There’s only one December tradition Paul Childerley cares about: the annual driven hunt organised by Zeiss at Laubach Castle in Germany…
The time of year came around quickly. It was drawing closer to Christmas, and with it, the reunion of so many hunting friends from across the world on our favourite and most talked-about hunt of the year: the Zeiss media hunt.
This event is two days of hunting in the grounds of the Laubach Castle in the classic German driven hunting style. We hunt the mixed forestry for all the game species – there is everything from raccoon, fox, wild boar, mouflon and roe deer to the mighty red deer, which is at the top of the forest hierarchy.
In early December we headed out to be met by the jovial Zeiss team, then headed straight to the shooting range to collect our rifles and fine-tune their zero. Then we moved on to the driven boar target, where there is plenty of camaraderie and banter over our skills when the shot placement comes up on the digital screen.
Finishing the day was a full platter of BBQ including the traditional German sausages. Once we had finished our fabulous spread, we had a presentation from a couple of sponsors, then the quarry list and descriptions of the dos and don’ts for the two following days’ hunting. Everybody was eager and spirits were high as the catch-up of the year’s hunting trips began.
The morning was soon upon us and everybody was down at breakfast and charged for the day. We were collected at 7am together with our hunting licences, rifles and plenty of warm layers as temperatures had dropped overnight. Every hunting licence was checked before entering the transport – it is great to see such enforcement.
We met on our usual area with a sea of orange blaze and a chorus of hunting dogs in the background. This is what driven hunting is all about – the build-up and the atmosphere. The hunt master, Rudica, gave the format for the days and assigned each hunting guide five guests, who would be situated throughout the forest in towers.
We now had been told the rules and regulations twice, so there would be no mistakes on the quarries we were after. On approaching my tower, I could see it was a fantastic area with open mature beech woodland on two thirds of the tower and a small but thick plantation to the rear. I was pretty confident there was going to be some boar in here.
It’s important while approaching the tower to still use your hunting skills, creeping in and making as little noise as possible. The movement of all the hunters in the woods makes the animals restless and move early, which meant there could be a chance for an early shot before the dogs started.
Personally I don’t shoot roe deer or foxes in the first hour or so to give me my best chance for a boar, but of course that’s a risky strategy as I could end up passing on the only quarry I see all day.
Moments after I’d finished my tower preparations – assessing where the animals could come from, the safety angles and also any hotspots that could be harbouring a pack of boar – a small boar charged towards me from the beech trees.
With a quick reaction, I grabbed the rifle and was on the boar. Unfortunately he changed direction, turned away from the blindside of the tower and reappeared running at a 45-degree angle, charging away at about 50 metres. I swung through and took a shot but kicked up the dirt a good metre behind him. After that, I left him on his way.
There were several other shots ringing out around the forestry, near and far, and then the dogs began to speak. The pack had been released and the hunt was in full swing. It’s an exhilarating hunt because all your senses are in full alert with a crack of the stick behind you or a distant flash of an animal through the trees.
But before your finger goes anywhere near the trigger it’s imperative to identify that it’s on the quarry list and also adhere to all the safety outlines that go with this fabulous hunt.
The sound of the dogs grew closer and two boar launched themselves off the top of the bank in front. They were in full gallop, underneath the beeches. They were both yearlings, so swinging through the second animal and maintaining the lead, I squeezed off a round, which I thought was good but followed up with another quick shot to make sure.
Again, this was a tricky shot because the boar was running downhill at full speed at 50-60 metres. The boar toppled just before going out of sight.
No sooner than I could reload, the dogs had started in the Christmas tree plantation behind me. In minutes they went from an occasional bark to full aggression; they had obviously discovered something big, or lots of them. There was squealing, barking, snapping, grunting and trees moving, getting as close as 20 metres from my tower, but still no visual.
The gamekeepers had heard the commotion and went charging into the plantation as if they were going into battle. With the extra pressure from the keepers, the boar decided to break cover 40 metres from the stand, under the mature beeches. It was a lead sow followed by four frischlings in full gallop.
When they got clear, I chose the second to last pig and managed to drop it, before missing the last boar cleanly with the third shot. The keepers came over to congratulate me for my boar, but personally I was disappointed with my skills – there should have been two on the deck.
