We’d boarded the ferry the previous evening. Daylight saw our wheels hitting tar in the Netherlands before heading swiftly for the German border.
I was fortunate to have good company on the six-hour drive, and I was still enjoying the pleasure of driving a newly acquired vehicle. We cruised along the autobahn considerably faster than I was used to at home, and the miles were soon behind us. Apart from a minor detour, we arrived without too much fluster.
In the accompanying vehicle the atmosphere was a little less composed, with our good editor managing to murder his Parrot hands-free device, but that a story for the bar. In any case, soon the team of hunters were at their destination, consuming fine German beer and speculating about the two days’ driven boar hunting ahead.
The choice of firearm for a driven hunt is an interesting point of discussion, and something that has been hotly debated on the last few hunts. On this particular trip, the British contingent had a varied selection, including a .470 NE double rifle, .30-06 double rifle, semi-auto shotgun shooting slugs, and a selection of bolt-action rifles.
Our German counterparts, on the other hand, armed themselves with very different tools to what we are used to seeing in the UK. Yes, the usual suspects were there, with Blaser a popular choice, and medium-calibre scoped double rifles commonplace. However, a good number of hunters opted for combination rifle/shotguns and other straight-pull rifles such as those from Heym and Merkel.
Driven boar hunting does indeed require a particular skill as well as carefully selected equipment. The shooting distances for a driven hunt tend not be great, with restrictions of 50 metres usually applying. Most people can cope with this fine, but when you bring a moving target into the equation, things can go drastically wrong.
Quick target acquisition is essential, and the ability to follow a target at speed is paramount. This calls either for traditional open sights, which are hard to beat for this kind of hunting, or for a more modern low-mag, high-field of vision scope, possibly fitted with a central dot.
When we get to rifle choice, you first have to make sure you are wielding a suitably large stick. Wild boar are tough animals, and it can take a lot to drop a big keiler. Unlike deer, they have a substantial layer of fat covering their body, and this often seals over an entry and exit wound, preventing external blood loss. If this occurs, even a fatally wounded beast can cover a considerable distance before succumbing. It is for this reason that specific pig-hunting bullets are available, designed to cut the skin and fat on entry and ensure visible blood loss.
With this in mind, you don’t want to be hunting with anything smaller than a .270 Rem, and even then I would say this is too small a calibre. Anything from .30-06 up to the 9.3mm calibres are perfect for this kind of hunting. Of course, you can go bigger, but I think for a centrefire it is probably overkill to go any bigger than a .375 H&H – although in terms of calibre, rifled slugs from a shotgun should definitely be considered. In fact, this is an excellent choice in either 20-bore or 12-bore. They are not the most accurate projectiles in the world, but perfectly adequate for 50 metres, and with up to 490 grains of lead on your side, they will do serious damage on contact.
Having selected your calibre, the next minefield to tackle is the rifle itself. Double, combination, straight-pull, bolt action or shotgun is the first decision before you even get to which manufacturer.
No matter where your final design choice lies, the rifle or shotgun must be comfortable and quick in the shoulder. Your eye should sit naturally on the aim point, whether that be open sights or a scope.
In this game, a second can be the difference between getting a shot off and the boar getting away.
With a double rifle, you will, of course, get two shots off faster than any straight-pull or bolt-action rifle, and the straight pulls will have a speed advantage over standard designs. It is worth considering, though, if two shots are enough. The reload time for a double is considerably slower than feeding the next two rounds from a bolt-action.
It is for this reason that straight pulls are so popular. A third shot in quick succession often nails a pig that may have been missed by a hunter reloading his double. Having said this, there is something quite beautiful about using a double or combination rifle on these hunts. Steeped in in tradition from start to finish, it just feels right. It’s a bit like taking a stag off the hill on the garron – it’s a hard satisfaction to quantify. But from a more practical point of view, with the aim of putting meat in the larder, it is probably not the right choice.
So then we get to the question: Which straight pull? There could be a considerable amount written on this subject, and I will be featuring such rifles in upcoming reviews. I will say, though, that during testing with fellow Sporting Rifle writer Tim Pilbeam for The Shooting Show, the Merkel Helix took some beating when it came to speed and shootability.
The 2:1 bolt travel makes for rapid reloading in a rifle that is very much designed around shooting moving game. The Lynx is a newer rifle to the UK market, and another straight pull that’s definitely worth considering.
One interesting point that did come from our tests was that the thumbhole stock on the Blaser was impractical for the task. I will add, though, that although it is a bit like the ugly sister to look at, ergonomically it is excellent and very comfortable to shoot with. However, it did nothing to aid rapid fire shooting, and instead was a hindrance.
The problem occurs when returning your hand to the pistol grip, which tends to result in thumps and bangs on the thumb in an effort to reload swiftly.
So which straight-pull would I take personally? Well, that leads us to another choice. Putting tradition aside for a moment, my choice for driven boar would be a semi-auto shotgun shooting rifled slugs. With three shots as quick as you can pull the trigger, it fulfils all the essential criteria. With all this now said, there is another reason to have a few rapid-fire shots up your sleeve. To show this, let me take you back to the hunt where this article began.
Milling around after the drive on the second day, German hunter and friend Jost summoned me over to see Otto, a fellow hunter and tracker. We had met at the start of the day when being positioned on our stands, but now it was Otto’s favourite part of any hunt. It was time to follow up a wounded boar.
We had word of a pig that had been shot but not recovered, and with the stand number confirmed, we sped up the rough forest track in Otto’s small Subaru. Wheels spinning, each corner saw as much lateral as forward momentum. Boy, this chap was keen to get there quick, and if it involved the possibility of leaving the road, then so be it. Arriving a few minutes later, thankfully in one piece, we could begin the hunt.
Red tape confirmed the strike point where Otto would start tracking. His dog was seasoned at this game, and immediately the nose went down. There was no obvious sign of blood or hair, but the hound slowly scoured the ground. Following on a blood lead, Otto pushed through the foliage, rifle loaded and ready to be mounted from his back.
As the minutes passed it was obvious that if indeed the pig had been hit, it hadn’t been hit well. Working the hound in increasing spirals, they covered more ground, but still to no avail. The dog hadn’t given up and was still very much focused as he strode over a rotten tree trunk into an open area. Surrounded by immature pine trees, the hound stopped dead. After a moment of silence, the barking began. With no blood to speak of, the dog had found the pig.
Otto was already in position when I came through a few seconds later. With his Blaser mounted he crouched forward and down to locate the pig’s vital organs. With only its feet visible amid the fir trees, it was difficult to make out which end was which.
As the first shot of his 8×57 rattled off into the undergrowth, an eruption of commotion ensued. It was now on its feet and coming towards us. A second shot slammed into the keiler’s engine room just as it broke from cover.
Rapidly working the bolt, a third insurance shot dropped it to the ground. Three shots in under five seconds – Otto was certainly happy to have the capacity and speed of his straight-pull.
See the thrilling boar follow-up for yourself on the 24 December episode of The Shooting Show. Watch it at: www.theshootingshow.tv