Hunting experiences in central Europe are unique, and conditions can be spectacularly different from hunt to hunt. Yesterday I woke at 3 am to travel to a private hunting concessionary area in Croatia that borders on Bosnia. Experiencing the history of the area, the company and the spectacular scenery was enough; shooting wild boar would not determine the success of this hunt. Typically hunters all gather at a venue prior and after the hunt. This was the hunting cottage where we enjoyed breakfast before hunting and ate dinner before departing on the long road home.
I have often hunted in snow but never in conditions like this. The day before there was a downfall of “wet snow” of about 25 cm which had frozen on the trees overnight. When we arrived at 8 am it was -5 C, cold but bearable because there was no wind which would have driven up the chill factor.
I traveled with Igor Rakusha who comes out of a long tradition of shooting and hunting. See my blog category “sport shooting” on how I met Igor. Although the trip was long I used the time to soak up as much as I could learn from Igor. He said that it was unlikely that we would shoot much that day because pigs sense the bad weather, feed up and then group overnight and don’t move much. The dogs do not get a good sense of smell (frozen conditions) and you need luck to be in the same area as the pigs are.
As we approached the hunting area the road narrowed into a single lane with literally thousands of branches hanging across the road. The weight of the snow caused the tree branches to hang down and sometimes breaking off. Getting to the area of the driven hunt was slow because of these road conditions. Most South Africans would freak if required to drive through branches like we did, but Slovenes love for the hunt overrides all materialistic concerns.
I expected harsh weather and spent a few hours preparing for the hunt. I packed snacks, hot tea and additional dry clothing. I decided to break my bad habit of hunting without binoculars, but this was pathetic. Hunting wild boar in dense vegetation does not call for binoculars. Despite all my preparation from prior hunting in snow I was not prepared for these conditions. I chose my best “chair-back-pack” because of its size and the seat which is critical for the few hours waiting on a driven hunt. As I opened my back-pack melting snow from the trees created a mini-avalanche over my kit.
I initially thought I could clear the snow before it melted but I never could sit. Snow from the branches would fall continuously as rising temperatures and sun caused it to melt. It took a few of these snow falls for my heart to stop racing because each time it sounded like a group of pigs emerging from the forest. This brings me to the other main reason why it would be difficult to shoot pigs, the continuous noise of falling snow makes it impossible to hear approaching pigs. You had to be more alert with vision than hearing.
The most critical part of clothing for these hunting conditions, other than warm Gore-Tex type clothing, is a hat that protects your vision from falling snow. I would also opt for a simple stool to sit on which could be put out when sitting rather than my integrated seat made of a material that can and did get soaked.
The other striking contrast in the day was the change of environment in only 4 hours. By noon most of the snow had melted from the trees, a quietness descended, but by the end of the first driven session the beaters and their dogs were tired. The afternoon driven hunt was always going to be a challenge and it was. We would have been better off to wait until noon and focus on one intense driven session.
There are many beautiful stone and wood houses in the area – many deserted. I had a feeling of remoteness. The private concession that we were hunting in was within a 20 km zone of the border with Bosnia. This area was mainly populated by Serbs who fled their properties in the war of 1998-2001 between Serbia and Croatia. There were many atrocities committed on both sides and given how recent this war was it is understandable that the Serbs who lived in the area before are reluctant to return even though ownership was returned through the European Union insistence.
There were 18 hunters. Normally they would shoot 12 – 20 boar on a days driven hunt. Given the weather conditions we did not find the main group of wild pigs and only 2 large boar were shot. The older males behave differently, they tend to move quietly on their own, often going back behind the beaters. I was fortunate for a Rhoe deer to come to within 10 yards of me, stand and observe me for close on 10 minutes. At one stage he even took 2 steps closer. This amazing experience proved that deer had poor eyesight and the frozen snow conditions made it impossible for him to smell me. As long as I did not move the deer stayed. The picture below could only be taken after he ran off.
The area has wolves which caused the Red deer to move out. They simply got tired of being hunted by wolves and moved out. Rhoe deer are territorial, proving the life lesson of our need to change and adapt or be consumed. My day was successful because I experienced history, different weather conditions, met great people, enjoyed much learning; and then I arrived home to the trophy my family had created … I am not the best hunter but I am better than I was the hunt before.