Distance shooting is not only a question about hunting principles, it is a question about personal skills and equipment.  I mostly sight my hunting rifles at 100 m because there are fewer ranges of longer distances. Typically hunters check their rifles at 100 m at the place of hunting.

The Eastern Cape farm below was one of few I’ve hunted at with longer ranges but still we tested our rifles at 100 m and were on our way. In Europe such long range facilities are a rarity. Unless rifles are shot at longer distances we cannot draw conclusions about their long range accuracy. 

Long range sport shooting is very different to long range hunting. Typically long range sport shooting is focused around competitions meaning shooters give great attention to practice and gear.

In order to compete long range sport shooters need to understand the ballistics impacts of external factors such as terrain, temperature, humidity, wind etc.

Shooters reload in order to reduce costs, improve accuracy and have better performing projectiles based on the application. Long range sport shooters focus on stuff like low velocity dispersion and accuracy nodes of their particular guns; more than the average hunter typically would.

I am a hunter that mostly would not shoot at an animal beyond 300 m because I do not practice enough and my reloading routine does not include measures critical for accuracy over 400 meters. I am talking about processes such as neck turning for uniform neck tension etc.

A primary reason that long range sport shooting should not be compared with long range hunting is that in hunting you only get 1 shot for a clean kill. In disciplines like PRS, shooters get 3 shots per gong (2 to count) and use missed shots to correct their follow up shots.

At The Powder Keg we stand for ethical and responsible hunting. No hunter likes to wound an animal, although such outcome is always a possibility in hunting, but as responsible hunters we should not be taking shots beyond which we do not have a good level of practice and skill of consistently clean kills.

Long range sport shooting is trending to lighter recoiling calibres with bullets of highest BC. Lighter recoiling is more comfortable given the number of shots being fired and gets shooters back on target quicker. Hunters need to be acutely aware of their downrange bullet energy; for long range hunting larger calibres deliver more energy.

Bullet construction matters. The flat nose bullet below is not appropriate for long range hunting.

Gear is becoming more sophisticated enticing shooters into long range hunting. The DS scope from Swarovski is a good example, but in my opinion its features are geared to long range hunting because on a walk and stalk type hunt only the animal will benefit from fidgeting with all its settings.

Before taking that long range shot on an animal put the animal before your ego.  Ego is like dust in the eyes that creates fog in decision making.  We all like to brag about how far the shot was or how big the fish was, and that exaggeration is fine because it is mostly just that … exaggeration.

Good optics only is not sufficient for long range shooting; the gun, ammunition, mounts and scope must work as a unit.

My perspective of long range hunting is influenced by my personal beliefs of hunting; the purpose of this blog is not to impose my views on others but to express my reasoning.

For example, I cannot see the point of shooting a Buffalo beyond 40 meters. Those who have tracked a Buffalo for days and shot at 100 m will not agree because there are different experiences which create unforgettable moments.  What never changes is putting a clean kill above all else.

 

I previously wrote about planning for success in hunting. I started off this blog with the title “a successful hunt requires a little luck”; but found myself changing to “what defines a successful hunt”.

We departed around noon from Ljubljana for Delibratska Pescara in the East of Serbia (near the border with Romania) and arrived shortly after 9 pm.  A few wrong directions near our destination:)

Border crossings in Croatia with firearms requires a European gun license and ID card; but for Serbia (not part of Eu) we needed approval papers in advance followed by a border inspection and the payment of about Euro 30 for each gun and declared ammunition. This process added 45 minutes to the trip time.

We were welcomed at the hunting lodge with dinner. The wife of the caretaker of the hunting area cooked all our meals. It sounds corny to say but honestly it was the best food (no seafood) I ever ate. The portions and variety were more fitting a king than us mere mortals.

