Three years ago, during a winter driven hunt in Kutina, Croatia, I met Marijan Balaško, the chairman of the local hunting club. The following autumn, we met there again on the occasion of another driven hunt. As always and everywhere in Croatia, guests are warmly welcomed and, if language is not a barrier, seamlessly integrated into the hunt as well as the surrounding events. This is how friendships can develop! At that time, of course, I had no idea that a few years later we would be hunting sows together on an idyllic Adriatic island. We stayed in touch and kept exchanging ideas on social media. A trip, a reunion was initially out of the question during the pandemic. I was all the more pleased when Marijan wrote to me this spring: “Come to hunt on my island. Sheep, boar, deer – we also have accommodation.” – I did not dither and checked the family calendar, quickly spotted a long weekend, and booked the flight from Cologne/Bonn to Zagreb.
Arriving in Zagreb, Ana and Marijan were already waiting for me at the airport, and after a warm welcome, we started our journey towards the Adriatic Sea. The next morning, we were to set off. Ana and Marijan had borrowed a small motorboat that was ready in the harbor. We quickly loaded a rifle and some provisions for a picnic, and off we went. Off the coast are some islands that are uninhabited. From the mainland, you can only get there by motorboat. You can easily land there at several small bays – at all other places, the island shore is too rocky. Last year, Marijan leased the hunting rights for one of these islands for ten years and hunts wild boar, fallow deer, and feral sheep there. It is not known exactly how the deer got to the islands, but the sheep were released there long ago for meat and cheese production. Marijan first drives around the island, which at first glance presents itself with a friendly, green face, and then heads for a small bay.
We fasten the boat with a long line to the cliffs just outside the small bay. The morning has already advanced and the sun is high in the sky. It’s probably around 30 °C and there is a light wind. Marijan instructs me to finish loading my rifle, and then we head inland along an old trail. At some point we come across brick remains, and after working our way through the vegetation, we come upon the dilapidated homestead. Colorful, hand-painted pottery remains and rusted inventory are scattered everywhere. The farmstead grounds are almost clear of vegetation – we leave our provisions in the shade for a picnic later. We are alone on this island; I am curious whether we will see any game. What seemed friendly and inviting from the boat turns out to be hard, prickly and rough when we traverse it. Maquis shrubland is the predominant vegetation, and it makes progress difficult. Closed maquis are characterized by dense bushes with intertwined branches and interwoven thorn- or spine-covered lianas, making it difficult for humans and larger mammals to cross. The sun does its part, and soon we are drenched with sweat. We have to find another tactic, because we won’t get far this way and, if we do, we won’t be able to stalk quietly. We turn back after a good hour and catch our breath in the shade of the old homestead. If you think of dilapidated buildings, you may associate transience and melancholy. Here, however, everything seems enchanted. Wild herbs, sage, broom, lavender, rosemary, and many other wild perennials exude beguiling fragrances in the heat, which together with the beautiful landscape create a wonderful composition. “A beautiful day!”, I think, even if it has not given me a sight so far. We decide to drive back and have lunch first, which I am very happy about.
After dinner, I catch up on some sleep. In the early evening, the wind having picked up a bit, we head back to the island. This time we land on the other, less overgrown side. It’s a bit of an uphill climb, and we move slowly and as silently as the rocky, dry ground will allow. The wind is favorable – and indeed, after the first few meters through the dense undergrowth in front of us, a fallow buck appears and blocks our way. He seems puzzled by us, and so we pause for several minutes and look at each other, until he finally slowly turns away and disappears in the thicket.
Slowly we move on, through chest-high vegetation, pausing again and again, listening into the dense undergrowth around us. Finally, the vegetation thins a bit, and we carefully scan the areas ahead of us. Nothing to see. A few meters away is a small hill with a tree, from there we would have a better view of the surroundings. Once at the top, we enjoy a fantastic panorama of the sea. We are scanning the open areas when Marijan suddenly points to a dark ridge that pushes through the maquis. The rangefinder shows about 135 meters. A sow or a boar? In any case, it is a strong 2-year-old, and slowly moving away from us. Marijan suspects that he is heading to a clearing to forage for food. Cautiously, we follow. With a good wind, we manage to get within 80 meters. Sure enough, he is now standing in a small open area. And it is a boar. His head seems long and somehow shaggy, scarred at the snout. His summer coat is almost gray, and short. Marijan releases him. Suddenly, the boar turns and disappears into the thicket. We wait. After a few minutes we hear a soft crack – he is back! Now he pushes himself back onto the surface, standing wide. The bullet hits the chamber, the boar takes off and vanishes, crashing into the maquis. Quickly it is quiet again in the undergrowth, and we wait in silence for a few minutes until we set out to search and retrieve him. The shot is clear; the escape route is clear. It smells like boar in the thicket. On all fours we follow the blood trail until the odor grows very strong: The dead boar is lying directly in front of us. We pull his 80 kilograms as best we can, out of the undergrowth and back onto the clearing, where we have to catch our breath before we get down to gut the boar. We sit together for a while until we load the boar onto the boat and drive back to the harbor, where a local butcher is already waiting to receive the boar for processing. Meantime, the sky has grown dark. We spend a few more hours together, enjoying wine, olives, salami, and bread at the harbor – until we meet again in Croatia!