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Having some experience of stalking deer and lamping foxes and rabbits in England my thoughts turned to the possibility of a shooting holiday. My wife also enjoys shooting and has recently acquired her own deer rifle so we could consider a wide range of options.
Celtic myth and historic tales have given me the desire to stalk wild boar and exposure to American shooting magazines introduced me to the idea of sheep as a desirable quarry.
We researched the internet and media and, after considering several options, booked a trip to the Czech Republic with ‘Shooting Enterprise Ltd’. Eva (the general manager) was extremely helpful and offered us several choices. Claire’s 0.243 rifle was deemed inadequate for even mildly miffed piglet but perfect for mouflon and my 0.308 was fine for any game she could offer. In the end we booked for one wild boar and two mouflon. We had a choice of areas to shoot but in the end opted for the Lany Estate near Prague.
The Lany estate covers 3,000 hectares (about 7,500 acres) and is owned by the Czech President’s office. The President of the Czech Republic does not hunt himself but allows 180 hunting guests a year. Imagine an area that size that is free of ramblers, dog walkers, mountain bikers, competing land owners, poachers and cars. Now imagine it supporting well managed, well fed boar, deer and mouflon. This is what greeted us on holiday. Some people get funny about shooting on enclosed ground and want to hunt ‘in the wild’. Personally I am far happier taking game from a well managed well run estate than depleting natural stocks, particularly when the area hunted is so vast.
Flying with firearms was a first for us and went very smoothly. When arriving at the check in desk we told them that we were carrying ‘sporting firearms’ this was a good idea as sports equipment goes free with BA and it is a lot less intimidating than announcing that you have a gun.
On arrival in Prague the lovely Eva was waiting for us and drove us to a typical Czech restaurant for lunch, she then looked after our luggage while we toured the city. Later we were introduced to our guides and driven to the cabin in the woods that would be our home for the next few days. There we met Zlata who provided our food and lodgings. She was delighted when I said that I wanted to try typical Czech food. Cultural pride came to fore and she made it her mission to build me up with frequent large portions of Czech specialities cooked as only a grandmother can cook.
The first day of our hunt we arranged breakfast for 06.15 and came down stairs to be greeted by a spread of cold meats and cheese, two varieties of bread, a boiled egg, cereal, yogurt and two types of jam. I was just about to start on my egg when Zlata bustled in with two plates of scrambled egg and sausage garnished with tomato, cucumber, Chinese leaves, two mustards, ketchup and parsley. This set the tone for the whole stay. Our guides arrived at 07.00 and we were taken off to hunt mouflon. Stepan was Claire’s guide and they both spoke a little German, Lubos was my guide and he spoke ‘baby English’.
We went to the estate and started to stalk, the forest echoed with the bellows of fallow deer and the unearthly whistles of Sika. Presently a magnificent mouflon ram came ‘jiggling’ out of the trees, Lubos dropped to a crouch and I sat so that I could brace my elbows on my knees for a steady shot. Lubos was clearly amazed at our luck as ‘mouflon can be a problem’ they have exceptional eyesight and are habitually very wary. Lubos whistled to stop the ram, it ignored him, he shouted and it gathered speed towards cover, finally he made a ‘baah’ sound and it stopped to look at him in disbelief. I shot it just behind the shoulder. Lubos was delighted and arranged the ram with great dignity; a fresh sprig was put in the mouth (the ‘last bite’) a second sprig was dipped in the blood and presented to me to put in my hat, a third sprig was placed on the bullet hole then fresh branches were arranged around the ram. We shook hands solemnly and exchanged a small bow and ritual greeting.
The mid day meal is traditionally the main meal in the Czech Republic and lunch was therefore a huge affair. Claire had yet to see a mouflon. Boar were pronounced unstalkable due to some super abundance of natural feed keeping them in the deep forest, I was unsure of the exact explanation but settled on ‘the wrong sort of acorns’. I was therefore offered the option to hunt for deer. Having never hunted red deer I decided to go after a minor trophy stag.
The afternoon was warm and sunny and Lubos is very fit. We manfully ignored paths and forged directly up and down the steepest slopes he could find; eventually we crawled over the top of a ridge to be presented with the view of a flat plateau populated by both red and fallow deer. We hid in the trees while Lubos ‘glassed the herd’ and I tried to slow my heart and control my breathing. It is tempting to think that deer on an estate will be tame or domesticated. This is not the case, they are plentiful and you can see many impressive creatures but they are still wild, flighty and difficult to approach.
Three stalks later, after several kilometres of perpendicular forest, we were hiding behind a small barn like structure considering our options. Lubos had identified a suitable stag and was trying to communicate which one in mime; ‘baby dama (young fallow) links (left) three ‘hands palms together by side of head’ (sleeping? What does a sleeping deer look like? Does he mean lying down?) the ‘baby dama’ started to gambol around a herd of about 50 deer, Lubos made a ‘walking fingers’ and ‘looping hand’ movement (my deer had gone over the brow of the hill?) I give up.
Later we climbed into the hay loft of the barn. This time we started counting from a salt lick. ‘Right, one, nix, two nix, three gut, three gut’. I steadied the rifle on a hay bale and took my shot at a big looking stag. Lubos was pleased; I must have hit the right one. The stag had fallen within a few steps and was dead on arrival. Lubos and I shook hands; he congratulated me on a ‘perfect 200 meter shot’ I thanked him for being such a patient guide.
I had never been close to a forest stag before but it was immense, by Lany standards the 12 point head was modest but the body was as big as a horse. The two of us could not pick it up and had to get the pick up truck and lifting gear to move it. It was getting dark so ceremony and photos were postponed to the next day.
Over dinner it became clear that Claire had not shot a mouflon because she and Stepan could not make their minds up between two tempting rams. Were they deciding which was the biggest or were they deciding if either were bigger than mine? Time would tell.
The next day I was left in a high seat on my own with instructions to shoot ‘any boar I saw as long as it was not a sow with squeakers’, Claire and Stepan continued their mouflon quest. I saw more fine fallow and mouflon paraded in front of me but no boar showed. Mid morning I was collected for photos and driven to meet a very happy looking wife. Not only had she got a mouflon but it was undeniably bigger than mine! 194.60 CIC points against 186,80 CIC for those who count such things. For me the smile on her face was far more important.
Again the game was treated with great dignity and ceremony, photos were taken and courtesies exchanged. I saw Lubos telling Eva the story of our hunt. Eva translated that Lubos said that I was good at crawling. I prefer to translate this as ‘good at stalking’. Lunch followed and Claire and I were left in a high seat on the off chance of a lost boar in the afternoon. Now that the shooting pressure was off we were really able to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings and the wild life around us. I saw my first red squirrel and Claire saw an osprey, both are common in Czech Republic.
We still saw no boar.
The next day we had a lie in and then spent the day in Prague, the day after we flew home. The ever helpful Eva helped us through the airport and even persuaded the airline to ship one of the mouflon trophies for free. On reaching Heathrow reality returned. The M25 never looked less appealing and the road home was clogged with second home owners fleeing London. The memories of the roaring stags are still fresh and already I want to return to the golden forests of Lany.