“This is not luck, this is science!”
Text and photographs: Sani Doncheva
This is the way Acho greeted me, being one of the three owners of the hunting reserve, in the morning on the 7th of December, just before the beginning of incredibly frosty and successful driven hunt at their place.
To him and the other two partners of his, Emo and Iliyan, I am connected by several interesting hunting stories that I will tell you in the next magazine editions.
That was my second wild boar driven hunt in this reserve. Hence I knew there were many boars, real hunting and deriving pleasure from the fact of being at absolutely wild and free territory, inhabited densely by game. The hunting reserve is located in the heart of the mountain, the long and harsh winter that divides Bulgaria into two halves and the Balkan peninsula being named after it. It borders at its three sides with National park “Central Balkan” where there are representatives of the large game in our country, except for Western Capercaillie and European bison that could be seen in other hunting territories. Stara Planina /the official Bulgarian name of the Balkan/ is inhabited by the Balkan goat, Alpine mouflon and Tibetan yak, the last two species being successfully disseminated some 50 years ago and until today they are official hunting species in our country. On those two hunting days all of us saw numerous hinds and deer, packs of boars in endless rows and many red deer and hinds.
“How is the Lada doing?“ – Iliyan asked. George’s answer was unconvincing smile. The seemingly most inconvenient car proved to be the only version where we could save the long and tiresome climbing towards the highest, the last ambushes. Last week’s hunting taught her a good lesson and now all jeeps were checked and put on their “shoes”, i.e. tires suitable for the difficult terrain. Nobody could have foreseen what was about to happen ten minutes later.
The column of jeeps headed by the almighty all-terrain Lada driven by Kanata – the reserve head, was confidently moving along the frozen and snow-covered roads. It didn’t take us long before we were driving frantically and it was my greatest pleasure to be shooting the off-road performance of Iliyan. I was convinced that in several minutes we would be located and hunting is to begin soon.
But it did not happen that way.
Instead the jeep in front of us almost froze at its three tires, inclined unstably crosswise to the road. That steep section in front of us covered by deep ice put our car journey to an end. The decision not to attempt pulling the jeep in trouble but to keep walking and not to ruin the hunting was made in rapid and unanimous manner and soon all of us were marching up the road towards the ambushes. Only the lucky ones riding the Lada travelled little bit more than the others.
The hunter that I was about to shoot was very precise shooter. Kanata brought us to the ambush, showed us where we could shoot and left us with the words “Good luck”. Aleksander, the hunter, choose a cosy place for himself among the seemingly scarce forest and began his preparation. Both of us were ready for possible meeting with the boars. We started talking and soon I was giggling at the funny stories and artistic nature of Aleksander. While we were whispering and laughing in low voice, a pack of boars sneaking amidst the trees showed up ahead of us. Aleksander immediately lifted his gun and took an aim, I did the same with my camera. He produced a shot. It was followed by a second one and I was getting angry in silent manner because visibility was not good. I started counting the number of black figures queuing in front of my eyes but after fifteen I stopped doing it. I just thought that was it, and a new shot was heard. Squeaking came one moment later. I made a step to the left and I could see with my eyes the boar that had fallen on the ground and was throwing its legs. Aleksander turned to look at me and me smiled to one another with conspiracy. This is one of my favourite moments – when the hunter and me experience successful hunting situation and then enjoy it. The driven hunt was over and Kanata and George appeared in front of us. Before seeing the pack we could hear the echo of a shot and it managed to took down an offspring from the neighbouring ambush. This way he sent the group successfully in our direction and Aleksander took full advantage of it. Both of them were lucky and we slowly followed the drivers that were drawing their boars along the slope above us. I liked this movement a lot because cold was already torturing me and climbing that slope warmed me in minutes.
Iliyan had killed a large boar during the driven hunt, but to Vlado’s misfortune the other camera of that hunt didn’t shoot him because it was shooting the hunter at the nearby ambush.
