My great Ukrainian deer hunting in Bulgaria
Text and photographs: Sani Doncheva
At first sight this was an ordinary hunting in Bulgaria that ended with extraordinary success for our guests from Ukraine. For many years my homeland has been the focal point of many hunters from all over the world and it didn’t surprise me when my Russian partner called me and asked me to arrange a hunting session for a group of Ukrainians. But it had to be something special. Hunting organized on the occasion of birthday of prominent Ukrainian billionaire in a group of 7 hunters with whom to hunt deer and wild boars. Me, in the capacity of hunting organizer and video operator of the event had to plan and perform all these in the few hunting days during which hunters wanted to shoot the largest available fallow deer and red deer. In addition to the solemn event, the programme of several days’ duration ought to include boar driven hunts in the forest that was still green. Every hunter knows that the assigned task was almost impossible to perform within the planned time and the only solution was to undertake long and in-depth observation of hunting regions in advance.
Thanks to the efforts made by the chief of the hunting reserve and my favourite hunting guide Drago, we managed to turn this hunting into reality. There were hindrances all the time but Lady Luck backed us and my stubbornness and perseverance achieved very good hunting organization and unforgettable hunt experience.
It is no secret that the hunters from Ukraine had watched at the hunting TV channel “Hunting and fishing” many episodes of our co-production with Archie Nesbitt of the already globally renowned TV broadcasting “The perfect shot” /it is broadcasted in 59 countries around the world/. They arrived with great expectations and we had to prove our reputation was right, irrespective of the efforts it took us. They wanted me to get them hunting at particular place they watched in the TV broadcasts.
Even before the group arrival almost every day I talked for hours with the people from the reserve on the phone. We were discussing unimaginable alcohol quantities, special Italian wines, included in the long list of our guest’s personal sommelier, as well as DJs for every evening, endless corrections performed in the guest menus and the mandatory requirement for those 14-15 people to have two 17-seat vans and drivers throughout their stay. Royal majesty was supposed to dazzle the eyes of our birthday guy.
The long awaited and planned day arrived. I was “flying” fervently together with Vlado and Bogi in the car – the other two operators for the airport where the private jet had to land with our hunters. On our way I finished with the organization of the prepayment as well as with sending the documents for the group with which we were supposed to hunt boars in Turkey – ten days later on.
We arrived in time at the small airport. We discussed the last details with his boss and started waiting for the arrival of our guests. They were running late and this worried us because we had some 2-3 individual hunters that were supposed to get out hunting the same day. To my greatest surprise and to the surprise of the interpreter the airport management invited us at the runway to meet our group. Young men and women went out of the airplane, with smile on their face and almost all of them were English speakers. I was very glad because Russian is not my strong point and this way I could communicate with them freely.
Ukrainians’ visas, guns and luggage were checked and we headed for the hunting house. The traditional welcoming ritual with tasty handmade round bread and salt and honey in front of its gate made our guests really happy. In half an hour we had to meet at the same place the three hunters to go hunting.
We were about to hunt fallow deer and red deer, depending on the case. It was my favourite type of hunting – on the move, while stalking. I headed with Volodya, and Vlado was with Igor that was speaking only Russian and I wouldn’t have been of great help.
Volodya was in high spirits and while puffing his cigar inside the car he was soaking in the natural beauty that surrounded us. In about 40 minutes of jumping along the unpaved road we left the jeep and started walking. The first animal we noticed in the forest was young mouflon that was fast to escape scared by the throaty barking produced by fallow deer. We could hear the animals at some one hundred meters within the forest, but the light wind was unfavourable and our guide made the decision to detour in order to remain unnoticed while sneaking towards them. During our short march we felt weather whims during that season. The nimbus clouds were fast to gather into a grey, thick mass that started producing large raindrops. That year fallow deer started showing their presence earlier on and this coincided with the end of deer roar. This was a fact we could not foresee but it tilted the scales for our hunting success to great degree.
We could see for a while the silhouette of red deer that was going away amidst the trees. We could not reach it, but found on the bottom of a gorge a herd of fallow deer. Several females, one youth and a 4-5-year-old male mad with passion that was making the forest resound with his throaty callings. Our position was good and wind was not to give us out, hence we stayed for several minutes to observe the animals and to take a picture of them. There was no suitable fallow deer for the hunter in that group and we headed once again along the steps of our guide.
We headed up the ridge. There was a meadow overgrown with fern where hunting guides have seen on many occasions great trophy deer. We got lucky and found one at the place we hoped to find it, but in the presence of many females. The bad thing was the hinds around obviously felt the foreign presence. Slowly and with unmatched dignity, the deer proceeded to drifting away amidst the fern. We stood on our places, me while continuing to shoot the noble animal, and the guide – to take a look at it. The deer had marvellous symmetric spikes, but it was young and perspective. It was hesitant whether to run away but the fact that it had not seen us obviously calmed it down and it kept observing in our direction rather curiously than timidly. To our greatest unhappiness this was not the trophy we were looking for and we stood still in our shelter. After short moments of hesitation the animal decided to withdrew. I managed to take several incredible photos of the beautiful deer, as well as great video frames.
