Thanks to centuries of hunting tradition and good wildlife management, the European continent offers some of the world’s most successful and enjoyable hunting. It’s among relatively few regions of the world where hunting is easily combined with a bit of sightseeing and even vacationing. Some areas have specialized animals such as Spain’s ibex, moose and reindeer in the Nordic region and bears and wolves off to the east, but fairly standard across the continent are red, roe and fallow deer, wild boar and chamois wherever there are mountains, and Europe has lots of mountains.
The game doesn’t always greatly vary, but each country has its own unique hunting culture and traditions. Some countries have long welcomed outsiders and are common destinations with experienced outfitters. Those include Austria, Spain and much of Eastern Europe. Others have been primarily an insider’s game with strong local hunting cultures, but limited opportunity for visitors. France certainly falls into that category; excellent opportunity for plenty of French hunters, but only in the past few years have outfitters set up shop. Another sleeper is Italy, with a strong hunting culture and a surprising amount of wildlife, but opportunity for visiting hunters is brand new.
I certainly don’t have any intention of trying to visit all the European countries that allow foreign hunters, but I’ve hit most of the major and minor destinations. Like the countries, I haven’t hunted all of the European species, but I’m probably as close as I’m likely to get. I enjoy the traditions and respect for the animals that are so important in Europe and some of her animals have become genuine favorites. The petite European roebuck is certainly one of those. Common and widespread yet always elusive, it’s sort of Europe’s whitetail. When Leone Rossi of Italian Safaris proposed a roebuck hunt a short drive from Rome I was hooked!
There has long been some bird hunting in Italy. Hemingway wrote about duck hunting in the marshes near Venice and there are opportunities in the north. Of course, Italy’s firearms industry is legendary, hosting some of the world’s top brands. Italian Safaris is a whole different deal, offering organized and outfitted big-game hunting — a first for Italy. With concessions in several parts of the country, their current menu includes Alpine chamois, red stag, roebuck, wild boar and fallow deer, and all of their hunting is free range.
We started in Rome. Until now I’d only passed through, so seeing a bit of it was part of the reason for being there. You can watch all the movies you want, from Ben Hur to Gladiator and back, but neither movie magic nor photographs can capture the awesome size and amazing architecture of the Coliseum, the Pantheon and all the rest. The pasta was pretty amazing, too. Rome is without question worth a visit on its own merit but, honestly, I’ve never made much time for destinations that didn’t offer at least a little bit of hunting.
Rome is a busy place; legendary for traffic as well as history. I had the mistaken notion that much of the Italian Peninsula was a patchwork of towns and villages, but we weren’t far from Rome before the country opened into fertile valleys and rugged hills with isolated farmhouses and small villages, often overlooked by castles from another age. I was seeing habitat, and indeed it was. We headquartered in the village of Gubbio in the Umbria region just a couple hours northwest of Rome. The hotel looked out on the village square, seemingly precariously perched far up a tall ridge. Gubbio is a beautiful place that’s popular with Italian tourists as well as foreigners. Its ancient cobblestones lead to innumerable small shops and cafes, and the people are marvelously friendly.
It was a too-warm October, past the red deer roar and too early for ideal chamois hunting, but we were there for roebuck. Those were the dates that worked, and I had accepted that it was also a bit late for roebuck and, at the tail end of a lengthy season, my expectations were limited. They needn’t have been! The country was a perfect mosaic of small fields and thick cover nestled into rolling ridges with lots of edge habitat that their roebucks love. It’s much the same habitat our whitetails prefer.
Donna had never shot a roebuck, so she was up first and because of that probably got cheated a bit. We were looking for a specific buck that had been seen several times but had always managed to slip away. Still early on the first hunting morning, we were glassing one of his favorite haunts when a female wandered into view followed by a magnificent buck with exceptionally long points.
I instantly assumed that was the buck we were hoping for. In fact, it was a buck they’d never seen before but the response was the same; Leone’s partner, Emanuele Coen, slid his pack onto a small berm and Donna made a great shot at about 180 yards. Italy is a peninsula, isolated by the bastion of the Alps on her northern border. Her roebucks are a bit different, with tall antlers and big bases, but rarely as heavy as better bucks from beyond the Alps. This I would learn over the next few days, but to my eye it was a beautiful buck and a real no-brainer!
My hunt took a bit more time and that was good because we saw a lot of roebucks. The hunting area was private and undisturbed, plenty big enough but not huge, and ideal for walking and glassing. It probably held the greatest concentration of roebuck I’ve ever seen and more. Wild boar sign was everywhere; on two evenings we saw two different groups. We also saw a bachelor group of fallow deer including at least one monstrous buck, and a surprise, a red deer hind. Leone commented that both species seem to be moving in — nice for future prospects.
I had no expectations of a monster buck, and since I knew nothing about these roe deer, I was happy to follow Leone’s lead. He knew his deer. We saw lots of females and passed a lot of young bucks, and I dithered on a buck I should have shot. For sure it wasn’t because it wasn’t big enough! Standing on sticks, I just couldn’t get steady enough quickly enough, and it turned and vanished into thick stuff before I could get the shot off, so we looked at some more deer and passed some more bucks. Eventually I had a better idea of what we were looking for, and the next time I was ready!
Although short, our Italian Safari was awesome — wine tasting in a thousand-year-old castle of the Knights of Malta, wandering the cobblestones, stalking roebucks, even clearing customs. With “new” destinations I worry about traveling with firearms, and some years back I had a bad experience transiting Rome with a gun case. On that trip, we were headed elsewhere after Italy, so we took our own rifles. The Italian Consulate was amazingly responsive and fast in preparing gun permits, and the Italian police and customs officers were not only courteous and professional, they were downright friendly.
That is a very good thing, because I’m not done with Italy. The northern Tuscany region is quite different — also a favorite tourist destination—and that’s where the chamois hunting is. That’s another of my European favorites!–Craig Boddington