ART OF THE DRIVEN HUNT

It was a dark, misty day in southern Sweden. My first stand faced—and was backed—by thick forest, with clear lanes to right and left for maybe 60 yards. Initially, the drive was coming off the hill behind me, but then would pass and return. In other words, I could expect game from any direction. The drive was young when I heard dogs behind me; I swiveled to get ready and there was a pig, dashing across the lane to my right. I thought it was a sow—we weren’t supposed to shoot females—but the truth is that decision was instinctive and instantaneous; I never got the rifle up, and even if I’d tried it would have been too late!

A short while later, after the beat had passed and reversed, a “spiker” fallow deer came straight toward me. No question here: We were not allowed to shoot small fallow bucks, so I let him pass. I saw other movement in the woods to my front, brown and small, probably roebuck, which we were also not allowed to shoot. Minutes later I saw a dark animal in the dim woods, moving from right to left…and then, committed, dashing across the lane to my left. It was not a big boar but, darnit, I thought I saw the penis sheath…and then it was gone.

TO SHOOT OR NOT?

This is a major question our European brother and sister hunters deal with constantly in their common and often preferred hunting technique, the driven hunt. Experienced European hunters have a tremendous advantage. They’ve done this many times before, perhaps in the same area, and sometimes from the same stands. Even so, split-second decisions are always required. First, always, is safety: Where are the beaters and their dogs? Fluorescent vests, caps, and tape are usual—both on human and canines—but the cover may be thick, and dogs may be right on the heels of game. Are you sure the shot is clear, and is there a backstop for the bullet? Elevated stands are often used, placing the shot down into the ground and increasing safety…but not always. Regardless of the stand, determining the safety of the shot is up to the hunter. He or she must be absolutely and completely certain. Absent certainty there is no shot.

The next decision, and only slightly less important: Is this animal allowed? Although pursued avidly by all participants (“guns” and beaters alike) as a sport, the European driven hunt is a harvest. Drives are often conducted toward the end of the season, after the desired quota of trophy animals have been taken, usually by other methods (such as stalking and hunting from stands). The driven hunt is less selective, used to achieve the management goals set by the gamekeepers. All meat will go to market, but still there are rules.

At the outset of every hunt the chief gamekeeper or “huntmaster” will carefully explain how the drives will be conducted, and what animals may or may not be taken. On this hunt in southern Sweden, held by Aimpoint, our company of 18 guns were allowed: Five calf or female red deer (no males); calf moose and one bull; young and female fallow deer and one large male; and wild boar males and young pigs. Sows, defined as mature females, were not allowed. Roebuck were not allowed at all, and we would be notified by radio when moose, red deer, or the one big fallow buck were taken.

Obviously not all European hunters are experienced, no more than their American cousins, but seasoned European hunters are accustomed to such restrictions and take them in stride. For visiting outsiders (like me!), hunting unfamiliar animals on foreign turf by a new and strange technique is a lot to take in, and it’s daunting. Mistakes with animals result in fines, which can be severe (depending on species and magnitude of error). Far worse is the embarrassment of doing it wrong…and the shame of taking even a marginally questionable shot is unthinkable.

Better to be conservative! This was a two-day hunt, three drives each day. That first drive, when I was the most uncertain and least confident, resulted in the most opportunities (naturally)…but I was very conservative, feeling my way. There is never any shame in not shooting, and I was determined to hold off unless I was certain. Late on that first drive, I heard movement in the brush to my right front and a pig burst into the lane. I saw it as a young pig, brown in color, perfectly safe and within the rules. I swung with it, put the red dot on the shoulder, and it dropped to the shot.

RUNNING SHOTS

I’ll be honest: That particular pig wasn’t moving very fast! In any drive some animals will come sneaking along, sometimes stopping at the edge of cover. Others come streaking past at full steam! Understand, the entire object of the driven hunt is to move game ahead of the beaters…and into the shooting lanes of the waiting guns. Thus, it’s to be expected that most shots will be at moving game.

A big pig, taken near the end of a drive when it seemed unlikely anything might happen. It’s essential to be ready from start to finish!

