Optics manufacturer Zeiss recently launched a new range of products and I travelled to its German headquarters in Oberkochen to play with a few goodies. This included a day’s driven shooting in hunting grounds close to the beautiful Schloss Laubach. I am a techy sort of guy — I love testing new kit — but this trip showed me that good sportsmanship and shared experiences with kindred spirits are just as important.
Because there would be an opportunity to shoot boar, red stags and perhaps even mouflon — a game species I have always wanted to stalk — I took my trusty .35 Whelen Ackley Improved rifle as well as my Tikka custom rifle, which shoots a 225-gr Sierra GameKing bullet at more than 2,800fps. It also just happens to wear my own Zeiss Duralyt 2-8x42mm scope, which would please the hosts…
The trip began with a couple of hiccups at customs: a recoil arrestor in the butt of my rifle that looked suspicious under the X-ray, and the £5 hunting knife in my rifle case, brought two armed Polizei to my side at Frankfurt Airport. From then on in, however, it was a real education.
After the initial settling-in with 25 other journalists from around the world, there was a chance to relax and chat about ballistics and differences in hunting techniques over a beer or two. It brought home just how different the sport was going to be. I am used to stalking on my own, quietly observing game from a distance and then slowly, stealthily stalking in close to assess the beast and then take the shot if it’s suitable. In Germany, however, driven game is shot from a static position within designated shooting lines. There is a list of what can and cannot be shot, and strict instructions, all of which must be assessed and calculated as the game rushes past you. There is probably a five-second window to react — no pressure then.
We had a chance to hone our skills on moving targets and have a look at the new Zeiss products at a local shooting range. In my case, it was more building on non-existent experience rather than honing skills, but the lead necessary to connect a bullet with the vital organs was slowly instilled into my little grey cells and I soon found my rhythm.
An early start/b>
I didn’t need the alarm clock the following morning; I was already up and dressed an hour before I needed to be, buoyant with the chance to see some boar and mouflon. We assembled outside a hunting lodge in the grounds of the castle and were split into groups each of which included a guide/driver and four hunters. My group included a Zeiss representative and two journalists from German hunting magazines. Only two spoke English, but we all laughed together and managed to establish meeting-up times and directions.
The jägermeister explained the routine of the day: a morning drive, then lunch, followed by an afternoon drive at a different location. The hunting horns sounded and the hounds were bundled off by the beaters to get into position. It was cold but dry, so conditions were perfect. There was a real sense of anticipation.
The organisation was superb, which I guess is what one expects from German hunters. Our driver chuckled at my surname, Potts, and I retorted in a typically British manner by whistling the theme tune to Where Eagles Dare, which made him laugh!
We were dropped off one by one at our shooting positions along rough forest tracks with numbered trees to locate our individual high seats. As the shooter from Germany’s Jäger magazine got into his high seat overlooking a long open field adjacent to a thick wooded edge of conifers, four boar trotted in line 40 yards away, totally unaware of us — a good omen or not? We would see.
My position was high up on a strip of young timber that bisected thicker woods to the north and south. It seemed an ideal spot for game to escape the beaters where the undergrowth was not too thick. My high seat was no taller than me and was more of a lofted perch with shooting rails and a seat, but it was sturdy and gave a superb 360° arc of fire. The driver indicated that I could shoot in any direction.
The first drive
The woods soon became eerily quiet until the official 9am start. I chambered a round into the Tikka, turned the scope to its lowest 2x magnification power setting, and waited. Soon, the hunting horns echoed through the woods, and the hairs bristled on the back of my neck. I scanned the woods avidly for any movement. What was most foreign to me was the noise. I would usually be tightly pressed into the soil, barely breathing so as not to give my position away, but here I was awaiting the din that signalled action. Before long, the guns began to boom and echo through the densely wooded countryside as the game passed different hunters on different stands. I was transfixed by the gunfire, but suddenly a cracked twig alerted me to three boar running hell-for-leather 120 yards away on top of the ridge between some logs and a stand of trees.
This is where my inexperience with running game stopped me taking a shot. To me, the beasts were too far away and there was too much foliage in the way — I had no more than six seconds to react. I let them go, then almost five minutes later the barking of dogs and the sound of horns became even louder. A lone roe deer came bounding along the same ridge from the opposite direction to the boar. She was running hard with a dog in close pursuit. Again, I had a mere six seconds to react — to check it was a doe and not an out-of-season buck, and, just as importantly, to give it enough lead, otherwise one beater would be going home without his dog! I chickened-out and let the roe go.
As the gunfire faded into silence, I relived the past half-hour, wondering whether I should have taken the shot. Just as the shut-off point for shooting came at 11.30am, another roe came bounding right up to the shooting platform. Without a rear-end view to check for an anal tush indicating a doe, I resisted taking a shot. As it bounded off, I saw the tush, “waving” at me mockingly with each bouncing stride.
Time for lunch
We regrouped at the lodge and the successful hunters were instantly recognisable, not just by the broad grins on their faces but also by the sprigs of foliage in their hats, the mark of a proud hunter. The food was traditional: thick chowder soup, smoked sausages and rye bread. I found it particularly interesting that we were right next to a road and were all carrying rifles, but passing traffic took no notice at all.
Well-fed and feeling a little heavier, our ever-smiling driver took us deep into the forest on the other side of the road. I had the same style of shooting perch for this drive, but it was at the intersection of two long rides, giving three equally good shooting directions. I donned a compulsory hi-viz vest, which would be alien to any British shooter, though our American friends seemed happy. I felt conspicuous, which was the point for safety reasons, but fortunately none of the game I saw was alerted by its obvious Day-Glo properties.
Almost at once the gunfire started down the valley. Volley after volley indicated someone was having good sport. Then a fox appeared to my right, panting hard with its tongue lolling out of its mouth. He made the width of the ride in the blink of an eye. Tree after tree obscured him until he crossed the second ride. I was on him and then in front before too many trees blocked the shot and I lowered the Tikka. I could almost hear my Teutonic friends’ voices in my head shouting, “Just shoot!”
Unfortunately, there were no mouflon for me. I had been hoping to see one in the woods, and, as I day-dreamed about a full-curl ram in my sights, a crash in the undergrowth broke the silence. A roebuck with three to four inches of antler growth came charging through the woodland to my left. The smiling driver then arrived to pick us up; he too, was empty handed.
Saluting the quarry
We reconvened by the lodge and the day’s shot quarry was laid out on conifer branches in hierarchical order — red stags first, then mouflon, followed by boar, roe does, foxes, badgers and, believe it or not, racoons, of which there were six.
At each corner were wooden posts, the thickness of telegraph poles, and, as the evening drew in, these were doused in petrol and set alight. It was a poignant scene: the hunters lamented the game in order of importance with their own differing themes on hunting horns. That is what I will take home with me — the way the Germans respect the species they hunt and salute them with toasts and in song.
The evening’s dinner — a whole roasted side of wild boar — was served. The top hunters were celebrated while poor conduct was punished with forfeits in a drinking game. What was evident as I chatted to my new friends was that I had shot — or rather not shot — like an Englishman. It was clear to them that I should have just taken the shots and not worried about the possibility of wounding — a concept that’s anathema to me. I will certainly return. A wild boar would be nice but, having seen the mouflon laid out, I really fancy a trip to hunt a ram in the mountains.