I’ve just returned from a fortnight in France which was mostly taken up with presenting Young Pine Marten to his family, and one of my brothers-in-law (who we shall call Tom for reasons of convenience) is a very keen hunter. What he isn’t is a very good organiser so it’s taken him ten years to make good on his plan to invite me boar hunting with him. Luckily, with the help of some well-targeted female badgering, it finally happened this time. To be fair to him, until very recently, his house in the middle of nowhere much was something of a tumbledown ruin. Now thanks to a lot of elbow grease and know-how, it’s a beautiful huge great converted farm with all mod-cons and a beautiful view over a valley and a lake. One wing is deliberately not restored very much and serves as a sort of hunting headquarters. That sounds rather grand, but we’re talking about piles of boots, an old wooden cupboard full of guns (key on the lock so that he doesn’t lose them…), plastic tables and chairs, a tray of apéritifs and some glasses, plus assorted bric-a-brac.
As we arrived there on the Tuesday afternoon, I was in the middle of unpacking when he shouted at me to come down immediately. He’s an irrepressibly energetic guy and you have to follow or be left behind. I grabbed my coat, hat, knife and chased him into the hunting lodge, where he pulled out an old Ugartechea side by side and a Baikal over and under from the cupboard, told me to choose one, and started stuffing my pockets with cartridges. I took the side-by-side as that’s what I’m used to, and it fitted me better. “Here”, he said, “here are sixes for pigeons or any other small game, although there isn’t much, twos for roe or foxes, slugs for boar. We shoot everything that moves today except for hares. I have three tags for roe, male or female. Come on, let’s go!”.
As we charged off into one of his fields that he’d sown with mustard to attract boar, I rearranged the cartridges into my pockets so that I knew what was where, although I did rather think that in the event of being loaded up with the wrong ammunition for the species that presented itself, there would be no realistic chance of switching in time. At this point, I stopped him for a second to ask what the plan was. “I don’t have one, we’re going to walk around and see if we can see any boar tracks. If you see any pigeons or woodcock, shot at them”. It sounded chaotic but I managed to work out that it wasn’t. It was in fact fundamentally the same sort of opportunistic roughshooting that I do when on my own, with the added subtlety that really, he was looking for boar tracks in and out of specific woods, fields, barbed wire fences, and importantly a shallow pond surrounded by impenetrable scrub, all of this on sloping ground ending up on fleshly-ploughed fields at the bottom, which marked the boundary.
I helped out looking for sign as much as I could, but when we’d completed our circuit, and the sun was going down, he said that he thought a smallish boar had entered the scrubby pond and not come out. There followed a load of frantic mobile phone calls to his little brother who keeps the beagles, his father, and finally his 86 year-old grandfather who was the first to turn up in the farmyard, pulling a closed gun from his boot. He’d told me earlier that he always had a gun in the car in case of an opportunity. He obviously didn’t believe in any of that namby-pamby breech opening to show that he was safe either. Closed and leant against a grass bank was good enough for him…
With the light falling fast, the brother with the dogs arrived, Tom explained where he thought the boar was and we set off. Now it made sense to me what we were doing. I was to take up position on the lower boundary with my rifle (I’d switched in the interim) and shoot anything that ran out onto the open field where it was safe to do so. This is the part where my heart started thumping: they’d quite deliberately placed me at the most likely spot of an improvised boar drive. I stood side-on to the wood, changing sides depending on the noise I could hear. His brother was shouting commands at the dogs, I could hear rustling, howls, barks, saw the odd flash of blaze orange between the branches, where the others were, but I had no idea what was going on in there, I was informed only by how frenzied the shouting and barking was. The origin of the sound changed all the time, and I moved up and down the boundary accordingly, as I’d been instructed to.
Suddenly, I saw a streak of russet about 100m away as a fox sped out the end of the wood along a fence, mostly hidden by grass. There was no way I was attempting that shot, and that wasn’t what I’d come for anyway. As I pondered that, I heard Tom’s brother shouting: “CA PART! LAURENT! A TOI!”. Oh merde, I’d sort of been hoping this wouldn’t happen so I wouldn’t make an ass of myself. I couldn’t see much by now, but in the open, it would still have been fine. There was an almighty crash right behind me, perhaps three or four metres into the wood, I saw a flash of reddish-brown as a roe buck went past, but offered no shot. Back into the wood it vanished. Heart thumping, I unloaded and climbed back up the hill, met up with the others, and back we went for an aperitif, absolutely buzzing with the excitement of almost having made it happen with the space of 25 minutes.
What a staggeringly different way of hunting from ours, but how exciting! I shall be back, if they’ll have me! Which they have to, because I’m family, and besides, as Tom said “Il faut qu’on lui fasse tuer un cochon!”.
NB: Obviously, I was "HUNTING" in France and not "HINTING" as the thread title says. I don't think I can change that though.