Our guide headed us with rapid movement. We were walking along the forest pathway and were trying not to make too much noise, despite the dry leafs that had fallen off in our feet. It was already getting dark and I thought that whatever happened from then on probably I would not be able to shoot it. Sheltered meadow showed up in front of us. The guide and the hunter “walked” it with their binoculars while I was replacing the cam battery. We were stepping slightly ahead and on the left we barely noticed the movement of fallow deer horns sticking above the high dry grass. He didn’t notice us but it took him several steps to hide in the bushes at the front. We followed him but with significant detours since our guide whispered that he would probably go to another meadow nearby. It was almost dusk and the animal was having his dinner. We started moving faster because darkness was spreading and in several minutes we reached that meadow. The fallow deer was grazing. After reviewing the trophy in detail the guide signalled Volodya and he lifted his gun. This was followed by a shot and the typical sound produced by hit flesh. The animal was lying right there. We were very happy because of Lady Luck backing us. Volodya had served several years in the army and you could tell that because of his fit figure and precise backsight. We got back to the hunting house where Vlado had returned with the other hunter. They weren’t that lucky and didn’t get a trophy. Igor was quite impressed by the numerous animals he saw and ne and Vlado were energetically chatting in Russian while discussing the next hunting day.
In the morning we headed before dawn. I was once again with Volodya and Vlado was with Igor. We walked a lot, the weather was marvellous with the typical morning mists that wrapped up the forest with the humidity. This makes the surrounding colours so saturated that it was hard for me to follow the guide and the hunter without fiddling around with my endless shooting. We saw a deer that sensed us and was observing us carefully behind the loose bushes between us. He was small and we let him drift away without getting scared. The march we performed that morning was significant and those continuous weather changes in recent days were having great impact on deer behaviour and roaring. These could not be heard.
We got back to the hunting house with empty hands. Later on Igor and Vlado arrived by the jeep with handsome deer loaded in it. They had also marched great section of the mountain, and at one field overgrown with fern right at the borderline with the forest they had a deer with group of hinds facing them. We waited for a while for the females to drift away, and Igor, Vlado and they guide got lucky for not getting sensed. They climbed the nearby hunting hide for getting greater visibility. The trophy was exactly what they were looking for. It didn’t take long for the deer to approach and Igor to shoot.
So we had a fallow deer and red deer.
The third hunter appeared half an hour later. He had something to boast with – handsome with marvellous antlers. He was very happy because he got his birthday present. After breakfast the group went on excursion to the nearby archaeological site – Tsarevets stronghold in Veliko Tarnovo. The lunch was planned in a small restaurant in Arbanasi. Vlado stayed with Volodya for his afternoon deer hunt and me and the interpreter joined the birthday guy and his friends that were not hunting.
When we got back from the excursion everyone found his favourite relaxation activity – quite challenging billiard game, others devoted their time to fishing and some went horse-riding for the first time. Naturally that event gained the greatest audience.
Vlado and Volodya were already travelling inside the forest in their search of red deer. That time they headed straight for the hunting hide, near the game feeding racks located at a large meadow. From that place they could get ideal view from the slope peak right to the first trees of the forest and that was the reason for the guide to direct them towards that place.
While they were standing in the hunting hide and reviewing the nearby meadows for deer, they could hear the continuous throaty roaring of fallow deer. Roaring got interrupted solely by the hits produced by the fighting males. They could not see them because fallow deer were hidden inside the forest.
While they were observing silently from the hunting hide, a deer appeared in the upper part of the meadow. He was quite distant and even the twenty-fold camera zoom was not sufficient to review his antlers in good manner. He looked like 6-7-year-old young and perspective deer with well-shaped broad antlers.
It got scared by the fallow deer that were fighting noisily and disappeared within the fern. Something moved inside the forest and in several seconds they saw large and handsome deer in the prime of his life appearing behind the trees. They had come for one of that kind. The first shot passed at couple of millimetres from deer shoulder but the second one got him on the spot.
The next day on the meadow in front of the hunting house they had already arranged the animals shot so far. We were about to take the trophy photographs to keep in time hunters’ adventure and Lady Luck.
This was the last hunting day of our driven hunt. The forest was still green and we were not happy about that because our chances of great success were almost null. Nevertheless our Ukrainians kept insisting. We were about to have two driven hunts and late lunch in the hunting house and in the evening – great celebration for the birthday party. The hunters were impatient to go hunting so they had gathered at the arranged time and were waiting to get going. They soon boarded the buses. The transportation by the luxurious Mercedes was about to save them 20 kilometres of travelling by the Steyr ATVs with solid undercarriage. The traditional morning mist had been scattered by the rising sunrays. Our half-an-hour march was enough for the autumn sun to fully erase the moist morning evaporations.
