The trip to Poland finally came to fruition. Much planning and re-planning, e-mail writing and pawing over German dictionaries eventually paid off.
CC (Cousin Claire ) and I arrived at Heathrow with all docs in order and rifles packed in solid boxes as per instructions. It never ceases to amaze me that amateurs like us seem to know more than the professionals at the airport. Despite calling the airline two days before, nobody seemed to know what to do with us. After a longish wait of forty minutes our rifles were finally checked in. The flight was ok, and passed quickly. We arrived in Warsaw, at about 14.00 local time. The transfer of firearms was just so slick in Warsaw, we were out loading our transport within twenty minutes of landing. The drive over to the village of Gruski near the Belarus border was a real chew and lasted four hours.
Upon arrival we met our guides Bogdan and Andrezej. We knew both from previous trips, so there was a warm welcome. Vodka was consumed.
After a light supper we were straight out. The trip had been planned to coincide with the full moon. Being January we also expected a good covering of snow, which would help aid visibility when hunting at night without lamps of any kind. (These are forbidden in Poland).
What we found to our dismay was rain and warm muggy weather.
On my first night out we saw many pigs, but due to the poor light and lack of snow I never took a shot. CC on the other hand had an Illuminated reticule and shot her first pig. We celebrated on her return to the lodge. More vodka was consumed.
After a good nights sleep, we enjoyed a good breakfast. Having had a very early start and a very late night the day before, we spent the morning chilling out (sleeping). We ate a light lunch and were back out in the forest by about half past two.
By now we had about four inches of snow on the ground, but it was still snowing, so no good moonlight. We visited several clearings in the forest and at one, which was almost at the bottom of my guide’s garden we had boar. I picked out the smallest boar with Andy’s help. The sticks were deployed and I squeezed off the shot. Blinded by muzzle flash I did not see the five pigs exit left into the forest. As I regained some of my vision we walked forward, and Andy immediately went to where he had seen the pigs leave the clearing. Nothing was found. I could see in the snow a deep furrow where the bullet strike had been and started to search slowly one pace at a time back towards the firing point. Andy rejoined me and about ten paces back from the bullet strike we found one tiny spot of blood. Hardly a pinhead on the snow, but it meant I had hit the boar somewhere. We now worked very slowly in the direction the pigs had run. About ten feet away we found another tiny spot of blood. At this point Andy said he thought this indicated a graze, perhaps a front leg. He was sure the pig was well away and most likely would not suffer and long term damage. I continued to walk painfully slowly in the direction of some very thick woodland and, yes, another spot. This slow search took us eventually into thicker and thicker cover, until we came to a flooded area where the trail stopped. I skirted around and managed to pick up the trail again on the other side. About ten paces further on miracle of miracles we found a small spray of blood. Andy was now far more enthusiastic but this was short lived as the next sign was again just a droplet. We continued through the forest and came to a track, which had been used by woodsmen that day. This made it all the more difficult to follow our trail of tiny specks of red. We walked about twenty yards up the track staying at it’s side before seeing our trail cross it and again disappear into a flooded forest floor about eighteen inches deep in water. We drove three sticks into the ground as a reference and again walked around the deepest part of the mire to search again. Again, we found more small spots and the very occasional spray. By now we were well over one hundred yards from where we had started, and things were not looking good. It was very dark and we were working with normal LED torches. Andy suggested we wait till morning. I didn’t like this idea due to the mount of snow that was now falling. I was sure by daybreak all trace would have been lost. I continued on, step by step drop by drop. My heart sinking with every step, knowing now, this animal had more than a scratch, and was probably dying somewhere deep in the forest. Not only would waiting till morning make tracking more difficult, but if we did find my boar the chances are it would have been eaten by wolves which abound in the Bialowieza Forest.
Not a good first shot.
