On German ground that has hosted Göring and Honecker as hunting guests in the past, Thomas Nissen experiences what a top-notch driven hunt is like today
Germany is a country with great hunting traditions, most of which are probably familiar to you already. At the same time, Germany holds impressive game populations – it is no wonder that many foreign hunters head there annually to experience intense hunting situations with different species of traditional European game.
Our small company of five was doing just that, joining a big driven hunt near Berlin. Besides a big number of wild boar and fallow deer, the area offers a slice of history too. Great personalities hunted here – Emperor Wilhelm the Second took his thousandth stag in this particular area. (I must mention that Emperor Wilhelm the Second was not counting spikers as stags.) He took the stag while employing only one arm, as his left arm was injured.
To this day, the forest in some places is characterised by deep ditches, which the Emperor stalked down to be able to move unseen in the woods. Nazi Herman Göring later hunted this ground, and later again, DDR leader Erich Honecker followed him.
With these sharp, cruel and unpleasant personalities in mind, it is with a certain excitement that we leave the car to meet with our German host Florian Standke. Fortunately, he is not wearing bias tape, polished Nazi boots or flanked by a red tab. He has an infectious humor, and over a beer he introduces us to the programme of tomorrow’s hunt. Then it’s time to crawl to bed.
Bluish, rainy twilight covers the forest. Leaves are no longer on the trees; the forest appears naked, ready for winter. It is decided quickly that the two oldest guys in our group – Kim and Jens-Erik – must occupy the only two hunting towers that have a roof. The rest of us have to deal with more humble surroundings, unseparated from the gray cloud cover.
Jakob Jensen, the youngest on this hunt, occupies a tower near a pine wood, while I am placed in a shooting stand on the edge of the hunting ground. The last person – Andreas – is posted in a newly built stand on the edge of a clearing in the deciduous forest.
We are allowed to shoot wild boar up to 60kg as well as roe does and kids. Red and fallow fawns are also on the list, as well as – for a small trophy fee – red stags up to eight points, spikers and two-year-old fallow bucks.
The sound of the bolt engaging the top cartridge of the magazine, moving it into the chamber, is drowned out by the rain drumming on my jacket’s hood. Amid all that sound, Andreas barely senses a roe deer that in the first minute of the drive comes slinking along the edge of a small valley. Slowly, without revealing his presence, Andreas moves the rifle into the shoulder. Unfortunately his first impressions are confirmed when the animal reveals the brush on the stomach – it is the ‘wrong’ sex. The roebuck moves unsuspectingly on.
The area we are hunting is just a small part of a larger forest area. This hunt is therefore arranged to coincide with one on neighbouring ground – and that’s where the first shot sounds from. Soon after, I hear another. More shots ring out around in the forest, seemingly in sequence. It may not be the same animal being pushed on, but different situations, each representing a cherished hunting memory.
The fascinating thing about the German traditional driven hunt is that game can come from any direction at any time.
Suddenly the sound of bright, enthusiastic barking reaches Andreas. It is highly probable that the dogs are starting to drive the game – but which species is impossible to determine.
The sound is approaching and the excitement builds. Andreas grips the Tikka with a little more force, while his eyes sweep the forest rainy shaded vegetation.
A hunter in the neighbouring area shoots. Then we hear another shot, from another shooter on our patch. Even when the shoots die out between the two ‘tribes’, we can still hear the dogs’ loud barking – the chase is very much on.
The shots have scattered the dogs, but judging from the sounds, one of the dogs has located shot game. Another dog is clearly still after live quarry, and is approaching Andreas’ post from behind.
We spot a movement, and a group of fallows reveals itself. There are 40 among them, and one is a pretty big stag. They move towards him at a steady pace, then break off and move in the direction of Jacob’s post. The distance from Andreas’s stand is over 200 metres now. They had come much closer, but even so, it had been difficult to pick out a calf from that clumped group.
The animals disappear in the thickening pines – it seems they got rid of their boisterous barking companion. The forest is quiet. Now and again we glimpse the deer out in the forest, 250 metres away on the opposite side of the stand. We won’t get a shot from here, but Andreas is hopeful that other shooters in our group will get the chance. They move towards me, and Kim and Jens-Erik sit in-between.
A tank through the undergrowth
Soon, rifle shots ring through the forest again. But in our part of the forest, silence still reigns. But with a sudden rising sound of barking dogs, our optimism rises too.
Our eyes wander in search of what the dogs are chasing. They are close now, but still, the raindrops constantly falling from the branches are the only movement we can see. The forest looks like a watercolor in grey tones with moisture damage.
Suddenly, a black contrast moves through the grey. A wild boar in classic gallop emerges like a tank. Even Andreas, who had no experience with wild boar, is in no doubt about what he has spotted. The large, all-black body with the distinctive teeth says clearly that this is a keiler. Which, in our part of the woods, means not shootable.
Barely has the keiler disappeared between deciduous trees when three überlaufere approach along the same route. They do not come together – they are more dispersed.
One moves toward Jacob, while the other two pass Andreas at 60 metres, which is the maximum allowed shooting distance for running boar at this hunt. The excitement increases dramatically at his stand – but the boar don’t present a chance for a shot. Crestfallen, Andreas watches them moving in the direction of my stand, where one of them passes right in front of me. I shoulder the rifle, follow the boar, move the crosshair forward and shoot. The 40kg boar rolls over and makes a smile appear on my lips.
The day ends differently for Andreas, who, seconds after the hunt is over, gets a chance at a roe doe. It stops about 50 metres from the stand in the perfect position.
The temptation is great, but the drive is finished and Andreas wants to be able to return to the lodge without being in bad standing with our German host. He simply puts a smile on his lips and watches this beautiful animal with enjoyment. The hunt is over, this is Germany and Ordnung muss sein!