Any hunt can be easy or it can be hard. It depends a lot on your luck, which can be good or bad. For instance, both the bongo and the Derby eland are considered among the tough ones, but I have friends who were successful on their first hunting day. That first day Continue reading Taller Mountains
Editor’s Note: Every Friday we showcase a story from the Safari Magazine archives. This week’s adventure features a hunt for classic European game. It originally appeared in the May/June 1995 issue of Safari Magazine.
The African Big 5 conjures up images of big tusks, massive horns and sharp claws. The Grand Slam of North America Sheep brings thoughts of lung-searing climbs in high places. The South Pacific 15 and North American 27 represent years of hunting achieved by few. Continue reading Flashback Friday – Hunting the Eastern European 6
Hungary, a central European country the size of Kentucky, has long been a favorite hunting ground for Europeans, but has remained a relative unknown to American hunters. Perhaps one reason is the country’s topography, which is relatively flat with no seacoast and no mountains. That was not always the case, as the division of lands following World War I left Hungary in this landlocked situation.
Species that might be of interest to American hunters such as ibex, chamois and brown bear are not available in Hungary. In fact, the five species comprising the “Big Five” are roe deer, red deer, fallow deer, boar and mouflon. Since all of these species can be taken in most European countries, why would one want to hunt in Hungary? For starters the friendly people, the great food and wine, and the superb hunting lodges but, primarily, the sheer numbers and amazing quality of the trophies. At Pilis Park alone, the annual kill is 1,000 red deer, 200 fallow deer, 300 mouflon, 900 roe deer and 3,000 boars. The other hunting companies have comparable statistics.
The overwhelming majority of Hungarian hunting is on government land. Each of the twenty-some Hungarian “counties” has its own forestry department and each forestry department has its own hunting company. These companies eagerly compete one with another for local and foreign hunters, and the majority of foreign hunters are from Germany, so knowing some basic German is very helpful in the high seat.
The leaders of these companies had realized for some time that they were missing a large potential source of revenue from American clients. Enter Zsolt Kohalmi and the leaders of the Hungarian SCI chapter who, in concert, conceived the notion of a joint donation hunt. The Hungarians had never exhibited at SCI before, and any Hungarian presence was through a generic European booking agency. The result of those talks was a donation of five individual hunts from five individual hunting companies spread over a two-year period and designated the “Hungarian Big Five.”
The five species cannot be hunted at one time, given the timing of the seasons. Roe deer opens in late spring and closes well before fallow deer opens. I spent some time trading emails with Zsolt as to timing of the hunts, and relied fully on his counseling. The first hunt was in early September 2010 for roebuck in the SEFAG region where we stayed in a small, but comfortable guesthouse.
Roebuck are best hunted in the spring with short grass or emerging crops where the small deer can be seen. Being late in the year, we hunted mowed fields and over already harvested crops. After three days, I was successful in taking one very nice buck and one smaller one. The donation of each company was for one specimen with no limits on size, and any others taken were charged at the going rate.
When the roebuck was harvested, we went through the traditional Hungarian ceremony with two of the guides blowing the hunting horns in concert through a particular melody holding a somber requiem for the taken quarry. We saw a number of red stags at that venue, but the red stag donation was from a different company, so we left and motored to the flood planes of the Danube River.
The Gemenc concession is a vast expanse of mostly very flat land that is generally planted in crops with little forestland evident. We stayed at the renowned Karamancsa hunting castle where the longstanding world record CIC red stag was taken in 1986, and where he hangs on the wall at this time. There is a large full body bronze of the same stag at the entry.
The hunting here was much different from any red stag hunting I had done previously. The majority of the crops were corn, which, in September, is 8 to10 feet tall. Even though we heard many stags roaring and saw corn stalks wiggling, we could not see the animals other than an occasional glimpse of a horn tip. Success depended on catching them crossing an entry road and mostly being lucky. I had little success at that, and on the fourth day we moved to a soybean field. The soybeans there grow luxuriously and, although one could see the stags well, the hinds and young were almost obscured by the high soybean vines.
Early on a cool morning, we heard a stag roar some distance away and, as the light improved, could see a large stag and several hinds slowly approaching through the bean field. I was willing him toward us with appropriate body English and within a half hour I came to the point where I felt I should take the shot. I was pleased to have taken Zsolt’s advice on calibers and brought a flat-shooting .300 Weatherby Magnum as the shots at the roebuck and red stag were all more than 250 yards.
He was not a tremendous red stag, his skull weighing nearly 8 kg. All Hungarian deer trophies are rated by the weight of the skull and horns 24 hours after the skull is boiled and cleaned. I had decided to take only the skulls of these deer for European mounts, and entrusted these trophies with the forestry companies to be returned to me the following year after my second trip.
