Text and photographs: Sani Doncheva
Mountain Hunt Gary Bogner
In the end of April, on the day following my last hunt in Uganda, early in the morning I set off once again, this time on the road for Bulgaria. The hunter was coming here for the second time, laying his trust on me to organize the hunting session he had been dreaming of and tried some years before that – Balkan chamois and Roe deer.
Gary Bogner the famous bow hunter, one of the few to twice preside the Safari Club International arrived here once again with the woman of his life – Deb and the pleasure of another meeting of ours was mutual. We intended travelling to a great hunting area where we hoped that Gary would shoot down Capercaillie, Balkan chamois and Roe deer. Wild boar was also aimed by him, but only after coping with another two harder tasks. We arrived early in the afternoon, then the manager of the hunting area gave us a warm “welcome” and his guests were amazed by the house and their rooms. Gary decided that after his almost 24-hour travel to Bulgaria his bow needs inspection and he headed for the nearby archery target. The arrows he directed towards it hit one after another the middle to the amazement of the several observing hunting guides.
The next day we got up at 2.30 a.m., had a coffee and after nearly two hour travel by car we got to the Capercaillie territory. This is the place where these unique birds reside – it is always located in the highest mountainous part where huge coniferous trees with long and robust branches grow and where Capercaillie spend the night. This hunt was brand new experience to Gary. We travelled relatively fast the distance to the locations where hunting guides who undertook the observation in the previous days heard birds’ mating songs. To our greatest misfortune this morning the forest was calm and no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t hear anything. It was already dawn when we dispiritedly headed down the slope in order to review a typical chamois location and then we hoped to stalk down a roe deer.
Anyway, we didn’t encounter any of the abovementioned animals and after nearly two-hour descent from the mountain we finally reached the asphalt road where guide’s vehicle was waiting for us to take us back for a late breakfast.
In the afternoon once again we got jumping by the 4x4 vehicle along the picturesque roads of Rhodope Mountain to some rocks where the previous evening two male chamois were noticed. After we arrived by car as closest as possible to the area where we were about to hunt, Gary started preparing his equipment. He took out the ready, tried’n’tested 72-pound latest model, fully carbon Hoyt bow. It was supplemented by the faultless trigger that Gary easily and elegantly placed on his right wrist and the triple mechanically pointed Easton arrows.
After spending relatively short period along the peaks, the first shooting chance Gary stood was at an old chamois but it failed. This is bow hunting – the animal stands equal chances, just like the hunter.
Our hunting guide managed to notice from a great distance the calmly grazing animal and skilfully got us to around 45-50 meters from it. While hiding behind an emaciated bush, which was quite insufficient for the three of us, everyone on his right had to have great visibility towards the animal: PH to decide whether this was the trophy to be shot down, Gary to hit it and me to shoot the whole scene. We didn’t have the time Gary needed to precisely measure the distance and location’s denivelation with his rangefinder, because the chamois already sensed us and slowly headed down. Before that our guide made a gesture for shooting, and it didn’t take Gary long as he immediately draw his bow and let the arrow fly. At the same time the chamois had already moved slightly frontwards but to the utmost dissatisfaction of all of us and thus the shot was not precise. Nevertheless we got to the location to take a look, just in case of blood tracks. There were none. Gary seemed quite disappointed because of the opportunity but I kept reminding him that this was his first hunting day and for sure he stood many more opportunities, because this is among the places in Bulgaria that enjoy stable and numerous Balkan chamois population.
