Editor Peter Carr joins a team of international journalists on a driven hunt in pursuit of hoofed game in Germany organised by Zeiss Sports Optics
Driven hunting continental style is one of the most exhilarating forms of quarry pursuit. Wild boar is mostly the principal game targeted, but a lot of deer, mouflon, fox and raccoon are taken too. I am fortunate enough to be invited on a few of these driven hunts each season, and long may it continue because it is a lot of fun in every aspect, and very exciting indeed. They are usually extremely well organised with an almost military level of precision. Every beater, houndsman, shooter and the other myriad support staff knows their responsibilities and is ready to respond at the required time. All safety aspects are pointed out to shooting guests and nothing is left to chance. With as many as 50 rifles in the forest (sometimes even more), there are a lot of rifles about and they must be trained in the right direction.
One of the best hunts on my shooting calendar is the fantastic journalist hunt organised by two of Zeiss Sports Optics’ finest, Armin Dobat and Jan Hüffmeier, among others in the Zeiss team. It is an annual opportunity to test products, meet old friends and colleagues, observe continental hunting traditions in action, sample the local beers, schnapps, cuisine, and of course to actually enjoy some fine hunting.
This year was no exception, and on the first day of the hunt I had drawn a stand next to my good friend Jan Hüffmeier. After the hunt was declared open by the hunting horns (accompanied by the eager baying of hounds and terriers), we listened intently to the safety and hunting instructions given to us by Castle Laubach’s head forester. As we would probably encounter significant numbers of not just wild boar, but also red deer and mouflon, it was imperative we didn’t shoot the prime breeding stock of either species. Jan of course had done this all before, but nevertheless he listened intently to the instruction, as did I.
“One anxious thought was replaced by another: Had I killed the right animal?”
I have always exercised caution when it comes to quarry selection. Not only because of the hefty fines that are often involved, but also because I appreciate the hard work it takes to maintain and improve trophy quality. With red deer it is straightforward to recognise a mature forest stag in his prime, by body weight and general condition. A good look at his antler crowns will usually give you a fair indication of trophy quality too. Anything with three or four crowns on either side should be left to spread his DNA and improve the herd. Indeed any beast showing crowns at all should be left to service the hinds.
A good crown on one side and a poor one on the other doesn’t always mean the beast is of inferior quality. It may be that the stag is recovering from injury, or damaged an antler in the crucial growth period, and the following year he may well regrow more normal antlers. This is where a considered decision, taking into account general body appearance, behaviour and antler quality, should be made carefully. If the animal looks healthy and is behaving normally, he is better passed by, despite one antler not being as good as it should be. Better safe than taking out an important breeding animal.