Hard miles

Rudi van Kets relates the story of one of the longest, toughest tracks for a wounded animal he’s ever followed

Friends of mine own a hunting area in Germany. I go there regularly, and on one occasion asked if I could bring my young dog Jazz. I intended to fill the free time between hunts with some training exercises for Jazz. Many wild boar are in this area and it would be good training for him.

After fixing a date, I embarked on the journey to the Moselle region, which is known to many for its driven hunts on wild boar. I arrived in the late afternoon of the first day, and we got ready to spend a night on the high seat, looking to take a wild boar or a roebuck.

Around 8pm I headed for the seat, which is better known by the name Sportplatz kansel or ‘high seat on the football pitch’. Ascending the seat, I found I had a view of some plots of grass and a field with game cover crops. The crops were not very high – I had a good field of view.

I heard a blackbird singing around 9pm – an alarm signal that could announce the presence of fox or wild boar. I could not see anything through my 7×42 Swarovskis. False alarm?

The boar made its final dash through a tunnel that runs under a road

A few moments later a roe jumped out of the cover and walked slowly towards the grass. There was a tension in the air, a tension that is familiar to many hunters. Patiently I scanned the fields. A few moments later I noticed two ears – ears that seemed to be scanning the environment like a radar. They were the ears of a wild boar. The tension built further, but there was nothing I could do except keep looking and waiting patiently. Looking closer, I saw that more than one boar was present. They emerged into the field one by one. At about 70 metres, I could distinguish seven wild boar.

They milled around the field for a good 15 minutes. I couldn’t see any piglets – would any turn up? It was time to make a decision. One wild boar came free from the group. It was in a perfect position to shoot. A few seconds later it was down on the spot and the other wild boar disappeared into the grass.

It was early in the session but I had a boar down. I called the landowner and let him know so we could prepare the boar and get it to the chiller, followed by the well- known tradition: having a drink.

I removed the mag, descended the high seat, replaced the mag and walked quietly towards the wild boar. When I was 40 metres away from the wild boar, it suddenly jumped up. I was taken unawares with too little time to shoulder the rifle. The wild boar ran towards the tall grass and disappeared.

I noticed few drops of blood immediately. My shot had hit home. I walked towards the grass and the edge of the forest. I could not find any blood or other indications. Since it was not too late, I decided to get my young dog Jazz. This was meant to be a practice session, but practice doesn’t come better than the real thing.

I put Jazz on the beginning of the track but it soon became clear to me that it would be too difficult. I decided to stop and call a local man, Berhard, who was recognised in tracking work. We agreed to start in the morning.

The next day at 8.30am we were back. Everything was made ready, the dog wore his safety vest, rifle was loaded, GPS ready. One of the other hunters was nearby in his pickup.

We found the blood at the shot site again. But when we walked towards the cover, there was no more blood. The dog knew his work well and took the right direction. Still no blood. We went 100 metres, then another 100. Here the dog indicated blood – a small drop. Finally a sign!

Just the three and a half miles from where it was shot, the boar is finally stopped

The dog went into the cover and immediately started barking. Had we found the wild boar? It was a heavy thicket of fern, brambles and small spruce. We pushed aside some branches and caught a glimpse of a wild boar, who got up left the cover.

Getting back out of the cover took some time. Then, we continued, following patches of cover along a valley. We followed this for more than 1,500 metres. Then, we once again found a drop of blood. We were on the right track.

In front of us was a huge patch of blackthorn – very good cover for wild boar. It was almost impossible to get through. We decided that I would take the dog, and Berhard would go around blackthorn in case the wild boar came out the other side. The dog was keen, responding to the fresh smell of wild boar. Following a dog through cover like this is no easy task. The dog was barking but I could not see what was ahead of it. If a wild boar were to suddenly spring out in front of me, I had no space and certainly no time to respond.

We did not find any wild boar in the cover. The track went even further, so we did too, the dog working more intensely as we went along. All the while we were pulled through various forms of thick cover. It was no fun and by now we were 4km away from the shot site.

The dog barked very loudly. We thought we could hear a boar between all the barking, but we could not see anything. We thought about letting the dog off the lead, but decided to wait and follow the same tactic as before.

For a long time I followed the dog in the cover but did not see any wild boar. Suddenly we were upon it and the dog bit the injured wild boar, but could not keep hold of it. Seconds later I was almost knocked over by the wild boar.

Berhard shouted at me to let go of the dog. The dog instinctively went through, behind the injured wild boar, barking loudly while he was on the track. The barking changed into a standing bark – a sign that the dog had the wild boar. We followed as quickly as we could until we caught up.

Experience wins out as the capable deer dog Ulko locates the long-lost boar

Now we had to place a shot. There was a dull bang from Berhard’s old Mauser. He placed it accurately into the wild boar but it was up again, and disappeared into a tube that ran under the road, with the dog behind him. We crossed the road and saw the dog, Ulko, with the wild boar. It was all or nothing now.

After a final shot, three and a half hours and 5.7km from where we started, the track was over. A few minutes later our hunting buddy arrived with his pickup. The fantastic work of Ulko made this a track to tell the grandkids about.

This track shows that teamwork and knowledge go hand in hand, and proper training of the dog is very important. ‘Practice makes perfect’ may be an overused phrase, but it is true. Tracking is not a sport, it is a work of expertise, good dogs and experience.

Once back in the hunting lodge, we could enjoy a few drinks to celebrate the good ending. And I’d been given more than a few ideas for a practice track for my one- year-old dog Jazz.

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