We headed for the next driven hunt, once again loaded in the jeeps. The jeep standing on its three tires at the ice was to be saved later. The day was too short and the hunters didn’t want to waste it in efforts not directly related to their hunt.
Once again I was with Aleksander. I love shooting precise shooters and this was my reason for being with him all the time. It proved to be a wise decision because he brought us luck during the second driven hunt.
The location where we got established was near the road but he chose a section little bit further in the forest that on one side was overgrown with bushes and had a fallen tree leaning on one of their edges. Aleksander propped his gun on that tree, fixed his earphones and stood still in expectation. It was nearly noon and our stomachs were getting angry because of being empty. We stood silent for around an hour then he took dried game meat out of his backpack. We started chewing the icy delicacy and I forgot about cold for some time.
Huge deer with fallen antlers surprised us with its appearance. To my pleasure it stopped for a moment as if waiting to shoot him.
At that ambush there were no funny stories and laughter. We waited for the boars and they appeared indeed. Aleksander pointed to the left of me and I saw amongst the trees a lonely black figure running in slight movement. The boar was moving in even trot and it was no problem following it with the camera. I really like it when I have the same point of view the hunter has.
Aleksander produced a shot. He hit it. But the boar didn’t stop. He produced a second shot. That was the end. The boar fell and stayed there. I was shooting general plan of the forest and wanted to capture the emotion on hunter’s face after his precise shot, when he pointed his finger again at the direction from which the boar appeared. I looked there and started shooting the flowing pack. Nevertheless they started sneaking in the opposite direction and were at our rear. I had no time to relocate and squatted while I kept shooting. Aleksander saw that and understood why I did it and produced a shot. As if he had trained such situation because I was somehow sure he knew my message: “Shoot, I would not stand up and even if I miss the most interesting moments, I would not ruin your hunt”. Yet I didn’t stop my camera and memorized the situation from that low point of view. Only one shot was possible. There was no time or visibility to this end. Boars got hidden. Sasho put bullets and said he clearly saw my squatting, that is why he shot. He praised my reaction that I acquired thanks to the brave shooting at partridges in Spain that I shot some years ago.
We were already dying from cold and the curiosity to understand what is lying several meters away from us didn’t leave us in peace. Some moments later we could hear a shot from the last ambush.
It was clear the fallen boar was there, because its body was blackish in the snow in front of us, but we didn’t know whether he shot the next one. We could barely wait for the end of the driven hunt to go and take a look of what has happened. Nice thing was there was snow everywhere and we could easily find its traces. We didn’t see blood at that place. Aleksander headed in one direction of the trace, and me – in the opposite, following the steps and looking for blood. I was lucky enough to follow the trace where we could see several small blood drops. I called Aleksander and he kept researching with me. In around 2-3 meters he saw more blood and something like tissue piece. He lifted it and it proved to be joint part. I joked that this could prove to be his only trophy from that boar and he put it in his job smilingly.
The trace continued further ahead and below and we left the following searches to Kanata and the drivers, as well as the dogs with them. We went to the first fallen boar and it proved to be a young piglet.
Kanata and George arrived soon, the latter was once again at the neighbouring ambush. He killed an offspring that he consequently noticed as wounded – it had a broken leg...
Me and Aleksander looked at each other and I reminded him laughingly of my joke about the bone-trophy in his pocket. In addition to that boar, George had taken down a large boar with his precise shot. It was a total euphoria because the people at the radio station kept announcing about other boars that had fallen during the driven hunt. They had to come back and it was past three. We started dragging our cold-frozen legs along the road above us, where the jeeps had stopped. Even that effort could not warm our frozen limbs.
Third driven hunt was not about to be performed. The weather was just for the marvellously warm hunting chalet with abundant and tasty hybrid between lunch and afternoon snack. When we arrived there it was already getting dark and we finished the successful hunting day off with the great food and red wine.
