I recently had the opportunity to join a traditional German driven hunt on the Leica Hunting state, where all traditions and regulations were strictly and proudly followed. I noticed several differences from the very start of the day; however, the spirit and the feelings were fully alike.
A silent gathering around a bright bonfire just before a cool and clear dawn. I am surrounded by smoky hot coffeemugs and visible breaths as temperatures are just above zero degrees. Everyone salutes each other quietly, warmly, one by one and we gather in small groups. mumbling silently. My host Ferdinand takes this time to explain every step of the day, safety and rules and traditions. I notice amongst the hunters a silent emotion, although alike to my “Spanish Monteria instants” before the post draw, in Germany this emotion is contained, muted, almost imperceptible.
The lead of the driven hunt and the “head of the woods” commence their explanatory speeches. Ferdinand translates every direction given. Safety is strongly encouraged at all levels. I notice the first significant differences; several hunters carry their empty and open-bolt rifles on their shoulders. I am told the purpose is purely for safety.
I am lent a Merkel RX Helix on 30-06 Springfield with a Leica Magnus i 1-6,3x24 and Federal ammo. I am used to both – the scope and the rifle – as it is my main hunting gear. As soon as the speech is finished, at precisely 9.00 a.m., each group of hunters gathers with its lead and calmly but without losing a minute, hops on a car and we depart to the hunting posts.
The landscape is very similar to that of my home in the Northern region of Spain. I must say, I recognise the scent of the wet leaves, the pine trees, the wet mist at the top of the trees. I have been instructed to target wild boar and roe deer. The rules of engagement are almost opposite to the Spanish ones in terms of what to shoot first. This is probably one of the main differences between Spain and Germany: Germany’s rules are almost surgical, where Spanish rules are far more flexible and possibly not as effective.
Everyone is highly visible as it is a legal requirement to wear highly visible colours. Every hunting post is located on a high stand. My host walks me to my stand and instructs me to leave my rifle secured at the stand and then climb up safely. I am also told the hunt will end at 11:45 a.m. precisely and that I must unload my rifle at that time. Also, I cannot leave my stand under no circumstance and my shots must be placed safely where I can see where the bullet will end. Safety is paramount!
The hunt starts silently, I hear no barks, no shouts from the beaters. I perceive a movement to my left and I immediately see a female roe deer with a youngster passing a few meters in front of my stand. I have been told that the longest shots in a German driven hunts range up to 80 meters maximum. This couple is just on that distance and even if they the have halted for a couple of seconds, I decide not to take the shot. A few minutes pass by and I hear a few slightly muffled single shots. That is quite a difference to the Spanish driven hunts where sometimes it might feel like a war zone as it is common to hear rapid shot sequences and in different zones of the hunting area.
After yet another idle 30 minutes, I perceive some movement on my left side, this time it’s the dogs. I hear the beaters in the distance, shouting with almost a rhythmic mantra. The sequence is quiet, elegant; however, it appears slow to me and somehow ineffective. A few roe deer come and go, elegantly running but not really being rampant like I am used to. We never hunt roe deer on driven hunts as it is a challenging target, and many would end up badly wounded and eventually impossible to recover. This is possibly the driven hunt where I have seen more roe deer at an observable speed.
At precisely 11:45 a.m., I unload my rifle as instructed and wait to be picked up by Ferdinand. Every piece of game is recovered carefully and gently placed at the carriage. After a warm Kartoffelsuppe, we gather again for the second drive of the day. Again, my host takes me to this beautiful stand where there are low thick branch dirty areas on the front and a clearer tree area on the back. As I am loading the rifle at the stand, a male roe deer escapes from its hide just a few meters from me again.
Half an hour into the drive, I hear the beaters in the distance. Quiet minutes pass by with a few distant isolated shots when I can see a few branches moving. I hold my breath, hoping the wild boar does not catch my scent. Tense seconds pass by when it jumps to the open but turns away from me almost immediately! No time! I take a shot and I hear its groan, reload the Helix when I see at least another five boars crossing the path! I take aim and shoo three more bullets in rapid sequence. Luckily, I manage to get another mid-size animal, although I can’t see at that time if I got it or not.
Minutes later, two beaters arrive at my post and I provide directions for both boars, hoping both are dead and recoverable. Luckily again, both boars are a couple of meters off the path and after congratulating me with a Waidmannsheil, the beaters carry them to the nearest car path.
At this point, and with the adrenaline pumping through my veins, I feel at peace and thankful, both to my host and to the woods for such an amazing hunting day. I have seen a lot of game; I had a chance to shoot and it was successful. It doesn’t get any better than this. However, minutes before the hunting end time, I hear for the first time a dog barking in the distance. At monterias, this kind of bark triggers the hunters internal alarm, as it usually means some game has just been lifted and it will possibly be the last hunting chance for the day.
Once we arrive back at the hunters gathering, I am congratulated by almost everyone, and I perceive full sincerity, proudness and happiness. Again, quite different from my homeland where the congratulations are there as well, but not always as sincere as those might sound.
The last part of the hunt is definitively different and emotional for me. Respect for the fallen game, recognition to the hunters, beauty of the game arrangement, the torches, the horns, the silent respect. Simply amazing and hard to describe for me. It was a very emotional ceremony for me.
We may have different traditions, slightly different ethical rules, our landscapes and climates are diverse and our way of showing our feelings maybe opposite. But deep inside, the feelings, the instincts and the respect are the same, that is why I call fellow hunters “brothers in hunt”.