The rut had started, the roaring of stags sounded like lions roaring. We woke every morning at 4.30 am and headed out into the woods by 5 am. We travelled in Lada 4×4 jeeps, stopping every now and then to locate the roaring.  After deciding which area to pursue we would park about 1 km away and quietly walk to the forest opening. The guide would use a thermal device to spot game when still dark.

It was unusually warm for this time of the year; too hot for ideal hunting conditions. Typically the morning hunt was over by 7.30 am by which time the Red Deer would be headed back into the shade and hiding of the forests. In the openings it was the female species on the lookout because the testosterone levels of the stags made them largely oblivious to danger.

Breakfast was at about 8 am and then we had free time until a meal was served at 4 pm, before our late afternoon hunting. In this free time we travelled into surrounding villages and over indulged in alcohol at restaurants such as this restaurant overlooking the Danube.

On one of the days between morning and evening hunting we joined the caretaker on his rounds to feed the pigs. The management of game is a vital part of their work, something most anti-hunting activists don’t see and don’t understand (or they don’t want to).

Loading corn.

Offloading corn for pigs.

The hunting area is spectacular. The Deliblato Sands is a large sand area covering around 300 sq km of ground situated alongside the Danube river in the province of Vojvodina province of Serbia. It felt strange riding at “speeds” on narrow roads in darkness but when you finally digest that there are no rocks you get comfortable. The area is mostly flat with undulating bumps.

Easy walking

Our sleeping lodge was comfortable although sleeping time was never more than 5 hours a night. This lodge is across the road from the hunters residence (and additional lodge accommodation).

The hunters residence where we had our home cooked meals.

Getting into position in the afternoon meant some time to catch up on much needed rest before the Red Deer roaring started.

Hunting Red Deer during the rut is the only time when walk and stalk is possible (in my opinion the best). During the winter months many hunts would be driven hunts when hunters take up positions in a formation so deer are seen when crossing “lines”. In the picture below is a hide used by single hunters outside of the rut period.

Hunting expeditions in different European countries is a full experience (food / people / places /hunting practices). This is why I question the definition of a successful hunt. The nearby villages have not changed in 50 years and are unlikely to change in another half century. Prices were less than half of prices in Slovenia.

Enjoying a beer outside a village shop.

A Serbian tradition of honouring the deceased by placing notices on trees. Our vehicle in picture.

The close proximity of Romania means some mix of the population. Below are Gypsy’s with horsepower.

The last morning of hunting was spectacular. It was colder from some rain the day before. The cover of fog allowed us to get to the middle of an opening (shooting distances now max 150 m). We took cover in thorn brush. A stag appeared out from the mist 50 meters in front of us.  4-5 years old with the perfect crown, an awesome future prospect. The stag noticed “us”, but not sure he advanced another 10 meters, roaring every few meters. This moment is ingrained in my memory.

I was on point and Spendal on camera. He might be the worlds best gun-maker but his photography preparation was lacking. Not able to switch his flash off he was prevented from capturing “aiming” moments.  

We then moved into different areas because the stags were roaring till well past 8 am. We came onto 2 fighting young stags, the one breaking its horn in the encounter and later we walked onto another stag of about 6 years old. I had decided on an older stag hence I will need to return; but I will return not because of a stag but to relive the incredible experiences of this hunting trip.

Above is our farewell photograph; except for Micky taking the picture. Micky made the hunt expedition happen, he is considered part of the family here. Spending time with Micky it is easy to understand why he is liked and respected at the best hunting locations in central and eastern Europe. Below, outgoing Micky joined a fisherman on the Danube.

We all want the perfect outcome in hunting yet few of us give attention to proper preparation for the hunt.  Success is largely determined by planning and preparation.  Yes, hunting is about the whole experience, but giving yourself the best chance of a good shot is proper for the animal, our sole and the budget.  My preparation for an upcoming red deer hunt in Deliblatska Peščara, Serbia.

Blaser is my choice of serial rifle … choosing the barrel is part of my preparation.