Ranges are typically short. On this driven hunt the country was mostly wooded and all posts were elevated stands, with downward shots—the closer, the better! One of the rules of this hunt was to keep our shots within 80 meters. I’ve been on other driven hunts in bigger, more open country—mostly for European moose—where much longer shots might be possible. The posts on this hunt used rolling terrain very well. I never had to pass shots because of distance, but all of us, me included, held off on various shots because of possibly unsafe angles, either toward the beaters or animals crossing between adjacent posts. This, too, is part of the driven hunt; not all opportunities can be taken!

So, the ideal is a close, downward shot at an animal moving well ahead of the drive…at whatever velocity the animal chooses. Here in North America the mythical “hunting ethics police” have created some strange ideas:  Major outdoor TV networks will no longer air shots taken at bedded or moving game! Funny, I used to think getting into position on a bedded animal was the essence of a great stalk! That said, I don’t like “lying down” shots because it’s often difficult to visualize exactly how the vitals lie. Most of the time I wait for the animal to get up, but this is situational: Things can go south fast; sometimes it’s wisest to ignore the self-righteous purists and take the shot! As for shots at moving animals, maybe the animal will stop, or perhaps you can stop it with a grunt call or whistle. But in a driven hunt, within your 80-meter window? Take the moving shot or leave it!

European hunters are completely befuddled by this new American concept that a running shot is somehow unethical! A moving shot is what they expect and what they live for! Experienced European hunters tend to be very good at running game—certainly better than most Americans—because it’s what they do. And, perhaps most important, it’s what they practice!

Nope, not Darth Vader! That’s Aimpoint’s Brian Lisankie using the GAIM 3D simulator.

Because the driven hunt is such an important part of their sporting culture, most European ranges offer moving targets, so effective practice on running shots is available and practical. In some countries it’s actually a requirement to demonstrate proficiency on the running target before a license can be issued and the hunt can commence! In North America, unfortunately, running boar (or deer, or moose!) targets are extremely rare. Without question, running shots are difficult, especially if you aren’t used to them…and don’t practice!

The great Jack O’Connor wrote that animals are “just as big moving as standing still.” I don’t know if he ever saw a proper European moving target (probably), but throughout his life he held two aces up his sleeve. As a young man he expended countless rounds on running jackrabbits, which were plentiful almost to a pestilence in the Arizona of his youth. Also, an O’Connor fact often overlooked today: He was a lifelong and highly skilled shotgunner! I was able to shoot at (sometimes hitting, often missing!) a lot of running jackrabbits when I was a kid, but in the areas I hunt they’ve been fairly scarce for decades. That option is no longer practical, but I am a shotgunner, and I think wingshooting, whether at clay targets or birds, remains extremely effective practice for hitting moving game with a rifle, especially at close range. The principles are exactly the same: You must keep the gun swinging smoothly, establish the lead, and press the trigger.

On this Aimpoint hunt we had the tremendous advantage of a “range day” before the hunt, both live fire and simulated. Simulated: Aimpoint’s GAIM simulator kit is a 3D virtual reality setup; through the goggles you see running targets, with variable target speeds and angles. We used running boars, of course! After a few shots you hit the “analysis” button. This allows you to track barrel movement, see exactly where your red dot was when the trigger was pressed, and where your virtual bullet hit. Aimpoint has the GAIM setup in their booth at major shows, so I’ve used it before. It’s a lot of fun, and after a few runs you quickly see how important a smooth swing is…and how to establish a proper lead. It’s not perfect; magazine capacity is unlimited, and only chest-cavity hits count…but what an awesome training tool for moving game!

Live fire: We got some great coaching on running boar targets, each of us firing about 30 rounds at lifesize, fast-moving wild boar targets. The watchwords were: Contact, focus, kill. First, as the target appears, make contact with your sight or, in this case, the Aimpoint red dot. Focus on the chest cavity, which was outlined on the target but not highlighted. Then move the sight forward, establishing proper lead, and kill the target. We started close, then moved back a bit, taking in some pointers as we checked targets. Even at 40 meters the required lead started to increase!

