Stalk & Walk in the Sologne

Jean Philippe Bourgneuf, short JP, is a traditional outfitter, organising hunts all over the world. He invites me to hunt red deer, wild boar and roe deer and at the same time to get to know the most traditional hunting region of France. Thus I travel to village of Yvoy-le-Marron – in the Loire Valley – located amidst the picturesque densely-wooded landscape of the Sologne.

Stalking is JP’s actual speciality. Jokingly, he calls it “Stalk & Walk”. Once we leave the wide paths, we have to keep quiet in the dense fern. In this area it is not customary to hunt boar from a raised hide. Especially not at night. Here boar hunting either means stalking in the morning or in the evening, or participating in one of the many driven hunts, taking place almost weekly in autumn and winter. That’s when the locals dedicate their time to their passion – driven wild boar hunt. We prefer to stalk, though.

For about an hour we have been stalking through the varied wooded landscape. We have already spotted wild boars three times, but every time they noticed us quickly due to their superior sensory perception or disappeared into the impenetrable bramble growth.

The next day we start early in order to observe the rut and maybe even shoot a boar for the kitchen. Until shooting light we are sitting on a raised hide, listening to the rut. Occasionally, we see the hazy shapes of some animals on the clearing before us. A wonderful experience. When we finally decide to begin our stalk it is already as bright as day. Still we can hear the stags roaring around us. It is still quite early, so our host suggests to look for red deer a little further off.

It is the peak of the rutting season. Last night we could already hear some stags roaring from a distance. On our short drive JP tells me I can take a class III stag. When we park the car we hear stags bellowing close by. In the extensive woodland, there are several rutting grounds. With a good headwind we begin our stalk close to the first one. We are moving slowly, keeping an eye on the timber forest to our left and paying attention to every movement. We take cover and scan the edge of the forest with our binoculars. A large mature female boar is standing in a clearing foraging the ground. If the deer had noticed our presence, so would the boar. So we head back on the path and stalk to the next clearing. Some time passes until we hear a stag roaring to our left. We kneel down and scan the forest with our binoculars.

He is standing on the path about 200 metres to our right and looks in our direction. Slowly we raise our binoculars and start counting … six, eight…. an uneven 10-pointer. “You can shoot it!” JP whispers. What follows seems like a carefully studied synchronic act in that JP puts up his targeting stick in front of me in slow motion and we slowly, very slowly move in the direction of the game. The stag standing to the left in the forest is doing us a favour by continuing to bellow and thus distracting the younger stag. But at the very  moment I would have been ready to shoot (the rangefinder displays 180 metres), the stag turns and steps quickly towards us. It is obvious that he has seen us, but he doesn’t know what to expect. At a distance of 80 metres he comes to a halt and raises his head.

He is right in front of me, when I take my shot. The stag displays the typical reaction to a clean shot galloping into the trees to our left. We hear the cracking of branches and undergrowth, then there is absolute silence. We exchange glances and follow the stag. He has collapsed about 100 metres from the path deep in the wood. Although this ritual doesn’t play such a great role in French hunting tradition, we pay our last respects to the stag. Finally JP marks the stag according to the French regulations, and then we bring the carcass to the game processing room of the estate.  The hunting assistants are glad about the shot, as it hasn’t caused any carcass damage or hematomas. After that, we are are enjoying a hearty breakfast, and according to French custom it is supplemented by the fresh liver of the stag prepared à la minute.

Oliver Dorn

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