This was proving to be quite a morning with flat-out fast pigs at different angles. It was testing my shooting skills to the limit, but this is what hunting is all about. Each day is completely different and it’s important to try to keep calm and not doubt your own skills.
The day was drawing to a close and a single roe doe came trotting up through the wood. It was a young animal and was very small for its age. Normally after having such a good morning and seeing lots of animals, I would have left it to run, but this was one that seemed unlikely to make it through the German winter, so it was a good one to add to the cull list.
Minutes after that last shot, the final whistle blew, the rifle was unloaded and I set off to collect the animals from the hunt. I was eager to see where I had hit the animals and what the .30-06 had done.
I dragged them back to the tower then undertook the gralloching process, in which I was soon joined by a couple of the foresters, thankfully making the task slightly easier.
Having a fantastic morning in the German forest with animals dashing full tilt in every direction was truly exhilarating, but I was still disappointed with my marksmanship, which I would need to improve for the following day.
We headed back to the shooting lodge, where we found soup, sausage and cheese waiting for us, along with some Weissbier and many tales of the morning’s hunt. Shortly, we all headed out for the parade.
Seeing the game laid out, I found that several hunters had shot some mouflon rams that day. The traditional horn-blowers played and the last bite was given to all the successful hunters of the day. Spirits were running high, which ran into the fantastic banquet that evening.
The following morning I was in a different mindset. I was fresh, my mind was clear and I was super excited for the day ahead. We all met at the same hunting area as the previous morning but we were hunting on the adjacent side of the estate, on the other side of the road.
After the traditional horn blowers had finished, Rudika gave the morning speech between eruptions of dogs barking. The atmosphere was electric and we were soon heading out to our new towers for the hunt.
The guide walked me out to mine and said there was no area animals prefer – they would come from every direction, and every direction was safe to shoot in. He shook my hand and said the traditional words of Waidmannsheil. If I hadn’t heard it before, he could have been saying, “Don’t miss today!”
This tower was not the best. It was a little rickety and very upright, so was slightly wobbly, but I wasn’t complaining as I had a fantastic field of view – 360 degrees looking over a small bank, with not too many thick trees all around me. Today was going to be the day. My concentration was on high alert.
The day had started with several shots in the distance before the dogs were released. A large red stag with several hinds appeared then disappeared at the furthest point of my view. Then another three red hinds appeared, slowly trotting along the edge of the thicker wood about 180 metres away.
Using the Zeiss Victory V8 1.8-14×50 meant I could wind the magnification up for this possible longer shot and also see exactly the animal I was going to be shooting. Luckily, the yearling red deer had stayed on the outside of the fringes of the thicket. Making a steady rest with both elbows down, I was confident to start the day with a 1 for 1.
I reloaded and put another bullet in the clip, and remembered to wind the scope back down to 1.8x. Suddenly the dogs were in full cry on the adjacent bank. They were close to the quarry and were gaining ground towards me, making my heart beat faster. Next, a roe deer appeared to my right; it was a buck still in hard antler.
Out of season and no good. Looking back to my left, a single boar rushed up the bank directly in front of me, and as it reached the crest, I made it two for two with the boar rolling over.
The woods fell silent, there wasn’t a murmur anywhere, then all of a sudden a fox sprang out of the cover. Not knowing who was more surprised, him or me, he fell to be number three for three shots.
After a quick swig of water and a chocolate bar, the woods seemed to be alive again, with single shots sporadically coming from all directions and the dogs being in full cry.
Nothing happened around me for a good 1.5 hours, then suddenly a single roe doe yearling came trotting through. I decided that this one would be number four, and I downed it with my fourth bullet of the day.
Another couple of roe deer trotted past, but I was satisfied with my day’s bag, and that my shooting skills were back.
Gathering up, gralloching and sorting out all the day’s bag, I was super happy with not only having shot well but also having taken four different species with four shots.
We ended up back at Laubach Castle with the whole of the Zeiss team for the final hunting ceremony, held in the castle ground, followed by a fantastic banquet.
I was asked to give a few words of my experiences of the two days of this traditional German hunting event – all I could say was how proud I was to be a part of it.