Editor’s Note: Every Friday we showcase a story from the Safari Magazine archives. This week’s adventure features a hunt for classic European game. It originally appeared in the May/June 1995 issue of Safari Magazine.
The African Big 5 conjures up images of big tusks, massive horns and sharp claws. The Grand Slam of North America Sheep brings thoughts of lung-searing climbs in high places. The South Pacific 15 and North American 27 represent years of hunting achieved by few.
Now, with the lifting of the Iron Curtain, the Easter European 6 is available to international hunters, and is achievable in one or two trips.
In Eastern Europe – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Rumania, Slovakia and Yugoslavia – commonly hunted animals are red deer, fallow deer, rode deer, mouflon, wild boar, and chamois: the Eastern European 6. Hunters can spread the travel and adventure over several trips and countries or, with careful planning and good luck, complete the Big 6 in one expedition.
My opportunity came at the 1994 convention of Safari Club International. I was considering a red deer hunt in Eastern Europe but became intrigued with hunting all six of Eastern Europe’s commonly hunted game animals. My friend and Colorado character, Lad Shunneson, is married to Lenka, a Czech, and is the booking agent for Stelko Hunting, which outfits hunts for all six species in the Czech Republic. In Lad’s booth, I met Carl Stelzer, one of the two principals of Stelko along with Milan Kostka. Stelzer and Kostka played for the Czech national basketball team until Carl defected in 1968, when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia. He then spent 20 years on Austria, New York, New Mexico and Germany before moving back to the Czech Republic after the “Velvet Revolution” of 1989. He reunited with his long-time friend, Milan, to form an import and export business along with his true love – Stelko Hunting.
Because I wanted to complete a video on hunting the Eastern European 6 for Sportsmen on Film before the 1995 SCI convention, I booked to hunt during the last weeks of September and the first week of October in the Czech Republic – the roe deer season ends September 30 and the alpine chamois season starts October 1. Lenka Shunneson knew a chance to return to her homeland when she saw it, so she insisted that Lad and she join the expedition and that I bring my wife, Lorraine.
Lad rationalized that he needed to hunt the big 6 in order to properly advise his clients.
With two hunters going for six species each on video, plus sightseeing, Carl wanted us to allocate three hunting days per animal, but we settled on a total trip of 17 days. These would include travel, and out wives would be with us for the first 11 and without us the last six – in case we had to go to the limit to achieve our goals.
Our point of arrival was the capital city of Prague, which is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Wen we arrived, a project to refurbish the old buildings to their former splendor was in full swing and the unemployment rate was one half of one percent! Prague is located in the center of the western part of the Czech Republic known as Bohemia and was built on both sides of the Vitava River. We would be hunting throughout the eastern part of the country, which is known as Moravia.
With just a few days before roe deer season would end, Lad and I concentrated on Europe’s most commonly hunted deer. We hunted near the Polish border from both high seats and by still hunting the perimeter of forests and fields. We both took good, typical six point bucks. In fact, we took two roe bucks each, because the lease owner hadn’t filled his quota and gave us a good price on a second deer.
The meat from all of the game in the Czech Republic is owned by the land owner or lease holder and is sold to restaurants and butcher shops. Throughout the hunt we discussed which species tasted the best and my vote was for roe deer as prepared in one of little country restaurants that we visited during the traditional break between the morning and afternoon hunts.
Typically, we would hear the awful sound of the alarm at 4:30 a.m. and be on our way at 5 a.m., hunt from 6-11a.m., and then hunt again from 2:30p.m. until dusk at about 6:15 p.m. After we got used to the seven-hour time change, we spent the middle of the day with our wives for lunch, touring and taking in such things as mushroom picking, which seemed to be the national pastime. In the evening, the food and camaraderie were both of the highest level.
I particularly enjoyed maintaining my svelte waistline while Lad let out his belt three notches because he couldn’t lay off the deserts after soup, salad, entrée, beer and coffee.
Lad is a roe deer connoisseur with over 20 to his credit – which would make him a rookie among Eastern European hunters. He was selective while I was less so and luckier. My early success gave me one and a half days to hunt red deer before a change-of-venue. On the evening of the second day, my gamekeeper Carl and I hiked into the middle of three roaring stags, and we waited them out until I got a shot at an old monarch that was an incredible 14 years old. It didn’t quite make CIC bronze, which was OK with me because I was saving my money for mouflon – the Czech Republic has the best rams in the world.
We loaded the Stelko motor home with enough gear to make an Alaskan bush pilot weep and headed south past Stelko’s headquarters in Ostrava to the Beskydy Mountains, where we stayed in the lodge on a game preserve that was over 400 years old. The first wing of castle in the preserve was completed in the year 1240. From one of the ponds, trout were netted one afternoon, cooked for usin the adjacent cottage and served on china set out on white tablecloths. Outside, a few fallow stags roared and mouflon rams cracked heads.
