In fact, the animals you see in this situation are usually moving fast, through thick brush, and deliver only tantalizing glimpses. To be effective, you have to shoot during one of these glimpses. The best hunter in our group in Poland was a Norwegian gunwriter by the name of Jørund Lien. He was “king of the hunt” on day two, having taken a lovely red stag, among other things.
Jørund’s advice to me was to be ready to shoot at all times — at every instant of the drive. “Hold your rifle like a bird gun, and be prepared to shoot quickly.”
When you are equipped with a rifle/scope combination with all the handling characteristics of a bridge timber, this is easier said than done. European hunters, like Americans, are currently in thrall to very high-powered rifles equipped with big, heavy, powerful scopes. My borrowed rifle was a long-barreled .300 Winchester Magnum, topped with a heavy Zeiss.
Jørund’s rifle was a light, short-barreled .308 Winchester, with a 1-5X scope, probably four pounds lighter than the beast I was given. Looking back on three days of shooting, I had perhaps a half-dozen opportunities where I could have (or should have) downed an animal. Of those, only one shot was longer than 100 yards, and most were under 50.
I spent much of my idle time on different stands reflecting on the rifles I had at home that were eminently suitable. Frankly, one could have done far worse than a Winchester ’94 in .30-30, with iron sights — the long-time favorite of whitetail hunters in similar circumstances, from the swamps of Mississippi to the deep woods of Ontario.
Ron Petty, who heads Norma USA, was an old hand at this, and his light .30-06 reflected it.
On day three, Ron was presented with the chance of a lifetime, and later the shot of a lifetime, made them both count and, alas, paid the price.
The chance was at a red stag, one of four that emerged from the woods a few hundred yards from his high seat, moving gently across an open field. All were good, but one was excellent: A seven-by-eight with heavy beams that may (we don’t know yet) qualify as a bronze-medal trophy. Ron judged the size, made the shot and collected the stag.
In a later drive that same day, on a stand with visibility measured in feet, he spotted two roe deer running flat out through the bush. His rifle came up and he rolled the second animal. It was, he said, “the shot of a lifetime — the best I’ve ever made.” Unfortunately, it was a roebuck that had shed his antlers already. Protected game, carrying a fine of €750 (about $800).
Still, the combination was enough to earn Ron the title “king of the hunt” on day three, and he is richer for the memory of that spectacular shot even if he is somewhat poorer financially. Better still, his stag was easily the best of the dozen or so taken over the course of three days.
That night’s closing ceremony, around a ritual display of the game animals taken that day, each with a sprig of fir in its mouth, surrounded by pine boughs with torches of pine stumps at each corner, was an atavistic memory of a different kind. These flickering torches provided the only light, playing on the faces in the darkness. There is a different fanfare on the hunting horn for each species, from pine martens to wild boar to red stag, and each was played as we lined up in solemn recognition.
This could have been a scene from prehistory, with faces around a campfire, and tales of the day’s deeds, with respect paid to the game, and the guns who shot them, and the dogs that chased them. And the misses? Well, why dwell on those?