Though I’m very familiar with the weight of a backpack while sheep hunting, balancing 20 kg while in a dress and heels was an entirely new challenge. Latvia is known for very beautiful women, many of which were at today’s graduation ceremony, clad in eloquent gowns, obtaining their degrees in medicine and dentistry.
Their skeptical stares confirmed that they weren’t expecting a Canadian to stride by, lugging a Mystery Ranch pack full of hunting clothes. Our pickup location was par Daugava, at the Riga Stradins University. Friend and previous hunting companion Girts collected Philipp and I. We were Dobele bound.
For a full five years my boyfriend Philipp studied dentistry in Riga, Latvia. During that time, he fell in love with this country, and especially its remote countryside. With an impressive 54% forest coverage, the hunting is phenomenal. I’d accompanied him here on outings in three seasons: spring, summer, and fall. Dobele, a town South-West of the capital Riga, was where our friend Maris Zukovskis and his hunting club were situated.
Reunion complete, we traded graduation clothes for Sitka Gear. First stop was the hunting clubhouse, where a newly renovated larder and sitting room impressed Philipp. “I remember the times when this all looked very different, the improvements look amazing“! Three ladies in colorful, flowing sundresses stepped out of a hunting truck. Linda Dombrovska is the editor of Latvia’s most popular hunting magazine Medības. Also along was her friend Antra, whom we had met one fall on a driven hunt.
Linda has played a pivotal role in increasing female involvement in Latvia’s hunting community. The third lady had also recently been introduced to the sport by her. They too swapped feminine for dark green hunting attire, now ready for a late evening of roebuck action.
Leaving the truck tucked behind some bushes, Maris, Philipp and I stalked along an infrequently used road. Maris pointed out the various stands, boundaries, favorite forest patches and trails. Within two minutes of the official start of the hunt, Philipp spotted a yearling sprinting towards us, squeaking in distress. He put two and two together, and prepared for a dominant pursuer. Sure enough, a second rufous figure flew by. Halting the chase with a bark, Philipp was already on the larger buck, who had now put some distance and high grass between them.
This gave Philipp the chance to carefully judge the buck. Maris, a skilled photographer, had scouted prior to our arrival and taken pictures of multiple bucks. One of these was the buck now standing in front of us. He had been our main target buck, and Philipp was extremely pleased with what he saw. Luckily, the bucks spun on their heels and ran back in our direction, paralleling a hill and good backstop. Barking once more to get the big boy’s attention worked as planned, and a shot rang out. The buck sprang away, and we marked his flight path. Finding the roe in the field, Maris and Philipp shook hands, extremely happy with this familiar buck. It was nice to see the two friends enjoying and sharing the communal success.
A well constructed tower stand with a view over a promising looking field was our perch for the remainder of the evening. Expected were wild boar, which we were allowed to shoot. Instead, we saw a second good buck with very dark antlers. Only one mature buck was to be taken from this area however, and Philipp’s had already accounted for that. A smile crossed my face as red deer calves seemingly swam through the tall, lush grass towards even more attractive fields. It was still relatively light out when we checked our watches: midnight! Time to be picked up. Though it was only the 16th of June, the longest day of the year was rapidly approaching. Not only the day with the most light, June 21st was also my birthday!
The lady accompanying Linda and Antra had two smears of blood highlighting her cheekbones. The blooding rite had been performed. Tonight she had harvested her first ever game animal, a handsome roebuck. It was special to be a part of this ‘first‘. We drove back to the larder and of course processed the meat prior to enjoying a meal ourselves. Meanwhile, Girts and Antra scoured the kitchen for ingredients, making a soup from scratch and adding the freshly cut roe liver.
A traditional ceremony honoring the bucks and the hunters took place, including the handing over of Brüche. By the time all was said and done, it was already 2:30 am. “We might as well just stay awake until the morning hunt” concluded Maris. I’ll be completely honest, we were a bit surprised. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d pulled an all-nighter. Anyhow, it did make sense to stay up, as it had never gotten completely dark. By 3:30 am, the sky hinted at the possibility of daybreak.
The beginning of our march was promising. There was wild boar sign all over the road. We continued through fields of high grass, resulting in soaked pants. As we had been expecting to sleep at Maris’ house that night, we had left our rain gear there.
There was less game on the fields than expected. There were more mosquitos than expected, a lot more. There were so many bugs, it challenged Alaska, Ontario, or the NWT. Fields, forest, mud holes, logging roads, we covered it all. A roe doe and her two fawns soaking up the first rays of an epic sunrise were a welcome sight.
Though a hunting license rode along in my pocket, no fitting bucks or boars crossed our path. I would be lying if I said we weren’t exhausted, we had stalked close to 10 km. While just shy chronologically, it definitely felt like the longest day of the year.
Pictures: Savanna Koebisch and Philipp Zerfass
Berze Mednieku Klubs (Hunting Club)