About the hunting area. Deliblatska Peščara is a large sand area stepped in grassland plains and forests. Once a vast prehistoric desert which originated from the withdrawal of the Pannonian Sea, it is now home to many endemic species of plants and animals which are rare or endangered.  It is the largest sandy terrain in Europe.

Choosing the most appropriate caliber from what you own.  I asked about the shooting distances and the terrain. Shooting distances could vary from 50-300m, but most likely in the range of 200 meters plus. I always default on larger calibers although the trend is to lighter calibers; the theory is that you achieve better shot placement with lighter recoiling calibers.

Shoot big guns and discover that recoil is more mental anticipation than real.

Here is why I go bigger.  I am an average shooter due to older eyes and not enough trigger time.  Recoil is much less a factor in my shooting ability.  Bigger is more effective than smaller for the same shot placement. I accept that a shot in the vitals with any caliber will do the job, but I have enough experience and self reflection to know that the perfect shot (many variables) is not a given.

Man or mouse?

I planed on using my 338 Blaser Magnum for longer shooting ranges and down range energy, but the delay in the export permit for the ammunition means contingency PLAN B. In Slovenia any firearm permit takes a maximum of 5 working days. No more of that because I get frustrated and pissed off every time I think of the process in SA.

LRF binoculars are always a given … no preparation thought needed.

Referring to my 9.3×62 using Balistix 230 grain UltraHunt bullets as PLAN B is not fair to this great round, but I prefer this caliber for shooting distances of up to 200m (maybe 250m). The velocity of my current load averages 2660 fps.  Accuracy tested out to 200m is 1 MOA. BUT having recently acquired QuickLoad I discovered that pressures are in the RED zone (no pressure signs on the primer or from extraction) and the velocity is not on a “theoretical” node.

I use QuickLoad to get to optimum barrel time.

I have been reloading for over 40 years yet I keep finding out new stuff; not sure if that means I was doing a shit job all these years, or I am a slow learner (probably both), but with new data and new tools I find myself keep wanting to try new stuff. My plan is to load and test at a velocity average of 2583 (node).

New tools, evolution in reloading equipment is no different to other new product development.  

If I have the time I will shoot the new load out to 200m (limited ranges in Europe > 100m) otherwise I will rely on a ballistics application given a bullet drop of 20cm expected at 200m and dropping fast after that.  If I had more practice time I would not use a ballistic turret (hold-over is quicker), but until then I will use the Kahles ballistic turret.

My favorite hunting optic is no-longer produced by Kahles (Helia 5  1.6-8 x 42).  No money will get this scope off me and believe me you I can do with some of that. I have been trying to get my hands on this model in the steel edition which they stopped after a limited production (too high a cost).  Owners of the steel edition hold onto their scope; no amount of begging and pleading has got me one.

Whatever caliber I finally get to use it will have a Kahles Helia scope.

Many hunters spend the majority of their time proving their gear over a bench.  We all love to shoot 0.5 MOA groups but for hunting it is better to spend time practicing from expected hunting positions.  My quest for perfection in reloading gets me shooting more off the bench (testing loads), but I am aware of this shortcoming.  My success in the field is less related to marksman competence (which is average), but rather in my preparation for the hunt.

Time to get off the bench and to practice over shooting sticks.

Selecting shooting sticks for the hunt. Jakele are the most stable shooting sticks I have used.  I have confidence to shoot 300-400m off these sticks.  The fastest shooting sticks to get ready on is my Javelin tripod with the length preset, but I don’t like to take shots over 200m with the Javelin UNLESS I find a position that stabilizes the back elbow. I have thought long and hard about which shooting sticks to take. A bad decision would be to take both.

My daughter in training off the javelin tripod.

Hunting in the rut period means the stag deer will be in a grouping of female deer. The hunt will be challenging, many eyes and noses will be on the lookout. One snort and the group will be gone.  Choosing between the Jakele sticks and the Javelin tripod was difficult because the shot is likely to be far and quick. That is until I removed the fog with one overriding criteria – how to be sure of my shot?  Jakele shooting sticks.

