The complimentary adult beverages and in-flight movies aren’t doing the trick. I can’t sleep a wink. Is it the jitters of my first overseas flight? Is it the uncertainty of visiting a completely foreign territory? Maybe it’s the anxiety of not knowing how I’ll interact with a bunch of Frenchmen and Swedes I’ve never met. Nope. I’m riding a high of adrenaline-rich anticipation, knowing the next sunrise I’ll see will be in the vast, game-rich landscape of Poland—whatever that looks like.
I arrived in Berlin and quickly realized I hadn’t set a concrete plan with the guys from Norma Ammunition. Numerous attempts at trying to use my credit card for a German payphone resulted in complete failure. (Future reminder: Inform credit card company before leaving the country next time.) I sat with a slight sense of helplessness, hoping they’d eventually find me at my arrival gate. Restlessly, I meandered through the airport hallway to exchange some Washingtons for Euros so I could purchase a snack. “Josh!” I heard my name and happened upon Jorgen Sandstrom—Norma’s marketing manager. Relief washed over me. He recognized me in the chaotic mix of people because I “looked like a lost American.” Jorgen explained there had been a mix-up with the rifles; Norma’s charismatic ammunition development expert, Don Heath, was retrieving them. Don showed up with a couple black hard cases and we headed for the exit doors to rendezvous with the rest of our group.
Our hunting party consisted of the two gentlemen from Norma, three prominent French journalists, the president of UNIFRANCE (giant French sporting goods retailer), and the managing director of RUAG Ammotec France (RUAG owns Norma). There was one other American—Steve Comus, editor-in-chief of Safari magazine, the official publication of Safari Club International. Communication would be difficult at times, but high-fives and cheers are universal, so we’d be just fine.
I sat in awe as our van sped through the German countryside. It looked much like my home turf in Minnesota, with dense woodlands and farm fields abound. I was surprised by the number of tower stands—more than I’d ever seen. My new friends explained to me that hunting is popular in Germany, but it’s run much differently than in the United States. Hunters who lease a property are true wildlife managers because it’s the hunters who are financially responsible for crop damage from critters.
Immersed In Poland
It didn’t take long before we crossed the border into Poland. It was obvious that wealth wasn’t prevalent, and as darkness set in it became even more evident. As we slowed to carefully meander through the bumpy roads of several small Polish villages, we eerily happened upon a well-lit graveyard. Astonishingly, it was brighter than any of the homes—only an occasional candle flame could be seen erratically penetrating through the closed blinds of the drab, unpainted buildings. Shadows of human figures roamed the streets, often congregating in alleys and on street corners. Of course … it was Friday night, and Polish youth embrace the nightfall like any others across the world. I was struck with intrigue, yet humbled with appreciation for the conveniences back home that can so easily be taken for granted.
To call our accommodations a hunting “camp” would be flat out improper. We stayed in a magnificent, well-kept mansion with eloquent hardwood finish and a rich history. It was a prime property, reclaimed by the Polish government after the harsh Nazi onslaught of World War II finally ceased.
The gourmet, culture-infused cooking for our daily breakfast, lunch and dinner was superb. Evenings in the parlor consisted of rich conversation with my fellow riflemen and more straight vodka than I should have been able to handle. But it was the intensity of the hunt that I savored most.
Click on the photo above for a look inside the author’s lodge experience.
Mixed Bag Pursuit
We were to partake in driven hunts, so our time would be spent surrounding expansive woodlots in hopes of getting a crack at the coveted wild boar—our primary target. Red deer “hinds” (females/does) were available for the taking as well. Roe deer does were another option, but bucks were out of season and came with an $800 fine. The trouble was, roe bucks were dropping antlers that time of year, so unless you’re absolutely sure of your quarry—which I wasn’t—you’d better have extra padding in your pocketbook to cover any costly mistakes. Majestic, giant red stags were also available for the taking, but at a $3,000-4,000 price tag I wasn’t prepared for at the time. (Note: I do hope to shoot a stag in the future and, looking back, I would gladly punch my tag in Poland.) Lastly, fox and raccoons were fair game. It was a “mixed bag” opportunity by definition.
The Hand You’re Dealt
I excitedly embraced the brisk, October morning of our first hunt. I could see my breath as several of us boarded a crude, ex-Russian military transport vehicle with two rows of bench seats facing one another. The frame rattled and squeaked with each bump in the ragged roads—many of which were long stretches of cobblestone built by French prisoners of war.
We met our gamekeeper, head of land management for that particular area, and his team of “beaters” at dawn on the outskirts of a nearby village—a process we’d repeat for 3 days. Polish driven hunts consist of various ceremonial elements, always beginning with a trumpet tune and all hunters randomly drawing from a deck of cards; each card contains a unique numbering system. The card you choose dictates your position within each drive throughout the day.