It was here that Lad shot his CIC bronze mouflon – he was saving his money for red stag – and we both shot good fallow deer. Interestingly, the CIC scoring method for follow rewards length of palm, which SCI does not, and give no credit for length of points. (An SCI record book hunter can look for fallow deer with wide but short palms and lots of long points, pay CIC bronze and end up with SCI gold.) The fallow stags that we saw on two different preserves were huge by Texas standards and hunting a large, reproducing population with the wallet in mind proved to be excellent sport. As an additional bonus, the rut was just starting and we witnessed the phenomenon of the females coming to the males, which is unique to fallow deer.
Our next stop was southern Moravia, near the Austrian and Slovakian borders, where the steep mountains of the northern forests give way to the rolling hills of wine country.
Wine making is a hobby for many families and they have their own wine cellars that are 50-100 feet long and burrowed into hillsides so the interior temperature remains constant. It was in one such cellar that I was forced to drink several glasses of “fresh” wine between the morning and evening hunts for mouflon. Before I could feel any adverse effects, I was told that fresh wine is just a few days old and has virtually no alcohol content. My sobriety helped neither the evening hunt nor both hunts the next day. The leaves and nuts were falling from the trees and our crunching steps warned any mouflon of our presence before we arrived at the top of a hill to glass for them. Nevertheless, I had several chances. But to translate Czech into English, pick out a CIC gold ram – my goal – and get both the cross hairs and the cameraman on the correct ram simultaneously was proving too difficult. On the third day, we changed our strategy and waited in the forest for a mouflon to feed into one of the meadows.
The rut was approaching, but most of the rams were still hanging in groups. On that third afternoon, I was rewarded when a group of huge rams moved the meadow and we were able to stalk down a drainage for a 150-yard shot. The gamekeeper was aware I wanted a low CIC gold trophy and he quickly told Carl to have me shoot the third ram from the end, which became the second and then the last. I swept my cross hairs past the rams horns, settled on its shoulder and squeezed off the 180-grain bullet from the Sako .300 rifle I used throughout the safari. The 90-pound animal bolted to the left and somersaulted. I felt like doing the same thing.
When we walked up to the fallen ram, the gamekeeper performed the traditional European ceremony that Lad and I experienced with each animal we shot. Two small branches were removed from a nearby tree, one placed in the animal’s mouth as its last bite and one brushed in the blood of the animal and handed to the hunter to place in the band of his hat. The the gamekeeper excused himself and returned a half hour later with two horn blowers shortly before dark.
Carl explained that I had shot a high CIC gold ram and would experience a ceremony available for all species harvested in the Czech Republic but usually reserved for the most special. In my ram’s case, the horn weight was so heavy (11 inches at the bases and 10 inches at the second quarters) that they made the 38” x 37” horns look much smaller from the ravine in which the gamekeeper gave me the final approval to shoot.
To see those horns on a 90-pound animal was awesome. And of course, I kept asking Lad why they never played two horns after he shot an animal.
Maybe I asked too soon. Two days later, near the southern Moravian town of Brno, where the rifle of the same name is manufactured, Lad and I got into a couple of bunches of wild boar in the rolling hills after a rain. The potato chip-crisp leaves turned soft as wet lettuce and our footsteps were unheard. It was there, among the trees, that I shot a 400 pound boar, only to learn that Lad had already shot a larger one and that his guide had immediately pulled out a bottle of Russian vodka and two glasses from his immense overcoat and toasted the great pig hunter from Colorado.
I will never forget skinning those two huge carcasses until midnight in a light rain. It reminded me of the bison carcass scene in “Dances with Wolves”, only in damp moonlight.
With four days left, I needed only the chamois to complete the Big 6 but Lad needed both that little goat-antelope and a red stag. The stags had just stopped roaring in southern Moravia, so we returned to the north where the chamois population is good and the stags still were in full rut. It was on the first afternoon that Lad shot his 13-point stag when it tried to keep its harem intact. Its long white tines whirled through the thick cover when a 140-grain bullet in the lungs from the classic Rigby .275 fire by Arlad William Shunneson put it down.
That took the pressure off and we relaxed so much that we were both unsuccessful with chamois the next day. The following morning, I again hauled my .300 Sako up the mountain along with Swarovski 10×42 binoculars to search for the 75-100 pound animals. We made several sightings but no shots. Lad and I each held out for bigger trophies, which the average person probably wouldn’t notice, even if mounted side by side with average ones. That evening, we both connected on good males although we were prepared to take long horned females if we saw them.–Ken Wilson
After some good-natured kidding about who had achieved the Eastern European 6 first, I bribed both guides to agree I had been first. Carl and Milan remained neutral. Lad is suspicious to this day.