Planning for the following year, the hunt that requires optimum timing is the fallow deer. It is well known that the last ten days in October are the prime time for the fallow rut in Eastern Hungary. Thus began our second phase of the Big Five quest.
Our consultant and host, Zsolt, picked us up at the airport. As in the prior year, clearing of firearms and ammunition was quite simple and straightforward and the delay at police/customs was minimal on both occasions. Zsolt drove us the three hours to the Nyiererdo concession of Guth from which several world record fallow deer have been taken over the years. This area at Guth is very flat with a few slight ridges, but the elevation difference is not more than 50 feet in the whole area. It is mostly oak forests with very little agriculture. As at Karamancsa castle, the current number one CIC fallow deer was taken at this venue, and rests on the wall for all to see.
At Guth we stayed in a large traditional multi-story hunting lodge of log cabin-type construction. This was the only hunt where we encountered more than a handful of other
hunters. Being the prime fallow deer hunting grounds and the prime dates, that was no surprise. Most of the other hunters were Hungarians.
This hunt was among the most unique experience of my life, as the sheer number and size of the stags was overpowering. The combined groan of the rutting call of the males provides a continuous drone heard for a long distance from the rutting grounds. Although there were scattered stags roaring and rutting with individual hinds, the majority of the breeding takes place at established lek — an area of an acre or so within the dense oak forest denuded of leaves and other ground cover and is one big muddy field. Five or six stags stand within the central portion of this clearing with an occasional female scooting around between the males. There are occasional skirmishes with larger stags showing their domination and there are a number of satellite stags around the edges of the arena.
I never actually saw mating occur, but we did not spend more than an hour or so at each visit. It was not a situation where one had lots of time with field glasses to study racks and horns and critically judge the palms, points, mass etc., so I left the selection of the trophy to my guide. The first evening I chose to abstain from shooting, and just enjoy the show.
The following morning, I took a nice stag that my guide thought was a high gold medal. We left before I knew the weight of the stag and either its CIC or SCI score, so I have no idea how he stacks up. Zsolt was looking for a particular stag with abnormal antlers, but was unsuccessful and left that day. The following day, I took another, much larger stag that I am told by E-mail weighs 5.2 kilos — only 200 gm below the CIC record in weight (no score yet).
With two hunts to go, we motored from there to the Pilis Park concession, which is not far from Budapest. It is at this concession where the current CIC world record wild boar was taken in 2003 and his tusks are mounted on a plaque on the wall of the lodge. Unfortunately, they did not donate a boar at this forestry company, and it was here where I was to take my mouflon.
It is noteworthy that all big game hunting in Hungary is fair chase, unfenced and not genetically manipulated like many other European companies. The exception is mouflon, which the government does not want spreading to adjacent regions. Consequently, they have mandatory perimeter fencing. The lodge was superb, with a more modern theme than the others with superb food and wine.
This was the toughest of the hunts, due primarily to the weather. An occluded front had moved in so we had drizzle and fog for four days straight and basically saw no game. As in many other hunting situations, the day is divided into a morning hunt and an evening hunt and this was no exception. On Day 5 at daylight, there was no fog and no rain, and early on we spotted a very nice solitary ram.
My guide took one look and said take it, which I did, again at near 300 yards. He measured it 86 cm for the longest horn, but I have no clue how that stacks up in the Hungarian or SCI record book. In any case, he is a beautiful ram.
From there, we moved to our last hunt and that was on the grounds of the Gyulaj (pronounced July) in Southwestern Hungary. That area has very large red stags, some fallow deer, good roe deer, and is not particularly renowned for its boars. Still, this is the outfit that donated the boar hunt.
Most boar hunting in Europe is done from a high seat in the late evening on into darkness without the aid of artificial lights. I was equipped for this with a Schmidt and Bender 3.5-10X scope with an illuminated European reticle. The first evening on a high seat, we heard boars (and sows) making all sorts of noises from a distance away. They were approaching our Hochsitz, and sounding as if they should soon come into sight when suddenly it was totally quiet. A wind shift stopped that hunt cold.
The next morning, we went stalking before daylight and shortly after visible light, my guide, Pietr, spotted a boar in the adjacent pasture outside of our wood lot. Generally, if one can see the tusks on a boar it is probably a “shooter.” The one tusk was sticking above the gum perhaps two inches, maybe three, and Pietr said to shoot it, which I did. It took us some time to drive around on the far side of the fence and get to the boar. When we came up to it, it was obvious the boar was a large animal with a nice tusk on the “up” side, but we were not prepared for what appeared when we rolled him over.