Blaze orange isn’t wildly popular in Europe. Many hunters wear only a small orange ribbon on their hats, while some wear no orange at all. Camo is also not wildly popular, especially for driven hunts. Of course, I was fully decked out in camo, along with a blaze-orange vest and hat. Safety was my utmost concern in this unfamiliar land, but during the first morning ceremony I learned it was their top priority, too. The gamekeeper explained “security”—official safety rules for the hunt—in dead-serious detail.
Driven To Satisfaction
I jumped out of the vehicle at my first post, loaded my Krieghoff Double Rifle with Norma African PH .375 H&H cartridges, and made visual contact with my “partners” who were situated 100 yards to my right and left. My smile continued to grow by the minute. I can’t believe I’m hunting in Poland, I thought. That grin turned to laughter when I heard a trumpet sound off in the distance. This is wild. Soon, the beaters’ loud voices erupted through the mature forest with their barking dogs. The chaotic chorus roused the animals from their haunts and gunshots echoed in the distance. I stood, readily awaiting my chance for a shot—hopefully at a boar. Nothing appeared. The truck quickly arrived and we headed to the next drive.
In a profoundly organized fashion, we managed to complete eight drives the first day. One red deer hind, one red deer calf, two roe deer does, one “tusker” (male boar) and eight other young boars were on the meat pole. Thirteen animals in one day. I was amazed. Norma’s superbly premium ammunition paired with the expert marksmanship of my fellow hunters proved to be a lethal combination for the running game.
Click on the photo above to see Polish driven-hunting action.
I spotted my first animals on the third drive—a herd of hinds in a pine forest. I didn’t have a clear or safe shooting lane, so I marveled at the beautiful beasts in awe. Halfway through the day, I was finally granted an opportunity. First, a decent-size stag ran by at full speed from right to left. He was followed by a roe buck, a spike stag and finally a hind. I swung with her as she ran by at 25 yards, peered through my Leupold DeltaPoint sight and squeezed the trigger. Did I hit her? It didn’t look like it. I searched for blood with one of the beaters and found nothing. I had missed.
After a minor razzing from my new French comrades, we moved on to the next several drives to finish the first day. I didn’t get another shot opportunity—at least not in my comfort zone—but my satisfaction soared as I soaked up the wonders of the Polish landscape and extensive wildlife. Our afternoon lunch breaks were another special addition to the trip. On our third afternoon we enjoyed homemade soup on a wilderness lake shore, while the beaters cooked authentic Polish sausage over a fire.
The following day, Don loaned me a bolt-action rifle topped with a more traditional riflescope—a setup I was more accustomed to. On the fourth drive I heard the grunting of a boar closing in on me. I shouldered my firepower and there she was, followed by several piglets running from left to right a mere 20 yards away. I squeezed one round off and hit the dirt. I aggressively cycled the bolt, continuing to hold the rifle to my shoulder for a follow-up shot. I slammed the bolt forward to chamber another round—the extractor hadn’t spit my spent casing, so it jammed in the chamber. I was unable to get another shot off. Had I not completely worked the bolt?
Don was formerly an African Professional Hunter (PH) and senior ecologist with the Zimbabwe National Parks Department. He had graciously lent me his rifle—a veteran killing tool that’s gone head-to-head with dangerous game, poachers and been to hell and back. He’d laugh in my face if I cussed his reliable, old rifle, but I learned a teeth-grinding lesson: Bring your own gun on a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, or at least put a few rounds through the one you’ve borrowed. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
A Final Game Parade
Forty-three animals—“pieces”—later, the final evening of our hunting adventure ended the same as all the other nights—with a game parade. Animals are laid out in lines according to species on top of fresh pine boughs. Fires are lit around the perimeter and trumpet tunes are played for each species, honoring both the creatures and the hunt with ultimate respect. One hunter is then selected as the “king of the hunt,” based on the wisdom of the gamekeeper and his observations from the day. My new American friend, Steve, was deemed king on this day, chosen because of an “exceptionally difficult running shot on a small animal”—a roe deer.
As the closing trumpet tune played, I was warmed by the heat of the ceremonial fires, a tall Polish beer and fond reflections of an unforgettable hunt with special individuals. I had shed no blood in Poland, but filled my tags with memories that will last a lifetime. I’ll be back.
Click on the photo above to witness a game-parade ceremony.
Author’s alert: Norma holds a global reputation for producing premium loaded ammunition and components, but has been most reputable in Europe and Africa. This year, Norma announced the official launch of Norma-USA. Be on the lookout for a beefed-up presence of Norma products at sporting goods retailers across the country. It’s the same great ammo, but with more popular American calibers, new packaging and increased distribution, meaning more Norma to heat up your barrels.