Focused on practicing with the Jakele shooting sticks to increase my speed of using them.

Why travel to Serbia to hunt Red deer?  For me hunting is all about good company and new experiences. Combining this with the opportunity of my first Red deer stag is something I am looking forward to and good reason to invest in preparation.  After my Mouflon hunt on Dugi Otok island in Croatia I realized that filling your life with adventures was more meaningful than “things” and having stuff to tell was more important than having stuff to show.

Memories from Dugi Otok Island, Croatia.

Packing clothing for the hunt is easy because I choose layers.  The advantage of layers is that you can quickly adapt to conditions by taking off or adding layers. Good clothing is never compromised in Europe.  I choose lightweight clothing that is stretchy and quick dry. I always pack the smaller stuff well in advance because these tend to get left behind (hat/mohair socks/gloves).

They don’t come any better,  technical tracker pants from www.alles-mooi.com  (green for hunters)

The world can learn a lot from Europeans about outdoor and hunting clothing.  Similarly the world is going to learn a lot about mohair socks from South Africa.  Mohair socks have so many important benefits and features that I am dumbfounded that they were until now largely unknown, especially given the extreme outdoor conditions in Europe.

Technical Tracker mohair socks from www.alles-mooi.com

No hunt is complete without good food and drinks.  The habit in Europe, especially in winter, is a “snaps” early on.  Everyone has their own reason for a snaps … always a medicinal twist. We hunt where the local hunter and his family cook local cuisine, but we plan “padkos” for the long road. Travel time to Deliblatska Peščara will be 6-7 hours.

Fitness is an important part of life and any hunt.  I have established that we will walk for hours, waking at 4 am each morning.  The territory is sandy and I am told that the vegetation will remind me of Africa.  Fitness does not have to be that Virgin Active stuff;  every Slovene walks in the mountains and this is perfect exercise for mind and body. I am not spoiling this hunt with heavy breathing in the moment of truth.

 

At every hunt we test a new item of gear.  We test only one item in order to limit the variables.  Better to have 1 bird in the hand than 2 in the bush . Time to get on with the 3 P’s … planning, preparation and practice.

One bird in the hand is better than two birds in the bush.

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Hunting is about sharing great moments with friends and proving out the gear that we are so passionate about.  Our experience started on the road, travelling 400 km from Ljubljana before reaching the Ferry point in Zadar.

I believed that Slovenes taking food with them to skiing venues etc. was “cheap”. How wrong could I be, to the contrary, Slovenes are passionate about good food and I experienced that first hand. A packet of chips sold on the Ferry or the very best cuisine with us? The 90 minute Ferry trip was simply too short for such incredible moments.

Slovenes (Europeans) are passionate about lifestyle, living and not just existing. Miki (below) has been making this trip to Dugi Otok for the past 20 years. I was privileged to be taken into his inner circle of friends. We stayed in an apartment in the same house of the hunter responsible for hunting in the National Park of Telašćica.

After an abundance of good wine the Ferry trip reached Božava on time at 21h40. An interesting 25 minute drive to Sali with Miki insisting that we would not encounter another car on the road and that we could drive English style – on the wrong side of the road.

Hunting Mouflon on Dugi Otok is spectacular but difficult. The last big fire was 20 years ago and now the bush is overgrown. In many places you simply cannot cross. Hunting here is about glassing the open hill tops and planning an approach when you see Mouflon.

There are few more spectacular hunting areas in the world than this Croatian island. And probably you will not find more hospitable people than our hunting guides (2 brothers).  I never go anywhere without a small bottle of my Kocbek pumpkin seed oil – I am addicted.

The hunting area is large requiring travelling between the different hilltops and lookout points. An open vehicle, African safari style, would be awesome if the weather was not so cold.