Proper lead is a matter of distance and target speed and angle, which must be judged instantly. Bullet velocity also comes into play. It takes much more visible lead with a “slow” cartridge such as a .45-70 than with a “fast” cartridge like a 7mm or .300 magnum! Hey, more than an afternoon is needed to get good! This is the kind of training and practice serious European hunters spend a lot of time on, and they get very consistent. But even that afternoon helped tremendously, and I started the hunt feeling reasonably prepared.

SIGHTS AND RIFLES

All of our group used Aimpoint sights in various models! Combining close shooting with moving targets, the red-dot sight truly is an ideal choice, fast to acquire, highly visible, and natural to swing with the target. Getting a Swedish temporary gun permit is not a big issue and I had plenty of time to consider a proper choice. I put an Aimpoint Micro H2 on my Blaser R8 with a .270 Winchester barrel: The Blaser because the straight-pull action is very fast; the .270 because it’s a fast cartridge (reducing lead), has little recoil, which expedites repeat shots, and certainly it’s plenty powerful enough for the game we were hunting.

Big smiles at the end of great drive!

Aimpoint’s Brian Lisankie and I were the only Americans among our 18 hunters; Brian also used a Blaser R8, his with a .300 Winchester Magnum barrel. Among our European brethren the Blaser was well-represented, but there was also an assortment of conventional turn-bolt actions…and no other action type that I saw. Cartridges ran the gamut.  I think I had the only .270 Winchester in the group, not surprising because it’s much more popular in North America than across the pond, and I think Brian had the only .300 magnum. There were several .308s, and a couple of 9.3x62s, but no consensus and no unusual choices.

Success in the driven hunt, at least in terms of shots fired and game taken, is very random. Nobody got shots on every drive, which is normal…but over the course of two days and six drives everybody got shots! At the end, our group took 88 animals. Overall results were probably reduced by dark, rainy conditions on the first day, but the estate owner and gamekeepers were satisfied—and we hunters all concluded it was an awesome, action-packed hunt.

BEING READY!

Okay, I’ll admit that my contribution to the estate’s management was below average! The rest of the group were, variously, from Denmark, Finland, Germany, and Sweden—all much more experienced in the driven hunt than their two American cousins! Brian has been with Aimpoint USA for many years, and is much more experienced in the driven hunt than I. I can’t speak for him, but I was very conservative, and near-paranoid about avoiding mistakes. I let some shots go by, but on that first drive, when I had more chances than I would see again, I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been!

On the driven hunt, you know going in that not everybody is going to get a shot on every drive. Especially on driven hunts for moose, you know at the start that at least some of the party will never get a shot at all! That’s also part of the deal—but it can happen at any moment, from start to finish on every beat, so it’s essential to be mentally and physically ready—and hope for the best!

I probably should have sought some coaching from the start, but it wasn’t full light when I made my way to my first post on that first drive. No other posts were in sight, hidden by timber and terrain folds. For sure, and for safety, I knew where they were…but I couldn’t see how my compatriots were playing the game. So, I climbed into my elevated post, checked my shooting lanes, loaded the rifle, and adjusted the board so I could sit facing away from the direction of the beat and be ready. This proved a cardinal mistake: On this particular post, hemmed by woods forward and rear, there simply wasn’t time to stand and turn! Over the course of five more beats that was the last and only time I sat down on my post!

Once an opportunity is passed it isn’t going to come again. I had chances on three of six beats, which is excellent. Mind you, I saw game on every beat, which is exceptional. I passed on several shots that I deemed marginal, but more experienced guns might have deemed okay. However, after that first beat I remained much readier…from start to finish!

On the middle beat of the second day I was in an awesome post. I’d shot one boar, and passed another boar and several fallow deer that came between me and adjacent guns. The beat had long since come to me, and then turned north. I was still standing ready, but anticipating the call that the beat was over when I heard a rustle behind me. I turned and saw a big pig running straight toward me. At that instant the shot was unsafe, the beaters somewhere beyond. Then the pig jinked and squirted past me into a safe zone. This was the shot I’d waited for! I swung with it, close, got the dot moving, got it ahead, shot, knew I’d hit. No reaction so I shot again, was sure of another hit, and then a third, quartering away, and finally saw it go down.

That was it for me; on the final drive I was in another awesome spot, shots all around…but nothing close or within the rules! But, you bet, I was ready…and that’s the real art of the driven hunt!–Craig Boddington

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