European hunters have caused a number of large game animals to become extinct over the past thousands of years.
The mammoth and musk ox, which often feature in cave paintings disappeared in the later stone age. The last aurochs, a type of wild cattle, was killed off a few centuries ago.
Only a few bison survived World War II. Elk (the animals called moose in North America) are now generally limited to Scandinavia and Russia. Bear still survive in the mountainous regions of eastern Europe, but the population is so few that in most countries they are strictly managed.
Deer and other animals, however, learned to live side- by-side with man and have thrived; several million are taken in Western Europe annually.
There are three species of the genus cervus. The biggest, the red stag (rot hirsch), is substantially the same animal they call elk in North America, though the American variety grows much larger than the one found throughout Europe.
Red stags weighing 200 to 455 kilos dressed weight are sometimes shot in Austria, and larger specimens in countries farther east.
The roe deer, (rehbok) at the other extreme, seldom weighs more than 23 kgs. However, they more than make up for their lack of size in sheer numbers, probably more than a million a year are taken in the Germanic countries alone every year.
They provide the tender venison that graces the menu in practically every German restaurant. Venison from the reh brings a higher price than any other. A reh trophy may be difficult to shoot in some areas, having developed an innate sense of danger, which makes them very elusive. However, in Austria and Germany their numbers are legion.
Fallow deer (damhirsch) are larger than the roe and smaller than the red deer, and their wide palmated antlers make them perhaps the most beautiful of all the European deer. Fallow are probbaly the most widespread deer of them all.
In the mountainous areas of Europe, particularly above the timberline, there are other game animals highly prized by European sportsmen.
The most desirable are a wild sheep called mouflon, and wild goat called ibex. These are mainly found in specific localities. The mouflon is found in considerable numbers in some Mediterranean islands and Austria, but the best heads come from the Czech Republic.
The chamois (gams) is found in similar terrain and in far larger numbers. This little goat-antelope is small but very nimble -fast and sure-footed.
Undoubtedly, the most widespread game animal in Europe today, is the wild boar. Unlike most other big-game animals of Europe, almost nothing is done to ensure their survival, but they have flourished and are in almost plague proportions everywhere.
The wild hogs are cordially hated by every farmer since they are very destructive to root crops. There is no closed season on boars and they roam far and wide.
The largest boar (a keiler) can stand up to a metre high at the shoulder and weigh up to 250 kilos. His head seems large compared with the rest of his body. He is covered with two types of hair and has characteristic tusks in his lower jaw. These grow throughout his life and are provided with kind of self-sharpening device.
The boar slashes with his mouth closed; only the sow bites. Despite his bulkiness, the boar is agile and incredibly strong. One of his tusks will rip a boar hound open as easily as a hunting knife slits open the belly of a stag. Boars are crafty and fearless and have the best sense of smell of any European game.
During the daylight hours they lie up in marshy, protected places in the forest and come out at night to feed. A sounder can ruin three or four acres of potatoes in a few hours. They seldom remain in one place more than two or three days before wandering off to a new locality.
Among smaller game, rabbits are the most numerous. They have increased enormously during the last few centuries and have multiplied so rapidly in some areas that myxomatosis was used against them.
The hare is a considerably larger, leggier and taller animal than the rabbit. It breeds more slowly than the rabbit and seldom attacks small trees. Because of its large amount of succulent meat, the hare seldom becomes a pest in frugal European communities. In Germany the hare is so highly prized that special rules apply to hunting it.
Europe has a number of other small mammals which are occasionally hunted. Badgers, weasels and wildcats are found in some localities in reasonable numbers. The marmot which resembles the American rockchuck, is hunted in much the same way.
Hunting Game Animals
Huge drives were once used in Europe for hunting big game. This method is still used in some countries with astonishing results.
In Spain, amid the medieval grandeur and pageantry of the Monteria, 100 hunters will sometimes kill several hundred stags as well as numerous boars and many foxes and hares.
When boars alone are the quarry, they are most successfully driven when snow is on the ground and their daytime hiding place can be more easily located.
This is surrounded by hunters; dogs are sent in to flush out the boar while the circle of hunters cautiously closes in. A big boar is dangerous quarry.
In northern and central Europe , the driving of large game, other than boars, has practically ceased. However, hares are usually taken by this method.
Stalking is the approved way of taking big game. This essentially is approaching a specific game animal to identify it before sneaking within shooting range. A great deal of the better hunting country in Europe is mountainous.
Your Jaeger will have prior knowledge of where an individual animals will be found and will survey these places from a vantage point some distance away.
As soon as he locates a trophy animal either with binocular or spotting scope, he will lead the hunter toward the animal by the quickest route that will allow an undetected approach.
The last part of the hunt will be quite exciting. The Jaeger must approve the animal from close range before the hunter is allowed to deliver a killing shot.
Chamois as well as the mouflon and ibex are always stalked, although in the past even these were driven. Because of the rugged habitat of these animals, the hunter needs to be fit and have some climbing ability. It can be a pretty hairy experience for someone not at home amid snow, ice and bare rock.
In Europe, a hunter who must identify or have identified precisely a game animal before shooting it, will seldom “still- hunt”, that is go pussyfooting through the woods hoping to get a quick shot at game which he comes upon suddenly and puts to flight.
The universal hunting method used in Germanic countries, is to sit and wait for the game to approach. This is usually done from a Hochsitz (high seat) which in some instances is small room built on four legs with a ladder leant against it for access.
This gives a far greater field of fire, and allows plenty of time to observe undisturbed game and size it up. Jaegers insist the scent of the hunter at ground level is vastly reduced. In the rutting season, all varieties of deer are can be brought within range by means of calls simulating the sounds of the hinds.
European hunting requires precise shooting, usually at a stationary target. The majority of rifles are equipped with a high magnification scope since much game is shot in poor light and often in the moonlight on open clearings in the forest.
Today, most hunters use a bolt-action, but a few beautiful single-shot rifles and a percentage of rifle-shotgun combinations called “drillings” are still favoured.
The European hunter usually drops his game from within 100 metres with one shot from his drilling, a versatile type of gun he favours because in addition to deer or boar, he may have the opportunity to shoot hare, pheasant or snipe on the same day.
The seasons for shotgun and rifle game may overlap. In drives both types of arm may be needed instantly.
The majority of rifles have a sling, which is not used for shooting, only for carrying. Older shooters may carry and use shooting sticks – either a forked stick or two sticks tied together to form a bipod and steady their aim. Most hunting rifles will have set-triggers.
Modern rifles are generally chambered for standard centrefire cartridges. Older calibres like the 7×57 and 7×64 are still popular for bigger game, as are the .308 and .30-06, but the .243 is popular for roe and chamois.
Very powerful belted magnum cartridges are not often seen. European hunters are good careful shots on the average; however most of them feel that, except for chamois and mouflon, the maximum sporting range is 150 metres.
To shoot beyond that range is considered unfair to game which is often wounded and not killed. Extreme power is not thought to be necessary.
Hunting in Europe is vastly different from hunting anywhere else in the world and is perhaps the only way there could be any hunting in Europe at all.
It is based on European conditions, customs and people. Once you get used to their formalities and traditions most foreigners come to understand that these things do make for a fuller hunting experience.
This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of Sporting Shooter magazine.