The next morning we boarded the jeeps that were once again one too few. The one in trouble was standing at the same place because the previous evening its saving operation proved unsuccessful. The idea was to go at the roundabout above the jeep and tie its front part with a rope and pull it so that it could achieve move stable position. If this was to be done from the lower side, we stood greater chance of tipping the jeep over. But… the rescue jeep in turn had sunken in snow piles and its gig was damaged.
Hence during the second hunting day we were first about to hunt and then undertake the rescue operation for the jeep.
The ambushes were about to be along one of the meandering forest roads in the Balkan and enclosing the driven hunt circle. Kanata started locating the hunters. I was to be with Aleksandar once again. The number of hunters gradually decreased, Vlado and George stayed at a perfect place, every ambush of theirs seemed quite suitable in view of shooting visibility. Especially Acho’s. It was more than perfect! We were walking up the road and didn’t know where to stand.
Aleksandar and Iliyan were the only ones left. Suddenly Kanata left the road and turned up the slope and we followed him in the forest. It was quite steep and we took frequent breaks. But these breaks didn’t take long, no matter how much we were puffing along the steep, because the others had already taken up their places and were waiting for us, the drivers were ready, and we kept creeping along the hill. We left Iliyan at his ambush and me and Aleksander continued climbing up. We had to almost reach the top to be able to “close” the driven hunt circle. We were finally there and despite the freezing temperatures I was all sweaty.
Unfortunately this driven hunt was not part of our lucky series and we couldn’t see much more than the numerous hinds appearing from all sides. I could fully understand why this summer in the reserve we had taken down deer with trophy of 630 grams!!! Just like Emo likes to joke, it seems hinds would eat their ears. The great cares, funding and mostly the efforts made at that place give results and the reserve is full of life. I have seen so many boars only behind fences and that was completely free territory which was almost inaccessible, with beautiful landscapes and great game number.
The first driven hunt was approaching its end. Kanata appeared and we collected our stuff. We started descending down the road and heard the first shots. It looked like a war. They were shooting from several places. It seemed to be a big pack that got in the driven hunt and the shooting scattered it into smaller groups that ran away in various directions. Iliyan who was below us also produced a single shot. He hit an offspring – the only boar he saw during the driven hunt.
The cannonade came to its end and we headed down once again. Acho and Emo with their neighbouring ambushes were the lucky ones during this driven hunt. Acho had placed the boars in small, tidy pile of four items. They were running in a row among the rocky slope in front of him and he took them down one over the other with rhythmic and precise shots, and they rolled at one and the same straight every time. So they fell at one and the same place – right in the small river below him.
At the lower ambush Emo finished the others off that didn’t head for the slope before Acho. The faces of both of them were glowing and they were retelling relentlessly the situation over and over again and were enjoy the greetings coming from all of us. We had at least 7 boars that had fallen during this driven hunt.
The second one was more remote and Kanata shared with me and Aleksander that time we were not going to walk that much. He started locating us at relatively even forest road, making semi-circle around the forest in our feet. We proved to be some of the last, actually – next to the last. Once again we abandoned the road convenience and descended some 50 meters down the slope in the forest. We made ourselves comfortable behind two closely located trees and started waiting. I had already placed all available polar, scarves, and hats and one could see only my eyes. Razor-sharp freezing wind was blowing and I could feel it only on my face. Once again we had not that good visibility because trees merged in thick wall of around 70-80 meters from us.
The driven hunt began. Aleksander lifted his gun and while leaning on a tree he was looking through the optics. I tried immediately to see what he was looking at and understood in some seconds – two hinds were running towards us that looked scared and tired, while breathing with open mouths. Both of us were armed with our optics and followed the two animals. The wind never stopped and kept whistling among the trees. It was not a pleasant afternoon. I was already dreaming of hot soup and bath.