The first day we were unable to get a shot in although we did see a few large Mouflon. We tried walk and stalking but the bush is thick making long shots the more likely possibility. The rocks are razor sharp making walking difficult and dangerous. The resident hunters are familiar with the conditions and sometimes carried our gear.

We pondered about what the ideal caliber was for these hunting conditions. Ales and I both agreed a 300 WSM would be ideal, definitely not my 9.3 x 62. My rifle was sighted at 100m. Fortunately I followed Ales’s advice and tested the rifle at 200m off the car in our hunting area in Slovenia prior leaving. I had a good feel on hold-over. 

The Mouflon was shot at about 250m off Jakele shooting sticks, proving that practice and the proper gear go a long way to a successful result. I chose the picture above because of the smile of Miki. When others share in a moment like it was there own – that is salt of the earth.

Balistix bullets keep performing exceptionally well in Europe. There are many reasons to switch to Balistix.  Europeans prove product before changing – they have tested Balistix; my bullet of the future and  also for many Europeans. The reason for gloves, not the cold but protection in case of slipping and falling on the razor sharp rocks.

Memorable moments on the island included numerous rest breaks at the local pub in Sali.  In summer this island is crowed with tourists; being winter we had the island to ourselves. Pictured below with Nicola, the younger brother and hunting guide; his sense of humor had us laughing more than hunting.

Island life is unique and best described as slow, relaxed and eating the best seafood fresh from the ocean. My memories are packed with so many great moments and such great food. It was not surprising to see Kocbek pumkin seed oil at the island because here lifestyle comes first.

It was with a heavy heart and wonderful memories that we departed our hunting base in Sali. Until next time!

When we crossed the mountain range of Velebit on the way home we knew that it was back to normal. No more island sun; instead rain, fog and cold.  We chose the right Chevalier clothing for the island but not for the trip home.  The Powder Keg Central European Family Safaris is about LOVE, PASSION AND ATTENTION TO DETAIL. http://powderkeg.co.za/family-safaris

We departed Ljubljana 3 am and arrived in Pakrac (150 km south of Zagreb) well ahead of our 7 am schedule. This gave us time to enjoy a cheese Burek at a local bakery which is eaten in combination with a yogurt to help digest the cheese Burek (oily).  Maybe my age but I find one Burek enough to last me a few months.  The picture below is the main building of the hunting family we were hunting with.

A driven hunt in Autumn is unusual, hot for beaters and dogs and the forests still dense with leaves.  We were asked to help cull pigs because the hunting family was incurring escalating farmer damages.  The hunt was planned for 16 of us from Slovenia with each of us contributing Euro 100 to the hunting family.

Typically the area where pigs hold up in is thicker bush areas, often separated by a dust road and more open forest on the other side of the road. When I first hunted pigs I was too slow, distracted by the amount of trees in your field of view as the pigs ran. The right advice I got was “there is more open space than trees so follow and shoot”.

Knowing that visibility in the forests would be far worse than in winter I gave greater care to my own visibility.  Blaze orange or reflective green are compulsory for visibility but I found the green much less suitable given the summer conditions of leaves.  At times it was hot, forcing us to take jackets and hats off and placing them on high branches to increase visibility.

The success of our hunt was impacted by many locals searching mushrooms in nearby forest areas. After weeks of rain the conditions were perfect for mushrooms and the locals were having a “feast” of a time.

The hunt for the day consisted of 3 driven hunts, meaning we would travel to 3 separate areas and each time we were set-up in a line with beaters and hunters driving the pigs out. There is a lot of luck involved because pigs group and if they are not in the hunted block then that drive yields no pigs.

Waking up at 2 am was fair reason for a nap in the forest, but keeping your visibility never compromised.

The hunt yielded fewer pigs than normally. I never saw a pig but that did not distract from my enjoyment of the nature and the camaraderie. The wealth and fame of Zagreb is only a 90 minute drive north yet many villages such as Pakrac are poorer. There are reminders everywhere of the fierce fighting between Croats and Serbs 18 years ago; houses remain with bullet holes and many homes owned by Serbs are still abandoned. A stark reminder that there are no winners in war.

