Hunting styles vary greatly across our country, with spot-and-stalk in the west, sitting on stands in the east, corn feeders in the south and even deer run with dogs in certain states. Travel outside of our borders, and you can find an even wider variety of methods, not to mention specific customs, traditions, and expectations. What may seem natural to you or I can seem completely against the grain in a foreign land.
Hunting in Poland
I was invited to participate in a traditional European driven game hunt, in the town of Trzciel, Poland – not far east of the German border – put on by the good folks at Norma Precision ammunition. It was equal parts celebration and demonstration of Norma’s new Strike line of ammunition, consisting of the Tip Strike and Eco Strike bullets. There were gun writers from all over the world besides a couple of us Americans, Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, Ireland and Poland were represented, but this was my first time participating in this style of hunting.
Our first order of business was an education about Norma’s two new bullets – of which I’d had a sneak preview of last year in Texas – to educate us writers about the design and performance of the Tip Strike and Eco Strike line. More about that later.
We then headed out to a Polish gun club to use their rifle range and make ourselves familiar with the rifles we’d be using. My friend Łucasz Dzierzanowski – a Polish resident – was nice enough to provide loaner rifles to the Americans; most of the Europeans had brought their own firearms along. There was an Austrian Roßler Titan 6, a nice little bolt action affair in .308 Winchester, a Heym SR21 bolt gun in 9.3×62, and a Krieghoff double rifle in 8×57 JRS.
A Little Bit of Everything
We’d be playing a sort of round-robin with the guns, so each of us could get an opportunity to try different calibers and gun styles. The rifles were zeroed, and then the fun began; the gun club had a set of running piglet-sized targets at 50 meters, and demonstrating one’s rifle skills at moving pigs can be rather humbling. Yet, this is the nature of the hunting, and, well, when in Rome…
Turns out Norma’s new ammunition line was plenty accurate, however, my own skills needed some improvement with regards to those moving piglet targets. The practice was effective, and it wasn’t long before I figured out the lead required. It was back to the lodge for some rest to combat the jetlag and prepare for the morning’s hunt.
A driven hunt is a unique experience, loosely related to our American deer drives, but different. I’ve never hunted deer with hounds, but I’ve spent quite a bit of time watching beagles work their magic with cottontail and snowshoe rabbits. The driven hunt had some elements of both, but instead of shotguns it was high-powered rifles, and the dogs were accompanied by beaters. The European driven hunt has deep roots and traditions, all of which I quickly came to appreciate. Allow me to first describe the hunt, and then I’d like to share some of the traditions.
The Hunt Style
Our group gathered in front of the huntmaster, before dawn, to hear the rules of the hunt. Different areas have different species available, but the rules were announced in Polish – with Łucasz acting as our translator – and we then drew cards for our hunt position. The card had a series of columns and rows and looking at the number of hunters, it was easy to figure out your position for each beat. It truly was the luck of the draw.
Each drive would be a pre-determined patch of ground, sometimes forest, sometimes farmland, or a mixture of both. The guns are positioned no more than 100 yards or so apart, encircling the area to beat, facing inward. Shots into the beat are restricted to wild boar alone – as the angle is steeply downward in comparison to red deer – and all other game must be shot once it leaves the line of shooters. A 30˚ angle of separation between your hunting partner and a game animal must be observed before a shot is allowed.
Muzzles must be raised when swinging your rifle from the inside of the beat to the outside; I think you can imagine where, in the heat of it all, things could get a bit hairy when you’ve got 11 shooters, with a dozen beaters and dogs. But, I can happily say there were no issues with firearm safety during the hunt.
The beaters have unique calls, sort of ‘HAY-uuuuup’ and ‘HEY-aaaaah’, and when combined with their clapping and the dogs barking makes for quite a clamor. Even so, it’s astonishing that those roe deer, red deer and wild boar stay put as long as they do before bolting. A horn is blown just prior to the beginning of the beat, and is blown again to conclude the hunt, when we unload the rifles and open the actions. During the beat, with all that yelling and barking, you’ll hear the first of the shots, and know that it’s on. Rifle at the ready, every nerve on edge, you’ll see the game coming. Maybe a wild boar, or a red stag, or a roe deer doe, so you’ll have to be careful to make sure you’re target is legal.
Morning No. 1
Our first morning was rather dull, with little other than a raccoon-dog being taken. I actually was a bit discouraged, based on the stories I’d been told of fast action and shooting opportunities. We gathered for lunch – a traditional Polish meal of vegetable beef soup, sausages and good bread, with hot coffee and a sweet bun for dessert – and compared stories, excited for the second half of the day.
It was on the second beat after lunch that it all opened up. We were surrounding a patch of thick, rocky woods on a farm – it was the rough ground that wasn’t tillable – that reminded much of the farms here at home. The winter wheat fields had just sprouted, and I was set up on the edge of some impossibly thick stuff, peering into the vegetation when I heard the horn call. The dogs started barking immediately, and I could barely hear the beaters calls on the wind when the first shot rang out. I then could hear pigs running and grunting, but was unable to see anything, when my buddy Jason Doyle shot a big boar that had left the wooded patch. I then took my first animal – a lone piglet – at very close range. Then all hell broke loose.
