In an attempt to catch up with everything, I will have to come back later for a proper blog post about shooting wild boar in Croatia. Over the course of three days of driven boar shooting, I managed to knock over three boar; a young sow, a very big sow and a great big boar. Regular readers of this blog will also be proud to hear that the Croatian fox population is also lighter by one, owing to a dramatic 170gr lead transfusion from a 7mm rem mag. Croatian foxes are slightly paler than our own, and the one I shot was a soft, honey colour.
The nature of boar shooting is such that nothing is guaranteed, and everyone that was shooting with me had a totally different experience of the sport. Some people saw dozens of pigs, while some saw hardly any. There were a few people who didn’t shoot a single pig and some lucky ones like me shot a few. There’s no telling what is going to happen when teams of Croatian beaters begin to rake through the undergrowth in a two hundred acre block of mixed oak and beech woodland. In total, I saw four boar that I could have shot, and had a hair-raising glimpse of more than a dozen black pigs streaming across a narrow ride in tight formation at a range of perhaps three hundred yards. If I close my eyes just now, I can still see it as though it were a photograph.
The whole ethos of the sport is so engaging, and it suits my impatient temperament to see rifles used like shotguns. My main reservation about deer stalking in Britain is that it is all about stealth, precision and focus. I’m not known for any of these three characteristics, and so it’s fascinating to be able to use a rifle at very close range on a moving target where holding your nerve and trying to resist the sheer excitement of the moment are the main priorities. I had imagined that there would be awful safety implications about firing a heavy rifle at moving targets, but when it came to the crunch, it really wasn’t much of a problem. Areas for safe shooting are pointed out perfectly clearly, and all of the other guns I was shooting with knew their business and never provided even the slightest cause for concern. I was actually pretty lucky when it came to the other guns – it could have ruined the whole trip if I had been set up with a dodgy bunch, but as it turned out, they were a decent crowd of people from across the South of England. We were all there for the sport, but it certainly doesn’t do any harm to meet new people with similar interests and a similar sense of humour.
There is a certain amount of hanging around which is inherent to all forms of driven shooting, but with wild boar, even the slightest chance that you might see a pig is enough to screw your nerves into a state of buzzing anxiety. There’s a thrilling relentlessness to it which means that you are never bored, even on a drive when you don’t see a thing. As the dogs begin to bark and the shouting of the beaters echoes through the naked trees, there is nothing on your mind apart from the obvious question – if a boar comes out of these trees, will I be able to stop him?
And it’s not even as simple as that. What is that rustling you can hear through the fallen leaves? Is it a party of roe deer or a single little piglet which has been separated from the main group? It could be an eighteen point red deer stag or a single boar so huge that when he appears, the only thing you can do is drop your bottom jaw onto your chest. But equally, it could be a red squirrel or a little grey mouse. And if the tension wasn’t enough, there is a constant display of fantastic birdlife which is more than enough to distract you from staring nervously into the thick trees and wondering what’s about to come bursting into the open. I saw black woodpeckers, goshawks, long tailed tits (with white heads?), dozens of spotted woodpeckers, a short eared owl and an eagle owl which was as big as a labrador retriever.
There’s still lots to think about before I can mentally process the whole experience properly, but even a week later, I’m quite convinced that I’ve never seen such exciting sport. It’s like game shooting grew up and became boar shooting.