The elderly couple sitting across from me unpacked a loaf of wholegrain bread, salami, paprika and a salt shaker out of their plastic lunch tote. Meanwhile, I used my train ticket from Vienna to Budapest Keleti as a makeshift fan; the air conditioning was broken and a record temperature of 38°C was currently being set. Welcome to Hungary in early August!
I have many things to thank Instagram for, my relationship being one of them. Another thing is a budding new friendship with a Hungarian hunter our age. Judging someone’s character by their social media account can sometimes be misleading, but we had a pretty good idea that the offline version of @adventures_bound would share similar hunting ideologies. We simply couldn’t turn down his kind invitation to organize us a hunt in his home country during the roe rut.
After picking me up at the train station, Adventures Bound and I battled the Budapest traffic towards the airport, where we welcomed my boyfriend Philipp Zerfass. A cheery hello was said and we were whisked off to the first hunting area north-west of the capital. The hotel’s pale yellow plaster appeared in our headlights. It was late in the evening yet the hotel manager greeted us with a friendly smile. A mere four hours of sleep later, we stood once again on the front porch, this time swapping vehicles for a hunting truck.
The morning was already off to a good start when we saw our first ever Hungarian red deer in distant fields. Though our eyes were entertained with their activities, it was time to concentrate on their smaller rufous compadres. Creeping between the rows of an abandoned vineyard, we carefully inspected each interspace between wild rose hedges. One row revealed a roe doe. Playing the odds and knowing that the rut was in full swing, we wagered that a buck was following her. Sneaking another row over, sure enough. The morning was already off to a good start when we saw our first ever Hungarian red deer in distant fields.
My guide Steven set up the shooting sticks and I wedged Philipp’s Krieghoff Ultra Bergstutzen into my shoulder. The 8×57 IRS barked and the buck dropped on the spot. 130 metres away lay my first Hungarian roe buck, and most definitely my biggest and oldest buck to date. They estimated him to be 8 years old, his silver face and worn teeth solidified our presumptions. I couldn’t have been more pleased with this mature and very respectable animal.
Next up was Philipp. There was another buck in a nearby area that the guides were keen on getting. He was an ancient buck with abnormally thick antlers and a limp. Try as we might, we couldn’t trick the ghost out of his hiding place. Stalking was fruitless, and though we thought that calling from a stand might work, the only thing that found the roe call attractive was a flock of Eurasian jay, that mimicked the doe’s bleats and made us snicker.
To escape the heat of our hotel room over midday, we visited a recommended restaurant in the next biggest town. A high quality, affordable, three course meal awaited us. Typical of Hungary, lunch begins with a cold, sweet soup. Then, a hearty main and a traditional dessert to top it off. A quick siesta and some shared time on Instagram filled the remainder of the afternoon.
The evening hunt consisted of very little action until the last thirty minutes. The temperature was simply too high for anything else. As if a switch had suddenly been turned on, roe were appearing out of every nook and cranny. One buck on a far field prompted a rally inspired race to get within stalking distance. When he didn’t come to our calls, we spotted another large bodied buck where we had originally been glassing. Back again it was, and this time Philipp concluded the evening with another tall, old roebuck. It had been a monumental day!
As those had been the last two tags allocated for that area, the next morning we sought out the second property in the North-East. But first a stop for lunch (goulasch and sweet noodles) at Adventures Bound’s grandmother’s.If you’ve ever experienced Hungarian hospitality before you’ll know what I’m talking about. We felt a part of the family, and were overwhelmed by her kindness and home cooking. That, and air conditioning, was exactly what we needed on that unbearably hot afternoon.
In this second area our guest house type accommodation was linked with another hotel that featured a pool. Luckily the grounds keeper agreed to let us take a quick dip. We were ecstatic. Though we thought the day couldn’t get any better, Philipp quickly proved the opposite when he shot a stunning buck with tines reaching back similar to an elk’s. A few extra points and stickers also adorned the buck’s headgear. We continued through the mountainous region and my second buck followed that evening, an older four point.
Though he had fooled all of us into thinking he was a monster, we were still very content with his age and the stalk that led us to him. On return to the hotel, a storm rolled in and the temperature sunk to 14°C the next morning. I continued the hunt and connected with another tall, mature buck, who was a pretty sight to see beelining towards our call. One could definitely tell the rut was still in full swing, this Casanova was already accompanying two females and wasn’t shy about running towards us, “the third”. Our host had chosen to hunt in these three mountainous areas for the views, the challenge, and the stalking. Though the second area had only been previously tested by a friend of our friend, we were pleasantly surprised with the trophy quality in that area.
Stopping at a castle built in the 13th century we could conceptualize life back in the day. The vantage point on which the fortress was built could be seen from a chain of other strongholds, so that if invaded by the Turkish army, the remainder of the Hungarian troops could be signalled. A quick stop at the local Pálinka (fruit brandy) distillery gave us a souvenir that tasted of the best apricots in the country. Lunch in one of Hungary’s top 5 restaurants blew away any negative preconceptions we may still have had about this fine country. The people were friendly, the food was amazing, and the free-range hunting was top notch.
The third and last area was within spitting distance of the Slovakian border, high up in the “mountains”. Another friend of Adventures Bound had recently become a hunting guide for the local hunting association and was eager to scout out the area with us. Though the landscape seemed perfect for roe, we only bumped into a few does, fawns, and younger bucks, not quite what we were looking for this late in an already successful hunt.
We left them to grow and meet someone else’s fancy someday in the future, as that’s part of hunting as well. After the morning hunt had concluded by 7am, we waited for the local tavern to open. There was already a line, and we were the only people ordering coffee.
My Mom had always spoken very highly of hunting in Hungary. Some of her best hunting experiences had been made in this country known for its red stags, wine, history, and hospitality. She even her acquired her well-trained hunting dog, Réka, a Magyar Vizsla who I grew up with, from there. We were grateful to be able to experience a slice of the culture as well, thanks to our very well prepared host. It was refreshing to see his love for his country and their traditions.
Hunting with friends is simply one of the finest things imaginable. Though we shared many a laugh regarding preferred optics and the infamous caliber question, there was plenty of common ground for friendly discussions. It may sound overly romantic, but in those few blistering days we were able to kindle a friendship that may last us a lifetime.