The opposite tusk was amazing. He did not have an upper incisor with which the inferior tusk rubs to keep it sharpened. Accordingly, there was nothing to keep the lower tusk from growing, and it grew in a full circle and was growing back into the back of the jaw. We were not able to measure it because we could not extract the tooth from the jaw after being boiled. The one tusk was very nice and what I can guesstimate on this one is that it will be very, very near the number one SCI wild boar, and certainly within the top five. Talk about luck.
I had three more days before our return flight and I spent those hunting boar the next day without pulling a trigger, having difficulty topping the prior day’s trophy. I spent two more days hunting red stags and saw some very nice ones but, again, none bettering my prior. From there we returned to Budapest, where we stayed in the Meridian Hotel on the banks of the Danube and enjoyed the local citizenry. Zsolt entertained us royally with a departing dinner at the Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill overlooking Budapest with a fantastic view of the city. The food and drink were superb, capping off a terrific hunt for the Hungarian Big Five.– Gerald L. Warnock, M.D.
“That is a very nice mouflon ram, and I suggest you attempt the shot, even though conditions are less than ideal. Since he is lying facing us, your target will be small. But most important, you must hold a few inches into the wind.”
The sage advice from my 35-year-old guide/outfitter Tomo Svetic of Artemis Hunting rang clear in my ears, though I felt a bit uneasy about shooting at a distant target in the harsh wind we encountered.
After using my down jacket to fashion a rest on the rocky berm we lay behind, I placed my 26-inch-barreled, custom-shop Winchester Model 70 in .300 Win. Mag. on the jacket and chambered a Hornady cartridge loaded with the super-accurate 165-grain Interlock SST bullet. I then turned the power ring on my Leupold 3×9 scope to maximum power and snuggled into position. Miso, our local spotter, confirmed the distance was 325 meters.
At the shot, the ram scrambled to his feet, sped across the rocky flat in the company of his companion sheep and disappeared into some nearby brush. Davor and Mate, our other local assistants, agreed with Tomo’s pronouncement of a clean miss. “Don’t worry,” Tomo offered cheerfully, “there will be other chances.”
We were in the lower elevations of the Republic of Croatia’s Velebit Mountains, where they reach the aquamarine waters of the Adriatic near the village of Senj. It was day two of our seven-day hunting program, which included mouflon on the coast and wild European boar inland.
In March 2011, my wife, Sandy, and I flew from our home in Walnut Creek, California, to Croatia via Frankfurt, Germany. We were greeted by a smiling Tomo as we cleared customs at the Zagreb airport. We followed him in our rented car as he drove to a small hotel in Senj, across from the Isle of Pag, our final destination. High winds had forced the closure of the ferry between the island and the mainland, so we spent the night in Senj rather than press on to Pag via a more roundabout route that involved a bridge crossing.
The following morning, we drove to a nearby mountain house that Tomo uses as a base of operation. We transferred our equipment into his 4×4 and set out for the day’s hunt. Our three assistants had preceded us in their own truck.
After my shot at the ram missed, we returned to our vehicle and drove on mostly gravel roads through the coastal mountains, stopping occasionally to glass the surrounding terrain. We saw rams, but they usually were at extreme distances, so we returned to the house for a hot lunch and a welcome rest. That afternoon brought more wind, and we decided to call it a day.
Sandy and I drove to a nearby ferryboat landing and proceeded across the choppy water to Pag and its charming seaside resort city of Novalja. There we checked into the Tonka, a bed-and-breakfast where Tomo houses his clients during hunts. The friendly proprietors, Tonka and Darko Balen, catered to our every request. That evening, Tomo took us to a colorful, local restaurant where we sampled some of the area’s unique cuisine, including seafood, cheese, lamb and superb Croatian wine.
After a substantial breakfast at our hotel the next morning, we met Tomo and took the ferry back to the mainland. We proceeded to the headquarters house and once again met up with Miso, Davor and Mate. The strategy this day was to glass during the morning, and in the afternoon look over as much country as possible by cruising along the steep, rocky coastline in a small, open-cabin motorboat. Our departure point for the water portion of the day was to be the town of Jablanac.
The morning glassing proved uneventful; although almost everywhere we looked we could see stone walls that had been built through the ages. We couldn’t help but ponder the origins of those unique structures. After a brief discussion, we headed to the boat landing. The harsh winds had subsided and the sea, although far from calm, was quite suitable for our purpose.
After a couple of hours of cruising, Tomo and our three assistants began pointing excitedly to a rocky outcropping high up some steep cliffs. Upon it stood a trophy mouflon ram with full-curl horns and heavy bases. My 10×42 Leica binocular confirmed their sighting and Tomo quickly directed the boat’s captain, a local Croatian fisherman, to motor close to the jagged rocks that dotted the shoreline. Getting to shore was a bit tricky because the boat rocked considerably when we stepped onto the rocks. Within two or three minutes, however, I was standing behind a medium-size boulder with my rifle resting on my daypack.
