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Updated 12/17/2011
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Pete & Ginny's Eastern Europe Hunt

Friends, Hunters and other Miscreants,

      Recently returned from 3 plus weeks of travel and hunting in Eastern Europe with Roja Grande (aka Ginny), who has now been promoted from Assistant Gun Bearer to full fledged "Diana, Huntress of the Wood". Flight from Seattle direct to Paris, then a short hop to Vienna.

      Hunted & traveled in Hungary, Slovakia and Austria - after hunting took a train to Budapest for four days of interesting Hungarian food ( excellent roast goose), wines and sightseeing. Then off to the Czech Republic and Prague for another four days of eating good food ( excellent roast duck ), drinking good Czech beer and exploring. The train then took us back to Vienna to pick up our hunting gear and the flight home.

      The hunting began just across the Austrian border in Slovakia. The outfitter FN Hunting's guide ( picked us up at the hotel in Vienna and drove us to a beautiful old hunting lodge, that used to be a Count's residence, at the edge of a small Slovakian town.

After settling in and dressing properly for dinner, we joined other hunters, guides, interpreters and the outfitter's organizer of a five course meal with excellent local wine. This was to become the norm for the next three days After hunt return to the chateau, have a refreshing cocktail, clean up after shedding the hunting garb and dress for dinner. Then repair to the fireplace room for another round of cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, prior to being seated at table for another exceptional multi-course meal, followed by after dinner drinks and mellow live music in the lounge. This was no rustic hunting camp! Roja Grande allowed as how she could very well get used to the life of old nobility!

      The first order of business was two days of driven pheasant hunting. This was a major endeavor, as it involved a cast of 30 to 35 or more people. Each hunter (or Gun) had an assigned gun bearer/loader, who carried your gun between drives, and loaded the shells into your shotgun after each firing. This took some getting used to, but it was a quite efficient method to quickly reload when the birds were flying so thick and fast.

     The rest of the cast included the traditional hunting horn blowers (Blaserin) who controlled the hunt by horn blown signals, under the control of the Hunt Master. Each Gun had one or two dog handlers with dogs to retrieve the downed birds, especially in the thick brush. Rounding out the rest of the hunting crew were the beaters, 20 to 25 strong, whose job was to form on line some distance into the heavily wooded area in front of the line of Guns, and with shouts and knocking on trees, flush the birds toward the hunters. They were local towns people happy to be recruited for 50 Euros a day for some tough brush busting. There were also the helpers who set up the shooting stakes, prepared and served snacks and lunch, and laid out the game for the Day's End ceremony. All in all, quite an involved operation requiring a great deal of planning and preparation.

      Each of the two days of hunting had seven drives, each in a different area. After a drive was finished, everyone would move to the next set-up drive area, wait for the beaters to get into position and at the horn signal the drive would begin again. After the first two morning drives were done there was a break for snacks and refreshments, all laid out on a table in the hunting area. When two more morning drives were done, it was time for a leisurely three course lunch, set up in a large hunting hut, properly presented with plates, silverware, napkins, serving bowls, centerpiece etc., and of course, red or white wine.

       The shooting line up for the Guns was generally 10 to 15 yards away and facing the wooded tree line, the trees being 30 to 35 feet high. When the birds were flushed over the trees, they were about thirty yards in the air and flying at warp speed! This necessitated picking up the bird quickly and often shooting nearly vertically. A number 8 station high house in skeet, only the birds are much higher. Rather sporty and challenging shooting! Shooting like this and having to swing through and past the vertical, made it very difficult to keep the gun butt on the shoulder. Slipping down as it did to the upper arm, we both were sporting arm bruises that looked like a Picasso painting from his Blue Period.

       Three more drives were conducted in the afternoon, culminating in the ceremonial End of the Day's Hunt. This entailed all the game shot, in this case only pheasants, being neatly laid out in an area prepared with tree boughs and small bonfires. Everyone assembled around the area, and with due reverence, respects were paid to the game taken, while the hunting horns sounded the special notes that signify each type of game. A very old hunting tradition - everything about hunting in these countries, especially Austria and Germany, is bound in centuries old traditions; from the proper hunting clothes, acceptable guns (no semi-automatics please), respect for the game, and even the correct greetings and thank you's in what is called "hunters' speak" (Jager Sprache). Roja Grande was greatly impressed with all the traditions and ceremonies.

      Johannes, the outfitter's organizer and our "git it done" guy who was with us for all the driven hunts, allowed as how we could each have 100 birds total for all the hunts, and that we could combine the totals, whereas all birds over that limit would be an extra 25 Euros each. In a state of disbelief, I blurted out, "A hundred birds each? You've got to be kidding - I've never even seen 100 pheasants in several days hunting."

       After chewing on a large slice of humble pie, I was overwhelmed by the number of birds that got up. They came thick and fast, and the number of misses mounted - indeed it keeps one humble! However, we both soon got into the rhythm of things and were knocking down birds with some regularity. So by the afternoon of the second day I started to shoot only cock pheasants, and of those, only ones that were a sure shot. To my amazement, and a bit of chagrin, the totals were starting to approach the limit. R.G. downed 49 pheasants and I stopped 131 for the two days. All the birds were taken home by the beaters and support crew - nothing went to waste, and they all seemed very happy to have them.

      The third day we drove just into Hungary, along some tributaries to the Danube river, which was about a kilometer away, for the driven duck hunt. I did not know ducks could be driven, but they sure can! The operation was essentially the same as the pheasant hunts; Guns, gun bearer/loaders, dog handlers, horn blowers and beaters. This time the ducks were flushed from some swampy areas, across an open field toward a tree line where the Guns were in position. The shooting here was at incoming targets at a lower level than the pheasants, a number 6 station high house in skeet shooting. In the half day's shooting R.G. downed 10 ducks and I put down 23 - all big green heads. Again, none went to waste as the beaters and other support staff divvied up the birds to take home.

      After the driven hunts we headed back to southern Austria to another hunting lodge and outfitter guides, for wild boar and European red stag. We both took nice wild boars, R.G.'s being considerably larger than mine - the Huntress is an emerging force - becoming deadly! On the second day she was out with one of the guides stalking red deer - by midday she put down a very nice red deer at 150 yards. R.G. was very pleased with her overall success and awed at the total experience.

All in all " Diana, Huntress of the wood" is a well deserved accolade - horrido!

Weidsmanns Heil, Pete


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