While approaching the hunting territory and in particular the unpaved mountain pathways we had to move to the ATV military machines in order to keep travelling by them. The uneven road got us directly to the meeting location where the team of drivers and their dogs was already expecting us. The hunting session was started with the ordinary and mandatory words on safety and the reminder that the session is about to be hard with that leaf abundance on trees.
The territory that could be traditionally walked by 15 – 20 drivers was spacious and it required at least 10-12 hunters. Unfortunately ours were just seven and the distance between posts was about to be great. The only chance of good performance in the case we stood if shooting at the passing packs. The noise and bullets would make boars foreseeable and more vulnerable in the forest that was still green.
Soon the last hunter took his post and we could start the driven hunt. The first boar groups were already chased and it was a matter of chance to get them near some gun. One boar literally flew through the road in hundredths of the second, and even my digital cam that switches on without delay could not react that fast and the boar went away without bullet and even without a photograph to remember. But soon the sound of the approaching dog barking told us we stood a second chance of meeting the boars. This boar tried to sneak unscathed in the same runaway path but the precise second shot produced by Volodya proved to be fatal.
In a while Bulgarian tricolour beagle appeared and it was running along the trace of the boar that passed by. It found it, smelled it and went away. Great!
Meanwhile the drivers had reached the first ambushes and kept moving through the forest in their search for boars. The misleading calmness inside the forest was soon to disappear while making way to the noisy chase between dogs and boars. Minutes were running away but nothing showed us boars were found. It seemed that these animals with sharp intellect had found the gaps between the posts and sneaked from the danger zone successfully under the nose of hunters and drivers. We could not do anything else but relocate for the next driven hunt and hope we will get luckier.
Three hours after hunt beginning the first driven hunt was over without any particular results. The thick leaf-covered thorny bushes were unsurmountable obstacle for hunters. And the temperatures that were rising rapidly were about to prove even more fatal to hunting. Dogs are persistent and fearless but they could not combat overheating. During the second driven hunt we were to rely mainly on the drivers.
At the first ambush Vova got lucky and met and took down one 120-kilogram boar. We took several pictures in a rush of the precise hunter with his trophy animal. Usually in the end of the first driven hunt there was a dozen of fallen animals but today it was the first driven hunt for the season and it was understandable to have poorer success with that greenery inside the forest.
The sound of the signalling horn signalled everyone to head for their places.
The last ambush was on top of the hill on the other side of the gully. The locations selected for the ambushes of this driven hunt were great and if the hunter with me managed to shoot at least once, he was about to chase the packs towards the other hunters.
Here on top of the hill it seemed we had better visibility towards the surrounding slopes. We were ready for the driven hunt. Sanya, the hunter with me cut the lower leafs of the young tree, put his pink shooting glasses and started waiting. The boars were moving around while being chased by the dogs. Unfortunately the speed they were moving with inside the forest didn’t provide the last post next to us with the opportunity to shoot at them.
At the other one there was movement in the forest and we could hear a standstill dog barking. Even though it was imprecise, the shot at the pack flying through the road was essential. This is what we call master’s shot. I already thought the boar would get away, but the hunter considered the movement direction and found the gap he needed for that shot. The boar was very big and I hoped we could find it nearby.
Dogs soon found it, it had fallen on the spot.
After we gathered the information from all posts it proved that during the second driven hunt we had a total of another two small and two large boars. In view of that day, for two driven hunts with a total duration of 5 hours the result we achieved was modest – only 5 boars. We didn’t have the time to wait for the drivers to collect all boars for the trophy picture, because the other 10 persons of our group that were waiting for us in the hunting house to celebrate the birthday were already calling on the phones and impatiently asking us to come back so that we could proceed to feasting. We took pictures with whatever they brought along and headed back to the hunting house.
There we could see chef’s specialty slowly rotating above the ashes – barbecue pork. The even roasting was ensured by wooden, mechanical water wheel connected to the huge spike where boar was roasting. The water spray ensured even meat roasting and everybody was busy with weighting the already steamed trophies. After that they fetched the other large boar that fell during the driven hunts. It got dark while they brought it from the gully and arrive to the hunting house. Volodya was very happy.
Celebrating went as expected – in marvellous fashion and the next day I was driving again towards the airport in Gorna Oryahovitsa to send our guests off. They were happy and smiling – this was my prize for the efforts I made and the donkey-like stubbornness to turn this short but impressive hunt into success.
I was happy because everything ended so well: a fallow deer with 4,3 kilogram beautiful trophy antlers; three deer with golden medals weighing 13, 10.6 and 10 correspondingly; the Ukrainian hunters took down three large boars whose tusks ranged between 15 and 22 centimetres.
Some months later the birthday guy received the movie we shot. At present it is part of our newest TV show “Safari Season“. We keep touring the world, organizing incredible hunting adventures at magnificent destinations. I will tell you about them in the next edition of our favourite magazine...
Everyone that would like to become part of our hunting adventures is more than welcome. Be sure that me and my Safari Season team would provide you with the best and marvellously organized hunting adventure!