The Masurian stag

Since the early morning we have been heading east. Four hunters, a cameraman and three dogs. Our destination is Baldzki Piec, a small forest village in Ermland-Masuria (Poland). Our team consists of my father Holger, my brother Tim, my friend Niels and Michael, the cameraman.

“Our” hunting grounds of Loz are located in the southeastern corner of a triangle between Olsztynek, Olsztyn and Jedwabno. “Loz” means moose and is a private hunting association offering stag hunting in an area of around 9,000 acres of state forest. The next morning the alarm clock rings shortly before four. The joyful anticipation of the first stalk makes it easy for us to get up that early. For about 20 minutes we rumble through a pine forest. The pot-holed sand track leads us deeper and deeper into the stags’ paradise. Then we cross a road and keep rolling for another 200 metres. Finally, our hunting guide Adam stops the car.

We don’t spend much time listening out for any sounds of stags, but begin our stalk towards the edge of the forest in the first rays of dawn. No sounds of roaring stags; the air is humid and warm. Adam scans the fields with his binoculars. He mumbles something into his three-day beard and walks briskly along a path at the edge of the forest. Again he scans the fields with his binoculars. Suddenly he whispers: “Stag, quickly and pssst!” I just about make it to the raised hide, and with my binoculars I make out the shapes of a hind, a calf and an apparently fine stag. Michael is following us with his heavy equipment. Adam and I probably made a lot of noise, but not nearly as much as the rest of our team. So the deer bellows dryly – and it’s over.

Back at the hunting lodge I look at the beaming faces of my hunting companions. Stag rut at its very best. All of us had spotted a stag. My father had come close to shooting a stag with an antler weight of about 8 kilos, but the distance was too long. Niels reports about “Stag Hill” and about a constantly roaring stag in the elder swamp. A hearty breakfast and a can of Polish beer restore our souls. In the evening we stalk in the forest southeast of the Kosno Lake. Upon our approach  we can hear the roar of a stag near the lake. In the last light of the day the whole herd including the stag moves 20 to 25 metres out of the forest. It is exciting, but proper identification is practically impossible now. Still, at 7 pm we hear the thunder of a rifle shot: Tim has got his stag.

The next day Adam and I venture out to the reed bed, where Michael had filmed an interesting stag that we want to take a closer look at. The wind is coming from the side, and we have to sit on the ground taking cover behind the crown of an old pine. The area where the deer usually settle in is to our right. There are pine trees, hazel bushes, reed beds and a clearing. After about an hour we can hear the first stags roaring in the distance. A little further off, a hind is moving away from the clearing, but the stag immediately drives her back to the herd. I don’t have a clear shot yet, but we are getting closer to the animals. Five minutes of highest tension, but nothing is happening. We are calming down again behind our tree. About half an hour later we spot the head of a mature hind 250 metres away from us in the reeds. We try to estimate the size of the herd with our binoculars. Again – nothing. To be honest, I am relieved, because the shooting distance is just too long. Then, almost simultaneously, Adam and I spot a stag at 100 metres distance. We look through our binoculars and first identify a calf. Then the stag follows. A 10-pointer! I put down my binoculars and take up my rifle.  I know I want to shoot this stag. I can see that it has a slight limp. Still not in the right position for me to take a shot.

The reticle is on the front part of the stag’s shoulder. Now the animal is steadily moving in the direction of the wind. I cannot wait any longer. When the stag turns its boadside towards me, I take my shot. The stag drops. A few minutes later we are standing in front of my Masurian stag. I couldn’t have wished for a finer one. Adam is in for more hugs from me than he would probably like. The sun is sinking at the horizon, and the cries of cranes are tuning in with the roaring of the stags in the distance. The wind wafts gently through the reeds. The natural bounty of Masuria has endowed me with rich and lasting gifts. But above all, Masuria gave me the insight that you can only find what you’re looking for when you stay on target.

Florian Maack

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