The heartbreaking scream that originates from Bulgarian Petar Georgiev cuts through the silence and causes Jens Kjaer Knudsen to stiffen. With rifle in his shoulder, thumb resting on the safety and cheek to the stock, Jens lets his eyes slide over the snowy meadow in front of him. The glance follows the edge of the dense bush in the gorge below him. It stops to analyse even the smallest contrast change and captures all movements.
Far out on the other side of the gorge, Petar detects a wolf-like figure in fast motion over the snow. Again, he sends a complaining cry into the silence. The reaction is immediate. The golden jackal turns off, disappears into the gorge in front of Jens and picks up later in the open terrain directly in front of him. Behind it, we see two more jackals. They are approaching at full speed, the lure of the winter’s subsistence minimum and the hope of an easy meal overriding every other instinct.
Jens pushes the safety forward, settles into the crosshair and lets the fine orange dot in the middle follow the animal. What a chance, and on the first day.
Like the fox and other animals of the same breed, the golden jackal has uncommonly good senses. Here, it suddenly works out that something is amiss. It is still 130 metres out, but presents a perfect shot. Jens sends the bullet on its way and watches it hit the snow next to the big jackal. Not the perfect start we hoped for, but normal on this type of hunt. Decisions must be made in a fraction of a second and the target is as small as it is flighty.
The hunt takes place in south-east Bulgaria near the city of Polski-Grageg, 150 kilometres from the Turkish border. It is the local hunting association, which has the hunting ground of 6,000 hectares around the villages where Petar, a self-taught jackal hunter, hosts us for the hunt.
After a lunch of sausages roasted over bonfires and served with local red wine from a plastic jug, the two hunters follow a field trail thick with mud. The tracks of game other than golden jackal are very limited – there is plenty of hunting pressure here. In the mud we spy a trace of a large wild boar that has crossed the ground, and that’s about it. In contrast, there are traces of jackals everywhere.
Jens and Petar find cover in a small bush. As Petar begins to call, there is an immediate reaction. A big golden jackal comes running from a bushy area a little over the gorge under the hunters. It is about 500 metres away but approaches quickly, followed by two more jackals. Seconds later, they approach the edge of the scrub 200 metres below Jens. Curious, they try to derive from where the sound comes. Petar calls again, they approach, and Jens takes advantage. He selects the old male first, and this time doesn’t miss. Then Petar stops the young jackal’s escape with a shout, and Jens is able to take this one, too.
Grey against white
The golden jackal is in many ways a fascinating little carnivore. As it moves across the terrain, it is quite reminiscent of a small wolf. The species is opportunist – it eats everything from berries, mushrooms and household waste to smaller specimens of domestic animals and game.
The night’s temperature has dropped and is followed by snowfall the next morning. Conditions are perfect for hunting. But Jens and Petar try to call in several places before breakfast, all without success.
Owing to the snowfall, hunters have to walk a couple of kilometres before reaching the afternoon’s post. Even a four-wheel drive like Petar’s cannot get through the difficult conditions. Finally, they settle in some bushes with close scrub beneath them and forest above. Here the jackals can come from all directions – something we soon learn when the first approaches obliquely from behind. It comes before they’ve even called, while Jens is still getting ready.
Just before it reaches them and realises what’s up, Petar stops it by barking like a golden jackal. The animal stops perfectly in the only gap between branches and twigs. It is perfectly broadside, but before Jens can make ready and draw a bead, the wary animal runs.
The guide calls again. A minute later a grey-haired shadow slides through the bushes on the opposite slope. It runs parallel to the valley for 50 metres before it changes course 90 degrees and approaches. When Jens is ready, Peter calls and the jackal stops to orientate itself towards the call. The bullet on its way, and it strikes home.
Less than 10 minutes later, another golden jackal appears. It is tempted partly by the call and partly by the smell of fresh blood – twin temptations that cost the animal its life.
