Sat here in the pouring rain at work, when only a week ago today I was out in Reims, France with Stalking in England's Mark Howard & Rob Alden with seven other guys I'd never met until the day before in glorious weather shooting at driven boar.
It was not only my first trip on the boar, but my first time shooting abroad too and so I had no real idea of what to expect other than what I had heard or seen on Youtube or similar. I'll state right at the start that I didn't connect with one, but that I had opportunities on the day and could have easily (Had funds allowed) taken a shot at other species, but it was the boar that I went for and but for me stopping the gun I may well have had one.
For anyone who fancies ago I can't recommend a trip with Stalking in England highly enough, it certainly was value for money and we had a great group of lads from late 20's through to 70's to share the experience with too. From the various Pick-up points to drop-off, both Mark and Rob went that extra mile and looked after the eight of us in the group with us wanting for nothing, and being given everything. From the Travel arrangements, The Hotel, The Meals and the Shoot day itself everything had been thought of and catered for. The meals out on the first night, shoot day and 2nd night were unbelievable and it just seemed to keep coming with top notch cuisine whether at a restaurant, on the shoot or in the place next to the hotel.
The hotel was clean, comfortable and was enough for a group who intended only to have somewhere to sleep with TV's in the room and very clean bathrooms and linen.
The Shoot itself, Baconnes Domaine de Chasse, was a fantastic experience and the Owner and his family make you feel extremely welcome in a very well kept and well stocked Lodge with Trophy heads (and very large ones at that) covering all walls. The setting within the Park itself is magical and really does get the adrenaline pumping when the drive starts and the beaters blowing horns, shouting and the dogs barking and chasing scent trails.
The animals within the large reserve (This is not like shooting fish in a barrel under any circumstances) themselves were all in magnificent condition from 8 point Sikas, to Master Fallow Bucks, Trophy Mouflon, 18point Red Stags all there to be taken at a price agreed right at the start if you wanted to take one and then the Boar (No trophy fees on these at all on any size) themselves. There's plenty of Does/fawns, Hinds/Calves to take as well if you wish at no extra cost (and if the owner says so in his shoot brief in the morning of course).
The shoot brief is very through and with laminated peg cards given out at registration (They do check, licence, insurance and permits and record it all and make you sign too) and strict rules of shooting arcs explained you're placed by vehicle at your respective mirador (Standing high seat about 5ft off the ground) wearing your Hi-Viz orange and with a hunting horn yourself to relay down the line the when the drive ends. We had four drives and I saw animals on each drive close (I had the 18pt Red quite literally beneath my feet on the drive before lunch as he stood next to the Mirador I was in trying to work out the best way through the line). The animals can come from any direction behind, from the side, quartering, towards, away and unlike with a shotgun on game or clays with pellets you have a spread of shot, you really do need to be on the money with either your rifle bullet or shotgun solid slug (Allowed in Reserve Parks, but not National parks).
Full tradition is accorded to those that are lucky enough to shoot something with a sprig of fir/pine given for placement in hat or on body and full respect given to the quarry with similar placed in their mouth and the tableu at the end of the day. Four of our group were lucky enough to connect with the boar, indeed one managed two and another a fallow fawn, with two of them having shot their first ever boar they were blooded at the end of the day and all of us I believe had shots even if we didn't actually hit what we were aiming for.
The Boar was grollached and quartered accordingly and shared amongst all that were present and wanted to take some at the end of the day at no extra charge and this was all done, whilst relaxing over a glass of Red or champagne or a beer and reliving the tales of the day with the others.
Without a doubt, I'm looking to book up again with Mark and Stalking In England in Feb/March next year providing there are places available and am even going to speak to the FEO about a variation to get either .270 or .308 on ticket rather than borrow Mark's .270 (Which was free of charge for the use during the day).
So if you've never been and wondered what its like, then Mark is the man to speak to and make that first trip an enjoyable and memorable one.