The following day our programme was the same – early-waking birds, coffee and two-hour travel to the Capercaillie area. That morning our hunting guide was Dancho, the son of another experienced and long-term guide that almost immediately heard and got us to the tree of a singing cock. Since it was still too dark for my camera and it couldn’t shoot anything, I stayed at some 30 meters from Gary and Dancho that noiselessly sneaked to the Capercaillie tree. In a while I heard the whistling of his string and in some seconds the heavy splash of wings taking off. I hoped that the shot was successful and the bird was taken, but nothing else was heard. In about two to three minutes I could hear the sound from a second shot. I waited for a while until Dancho and Gary got out of the nearby thorny bushes near me. It proved that Gary saw the Capercaillie, made a shot but the first arrow flew next to him and he was not quite worried, nevertheless decided to move to the nearby tree. This was a great chance for Gary to shoot at the same bird, but in vain. Both the shots were taken in almost dark and he could not be sure where the placement was good and where the arrows flew. He was disappointed, so he didn’t want to walk around the nearby meadows for roe bucks but he wanted to go to the lodge. Nevertheless, as a matter of fact nobody was successful in shooting down a Capercaillie with a bow. Gary brought with him special broadheads for his arrows in view of this hunt, the broadheads being used for turkeys in the USA, but so far nobody tested them successfully in hunting Capercaillie.
In the afternoon we headed for a territory that was new to us – there we hoped to see a Balkan chamois. Once again I felt the ultimate pleasure of quietness that reigned over me at these altitudes up in the Rhodope Mountain. This location is one of my favourite hunting areas not only because of the great people that work in it, but also because of the beautiful hunting territories and the quality of the game that inhabits them. We walked around all possible places where we could successfully stalk and shoot at a chamois, but in vain. On our way to the hunting area we suddenly encountered several wild boars that decided it was far more convenient to walk along the asphalt up the road than climbing the precipices at the road sides. Our guide sopped the car for me to film them. I didn’t need another invitation, just rushed towards them. Gary observed this scene keenly and this visibly lifted his spirits on the way back to our temporary Rhodope home – back to the hot fireplace and cool red wine.
Once again we woke up at 3 a.m. and headed for third morning in a row in our search for Capercaillie. Once again our guide was Dancho but despite his sharp youth hearing and the blood of third hunting guide generation we didn’t manage to hear the song of any Capercaillie. This was followed by long roaming and descending the mountain, once again we took a look at the place where Gary shot at the chamois on the first day, but we didn’t see anything there. In the afternoon Raycho took us to another great meadow in the upper mountainous part, the whole of it lit by the descending sun. We made ourselves convenient in the end of the meadow, hidden behind several large rocks while waiting for a Roe deer that would went out grazing or visiting the nearby salt. At the opposite hill which was some 300-400 meters away of us there were steep screes ending on top in almost vertical rocks. We hoped we would be able to enjoy the view of some chamois there, but no matter how hard we stared, we managed to see a walking animal at the highest, steepest and remotest place. Gary truly enjoyed the nature, the fresh aroma of the nearby tree in bloom and the sun that was already setting down, when two female red deer showed up from the forest with their careful steps. They needed not more than two-three minutes to sense us, while keeping their ears sharp, then they made an abrupt turn and with the typical scared call galloped back inside the forest.
Gary smiled at me and in another half an hour the sun had already set. We had not more than half an hour to complete darkness so we started going down the mountain in a rush. On our way back we saw a chamois that was curiously following us with her gaze from its observation point up at the rocks out of reach, near the road. Unfortunately it was at more than a shot’s distance.
At dinner Gary announced that he gave up on chasing Capercaillie and would like to devote his hunting to chamois and roebuck. The early waking and the fact that it seemed rut was over much earlier for this year made him give up. Hunting Capercaillie was hard even to the hunters armed with a gun, and the fact that so far nobody managed to shoot such a bird with a bow didn’t provide any consolation. The plan for this hunting day included long march up in the mountain and having lunch in a great chalet located at a vast meadow near the mountain tops. Soon we headed along a meandering mountainous pathway and our eyes saw a spacious meadow amidst the forest. For already several minutes we could hear the mouflons clashing their heads and our guide signalled us to wait hidden behind some bushes. It didn’t took us long and large group of mouflons came from the forest that comprised of several males, quite a lot females and at least ten babies. They didn’t sense us and for almost 20 minutes we stood enjoying this absolutely wild and free mouflon herd. They disappeared the way they appeared – once of a sudden. We followed them because in this direction we could see the rock tops where we had to get to be able to peek from them and Gary to produce a possible shot at some chamois. As soon as we approached the first rocks, we saw a female with her baby, but she had great visibility towards us and they rapidly disappeared from our look. In a while we heard the sound of running hooves just beneath us and then we saw a male chamois at went out at the open space in front of us, stopped for a while, faced us, looked at us and then disappeared just like the female. He was a nice trophy, but the time for which he appeared was far not enough for bow hunter – to draw his bow and take an aim. If Gary was hunting with a gun, he would have probably enjoyed the won chamois.
