Yesterday (11/12/2016) I attended a traditional hunt in Slovenia. A group of hunting friends arranged a hunt in a Govt. territory in the south eastern part of the country near the border with Croatia. This hunting area has a large population of Red Deer, Pigs and Brown Bear. It is a typically wooded forest area.
This particular Govt. game area is required (called a plan) to shoot 200 red deer and a certain number of pigs (I forgot to ask what that number was) by the end of 2016. The plan is a structured and enforceable requirement based on game counts for the management of game. They were far behind their compulsory quota making our hunt possible.
I do not know how costs were apportioned but I was part of a group of about 20 that each contributed 80 Euro to the days driven hunts and a meal after. At the start of the hunt we were told which animals we were permitted to shoot because every animal had to be part of achieving their annual planned off-take. On this hunt we were allowed to shoot all pigs, female red deer and young red deer males with horns not extending past the height of their ears. Fox were also permitted to shoot; I gave up on 2 occasions to shoot a fox because often pigs follow the fox and I did not want to create a noise that would detract from the bigger picture.
The meat from the game is kept by the Govt. because we were hunting in a Govt. area. They sell the animals to the venison market and proceeds are used to maintain the game area and feed animals in winter.
After driving for just over an hour from Ljubljana on a secondary type of road we arrived at our meeting place, a local restaurant (Gostilna) in close proximity to the hunting area. Here everyone gathered for a coffee or something stronger and the paperwork for the hunt was completed. I used the opportunity to jump into a change room and put my thermal clothing on because leaving Ljubljana at -4C I did not expect temperatures of -8C at the hunting area.
In the picture below is Ales Spendal (middle) and Tinus (right) who organised the day for his group of hunting friends. Typical and necessary with temperatures well below freezing point we are pictured drinking a shot of Chivas Regal before starting the day.
The hunt was a driven hunt meaning that hunters are placed in an organised pattern with “beaters” and their dogs pushing the game. It is compulsory in this format of hunting to wear high visibility clothing (and a good idea). The day comprised of 3 sessions of the driven hunt; after each we would gather, congratulate the successful hunters, have a small snaps to warm up and prepare for the next driven session. The picture below is a typical scene between the driven sessions.
The last driven hunt ended at about 15h30 when the light started to fade rapidly and the warmth of a beautiful sunny day began reversing into the cold of winter shadows. We love cold winters because that is how it is supposed to be; warmer climates and especially warmer spells in the winter period create havoc with nature; the reason most bears are no-longer sleeping like they did in the past. For this reason I was told how to react if confronted by a bear because shooting a bear is only allowed in self defense and after numerous attempts to shout it off. Important is to warn the bear of your presence early on so that he is not surprised by your close encounter causing him to act irrationally.
All hunters and helpers congregate at the end of the hunt in a closing ceremony. I find this tradition truly amazing even though I cannot follow what is being said because (pathetically) I still do not speak Slovene. Hunters throughout the world attest to the comradery of the hunt and even though I do not speak Slovene I feel at home with lovers of the nature and truly awesome people who appreciate the simple things in life.
After the traditional closing ceremony and more drinks around vehicles we head back to the local Gostilna for our evening meal. The day is not over until after friends have enjoyed the company of each other, consuming an abundance of good food, drink and sharing stories of the day. The picture below is the local Gostilna that hosted our closing get-together.
My lessons learnt include preparation the night before so that you remember to take proper clothing, gear, eats and drinks for the many hours spent in the forests. A stool or a backpack with a chair is essential, you cannot stand all day or sit on frozen ground. Autumn leaves are scattered all over so it is hard to imagine cleaning a space from where you plan to shoot from, but it is possible and matters. I always select a tree from which to take cover and to use as a shooting support. Probably the most important item not to forget is a HAT because this is a key part of the traditional ceremonies before and after the hunt and to fix a leaf from a tree if you shoot an animal (the other part is placed in the mouth of the deer – to signal the last bite). After each driven hunt session it is easy to see who was successful and therefore who to congratulate.
Hunting in Slovenia is an essential part of the management of game and the conservation of their animals. Hunting is carried out in a responsible manner and with respect to their environment. Centuries of tradition are maintained and I am truly privileged to have been included as a local.