After every hunt it is customary to meet back at the hunting family premises where shot animals are laid out and various thanks expressed. The tradition here is that every hunter who shot a boar buys a case of beer; the reason that you see the beer placed in front of each boar. Hanging up and out of picture was another big boar shot earlier in the morning.

A contrast I find hunting in Croatia is that there is ZERO woman involvement. I believe differently, but then who am I to express a view on other nations cultures and practices; suffice to say that in my opinion and in order for responsible and ethical hunting to prosper we must be open to positive influences and change. I do believe that woman are fundamental to the future of hunting and shooting.

You only have to live in Shanghai to witness how a male dominated culture is now being reversed by a new generation of woman and China will be much better for that.

The hunt for the day ends with the local hunting family members serving a spicy meat soup and cooked wild boar. The locals of Pakrac are incredibly hospitable; this was my highlight of the day and making 7 hours of driving worthwhile.

In every collective hunt there is bound to be some incident that creates tensions. This day it was about a hunter accused of moving forward of his line thereby encroaching on the shooting area of hunters on his flanks. I notice that hunters familiar with the territory get themselves into the most favorable positions; something I consider selfish and not sporting.

Hunting in Europe is expensive by comparison to South Africa.  Having said that, you have not had a full experience until you have hunted outside of SA. The Powder Keg lifestyle offering is founded on the principle that so many people end up regretting what they did not do vs. what they did do.

Hunting in Europe is about experiencing the culture, the weather conditions, the history of the territory, their management of game, hunting traditions and just having a fun time. The Powder Keg has aligned with a hunting concession in an area of 70,000 hectares in the southern part of Slovenia that borders onto Croatia.

The surrounds of Koćevje is stooped in tradition and history. This southern part of Slovenia is the most remote part of the country. 90% of the hunting area is forests. Prior the 2nd WW their were many villages of German inhabitants. During the war Hitler considered the area non-strategic and relocated all Germans to the west of the River Sava. Villages of more than 600 years old were left to ruin.

The picture above gives an idea of a cold winter in Kočevje.  Hunting is not permitted when the snow level exceeds 40 cm; it is considered unfair to animals. Animals cannot move freely and they lose unnecessary energy needed to protect them in early spring in the event of a late cold spell.

Camaraderie of a hunt. It is customary to meet for hot food and a little wine between driven hunts (collective hunting). Winter days are short and usually only 3 driven sessions are possible. In this hunting area dogs are not used, only beaters, because the animals are less disturbed and run slower.

The impact of the 2nd WW was significant in the area.  After the 2nd WW a security tunnel was built at Gotenica (borders on the concession area) and a large area was closed to the public; a “safe haven” for politicians. Residents of local villages in the area were not permitted to leave until 1985 when the area was again open to the public.

Above, prior the start of driven hunts safety instructions given and hunters told what game they may shoot. The entire open area of 70,000 hectares is divided into a few hunting concessionary areas. The total area annual game quota approximates 2,000 Red Deer, 500 pigs and 12 brown bears.  The meat is Government property, about 50 tons sold to local residents and 100 tons to a specialized processor of game meat.

We looked at a choice of 2 hunting lodges; the former Tito lodge and the lodge pictured above.  Although the Tito lodge has a lot of history the above lodge is in the heart of the hunting concessionary area and its surrounds more inviting. This accommodation will be upgraded by the main concessionary holder as part of the 20 year concession.

The closure of collective hunting days is always in accordance with local cultures and traditions. Every animal shot, hit by a vehicle or other, is categorized and recorded against the game management plan, a plan that over many years has been optimized for the conservation and breeding of game.

Cost structures for hunting in Europe are more complex than in South Africa and the system of “trophy” measurement would not be easily understood by non-Europeans.  I am supporting the process to have a simplified offer that is more fixed than variable.  An urgent work in progress, the concession starts 1 August 2017.

