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.
It all started on February 25, 2008, when my girlfriend of four years, Natasha, and I took a trip to Seaside, Oregon, a beach town about five hours away from our home in Goldendale, Washington. Little did she know that on the trip she would become my fiancée.
It was a beautiful afternoon and we were having a great time together. I had stashed the ring in the car before we left, but found I couldn’t get to the car to retrieve the ring without Natasha asking what I was doing. While we were sitting on the couch, though, she said it was time for a nap before going out to dinner. That was my opportunity to get the ring. I almost messed up, though, blurting out, “Yeah, that is a great idea!” After a surprised and weird look, she headed for a nap. I waited about 30 minutes, headed out to the car, and snatched the ring from the flat tire carrier–the only place I knew she would not look. I dashed back upstairs and hid the ring under the couch. A while later, she woke up, we went to a great dinner, then came back to the apartment and got settled in.
I’d had ankle surgery about five weeks prior, and was still in a walking boot. With her sitting on the couch, I went over to her and tried to kneel down. Much to my surprise, it was impossible to kneel with the boot on, so I had to propose on two knees. After many kisses, hugs, tears and, of course, a “yes,” we were engaged. We set a date of May 3, 2009, with months of planning the wedding and her finishing school in front of us.
Shortly after returning home, we started talking about honeymoon destinations. I had never flown on a plane before and said I never would. However, after a few bribes and a lot of begging I decided I would fly, but in that same breath told Natasha that I was not flying halfway around the world not to be able to shoot something. She said that was fine so long as she could shoot something, too. So began my search for the perfect honeymoon place.
I had dreamed of going to New Zealand for red stag since I was a young boy, so we decided that New Zealand it would be. After many long hours on the computer, I was able to find a booking agent who got me setup with Wilderness Quest New Zealand. We set dates of May 8 through 12 and, after our wedding and a very long series of plane rides, we were standing in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was the 7th of May and after taking in several tourist attractions, we headed for our hotel for a good night’s sleep.
The morning of the 8th was upon us, and Jonathan Christian of Wilderness Quest New Zealand was there early to pick us up. Along the three-hour breathtaking ride through Lord of the Rings country, we learned of the many other animals and adventures that he had to offer. While listening to him talk, I thought to myself, “Jonathan is a great person and is going to be a great guide.” He would also become a great friend to my wife and me.
After arriving at the lodge and meeting Zion, Jonathan’s cousin, cameraman and also a guide himself, we got a quick bite to eat, shot our rifles, and headed out for an evening hunt. Our main goal was a bronze stag for my wife and a gold stag for me. I had learned that Wilderness Quest offered wild boar hunting, too. I have always wanted a big boar and told Jonathan that if the opportunity presented itself, I would really like to take one home with us.
We got to a high vantage point where we could see a good distance. After spotting several fallow bucks and some arapawa rams, we located a stag. The stag was estimated to be in the bronze class so Natasha was first up. After a long stalk that had us out of site of the stag, we were able to get above him. Natasha got set up on the shooting sticks, with the stag bedded 100 yards below us. She took her time and squeezed of her first shot, hitting the stag right behind the shoulder. He managed to rock to his feet as she chambered a second round and placed it perfectly behind the shoulder again. With a few sways back and forth and only going about eight steps, the stag piled over into a creek below him and our screams of excitement began.
We made our way down to the stag and he was a beauty. He had 18 points, great crowns and large mass. What a trophy! We knew he would be a top bronze, but after Jonathan scored him, he went into the silver class, scoring 313 5/8. We caped him out and decided that with an hour or two before last light, we would head farther back up the mountainside. Hearing stags roaring in the distant hills was all the motivation I needed to keep going.
As we came to another vantage point overlooking a valley, Jonathan said to me, “Matt, there’s a big boar.” Man did my eyes light up! After finding him in my glasses, I saw he was a big, jet-black boar in the range of 250 to 300 pounds. While we put together a stalking plan, another boar–the wild boar of my dreams– emerged from the cover and walked next to the first boar, dwarfing him in size. This one was a massive silver and white boar with huge white tusks gleaming in the fading light. The boars were heading toward a valley with a creek, so we quickly took off down the hill.
After getting a glimpse of them in the brush a mere 60 to70 yards away, we moved down a bit closer to a gap in the cover where we anticipated the boars would cross. As we got there, I pulled my shooting sticks out and went to sit down. While still in motion, I saw a black head pop out about 50 yards away and quickly found the crosshairs in my Leupold. The black boar chopped his teeth, spun and headed downhill. As soon as he did, the silver boar followed. With a hard quartering away shot, I let my Sako .300 Winchester Magnum bark, striking the boar through the vitals. I chambered another round as the boar dashed for cover, and took off on a run after him. I saw the boar a bit below me, cutting through the cover and going straight away. I took a running shot off-hand at about 60 yards, striking the boar through the back hip, with the bullet continuing forward into the vitals. The big silver and white boar turned toward the other boar, and I quickly chambered a third round. The boar was about 60 to70 yards away and on the move, but I got the crosshairs on his vitals and sent my third 180-grain Nosler Partition right through the top of his vitals, breaking the opposite shoulder. The boar buckled with the impact. I had done it–another one of my dream animals was now mine.
After some great pictures showing the boar’s six-inch-long tusks, we headed back for a wonderful dinner and a good night’s sleep. The second morning started great with many animals seen but no gold stags. As morning became early afternoon, I got a glimpse of a stag going through cover ahead of us that sent my heart racing. The chase was now on. Jonathan got a good look at the stag as it passed through an opening and declared that it was one for me.
