Rut-Hunting In Masuria

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Many German hunters visit Poland regularly – the forests and fields are considered rich in game and the people are hospitable. Oliver Dorn traveled to the province of Warmia-Masuria for the first time and tried his hand at hunting mature roebuck.

Nearly 20 years ago, my late father and I took a hunting trip to Silesia, his old homeland, during rutting season. After eventful hunting days, we also took time to get to know the country and its people a bit better. I reminisce about his happy week often, so last summer I decided to take a trip to Poland once again.

This journey would take me to the province of Warmia-Masuria, more precisely to Przezmark. I would be allowed to hunt on the local hunting club’s 24,000 hectares (over 59,300 acres) during the following four days. The hotel owner greeted me warmly in very good English and asked me if I wanted to go stalking early the next morning or if I preferred to sleep in after the long journey. Of course, I didn’t want to miss a morning in this almost untouched terrain, so I went for it. At half past four, the alarm clock rang, waking me from a deep, but too-short, sleep. I was staying in a guesthouse, which served the purpose perfectly – it was equipped with a small kitchen. A mug of instant coffee with milk and sugar and the anticipation of the coming days quickly brought me up to speed. A member of the hunting club was already waiting for me in front of the guesthouse: Tomek was to be my companion for the week. I was all the more surprised to find out that Tomek did not speak a word of German or English. But this would not be a problem, as we would soon find out.

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In good spirits, I get into the car with Tomek and we drive for a while until we turn onto a dirt road. Here we have to wait because an old farmer is driving her five cows from the field into her barn. She waves to us with a smile, and we greet her back. How wonderfully relaxed everything seems to be here. I am already enjoying myself. We park the car and set off on foot. The sky stretches its deep blue over us, and it smells of country air. Slowly we walk along a forest path that leads us out into the open. The barley and wheat fields have already been harvested, so there is little cover. We stay at the edge of the forest and observe the fields. Roe deer are almost everywhere. Tomek nudges me and points to the left. Behind a knoll stands a big one. “Good buck!” Tomek murmurs. But how do we get closer to him? The buck stands a good 450 yards away. There is no cover between us and the buck. We look at each other briefly and seem to think the same thing: Head back into the woods and get closer to the buck on a trail that runs parallel to the edge of the woods. And that’s exactly what we do.

We approach the buck without making a sound, but at some point, we have to leave the trail through foliage and branches to get to the forest’s edge. This also goes well. We reach the edge of the woods and see the buck 155 yards ahead of us on the barley stubble. I set up the target stick and take aim, the caller between my lips. The buck – a really good, older six-pointer – eyes the forest where we are standing in cover. But he doesn’t heed my call, slowly moves further out into the field, and finally disappears behind a hill in a hollow. What to do? We leave our safe position and follow him on the stubble. Arriving at the knoll, we quietly kneel down and cautiously peer over the rise. The buck is standing slightly to the right at 85 yards, behind a grassy strip. Slowly, I set up the stick, spreading its struts until the rest fits. I watch his dark, strong antlers through the reticle, which now rests quietly on his shoulder blade. In the shot, the buck makes a leap forward and collapses after a short flight. Tomek extends his hand to me, “Darz bór!” A really good buck lies at our feet. Not ancient, but he has passed his zenith. With these thoughts, I prepare the buck while my hunting companion fetches his car. On the way back to Tomek’s house, where there is a large cooler, we see a few more bucks that testify to the abundance of game in this region.

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The next day brings persistent ground fog. The calling of the cranes seems even more ghostly than usual, as does the fright of the roe deer when we stumble across them. As the sun gains the upper hand, we stalk past endless meadows of wildflowers and herbs. We listen to the calls of the cranes and discover some bucks, but they absolutely do not respond to our calls. Neither Tomek’s classic Buttolo nor my tried-and-tested Rottumtaler led to any movement in the suitable bucks. Only a young buck responds – and almost runs us over. After this, we break off the hunt and look forward to our breakfast.

In the afternoon, I meet up with Tomek again, and we both seem equally excited about stalking. It’s already dusk when we spot a buck sitting up high. His antlers aren’t too big, but Tomek releases him, and we easily get within shooting distance. After preparing him, I seem to have more blood on my hands than in my body – the mosquitoes have feasted on me. We stand by the car for a bit, and then Tomek grabs a bottle and two glasses from inside. “Na zdrowie!” and “Darz bór!”, Tomek hands me his cell phone, and his son explains the contents of the bottle in good English: It’s Polish whisky, made by a pharmacist friend. Not bad, I think to myself, a splash of water would make it even better.

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Over the following days, we used the young interpreter more often, and I realized that I was not mistaken about the spontaneous affinity I felt with Tomek. He shows me the hunting club’s headquarters as well as some impressive red deer trophies and tells me about the effects of African swine fever (ASF) here in the region. When we deliver another piece of game to the cooler on the following day, he leads me through his house and lets me peek into his hunting room. Saying goodbye on our last day was not easy, but now we’re using a translator app and regularly connecting via WhatsApp to share photos and hunting stories – until we meet again in Masuria.

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