Every hunter must work a minimum of 30 hours in their hunting family every year contributing to the management of game, cleaning of the hunting area and the upkeep of the hunting facilities. Under exceptional circumstances where a hunter is unable to fulfill his work commitment he must make good with a payment, however this is frowned upon because the purpose is to contribute to nature and not a material contribution.

I am pictured below with Dusan, friend and past mentor, where we work together in a sector of our hunting family.

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A large portion of the work to clean the hunting area must be performed before the 15th of March of every year. I learnt the reasons why this year because I was behind in my contribution; a law in Slovenia forbids the cutting of branches and forest clearing after 15th March because this is considered the time (spring) when birds start nesting. Hunters contribute to nature in every way possible.

Below is one of the meadows in our sector of Udenboršt which we are responsible to maintain.

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The hunting system has been developed over centuries; regulations and information are well documented e.g. every hide is numbered, its GPS coordinates recorded on an online hunting information data base available to hunters.

Feeding points are also recorded together with their main purpose stated. Only wild boar may be hunted at specially designated feeding points in order to control their numbers. All feeding points must be cleared after 21st March (through summer). Animals have natural food in summer and feeding is prohibited. Wild animals must continue their instincts of self preservation without human interference.

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The Government employs hunting inspectors that control the area. Offences are punished by means of a monetary fine for both the hunting family association and separately for their President. Each hunting family association has a hunting keeper who is required to support compliance of regulations. A typical offence that is punished severely is illegal feeding where potentially irresponsible hunters try to lure animals.

The bottom left jaw of every animal shot must be presented at a specific location during a specific week of the year where hunting inspectors validate records of animals taken. A hunter in our family was recently fined Euro 450 because it was established from the tooth that the female pig was 1 year older than what was allowed to shoot.

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A part of our work includes the maintenance of hides to ensure that structures are secure and safe. The main purpose of a hide is safety, giving a downward angle of the bullet. Other than in the large Government forest and hunting areas all other hunting takes place in close proximity of houses and people are constantly walking in the nature.

Recently there was an incident of vandalism at certain hunting offices of an association in Slovenia. Their anonymity and spineless nature reflects on their inability to be forthright and willing to engage in constructive debate. It will be difficult to engage people who have no respect for private property and who are not willing or competent to propose alternatives, but as responsible hunters we want to engage and find solutions in a changing world.

Slovenia Protests

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Part of The Powder Keg vision to be the best run and most respected business for the benefit of our customers requires us to keep reinventing customer experiences.  In order for The Powder Keg to gain discerning customers we have to be a stand-out business. We want hunters and sports shooters to see a NEW WORLD rather than seeing an OLD WORLD better. The Powder Keg is pioneering customer experiences in order for you to see a NEW WORLD.

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The Powder Keg is well positioned to offer a lifestyle investment that includes the whole family. In planning European hunting opportunities for South African customers we started off by trying to define what a successful hunt actually means. Fortunately there is no one fixed criteria that makes up the perfect hunt and it certainly does not need to be where the result is an animal taken. I found the joy of hunting in Slovenia to be more the local hospitality, traditions and country landscape than taking an animal.

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Africa is blessed with many different animal species, if you not successful with your first choice of animal you can make-up with other species of game. Also Africa is blessed with many sunny days so it is unlikely that your hunt will be completely fouled up by bad weather. In Europe weather can influence your hunt, especially when hunting in mountainous terrain. There is also not the same abundance of animal species. Animals move freely meaning that not even the best outfitter can be sure to get you in the best place for an animal.

So, if in Europe we cannot hedge a hunt success with multiple game species or if the weather stats are less favorable, how can we ensure our customers an awesome experience? The obvious answer lay in combining hunting and tourism, ensuring families a memorable stay in Slovenia or its surrounds. In designing a lifestyle adventure we applied the overriding principles of “a local experience and flexibility in itineraries that makes the best of weather conditions”. For example, a trip to Venice would be planned according to the best weather days.