By now it was more than just the hunters that were fading. My torch was starting to fade too. We were just at the point of saying enough is enough when we saw , or perhaps more accurately sensed movement in the gloom ahead of us. Andy moved quickly forward and was upon the boar in seconds. He stepped back and instructed me to shoot it again, which I did. The animal was no more than twenty feet away from us but until it moved neither of us had seen it in the darkness. The normal Waidsmansheil was not done on this occasion, I think we were both just relieved to have found our beast and delivered the coup de grace. Besides which there was a distinct lack of green pine sprigs in this swamp. I was told to wait in the forest while Andy went for a vehicle. I decided to start the drag out on my own, which although appreciated by Andy was a lot of effort. The body of the pig caught on every tree root and trunk. I was also trying to pick a route, which avoided dragging the animal through water. Funny how stuff you learn in a classroom on a DSC1 course sticks with you. That water didn’t look or smell like it was going to add anything to the flavour of the meat, so best to keep it out of the wound as much as possible. My sub 29kg frischling turned out to be a 45kg pig when cleaned. My shot had been low and back, smashing through the liver. The pigs carry so much fat that it had effectively plugged the holes stopping all but a few drops of blood escaping. Only when opened up was the extent of the internal blood loss apparent. Most of the chest cavity seemed full of it yet we only found the smallest drops during the track.
The choice of animal was something of a mistake, which my guide apologised for, even offering to help pay my excess. I declined as it was me pulling the trigger not he. Besides by the time this was discussed we were celebrating our find over a glass of vodka as you might have already guessed.
Claire had a far more successful evening shooting two more small pigs. Her account will be put up soon as it’s typed up.
We returned to the lodge and opened a nice malt and a bottle of Amaretto. I supped the malt, and Claire the Italian sweet liqueur.
Having talked over our respective evenings and generally put the world right we hit the sack at 03.30.
We had a slow start next morning, and due to something I may have consumed I felt just a bit jaded. Must have been supper.
Andy arrived as previously agreed at ten, and we set off to meet some of the forestry workers. I’m not sure how workers in Poland differ from our own foresters, but I was rather surprised to find them standing having a smoke around a perfect boy scouts fire. No sooner had we “the tourists” arrived than bottles of home distilled vodka emerged. Andy got out some good Polish sausage and lunch was served on sharpened sticks, cooked over the flames. Nothing ever tasted better. The home brew vodka was a different story. At eighty percent alcohol by volume it would have presented a huge fire risk, which was all that kept me from spitting it out near the flames. The Polish workers seemed amused that we didn’t want very much, and consumed the rest of the bottle alone. (There were three of them). Claire and I were both given a half bottle of this fearsome liquid as a gift. Presumably in case we ever had a nasty stain we wanted to remove, or an engine that refused to start. Either way mine is sitting on the drinks shelf now. I'm hoping glass can't be dissolved by the stuff.
We left to a chorus of chainsaws being re-started after lunch, and were frankly pleased to do so. An exhaled breath into the air intake and a swift pull on the rope, never fails. They clearly don’t do health and safety in Polish forests.
Please note in the following photos that whenever CC is around the sausages of the hunters and woodsmen take on a life all of their own. Some turn up others droop, who knows why?
Before returning to the lodge for our second lunch of the day, I wanted to check the zero of the Sauer. Andy took us to a clearing and hung a feed sack in a tree with a black circle sprayed onto it. Not the best of targets, but it served my needs at that time. Three shots fired and all fell within the circle at about eighty yards. I don’t shoot a lot off sticks so I was fairly happy with this. Just a couple of points:
First the bottle of vodka in my hand was un-opened and my pose was just for fun.
Second, there is a high bank behind the target, which is slightly visible to the right of the picture but not so obvious behind the target. Trust me it was safe, I checked it myself.
Managed to NOT eat all of our lunch and put the cold meats and cheeses back in the fridge for supper. Keeping us fed up to the brim seemed to be the sole aim of our hostess. I just can’t eat like I used to, must be my age.