The cover was so high that every time I set up for a shot, I could not see a clearly to his vitals. After three or four attempts, the stag started going downhill, headed for an opening. Knowing that was my golden opportunity, I got setup for the shot. With a roar from Zion, the stag came to a stop at about 150 yards and the 180-grain Partition was on its way. The bullet struck the stag through the lungs. With a jump and a kick, the stag turned and my second 180-grain Partition was sent with deadly accuracy to the point of both shoulders, instantly taking the stag from his feet. With many very loud war hoops and some fast running to my trophy, I had my gold medal stag in my hands. He scored 336 inches and is everything I dreamed of in mass, width and height, with huge crowns and 22 points in all.
Natasha and I had come for two stags and we had them, plus a boar and several days of hunting left. During the next two and half days, I was able to take a management fallow buck with my Sako at 168 yards and Natasha took an arapawa ram with her rifle. I switched to my trusty PSE X Force set at 75 pounds and with Easton FMJ arrows tipped with Innerloc broadheads, took a trophy arapawa ram, a management arapawa ram, and a feral goat.
We came for two animals and left with eight. I also bagged five pheasants, eleven hares, a pair of paradise ducks, and several other pest animals. Our time at Wilderness Quest New Zealand will always be remembered–not only as our honeymoon, but also as some of the best hunting in our lives. They’re first class people with second-to-none accommodations and awesome trophies. We booked again with Jonathan. Thanks, guys, for the perfect honeymoon!– Matthew Wilkins
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.
Wild boar have thrived in English forests since Shakespeare wrote about them (in Richard III, the wild boar is the symbol of the main character) and has been popular as a meal in Britain for centuries. Today, boar is farmed and the meat sold in supermarkets, but the taste of a wild boar hunted in the forest is much more lively and gamey than that which you find in the display case at Tesco.
There is a substantial wild boar population in the southeast of England, particularly in Sussex forests, where it is not uncommon to come upon them if you go for a walk. They are not dangerous unless cornered, although British farmers are beginning to complain about the damage they can do to crops. Hunters find them good sport and, according to Mark Boulton, who runs a wild boar shoot on his own land in Beckley, East Sussex, “Hunters love this sport because the quality of the meat is to die for.” Wild boar is tangy, like venison, but not as strongly flavored, Boulton explains, and it has a delicate, almost fruity quality.
So it’s not surprising that wild boar has made it onto some of the finest tables in London. It is favored more by the great Italian restaurants of the city, which prepare it in the Tuscan tradition. We have to cite the inimitable Jamie Oliver, whose Italian restaurant chain now serves wild boar salami, cured in the U.K., and made with a rigatoni pasta and tomato combination. Oliver serves the dish with an Italian Barbera, from the northern Piedmont region, a wine that is full in the mouth, but is somewhat soft, and so doesn’t overcome the light tangy flavour of the wild boar.
At one of London’s best Italian restaurants, L’Anima, a more complex pasta and wild boar dish is served. This is a wild boar ragout that, in chef Francesco Mazzei’s version, is served on homemade chestnut pappardelle. Sage and carrot peek through the tomato and red wine flavors that dominate the ragout. Mazzei makes his ragout with a wine that few outside Italy have heard of–an Aglianico Irpinia, Mont’ Antico 2010–from the Avellino region just east of Naples. This is an unoaked red wine that shows the velvety richness and intense structure of the Aglianico variety. A beautifully rounded wine with densely packed fresh black fruits and a hint of dark chocolate, backed up with supple but firm tannins, it is again not too harsh to go with the subtleties of the wild boar, but big enough in the mouth to stand up to its tangy taste. For those who seek a more conventional pairing, the Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore is a typical Bordeaux-type blend of cabernet and merlot, but one that is a little less wood-aged than the classic French homologue, so that it is a little softer and goes better with boar.
“It is difficult to find a wine that goes exceptionally well with wild boar,” comments Colin Wills, a wine expert with the London gourmet food website tilia.co.uk (“Uncorked” section).
“The boar has a sweet, nutty, and intense flavour, and this is much stronger in hunted game than in the kind bought in the supermarket. It is also very tender and has a delicacy that pork does not have.”
To complement all of this without overwhelming it, Wills recommends a Barbera, or even a well-aged Barolo from the Italian Piedmont. “The nebbiolo grape aged in the wood does not get as hard as a French cabernet, so it goes better with the boar,” Wills points out.
But there is another, less-well-known Italian wine that Wills especially recommends with cooked wild boar. “Morellino di Scansano is from the Maremma region in the south of Tuscany. It is made from the sangiovese grape, which, aged in the wood, is even softer than nebbiolo. It is far less fruity, with a kind of rounder, more savory fullness which stands up well to the wild boar dishes without being too strong.”
“Then, there are always the great Brunellos,” suggests Wills. Also made from sangiovese, Brunello di Montalcino is one of the greatest Tuscan wines, capable of long bottle age. “After 20 years, a Brunello has a nose of great complexity, and a very soft body, and all of this will go incomparably with your wild boar,” Wills comments. But be prepared to spend more than $150 per bottle.
Is there no truly British way to serve this classically English beast? No people love sausages more than the British, so it is only natural that wild boar ‘bangers’ should find their way onto sandwiches and lunch tables all across the Isles. In fact, served with a great Sussex ale like PolyPin from Lewes microbrewery Harvey’s, John Bull is a pretty happy guy.– Andrew Rosenbaum