Using gestures, our assistants cautioned me to place the crosshairs of the riflescope low on the ram’s body. The shot would be at a steep, uphill angle. The distance was about 260 meters, a range that, under normal circumstances, would pose no problems. But because of the uneven footing where I stood, I was having a difficult time holding the crosshairs on target. I also disregarded the advice of the assistants and attempted to hold the crosshairs midway up the ram’s body. This proved to be a fatal mistake. After I squeezed the trigger, we all had the distinct impression that I had shot over the animal’s back. In an instant, he whirled and was gone. Although disappointed, I insisted on climbing with Tomo, Davor and Mate up the slopes to look for signs of blood, an obligatory action in such circumstances. We could find no blood or other signs of a hit where the ram had stood, and a search of the surrounding area produced similar results. During our climb and descent through the loose, sharp rocks, footing was precarious and I was glad to be wearing my sturdy Danner Elk Hunter leather boots with stiff Vibram soles.
The ever-cheerful Tomo again offered words of condolence, after which I said to him, “Tomo, if I recall correctly my readings of Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, Artemis is the goddess of the chase. But, although you thought enough of her to name your hunting company in honor of her, it appears that she has deserted us in our present endeavor.” Tomo laughed, and mumbled something about Artemis also being the protectress of wild animals.
We returned to the boat and headed back up the coast, relaxing after the arduous climb while Sandy took photographs. By the time we returned to the boat dock, the day was spent. Once again, luck had eluded us.
The next day dawned with somewhat calmer weather. By the time Sandy, Tomo and I arrived at the headquarters house, our assistants had already been out and spotted a small band of sheep that contained two rams. And they were in a comparatively level area. We were off at once, and soon found ourselves peering intently through our spotting scopes at the two rams we had been told about. Tomo concluded that the ram on the left was the better of the two, although it obviously was not as large or impressive as either of the ones I had missed earlier. We debated whether to try for a larger ram or attempt to collect the representative specimen at hand.
“The situation is almost too good to pass up,” Tomo exclaimed. “The wind is down, you have a rock-solid rest, your target is standing broadside and the range is not over 350 meters. I think you should consider taking the shot.”
I nodded in approval, turned the scope to 9x and chambered a round. As I did, I thought how nice it would be to have a 4.5–14 power riflescope in place of my trusty old 3-9.
At the report of the rifle, the ram flinched, turned and ran out of sight, taking his mates with him. Through their spotting scopes, Davor and Miso had detected blood streaming down the side of the ram as it turned. They slapped me on the back and offered congratulations. Tomo joined in the celebration and soon we were all jabbering and exchanging backslaps, high fives and handshakes. I silently offered words of thanks to the Powers that Be, as I always do under such circumstances.
We took a one-day break in hunting to tour the nearby city of Zadar and its surroundings. The next day Sandy and I followed Tomo back to Zagreb, and then eastward to leased hunting grounds in the agricultural fields and forested hills near the town of Daruvar. It is there where Tomo conducts hunts for red stag, wild boar and other game. We were put up in a comfortable, two-story hunting lodge with private bedrooms and en-suite shower and toilet facilities. Tomo introduced us to the pleasant, man-and-wife team that heads up the staff at the facility, and we sat down to a hot meal before retiring for the night.
My aim in this area was to collect a wild boar. For the next two days, I hunted mornings and evenings from wooden blinds on stilts, or “high houses” as they are commonly called in Europe. Sandy was along to photograph events. The blinds overlooked vast agricultural plots that had one or more bait stations containing ears of corn. We saw numerous pigs of various sizes but nothing of trophy quality.
On the afternoon of the second day, due to our limited time in the area and to our hunting commitments in Bulgaria, I elected to shoot a short-tusked young boar that came to the bait station rather than go empty-handed. The bullet struck him just behind the shoulder and he collapsed instantly. (It should be noted that although we had no luck spotting the trophy we had hoped for, many large, trophy boars are taken annually from these blinds.)
And so we concluded our Croatian adventure with Artemis Hunting and its purpose-driven founder, Tomo Svetic. We found Tomo to be friendly, extremely capable and always ready to go the extra mile to ensure success for his clients. Croatia is truly a magic land, steeped in history and filled with endless opportunities for visiting sportspersons as well as nonhunter spouses. In addition to mouflon and boar, there are roe deer, fallow deer, red deer, chamois and brown bear to be had. We cannot wait to return.– Mel Toponce