After some 20-30 minutes in the distance among the trees I saw the sneaking black figures of boar group. They were walking in straight row between two posts, but mostly towards our neighbour. In a while I could hear a shot. That was followed by a second one. The reaction of the pack was immediate and they started running while briskly changing their direction – right in front of us. Aleksandar guided them with the gun and I tried telling the animal he was aiming at. In a while it proved almost impossible to follow them because he was making himself ever more comfortable and took my visibility away. I got slightly dislocated while trying not to lose the focus on pigs and at the same time not to make abrupt movement or step noisily onto the screaking snow and frighten them away. Nevertheless the pigs has already scattered down and we could barely see them. Aleksander shot. Then once again. I could not see anything anymore. He produced a third shot. Looked at me and said it proved to be very difficult shooting. Soon the driven hunt was over. Fortunately it was one of the short hunts because of the small driving location, and the day was approaching its end and there was not much daylight ahead of us. Down the forest we saw the drivers that were climbing towards us – undisputable evidence. We turned our heads on the left and from the direction of the neighbouring last ambush we could see Kanata and Nikola, the hunter next to us coming up. He had produced a shot and had hit one offspring, had returned the pack into the driven hunt in our direction. Me and Aleksander were standing next to a tree down the road from our ambush. It was covered with blood, and the snow below it was pressed and red. Kanata said the boar had been dragging. In a while we could see it 100 meters down, lying motionless. We could hardly get to there because the temperature was very low, snow had turned into ice and this part of the forest was so steep it would had been much easier for us to sit on a nylon and slide downwards. At least I was seriously considering the idea.
The pig proved to be a boar. It was not very big, but was a boar. Kanata and the drivers arranged it and propped it onto a tree and took pictures with the hunter to remember. We had long and steep climbing ahead of us. We almost got to half of our road and Kanata saw blood in the snow. The third shot proved to be lethal. At some 30 meters away and at the sides we could see huge elderly female. Aleksander could not have seen what is the boar amidst all these trees and regional descent. Fortunately the female could not bear life anymore. At all places in Bulgaria hunters are very careful not to shoot a female because they would be heavily fined for this.
Of the three shots Aleksander had two hits during this driven hunt. Kanata officially proclaimed him as this hunt’s “master” because for the two hunting days he took down 6 boars. We were slowly climbing up until reaching the promised road that took us to the cars. The others had climbed to their jeeps long ago and were driving for the chalet with the lunch. Nevertheless Kanata brought us along much shorter road to there and we arrived ten minutes earlier than the others. Boars were already arranged beneath a tree shelter. The others arrived soon, except for the people from the last driven hunt, because it would take at least 2 hours to pull them along the steep slope and this way we would have lost the light of the descending day. The hunters had gathered in front of the bodies of their catch. The photos could best tell what we experienced and what the hunters shot down. The result of these two hunting days was 21 boars in absolutely wild and free territory!
We took a bite and got warm, and soon after that Acho and Iliyan went to “save” the jeep in trouble. Fortunately they managed to do this very fast with the assistance of Emo’s High-Lift.
Acho was right. It is not just about luck. You need great hunting region full of game, you need the people that could drive along this very difficult terrain and in the end you need precise shooters to prize the efforts of the drivers. You are right, Acho – it is not just about luck, it is about science. I really enjoyed hunting at your place!
My greatest passion – filming – gets me to incredibly beautiful, wild and virgin places around the world. It meets me with unique people, puts the beginning of long-lasting friendships with some hunters and is the reason behind being successful outfitter. Since I am all the time with the hunters, I experience what they experience, I could feel every luck or misfortune together with them, we wade in the same mud or enjoy five-star luxury. What I like and what I have personally felt – this is what I offer my clients. Many times they are not just another happy client, but good friend with whom I go round the world. Together with my husband and colleague we have always film with great pleasure the numerous hunting adventures we show in our three very successful TV series being broadcasted in 59 countries around the world. This driven hunt in Bulgaria is part of our show “Boars & hunters”. I hope it will soon be broadcasted in France. Until then I will keep telling you with pleasure our hunting experience and will show you different places around the planet that I saw, film and got to love.