The adrenalin surged with the increasing intensity of the barking. The dogs were coming closer, quickly. Then a wildboar raced out of the forest of oaks.
For the next second or two I tracked the pig’s movement with the Aimpoint sight’s red dot but I was only given glimpses of the animal. In my peripheral vision I could see a clear shooting lane to the left, and I knew the animal would be exposed in it. I was prepared for the running shot.
But the pig stopped in that lane and looked around. Too easy! I drew a bead on its shoulder and dropped it on the spot.
I couldn’t help whooping with delight. I’d broken my jinx. Twice before I’ve gone all the way to Europe for driven hunts with the promise of wildboar without even seeing one of the bloody things. Now on my third trip I’d not only seen one, I’d shot it.
And by the sound of the dogs, there was another coming. I flicked the rifle’s bolt open and shut, changed my footing and waited. In a second a smaller pig burst from the dark tangle of the forest, three dogs on its heels. I waited only long enough to ensure the dogs wouldn’t close the gap on the young boar, then swung the rifle until the red dot caught up with its shoulder, touched the trigger and sent a second hog to heaven. Two from two!
I was in Bulgaria’s Byalka Hunting Preserve, where Communist leaders had hunted. It had been renovated and no doubt improved since those times but it retains the feel of a former Soviet resort — sort of rundown and old, but functional. Bulgaria is a poor member of the EU, struggling with high prices and dire wages, but it’s friendly and beautiful. Especially in early winter with a light coating of snow.
As driven hunts go, Byalka’s weren’t run as efficiently as most Western European ones, but the setting was somehow wilder, which I preferred, and there was heaps of game. Byalka has its fenced boundaries but six of our seven drives were conducted outside the fences, in open forests. Thousands of wildboar left tracks and rootings everywhere. The red, fallow and roe deer weren’t on the menu for my hunt, but I saw some incredible fallow bucks inside the fences that a trophy hunter would drool over. I had dainty roe hinds come within five metres of me as I stood still and quiet in the forests, waiting for pigs. There are foxes and jackals, too.
Bulgarian wildboar are big buggers. I thought my first kill was a decent sized boar, but it turned out to be just an average sow. One of the other guys shot a 180kg monster. A 140kg boar burst out of the forest near me on one occasion but — just my luck — I couldn’t shoot because the angle was dangerously close to the next hunter in the line. The beast was gone within moments, crashing through the timber and snow at a frightening pace.
They’re nasty bastards, too. One hunter wounded a big boar that fled towards another hunter. It saw her standing exposed in the forest, and charged. She side-stepped just in time, feeling the angry boar brush against her leg as it passed.
On the second day a swarm of smaller boars rumbled past the feet of the hunter to my right, heading directly for me. I couldn’t shoot with him in the background, and the boars veered left and right around me.
That day wasn’t my best. I blame the complete lack of sleep the night before, as jetlag bit deep, but that didn’t stop me feeling completely useless when I finished the day with no kills from eight shots. The Europeans toasted me for it that evening, filling an extra-large glass of vodka especially for me, and as I raised it I could only reply, “Here’s to making lots of noise!”
I redeemed myself next day when a sow led two piglets and a young boar away from the distant dogs. Here, you are not allowed to shoot sows with piglets, so against all my Aussie instincts I let her pass. The little boar, though … no way was he getting away.
I took a breath and shed the stress, recalling all the practice I’d put in at home with a .22 topped with my own Aimpoint Micro. I remembered the technique that Aimpoint’s instructors recommend for running targets: come from behind, let the red dot catch up with the target until it’s on the shoulder, then touch off the shot.
In mid-leap, the boar was tossed on its side by the impact of the 180gr .308 bullet.
It was my only shot on that final day. The idea of flying halfway around the world to spend three days hunting and score three kills seems ridiculous, even to me when I think about it. But driven hunts are addictive — an extremely exciting and challenging form of shooting where things happen suddenly. They push your shooting skills to the limit.
We don’t do them in Australia and that’s a pity.