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The most challenging species to hunt in Slovenia is the Chamois or Gams as called by the locals. It is however the most striking landscape to hunt in and a privilege mainly for a fit hunter. It is not unusual to reach 1600 m above sea level by sunrise; fortunately driving a fair way before setting out on foot. I recommend this hunt because you will get to experience Slovenia from above the clouds on a foggy day or see for miles on a clear day.

Dusan, my mentor to becoming a Udenborst hunting family member, but more importantly a great friend

Slovenia has the highest population of brown bear in Europe (around 400). Shooting quotas are strictly adhered to by a Government system predicated on conservation. Hunting bear in Slovenia is only permitted from a hide because of the danger, meaning that you can spend up to the early hours of morning waiting in a closed hide. Bears are smart and have acute sense of smell. Your guide will have a bottle to relieve yourself in, if needed; I still need to inquire about the solution for woman folk.

Good rifles and appropriate calibers will be provided so that you are not handicapped with gun safety when not hunting. We will get you to a range to ensure familiarity with the rifle and to check the rifle. Most likely the range will be a 100 m range in Ljubljana center. Your visit in Ljubljana would not be complete without a visit to see the workshop and custom guns of Ales Spendal where you can also fulfill any clothing needs for the hunt.

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Visiting Slovenia is a truly unique experience that I guarantee you will repeat; the people incredibly friendly and the landscape diverse for such a small country. The strength of this nation into the future, in my opinion, lies with the strength of the Slovene women.  They are, again in my opinion, a much stronger sex than the Slovene men folk. Here is my link between a countries future and its women – children spend more time with their mothers than with their fathers, strong mothers create future generations that will be better equipped to succeed.

You can tour Slovenia as a tourist, surf the internet, there are many great internet sights that are informative. Touring Slovenia as a tourist is easy and safe. The Powder Keg offering however is unique and differentiated. My greatest memories and still today my greatest moments are connected with locals and with what the locals do. My favorite eating places are places where I have been hosted by locals. The lifestyle investment that The Powder Keg offers includes all the touristic sights but introduces you to the lifestyle of the locals and a hunting opportunity.

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Whether your Powder Keg adventure includes hunting or not, my recommendation is 14 days to enjoy Slovenia and the neighboring countries. The days are gone where I used to run from pillar to post ticking the boxes “SEEN”, instead I prefer to enjoy the lifestyle living that sets central and eastern Europe apart from other destinations. Make your purpose of visiting Slovenia to enjoy and de-stress. My advice to The Powder Keg staff for 2017 is do fewer things as long as you do them really well; and this is my advice for your family safari to Central Europe.

When I first came to Slovenia in 2016 we had 4 clear seasons, but with changes in weather patterns the weather is much more mixed and unpredictable, what is clear is that summers are hot and winters cold. Hunting and sight seeing are different depending whether it is winter or summer. I prefer hunting in winter especially if there is snow about, it is a different and an amazing experience.  Sight seeing in winter is less pleasant, the days shorter, however Ljubljana over the festive season beats most famous Christmas destinations.

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Google Slovenia information and visit the tourism site of The Powder Keg partner Graeme Chuter (http://www.slovenia-transfers-tours.com/). These insights are sure to wet your appetite.  To have started the job is to have done half the job, call Paul Luff at The Powder Keg or contact me directly and lets put together an unforgettable experience for the family. In the picture below is the famous BLED lake where every tourist guide will take you, but Graeme will add the touch which he gained in his 12 years living in Slovenia conducting boutique tours.

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The Powder Keg, seeking high-expectation and discerning customers, South Africans who will acknowledge and enjoy hunting and tourism in Slovenia like a local. Our goal is customers “cradle to grave” meaning that we must continuously delight with improved, honest and consistently good customer service.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.