Hungary for More
A visit to Europe’s fallow deer Mecca to test the new Blaser riflescopes leaves a lasting impression on Dom Holtam
It’s almost dawn. Two sleek brown horses steam slightly in the half-light. I climb into the ancient carriage, nodding a greeting to my taciturn driver and felt-hatted hunting guide and we clip-clop off into the forest. Not your average start to a stalking trip.
We are in the forests of Eastern Hungary, close to Debrecen, 250km east of Budapest in the Güth hunting area. It is regarded by many as the finest fallow deer territory in Europe.
Part of the success of this area is a quirk of geography. The hunting reserve is around 40,000 unfenced acres and there is nothing to keep the animals here – but here they stay. There is a large amount of forestry and while there are villages on each corner of the reserve, there are only a few houses and only one road crossing it.
In other words, the deer have everything they need and very little pressure or disturbance. What they also have is a level of attention to detail in terms of management that ensures quality of the highest order – more of that later.
There is something restful about the rocking and rolling of the carriage although the level of equine flatulence has all of us sniggering like schoolboys. We are told that the scent of the horses doesn’t disturb the deer and we certainly see plenty of animals from the moment we enter the forest. It’s nice to think that this method of hunting has remained fundamentally unchanged for centuries.
Our host had shown us a selection of fallow trophies in the lodge the evening before – including no less than three world records shot right here on the territory. I assumed that such monster heads were the exception but it soon becomes clear that there are big lads everywhere. And while great to see, they are not on the menu and they are also plenty switched on. You don’t get big by being daft. We foot stalk a number of blocks and, although both my stalking partner and I get close to suitable animals, luck doesn’t quite run for us. But, as a taster, it’s a great start to the trip.
The main course is a traditional driven hunt. We are given a thorough briefing as always about what we can shoot (fallow does, female calves, some spikers and young wild boar) and, uniquely, we are allocated a guide to join us on our stand for the day.
This is deemed essential to ensure that the correct animals are shot. Unlike on some hunts, we are told we will definitely see animals... lots of animals… sometimes dozens of animals in a single group. And it is all too easy to make a mistake.
As I mentioned earlier, the management of the animals is taken very seriously. No male calves are shot at all, big strong females are left and so are strong spikers (with even antler growth higher than the ears). I have shot fallow for years, but could I, in a split second, pick out the right beast from a large group, running through heavy cover? I’m not so sure, and the guide is there to minimise the risk of a bad selection and to allow you to focus on making the shot.
My first stand is on the fringes of the drive. Right on the edge, in fact, as evidenced by 60 beaters turning up in an array of vehicles and noisily lining up within view. I am not hopeful for the first drive, to say the least.
However, within seconds of them starting out on the drive, a group of fallow blast past. My guide, Stefan, tells me to take the third animal and I am so surprised I swing through far too fast and miss in front. As I berate myself, another group pass. “Number four!” shouts Stefan and this time I am smoother, calmer and the animal drops on the spot.
Ten minutes later, a big wild boar keiler trots through the trees and stands on the edge of the roadway, 30 yards away, sniffing the breeze. Keilers are not, sadly, on the quarry list today but seeing one up close is always a pleasure. He suddenly seems to notice us, snorts contemptuously in our direction and saunters off.
We are collected by a 4x4 and moved to a second location while the drive pauses. This time we are in a ground blind at the crest of gently rising ground among mature forestry. On the far side of the blind, the ground falls away more steeply and a scrub-filled gully looks a likely route for any animals to sneak away.
I am barely loaded and fixated on the gully so I don’t initially notice the group of fallow that are ghosting in behind. I sink down behind the cover of the blind, kneeling and resting the gun on the wooden bar, while Stefan selects an animal on the left of the group that I take as it pauses between two trees.
Barely 10 minutes later, another gaggle make their way along a well-worn path through the trees. Somehow, Stefan can spot the pizzle and assess the nascent antlers at over 100 yards in heavy cover. “Number four.” OK, boss. The animals pause as they cross a clearing and I get my chance. The animal runs on but Stefan, watching through binoculars, tells me he sees it drop. “Kaput!”
We have another close encounter with a huge keiler just 20 yards away. He crests the rise and seems shocked to see us. Being on the ground with these huge hairy tanks gives a new perspective to their size and power. Somehow he seems to know we don’t pose a threat and he turns and heads back into the forest.
A sounder of boar cutting up from the gully is less fortunate, giving me the opportunity to pick out a suitable youngster to add to the bag. A moment later, a straggling single boar crashes up the steep slope right in front of us presenting just the top of its head. Finally, I see enough to take a shot adding my fifth animal of the morning to the tally.
We have seen so many animals: dozens of big fallow bucks and lots of boar. It has been a memorable morning but as we meet up for an alfresco lunch, it is clear that my experience is not out of the ordinary. Everybody has seen plenty of beasts, everybody has had a shot and most have taken more than one suitable cull animal. It is further testament to both the amount of game and the skill of the guides that success levels have been so high.
The third and final drive is in a high tower among scrubby thorn bushes with commanding views across the surrounding landscape. We disturb a big wild boar sow as we climb up the ladder and also a fallow doe and calf.
We see roe deer, fallow by the dozen (including a group of over 100 animals and a procession of monster medal bucks) and the biggest tusker of the day. I raise my rifle at the sound of the approaching animal but Stefan starts to panic when he sees it. He reckons it had 25cm tusks and would cost me €5,000 if I shot it. Maybe next time!
I get one more opportunity at a single boar in the thorn scrub that Stefan hears way out behind us. The first shot feels good but the boar runs on and I put in a second insurance shot. With the sun dipping, Stefan calls time and we climb down to retrieve the final carcass.
I have been privileged to participate in driven hunts in a number of European countries, including France, Germany and Poland, but I have never seen the volume or quality of game that we did here in Hungary.
That attention to detail in terms of the management is apparent time and time again. It is the only outfit, in my experience, other than West Highland Hunting in Scotland, that seems to put as much thought into the female side of the gene pool as the male and numerous does were rejected on the grounds that they were a ‘big mama’. The policy not to shoot any male calves makes perfect sense. After all, if there is no antler growth showing, can you really see its potential? As our host put it: “You might be shooting the next world record without even knowing it.”
The result of this is evident everywhere. Almost every mature buck makes you feel weak at the knees and there are massive medal heads everywhere we go. It’s stunning and I would LOVE to be here for the rut to see and hear these lads in full beast mode.
The view of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the company.
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