Andy and Bogdan returned to collect us after lunch and we set off . On about the third clearing we had a nice sounder of boar. Some adults, both male and female, and a good number of youngsters. We stalked in slowly with the wind gently blowing into our faces. Everything was just perfect. The sticks were deployed, and I steadied myself for the shot. I had a nice young boar in the scope good light and the safety was off. I pushed the trigger blade forward to set, and waited for a second overlapping boar to move clear. Finaly I had the chance to make a nice clean shot in good light, then,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Bitte warten. (please,,,,,, wait) was whispered in my ear. I froze wondering what was wrong. Seconds passed then the whole sounder spooked and ran. I asked Andy what the problem was? He had heard something moving in the trees to our right perhaps thirty yards away. He had hoped it was another sounder moving in to feed, it turned out not to be. We never got to see what it was but it certainly gave the pigs cause to panic and run. I can only guess it was wolves, but the forest was too dense to see.
The light was now fading fast and we decided to return to the lodge for our left over lunch.
Back out later the same evening I was hopeful of a bit of moonlight to help my shooting. There were times when the moon did show through, but only briefly was the land lit in that cool blue light that the moon gives off. Unfortunately when to moon did show, the pigs didn’t. We covered a large area in both the car and on foot, but saw nothing. The evening wore on with not a sniff of a boar. Eventually at about midnight it was agreed that we would draw stumps after the next clearing. We arrived and went through the familiar ritual. I would load the rifle and Andy would start the stalk through the forest. Pointing out any fresh or unusual tracks along the way. As we drew nearer to the clearings where the pigs were finding food everything slowed down a notch. We were peering into the night hoping to spot a dark shape or hear a grunt or squeal. Nothing stirred. Rather grumpily Andrew strode back to the car, clearly unhappy that we had drawn a blank. This was probably not helped by hearing by phone that Claire had secured her fourth and final boar.
We drove back towards the lodge in that horrible silence when a stalk has produced nothing, and despite my protestations that everything was just fine, the guide feels he has failed. I did my best to put Andy at ease telling him that as hunters we must accept that sometimes best laid plans go wrong. Non of this seemed to help, then bang. The brakes were on and we were suddenly in reverse. In a large field of potatoes to our left were a dozen or more boar. We stopped just out of sight behind some shrubs and were out on our feet in an instant. The sticks were put up and a small pig was selected and shot, as quick as that. When my eyes recovered from the muzzle flash I could see just one pig moving off at a brisk trot across some open farmland. Clearly not a good shot, but at least it was moving fairly slowly. I had already reloaded and brought the cross hairs smoothly onto the front of the shoulder of my departing pig. Boom the shot was away and so was my pig now at a fast run. Running boar at a hundred yards in the dark is not my best shot it seems. Fortunately within another twenty yards it was down and dead. It turned out that my second shot had missed, but the burst of energy had caused enough blood loss to bring the pig down before it made the tree line. Despite the shot being again too far back through the liver, we had not lost our pig, and Andy was elated that we were not going back empty handed.
Only when the night fell silent again did I take stock of where we were.
We were standing in the middle of the crossroads that lead into a small village. A few lights came on in windows, but the police armed response unit must have already drunk their vodka ration as nobody turned up. I did ask Andy if what we had done was ok, to which he replied, “yes of course”. I guess if you happen to be a local potato farmer being woken by a couple of rifle shots is infinitely better than waking to find your field turned over by marauding pigs in the night.
The only conclusion I can draw from my bad shooting was that my night vision is not what it was. Perhaps last time out the sky was clearer? In any event I shall be buying a new scope with illuminated reticule before I return to Poland next time.
Last episode to follow soon, if there is anyone left who has not yet nodded off.
The final full day in Poland broke overcast with snow showers. Our guide and his wife picked us up and we headed into the main city of Bialystok. I had arranged to meet my contact within the Polish forestry commission for lunch. The visit had been an attempt to repay her for all the help she had given me in arranging the trip. I’m always mindful of the fact that the whole thing is arranged in my poor German, which she has to do her best to understand. German is also her second language, so all credit to her for doing so. My plans were thwarted when she took us all back to her apartment for a home cooked lunch. It was fabulous! So much better than a restaurant where everything is softened to suit the average European palate. The highlight for Claire and I were the bison kebabs stuffed with pickled gherkins. It would seem that a local Polish hunter had shot the Bison mistaking it for a large boar, a mistake that must have cost him very dearly. The upshot was that there was a very large quantity of bison meat at a very good price available. I guess those in the forestry offices got first option to buy.
