A heavy hoar frost works in a hunter’s favor when stealthily waiting for wild boar to be flushed through woodland. A crunchy layer of frozen beech leaves are impossible for trotters to traverse without giving a waiting rifle a handy heads up. Hunting driven boar in Poland is adrenaline-charged and super thrilling. With the beaters’ voices reverberating around the eerie woodland, everyone is on red alert watching for signs of movement. A sounder can appear as if from nowhere. With senses heightened, the challenge is to select the right animals according to the estate’s management plan and kill them cleanly – ideally with just one shot.
Last year Poland announced plans to wage war on its soaring wild boar population after numbers of the feral animal increased by 150 percent in just 10 years. In response, the government relaxed hunting restrictions in an attempt to take a chunk out of the boar population. The boar hunting season now runs for seven months instead of the three. It is thought that some 300,000 are now taken each year to keep the population in check.
Last December I joined a team of 12 French hunters for a three-day trip to the remote village of Ostoja on the Poland/Czech Republic border. Organized by boar-mad outfitter Jean Philippe Bourgneuf, there was an expected bag of around 20 animals per day. Accommodation was at the Czarny Tulipan, a traditional-style motel with spacious en-suite bedrooms situated about 45 minutes from the exclusive 15,000-hectare hunting ground.
Run by father and son duo – Ryszard and Hubert – for the past 25 years, the unfenced hunting ground incorporates arable land and dense forestry where they cull 500 boar each season. English-speaking Hubert originally trained as a topnotch lawyer, but decided to divert his career to the hunting industry after he realized his unsuitability to a desk job. His team has been working with Jean Philippe for the past two years and as hunts in Eastern Europe go, this driven hunt was a very slick, professional affair.
Each day kicked off with breakfast at 6:30 so that we could make the most of the short December daylight hours. I didn’t need an alarm clock however; I was already up and dressed an hour before I needed to be, buoyant with the chance to see some pigs. With the temperature well below zero, I was sure to pile on the layers. It was cold but dry, so conditions were perfect. There was a real sense of anticipation.
The beaters were made up of local men along with their battle-scarred terriers. I wouldn’t leave my baby daughter alone in the same room as these grizzly dogs, but they certainly knew their job in life and were insatiable for flushing wire-haired omnivores. The first drive saw the hunters surround a large area of dense cover. The trunks of the pine trees in front of me were peppered with bullet holes, which was promising. I chambered a round of Hornady Full Boar lead-free 165-grain ammunition into my new Sauer S404 with an Artemis stock, which has been designed especially for women.
From the outset, the terriers went wild, yipping ahead of the beaters in hot pursuit of game. Thankfully, all sizes, ages and sexes of boar were able to cull. The only pigs we had to avoid killing were sows with young. “Dzik! Dzik!” screamed the beaters. I understand very few words in Polish but I had made sure I knew the word for my quarry species beforehand. I could hear lots of footsteps rush past me but the brush was too dense for me to see the boar. Perhaps they would reveal themselves to my neighbor? Despite my varied and long hunting career, this was actually my first ever driven boar trip. The adrenaline was coursing through my body like I’d never experienced before.
Before arriving in Poland, I had visited Diggle Ranges near Manchester, UK for a practice shooting session on their brand new state-of-the-art running boar target. The concept of shooting a running animal is one that I found somewhat difficult to rationalize. I generally never shoot anything with a rifle unless it is static and I am steady either on sticks, bipod or from the rail of a high seat. Learning how to read a running boar and correctly place a shot requires a lot of practice. If an animal is wounded, a team of bloodhounds go out after each drive to follow up on blood trails. Even so, I was going to be certain that what I shot would be conclusive.
My first sighting of the day was two hulking dark shapes moving at pace through the dense bramble cover. The boom of an unmoderated rifle followed and momentarily punctuated all other sounds and I guessed that the gun 50 meters to my right had chalked up the first boar of the morning.
When it came to ammunition, I did not want to take any chances. Like I said, I was aiming for one-shot kills. Hunters often argue whether fast and light or slow and heavy ammunition is best. I opted for the latter as I wanted a round that was going to penetrate dense foliage. Some of the drives were in open woodland, but a few were in areas with lots of cover. After much consideration, I opted for Full Boar ammunition from Hornady as it features hard-hitting GMX bullets for deep penetration and maximum weight retention.
My heartbeat counted the seconds as I heard another swarm of courageous little terriers in hot pursuit and coming closer. Suddenly, in my periphery, I picked up a frischling hurtling down the track behind me from the right. This was it, my turn. I had to wait until this surprisingly agile boar had created a wide enough angle away from my neighbor’s peg for a safe shot.
As it bolted toward me and into position, instinct took over. I picked up the line of the beast, squeezed the trigger and swung through the same as I would a pheasant. The boar’s charging run was brought to an end with a dramatic cartwheel, signifying a well-placed shot in the area that mattered for a clean kill. I could see the carcass from my peg and was itching to go and inspect it, but walking off the gun line during the drive is strictly forbidden for very obvious reasons. When speed is of the essence, my Leica Magnus 1-6.3×24 scope offered an exceptionally broad field of view of 142 feet at 1x magnification making it ideal for driven hunting when a complete overview of the terrain is needed.
After a brief lunch of barbequed boar sausages, boar stew and homemade cake, we were back outside in the cold to continue hunting. This time I was the end rifle, so Ryszard and Hubert both stood with me after placing everyone else out on the drive. I now felt an enormous amount of pressure to perform. So far, the bag was sitting at 12 beasts, so there was an expectation that each rifle would contribute properly.
I dry mounted my .308 a couple of times and practiced my swing, then I stood as still as a statue with only my eyes flicking from left to right repeatedly. This drive was in open woodland with sweeping topography and plenty of backstops. I felt very comfortable shooting in this situation.
“Dzik! Dzik!” screamed the beaters. My ears pricked up. Hubert whispered that the boar had doubled back and were now running toward me. Suddenly a boar appeared at the top of the hill in front of me. It was completely unaware that we were at the bottom, but it was super wary. I mounted my rifle and fixed the red dot between its eyes, following it as it ran towards me.
“Wait, wait,” whispered Hubert. Once it was within 20 meters I squeezed the trigger and instantly dispatched the boar. Ryszard looked at me completely shocked and started speaking animatedly in Polish to Hubert. Worried I had culled the incorrect animal, I asked Hubert if there was a problem. He explained that Ryszard, who is in his 60s, had never actually seen a woman kill a boar before. In fact, no woman had ever shot a boar on this hunting ground. I felt quite proud for my kind.
Ryszard snapped a branch from a beech tree and dipped it in the boar’s blood before ceremoniously shaking my hand over the carcass. I wore the branch in my hat all day and felt immensely satisfied with my shot – especially as I had an audience. The boar was in fact a very smart 70 kg tusker, a trophy to take home.
That evening, after much slivovitz, the game was laid out in a plateau with my two boars near the front. After the hunting horns were blown and we’d thanked the game, Hubert announced the King and Queen of the hunt. Seasoned hunter Jean-Luc Mignonac was pronounced King, and to my amazement, my name was called next. With a medal now adorning my neck, I felt that I had made a good account of myself on my first ever driven boar hunt.–Selena Barr