The Chase Was On
There were wild boar everywhere, breaking cover at all points. Paul-Eric Toivo, the head honcho at Norma Precision, was giving a clinic on shooting running boar off to my right, while Mr. Doyle was keeping pace off to the left. A huge boar broke cover between Jason and me, and once it cleared the 30˚ zone, I put the red dot of the Aimpoint atop the Heym SR21 just above his nose and swung with him, breaking the trigger. The 9.3 bullet made an audible ‘whump’, confirming a hit, but the boar ran behind a hedgerow, with two sows in tow.
The shooting continued, with Norma USA’s Ron Petty taking a nice pig, when I heard the horn calling for the end of the beat. When I looked for Jason, who was supposed to be off to my left, both he and the huntmaster weren’t where they were supposed to be, or at least where they last were. Jason came bounding out from behind the hedgerow, panting as he came over to my stand.
“That’s a hell of a pig you shot! It was wounded and the huntmaster asked me to go finish it with him; we got within 10 yards and he charged me!” Jason finished my boar with one well-placed .30-’06 bullet between the eyes, and reaffirmed how dangerous a wild boar can be.
Fifteen wild boar were taken in total on that beat, and the recovery took up the remainder of the afternoon. We gathered back at the lodge, and the game was laid out neatly on fresh cut spruce boughs, and the ceremony celebrating the game began. My buddy John Snow was elected King of the Hunt, for his two nice boar and that raccoon-dog, and I was his Vice-King, with each of us receiving a medallion commemorating the experience.
The day’s experiences were shared over dinner and drinks, with a multitude of languages crisscrossing the dinner table. Out on the porch of the lodge, with a good whisky in hand, we all had the opportunity to get to know each other better, as hunters, before heading off to bed.
The next day was a repeat of the first, but in a different area, with a different team of beaters and dogs. The first couple of beats yielded little game, with the exception of the Polish outfitter Philippe taking a nice red stag. The third beat of the morning had brought us all to a large standing corn lot of perhaps forty or fifty acres. The farmer had been – unwillingly – sharing his corn crop with the wild boar, and was happy to have us all there.
It’s An Art Form
In this situation, Łucasz explained, the beaters and dogs would be working much tighter than normal, as the pigs will hang tight in the thick corn. I was positioned in a 30-yard gap in the corn, and when those pigs came bursting out of the corn, I had about two seconds to get a shot off. I took one large sow – without piglets – as she crossed the break in the corn; one well-placed Tip Strike from the Roßler .308 put her down quickly. It was very a very exciting time, watching my fellow hunters shoot, seeing all those pigs and the odd roe deer break out of the cornfield.
And so it went for a third day, and while I didn’t get anything that day – the luck of the draw wasn’t with me – there were many exciting moments. A large red stag ran past me at less than 3 yards, a wounded boar charged my companions, and I got to see more of the beautiful Polish countryside. Those spruce forests reminded me very much of the Adirondacks back home in New York, and the ceremonies were something I wish we had here in the States.
The driven hunts in Europe are dripping with ceremony, including a series of horn melodies that all have individual significance. There is a gathering song, a gratitude song, and an honoring song for each species taken. The hunters, beaters and dogs all gather around for the beginning and end of the hunt, and respect is paid to one another in addition to the game animals taken. All the Europeans have a different style of respecting the game, and it’s one that I wish we’d pick up. Nonetheless, the ceremony surrounding a European hunt was a wonderful experience. A small branch of the vegetation form where your animal was taken is inserted on the right side of your hat, be it a spruce bough, tip of corn stalk, or what have you, as an honor to the animal and its surroundings.
Norma has long been associated with great accuracy and uniform results. Their new Tip Strike and Eco Strike bullets are designed to fill two different niches. Tip Strike is a cup-and-core flat based bullet with an orange polymer tip, designed for fast expansion and energy transfer. It is a perfect deer bullet, and is a favorite of the wild boar hunters, especially on the driven hunts where shot distances are close. While it’s been my experience that in America we like our hog bullets to be on the stiffer side of things, the Europeans seem to like the rapid expansion designs for their wild boar. At 170-grains in the .30 caliber cartridges, the Tip Strike worked very well, especially on that sow in the corn.
The Eco Strike
The Eco Strike bullet is completely different. It’s a nickel-plated, all copper affair, with a green polymer tip and a boat tail. This lead-free bullet is perfect for California, or for any hunter who has embraced the monometal bullets. Those of us who used the Eco Strike found quick kills (with the exception of my big boar, which I hit a bit low) and complete penetration. It’s an accurate bullet, and when loaded in the Norma ammunition line, makes a good choice for an all-around hunting load. Norma uses lighter bullet weights within each caliber; the .30s use a 150-grain Eco Strike, and the 9.3×62 runs with a 230-grain slug. This allows for increased velocity, and the structural integrity of the monometal bullet keeps things from breaking apart and guarantees penetration.
I put the new Norma stuff to the test in my own rifles back home, and found both the .308 Winchester and .300 Win Mag stuff to be wonderfully accurate; I’ll be taking this out for our deer season for sure.
We hunters are explorers; we enjoy being among the elements, in the wild places. Personally, I enjoy hunting abroad and collecting as many different memories and experiences as I can. A European driven hunt was a new and exciting experience, one that I’m glad I had. I came away with a new appreciation for European game, country, and made many new friends in the process. After all, isn’t that what it’s about?