The sky already grew dark and we headed for the high mountainous chalet to taste the steaks roasted by our guide at the large fireplace. Just like we hoped for, an hour later the rain had stopped and we and our full stomachs headed once again for the rocks nearby. At the meadow before the chalet near the feeding rack we saw bear tracks. Our guide told us that at this place quite a lot of bears showed up, and this sounded quite thrilling to us. We roamed the steep precipices in vain, because we saw no more chamois that day.
A new day rose with its new hope. The hunting area manager offered us to get to the rocks that were nearby the road where one evening we saw a chamois. It seemed we were lucky that day once again because our guide Zero managed to see through the branches a male chamois grazing at the opposite gully. He skilfully sneaked over there to take a look at it and signalled us to silently approach. Step by step we got there, Gary lifted his rangefinder and after Zero signalled him that the trophy is good, he draw his bow. I was so happy that I had great visibility towards the chamois until the guide stood in front of my camera so that he could take a better look at the chamois. This was followed by a shot and Zero waving his arms frenetically. He was sure Gary’s shot was precise. We stood on our places waiting at least half an hour before some of us went to check for bloody tracks. To our misfortune the chamois didn’t fall on its spot, but hid behind some rocks. We didn’t know whether it is nearby or is already running away at a solid distance. When Zero went to check, he said there was blood and it was abundant, but the place was inaccessible. Once again he followed the tracks and got back to us to tell us he saw the chamois lying on some rocks. Another two people had to come to help us. Together with Gary we were standing and waiting to see the trophy. At least his worry of missing the target had vanished and he was sincerely thrilled that at last, during his second visit in Bulgaria for a Balkan chamois, he was successful in shooting it down. It took them more than an hour and a half and our hunting guides finally brought us the trophy. As usual, only the head – the other body part they didn’t fetch along the very steep rocks. I was slightly disappointed because photographs would have been much prettier with the whole animal, but their safety was more important to us. Gary’s happiness was immense and it was followed by almost endless thanking and photo shooting.
That evening was our last one in the Rhodope Mountains. In the last morning the hunting area manager brought the boiled scull of the chamois and together with Gary we measured it according to SCI system. After referring to the Record Book it proved that this was the new world record for Balkan chamois taken with a bow. Before that the entry was the chamois shot by Archie Nesbitt, but Gary’s was larger.
Gary really wanted to keep hunting up in the mountains, the location where he hunted two years ago and where good friends were waiting for him. The road from the Rhodope Mountains where they cordially saw us off to the mountain was long and interesting. Deb and Gary were truly interested in all ancient places I could show them. Two Thracian tombs and the picturesque Rose valley where the oil-yielding rose is being harvested (Bulgaria’s symbol) enchanted them and in the evening we planned the next day at the second hunting area and its very nice lodge. Our task was to shoot a Roe deer – the animal that Gary hunted during his previous six European hunts, but in vain. In the evening we set off with Drago, a friend of mine and favourite hunting guide. The two of us are always lucky, get nice shots and I had nice presentiment, so soon we arrived to the hunting area. We left the 4x4 vehicle and headed for walk and stalk. We walked in the forest and then silently sneaked to the numerous meadows while expecting to see at any of these calmly grazing Roe deer. At a certain altitude facing relatively open space before us, Drago lifted his binocular and said that there was an animal ahead. It was relatively far away, so that we could claim for sure it is a male one. We confidently headed for the place at slightly roundabout route to be sure that wind would not rotate and Roe deer would not sense us. We were moving silently and cautiously. Gary had loaded the arrow and was ready to use his bow instantaneously. Drago sharply stopped and me and Gary froze while looking in the direction where he aimed his binocular. We were at no more than 60 meters from the animal. From the place I was standing I couldn’t see his entire body well, but Drago signalled to Gary and he shot. His hit was precise, but the animal ran ahead. We followed it in some time and large blood drops at the leaves showed the arrow hit animal’s body. We followed the track that was getting us straight downwards the dense forest. We followed it closely and once we realized we had already travelled a significant distance, Drago suggested that he called for the bloodhound. In an hour it was fast to follow the tracks. To our greatest surprise we found out that close to the place where we gave up following the tracks the Roe deer got his last breath. Gary was glowing. At last, after so many years, during his seventh European hunt, he got a Roe deer trophy. Just like in the Rhodope Mountains, on the first hunting day Lady Luck backed us and this time Gary took the advantage.
