to follow the action. Three bullets were launched, of which the last seemed to touch the large crowned animal, but he continued his course before stopping. He was over 300 metres and from what we could see, was outside of the hunter’s visual field, but was perfectly clear for us. The rifle was poised on the shooting sticks, the range finder measured 310 metres and 60 centimetres of hold over. The reticule climbed above the spine, and the bullet raced towards the animal’s shoulder. He briefly continued his course, finally stopping, when a second projectile struck him down. It was an unforgettable moment. The secretario was overjoyed, all the while reminding us that regardless, there were still two stags left for us to shoot if the occasion presented itself. It is true that monterias are different from our driven hunts, by offering a specific number of animals shoot-able per station. For this single day of hunting, we essentially had the possibility of shooting three crowned stags, and an unlimited number of hinds and boars. Only young stags were out of the question, it’s inscribed in Spain’s hunting law. As mentioned above…each to their own.
Lulled by the steadily rising temperature, we fell into a drowsiness that essentially saved the life of a nice boar whose presence was divulged by moving rocks, but it was still too late to precisely place a bullet. We would have to pull ourselves together. As the dogs re-approached, we heard the pack bark considerably louder. The secretario warned us and already a stag came along a curving trail. The rifle was shouldered and the red point of the reticle tried to acquire the body of the fleeing animal, but the bushes and trees obstructed the scope’s view. The magnification was turned down to 1 and everything became much better. The visual field allowed one to anticipate shooting lanes and the EVO bullet in .308 Win flew towards the stag, who fell before his pursuers. The beater arrived quickly and regained control of his hungry beasts before they could rip into the stag’s haunches.
The drive could continue, and according to the announced schedule, there was still an hour to go before the end. The moment the dogs got ready to go over the ridge, they pushed up another piece of game that hurried towards us. It seemed like a boar, but he decided not to give in so easily and rolling landscape came between him and the thirty carnivores hot on his heels. The tension was palpable, since again the green oak trees blocked the view and we could only see the flurry of movement intermittently. Any shot would risk the lives of the dogs. We would have to wait. After a good fifteen minutes, the boar lost his temper and attacked the dogs with such violence that they moved side and let the keiler through. He entered a lane of rocks where we could fire three bullets in a few seconds. That was enough to floor the boar, who turned out to be a well tusked male. Though the dogs had been brave, not a single was injured.
Finally, the end of the drive was announced into the walkie-talkies and just like that, mules appeared out of nowhere. They were used to recuperate the harvested animals out of the more inaccessible zones, as they are the 4×4 and trailers controlled by reins. Predicting the task by the number of shots fallen, the job seemed colossal, and it was. All the hunters were collected and we met up with our hunting companions at the meeting point. Everyone told their tale, with most certainly a little dose of exaggeration, but it’s also part of the fun of hunting together under the Spanish sun.
The day ended with a delicious meal composed of specialties of the country, with the presentation of the bag of 128 big game animals, of which the majority were crowned stags. This hunting method conforms to the local tradition, but not to the criteria which one can encounter further north in Europe. Here too however, we also noted the presence of a representative of the State, a veterinarian, who inspected each carcass before authorizing the evisceration or not. Collection in a refrigerating truck also assured the immediate cooling of the venison.
Strictness, discipline, tradition, and conviviality are the qualities that left a mark on us from this first Iberian experience. If, like us, you wish to finish your driven hunting season by discovering a hunt that suffers from a lot of prejudice, don’t hesitate to overcome these and spend the next winter with Pascal, Sergio, and Paco. They will most definitely not only make you love the monteria, but you might even run the risk of adoring it, and lastly, you will arrive a client and most certainly leave as a friend.
Translation by Savanna Koebisch
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The other revelation of this trip, was the usage of a 4 Stable Stick Monteria shooting stick. This product carries its name well and allows you to not only adjust your shots on moving game with impressive precision, but also support the weight of your rifle which can get heavy after four hours spent in one position. It is a great choice in many respects.
This Spanish dog breed originates from the island of Ibiza (Balearics). A primitive and rustic breed, the podenco is one of the oldest breeds in the world and we often see representations of them in the tombs of the pharaohs, that date back to 3,400 B.C. They are the direct descendants of the “Tesem”, an Egyptian greyhound that is no longer around today. Certain tribal paintings even depict them in 6,000 B.C. The Phoenicians would have taken them by sea all the way to Ibiza. In those times, this dog was considered especially precious, and were often given as presents to highly respected people. Though in high demand for traditional monterias, this breed is nonetheless rare.