From the grassy ridges we walk along, there is a great view over the autumn-coloured forest. One by one, we are posted between banks of brambles and sticky blackthorn bushes. The allocation to each peg is random – no one knows who the guide will point at next time he stops. If you are the chosen one, whether or not you like the look of this spot, there is nothing you can do but tip your hat, say thank you and hope you have ‘pulled the long straw’ and got a fruitful location. Bulgarian wild boar are unpredictable – a big keiler can, in theory, come out anywhere.
The right spot
One by one the guns line out, until only Finnish hunter Veikka Gustafsson and I are waiting to get a stand. One of us is going to stay a little out in the open, while the other will get a post just inside the woods.
The tip of a half-dirty finger points directly at me. The stand in the open is mine, and it seems like I’ve got the short straw and Veikka the long one. I say thanks for the stand, and wish my Finnish hunting mate happy hunting before getting ready.
Over the next hour we enjoy listening to the intense sound of dogs on wild boar. One moment they are so close to the edge of the woods that my hands start shaking with hunting fever; then the next, they are so far away that my pulse is almost flatlining.
The dogs approach again. They move directly towards Veikka. He has been given a stand that allows him to move a little according to the sound of barking. I see the Finnish hunter and his blaze-coloured hat disappear, absorbed by the yellow leaves. Veikka has positioned himself quite wisely in relation to the expected action, I think. I’m all ears waiting for a shot,
Make your own luck
A driven hunt on wild boar involves in many ways an element of luck. Will you be awarded a good stand with a wide field of view? Are you placed where the wild boar will naturally head through the drive, or where they are likely to go when pushed by the dogs? Are wind conditions good and the sun in the right place? Many things can improve your luck– but just as many factors can do just the opposite.
But it’s not all about luck. There are many things the shooter can do to further optimise his chances. If he has not prepared well, he can destroy the good opportunity he was so lucky to get. A skilled shooter who stands still, stays hidden and constantly ready, will make his own opportunities for success better. If he is a good shooter too, like Veikka, who can deliver fast, precise, instinctive shots, there is no doubt that big moments are waiting for him.
Sound of action
The sound of heavy steps from an animal escaping through the faded leaves of the forest floor hits my ears. For a moment, the animal stops and lets a pronounced silence spread in front of the dogs, which are still giving tongue below us in more or less forceful ways. Then it creaks again in the leaves. The animal – from the sound of it, I think it’s a big wild boar – is again on the go.
A sharp rifle report, followed by the blunt ‘thrump’ sound of a bullet strike, finally breaks the tension. An animal – a keiler of around 140 kilos, we later find out – rolls over in the leaves. The dogs reach the dead animal, crazed in their drive to overcome the formerly dangerous giant. Large keilers can give the dogs a hard time during the hunt – the hounds are clearly happy that the tables have turned.
There is no doubt that it was Veikka who drew the longer straw on this hunt. But that wasn’t everything that led him to success. He understood how to optimise his own possibilities and how to keep his neighbouring hunter on tenterhooks using only sound and silence. I tip my hat to him for that.
Full speed ahead
I have no doubt that when on a driven hunt, you’ll be at your most comfortable and accurate when using a thumbhole-stocked rifle, which predictably enough means one with a hole for the thumb behind the grip. This stock type, however, defeats the object of the straight-pull rifles designed for use on a driven hunt, since you can’t access the bolt to cycle as quickly as intended.
The German firearm producer Merkel must have had the same thoughts as me, because during the hunt they presented a new type of stock: the Speedstock, found on the new Speedster model of the Merkel Helix. The new grip, dubbed the OmegaGrip, is a thumbhole as described above, but without the obstruction between the top of the grip and the bolt. This new stock largely does away with the problems thumbholes can cause on a driven hunt – good stuff from the German manufacturer.