The city was interesting enough, but both our guide and I were keen to get back to the forest.
Andrew and his wife were committed to an evening engagement, and as Claire had shot her quota I had the use of both her guide and rifle. The weather was truly atrocious by late afternoon, snowing and blowing a gale. At our first clearing there were pigs but no shot was available. We waited a while hoping the animals would move clear of the trees obstructing my shot, but the wind eddied around and we were scented.
By the time we reached our second opening in the forest it was dark and a blizzard had set in. It was decided to sit up in the loft of and old barn, which had been adapted for the purpose of a high seat. We settled in, and pulled our collars up around our necks to keep out the wind and snow. Several times I adjusted my hat to allow me to see under the brim without getting too much stinging snow in my eyes. After perhaps a thirty minute wait, a family group of pigs moved in from my right. Bogdan, my guide told me to shoot the last piglet to clear the forest. Unfortunately the pigs were milling around and it was more by luck than anything that I managed to remain focused on that last little pig. I switched on the illumination on Claire’s scope and placed the cross hairs on the shoulder. Her 6.5 Swede round went away and my vision was lost. When it returned the snow and darkness were combined to make nothing visible without optics anyway. Bogdan then uttered the words we all dread hearing,
“it’s leg is broken”.
Very dejected we all climbed down from the loft and walked slowly out into the night.
I was rather puzzled when Bogdan walked not straight to where the pig had been, but over to a fir tree, even more confusing he picked a sprig as if we were about to perform the ritual of the last bite. Clearly my pig was not going to be there if all it was suffering from was a broken leg.
We walked on into the driving snow and as we drew near I could not believe my eyes. The little pig was laying dead exactly where I had shot it. The entry was as good as I have ever placed a shot and the exit was large, death must have been almost if not instant. The last bite was performed in front of two very bemused hunters. Now Bogdan got to work with the knife. Opening the animal he thrust his hand into the chest cavity and drew it out immediately as if bitten by a snake. Slowly again he reached in and to our total amazement drew out best part of nine inches of an arrow shaft. It was a target sport design and clearly not meant for hunting. Barely any internal damage had been done at all. The arrow had broken off presumably as the pig ran away after being hit, leaving the broken end sticking out. It must have been in great pain as it walked as Bogdan later explained. He had spotted it’s limp as it entered the clearing. He must have had amazing natural night vision to have spotted it in eight inches of snow. To me the legs of the pig were almost completely shrouded from view. That was the reason he had asked me to shoot the last one out into the open. He was right in what he said after the shot, the pig did have a broken or at least very bad leg. What was lost in the translation was that the leg was bad before I had shot it. I was much relieved. Pleased also, to have ended the misery of this pig, which had been trying to survive a Polish winter in such pain. (Bow hunting is totally forbidden in Poland by the way).
Bogdan was all set to take us on for my fourth and last pig of the trip, but I refused to continue. The conditions were now so bad that I didn’t feel it was fair to shoot not being sure of my shot placement even with Claire’s scope.
We returned to the lodge and after a good dinner started to pack our kit for the mornings departure.
On our last morning we were taken into the forest for the traditional “Pockot”. This is where the shot animals are laid out on branches beside a fire. A prayer is said in front of the hunters and the hunting horn is played. There were only Claire and I, the guides and Andy’s wife and children present. Still the ceremony was observed.
I found the whole thing rather sad, in the way we all do perhaps. Seeing these wild animals laid out dead, when a day or so earlier we had been watching them living wild and free in the most beautiful forest was a striking image. The sounds of the horn echoed around the forest and trailed away into the cold morning air.
Our time here in this stunning place was, like the lives of the boar, at an end.
Click on the photos to watch the video link.
That's all Folks.