Jens and Petar sit, happy with their success, for some time before Petar decides to call a little more from the same position. Golden jackals can be found either alone or in small family groups, so maybe there are more animals nearby. After just a few minutes, they see a jackal stiffen at the sight of the two hunters’ movement. It is just 20 metres from its dead cousin and came along exactly the same track. Jens raises the rifle, but the movement is too much for the jackal, which spins around and disappears.
When you are with a jackal enthusiast like Petar – who, even though he’s not yet reached 30, has taken more than 500 golden jackals in his lifetime – there is no time to dwell on the failed attempts. The call rings out again, and it works once more. The jackal turns around and looks down at his former cousin, driven not only by the sound but also by the fresh bloodshed. But once again, this one turns around at the last minute. Twice in a row – unbelievable.
The driven way
During the trip, one day of hunting will be with dogs and a team of hunters from the local hunting association. Driven hunting on golden jackal is allowed in Bulgaria from October until the middle of January. There must be a minimum of eight and a maximum of 20 participating hunters if dogs are used on the hunt. It may only take place on Saturday or Sunday, with only jackal or wild boar on the menu.
The valley is several hundred metres long, with the drive proceeding from one end. The guns are posted in the middle of the scrub or along smaller bush lines along the base of the valley. Jens is posted by a little river in the middle of the scrub. A few minutes after the drive starts, a jackal slips down along the valley’s width. It’s a straightforward shot for Jens. The noise of the dogs gets clearer, and shortly afterwards they appear – beautiful dogs – and are upon the shot jackal. Jens crosses his fingers that its skin won’t be damaged.
This form of hunting is exciting, but to Jens’s mind it is far from as fascinating as the calling. On a driven hunt, the jackal seems quite awkward in its flight, making it low-legged and small, while on the snow as it approaches the call, it seems long-legged and confident.
Back to reality
On one of the next drives, Jens puts down three jackals from the same post. He looks forward to the final half-day, when they will be back to calling. By now, the temperature has risen and the snow melted.
The final hunt gives Jens a harsh lesson that luring in a golden jackal is not as easy as it had looked on the first two days. Only one jackal is observed that afternoon. It seemed like everything Jens and Petar touched turned to gold, but today that’s not the case.
But there’s no need to be dejected. Jens was lucky enough to take nine golden jackals on the four-day hunt, easily beating the estimate of three to five animals per hunter. The weather, the situations and the goddess of the hunter were all with Jens in the first three days, and nothing after that could take the shine off it.
Fact File: Golden Jackal
The golden jackal has a body length of up to 85cm and a tail of about 25cm. It can reach almost twice the size of a fox, weighing 7-15kg. It is also known clearly from this because the coat is golden with dark brown hair on the back and tail as well as the white tail tip. Golden jackals often live in groups and communicate with a variety of calls, including a wolf-like howl.
Distribution extends from northern Africa, across Asia and the Arab peninsula to Europe. On the continent, it is found in the Balkan countries, with the largest numbers in Bulgaria. The species has increased its spread in Europe and has been observed as far as Germany and Denmark.
In Bulgaria, the species was historically found in the low-lying parts of the country, but has spread over the years and is now found at altitudes above 1,000m. There are no reliable statistics for how many golden jackal are shot yearly, but that the species is found in such high-rise areas is considered as evidence that its numbers are growing.
The Bulgarian country people have a strained relationship with the jackal, which often seeks food in and around villages. Local hunters shoot jackals whenever they get the chance. The people of the villages are among Europe’s poorest, and they often associate hunting with meat supply, and do not regard the species as a ‘true’ quarry when hunting.
Want to go golden jackal hunting?
On this four-and-a-half-day trip, three hunters took 19 golden jackals. The hunt was arranged with the local hunting association, split between 2.5 days calling and 1.5 days driven.
The hunt cost around EUR1,500, which included all transport in Bulgaria, accommodation, catering and hunting. The only extra expense was gratuities for the guides, all of whom spoke English.