(Author’s note: Béla Hidvégi is an SCI International Life Member and Honorary International Director from Hungary whose hunting heritage ranges from having to literally hunt for food after World War II by trying to snag pheasants with a pitchfork, to gifting his home country with extensive collections of species from around the world. Meeting him, I discovered someone steeled by adversity and inspired by his father who instilled in him perseverance, a strong work ethic and a love of the land that shaped Hidvégi into not only an exceptional hunter, but also an exceptional man.)
World events may alter the destiny of nations, but cannot dilute the purity of the soul, nor diminish the heart of the hunter.
Béla Hidvégi’s hunting career began Christmas 1942 or ’43; the exact year has faded from his memory, when his father presented him with his first air rifle.
“My first hunting trophies were sparrows,” Hidvégi recalls. “My family were landowners [in Nagyszénás, Hungary], and before the war I went hunting with my father even though the snow was bigger than me. Nothing kept me from hunting with my father.” Hidvégi’s love of the outdoors was further influenced by his father’s close relationship with well-known naturalist, Istan Sterbetz, who frequently visited the family’s estate.
But the war changed things, not only for the family, but also the country.
“The war took everything away; we lost everything,” Hidvégi tells me. The family abandoned their home and fled west. Along the way, his father was taken by the Russians and released months later. “After the war, we had to start from nothing.”
The family returned to find their home emptied of all possessions and started all over with a smaller parcel of leased land as “smallholders.” “My father was a very hard worker. I had to work on the land, so I really had no childhood after the war. After school I would do a little homework and then work on the land…” says Hidvégi “…then came 1956.”
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 brought renewed hardships to the family. Branded a Kulak, or enemy of the people, by those jealous of his smallholding, Hidvégi’s father suffered beatings, six years of imprisonment and their land was lost again.
“My father was unbelievable in how he worked. Even in the prison he was whistling while he looked after the pigs of the prison officers. Unbelievable,” says Hidvégi. “It makes me shiver. An amazing man.”
“My mother moved off with her sister to Budapest and then I went off [on foot] to Austria,” remembers Hidvégi. He and two of his friends walked for two days. From Austria, the young refugee was sent to England where, following in his father’s footsteps, Hidvégi studied agriculture and food engineering. The land was such an integral part of Hidvégi’s life that when he first arrived in England and was able to send a message to his parents through Radio Free Europe, the password was “worm.”
“[My father] worked on estate farms and was well known in agricultural business. He was the first to import Yorkshire pigs from England by plane and he started breeding them in Hungary. He had secret contacts in Budapest and they gave him this job to work in large estate farms, but he never recovered any of the land. He worked the last 20 years of his life for other operatives and state-farms.”
During the summer holidays while at university, Hidvégi worked in a food manufacturing company and upon graduation secured employment in the research department of Europe’s largest can-producing company. There, Hidvégi developed a process to prevent acidic corrosion of Coca-Cola cans. His success attracted the attention of a new employer, Nestle, which then led to a succession of marketing jobs in Europe for American and British companies that sold food processing machines. His knowledge of agriculture and processing equipment eventually led Hidvégi to form his own food processing machinery company in Hungary.
While in England, Hidvégi met his future wife and, through one of her colleagues, also fell in love with English guns and resumed hunting by going on pheasant hunts with friends and acquaintances.
“I had to work very hard and did not start hunting again until 1968,” Hidvégi tells me. “Hunting is in my blood. It is either in you or it is not in you. Nobody but another hunter who has it in his blood can understand.”
As with Hidvégi personally, Hungary has a rich hunting heritage.
“Our red deer history goes back before Christ,” Hidvégi says. “According to our legend, the red deer led our ancestors into Hungary from Asia.”
The Hungarian “Big Five” are red deer, roe deer, fallow deer, wild boar and mouflon sheep. According to Hidvégi, high stand or stalking are the most accepted ways to hunt deer during the rut, though roebucks are hunted from horse-drawn carriages in addition to stalking. Wild boars are hunted from high stands or are driven.
“We have hunting lodges and of the big game lodges, two thirds belong to the forest commission.”
Though Hidvégi has 45 African safaris to his credit, his passion is mountain hunting.
“I was 50 years old when I first stepped on African soil,” Hidvégi laughs as he goes on to explain how he would have planned his hunting career differently by putting the more physically demanding mountain hunting earlier in his life. “After I started mountain hunting I got a .257 Weatherby and shot my three markhors with it. For driven boar I have a .300 Winchester and for mountain hunting I now have the .30-378 Weatherby. This is a great, great rifle,” he explains. “I have collected over 270 species [worldwide], including a Super 30 for Ovis and a Super 30 for Capras.”
Hidvégi’s collection is significant and hard earned, and through it and hunting he gives back to others. He founded the Hungarian Chapter of SCI in 2006 and began sharing his exhibits at the FeHo Va hunting trade show in Hungary. Many of his species are on permanent display at the Keszthely Helikon Castle Museum.
“I donated all my collection to the Hungarian state to the natural history museum. They applied to the European Union to get a grant to build a complete building and we got the grant to build it,” Hidvégi says proudly.
The museum has about 170 full-mounted species in dioramas depicting their natural environment. Also on permanent display are over 80 of Hidvégi’s shoulder mounts, horns, antlers, skulls and tusks at University of Sopron as part of the University of Forestry and Wildlife Management study program.
“I have a foundation that looks after it and makes sure the state keeps [the collections] together,” says Hidvégi. He has produced four hunting DVDs, penned hundreds of articles and published four books, two of which are in English. The last one, Beyond The Mountains, is being also published by the Safari Press.
Despite all his trophies and hunting awards, the one award Hidvégi is most proud of is his Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic, a civil award earned through his generosity related to his hunting. While a lesser man may have turned bitter toward his country, considering how his father was treated, or given up after so many significant setbacks early in life, Béla Hidvégi overcame both, emerging as someone representative of not just hunters, but of SCI.– Scott Mayer