Now we could devote all our time and efforts to hunt Wild boar. In the evening Drago got us to a hunting hide that was especially fit for bow hunters. We started waiting but in an hour large raindrops started falling. It got darker and rain got heavier, but only a small boar appeared with its wet fur sticking out. No other boar appeared. We were all wet and boarded the vehicle to get back to the hotel. There amidst friends and cosiness Gary and Deb had the pleasure to propose a toast with their old friends.
After an unfruitful morning hunt the next day we could do something useful in the hunting lodge where the Roe deer trophy was already boiled and cleaned up, and Gary could measure it, to see where he got in trophy ranking according to the Trophy book of Safari Club International. It proved that the trophy Gary took with his bow was the third ranking worldwide. An achievement that made him very happy.
Another morning came. Drago had decided to try out our luck once again on walk and stalk. The forest was dense and green but soon we saw fresh tracks on the ground. Drago checked the wind and we slowly followed the tracks. A wild boar group appeared and crossed our trace and they seemed to feel us so they galloped away from us. Fortunately Drago knew very well boars’ favourite places inside the forest and it seemed he got us straight to such one. The two of them with Gary were moving well ahead of me and they saw a big male boar, because they were slowly retreating along their steps and were going round the dry grass and twigs on the land, so they started sneaking to a meadow hidden among the large trunks of the old beeches. From this direction we could hear from time to time the typical sound of fighting boars. Gary measured the distance with his rangefinder and did shot. After arrow’s noisy hit in the stone-hard boar skin, it fled panicked amidst the trees. It was followed by shadows from all sides. We had sneaked very close to it and Gary managed to get his lethal arrow in the boar’s body. We carefully approached the location of the hit while looking for blood tracks of the runaway. The blood drops we found was not significant but bearing in mind the massive boar structure and the subcutaneous fat that was fast to close cuts we would not be surprised even if not finding any blood at all. Fortunately here there was plenty of it to confirm what we saw in milliseconds, namely the hit in boar’s body. Since we had no time and we learnt our lesson from the last time, we directly called the lodge to fetch the dog. Zhana whose veins undoubtedly throbbed with the blood of pure Bavarian bloodhound was about to help us so that we could find the wounded animal faster. We were sure about that because from time to time we found blood drops somewhat dried out on last year’s leaves. The boar was seriously wounded because it chose for its escape only downhill terrains and avoided climbing up. Based on dog’s barking we understood it had found the boar. It had reached the bottom of the gorge and there it had died in a small river. The wounded animal followed its instinct of making it to the mud. The strong bow and the new special arrow points did a good job because they managed to get that strong animal down.
We loaded the boar in the pickup truck and got back on the road for the lodge. We had a nice photo session with the wild boar and all participants in this adventure, including Zhana that saved us lots of time in looking for the both trophies.
That was the end of Gary’s hunt in Bulgaria – with a world record of Balkan chamois, third place for the great Roe deer and some 23-centimeter tusks of the Bulgarian wild boar. It was difficult for Gary and Deb to say “Goodbye” to the favourite hunting area where for the second time they experienced great hunting days and joyful evenings amidst friends. They wished they could soon come back to Bulgaria and by all means get to these two hunting areas where they felt at home.