Viva La Montería

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In Spain, it’s as important as driven hunts are in France – it’s an institution. Let’s set out to discover the montería, a form of hunting that also earns a lot of criticism… not least due to ignorance.

On the Iberian Peninsula, the hunting season for large game ends on the last weekend of February. These hunts are accompanied by high expectations – even a feverish tension if you’ve been “bitten by the montería bug”. But this fever is also met with fierce criticism. Resentment, ethical concerns, egotism, and certainly ignorance all play a part. Tastes are different, of course, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But to decide with a clear conscience, you should simply book a ticket, fly to Madrid, and see for yourself.

We meet Pascal Nordlinger, a French hunter with a great passion for Spain, in the province of Castilla la Mancha, about three hours south of the Spanish metropolis. He has settled in this region and organizes hunting trips here. On his estate, he offers individual stalking and hide hunts. He organizes social hunts together with Sergio Lopez and Paco Ojeda, both passionate hunters who especially love the montería. The first surprise for us newbies: You don’t simply host a montería. In order to gather several dozen hunters in one place – even if it’s your own – you need a detailed technical plan and the approval of regional environmental officials (delegacion del medio ambiante). These officials meticulously check various criteria beforehand, such as the total area of the hunting ground (a minimum of 500 hectares is required to even apply for a montería). Also, the population density of each species, their food supply, preservation of nature…

If all criteria are fulfilled, the owner of the hunting grounds receives a technical hunting plan (plan tecnico de caza) for five hunting seasons in a row, to be fulfilled at the owner’s expense – with a grant from the environmental office of the Spanish police unit Guardia Civil. If the driven hunt takes place on the property of a fenced finca, it must be proved that the fence is at least two meters high and the area is at least 2,000 hectares. Needless to say, this is not an insurmountable height for big game, and the sows crawl under it… Moreover, the properties often measure several thousand hectares, of which only a small area serves the montería. Pascal explains that tomorrow we will hunt in an area of 1,500 hectares, which is only a small part of the total 12,000 hectares. To reassure those still tormented by doubts, I would like to point out that, per hunting ground, a montería may only take place once every two to three years.

Finally, the time has come. At dawn, all the hunters meet at a café and form a motorcade. Then the caravan starts moving. We have about an hour’s drive ahead of us. While we are on the road, the sun rises and we discover magnificent landscapes in which fertile plains alternate with sometimes sparsely, sometimes almost impenetrably overgrown hills. We pass through villages where we meet other off-road vehicle convoys. The clothing of the occupants leaves no doubt as to their mission. Today, hunters are on tour in Spain. Finally, we pass through a large white gate with the inscription Coto privado de caza (private hunting ground).

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Our tires dig through stones and mud, and finally we reach the finca, which lies in a valley shrouded by a light mist. The mild air and the birdsong almost make us forget why we are here. The hostess invites us into the hunting lodge, where a rich breakfast is served by attentive staff. Men, women, and children mingle with the hunting company and create a truly Mediterranean atmosphere… Outside, Pascal, Sergio, and Paco are busy. They are checking the final details of a meticulous plan. There is a place for everything, and everything has its place. Now it’s time for the lottery. Yes, the 38 stands are allocated by lottery! They are distributed along different shooting lines, with a back line to prevent game from leaving the area. The distribution of the stands requires an accurate knowledge of the hunting area. All of this under the control and with the help of the state representatives who are present throughout the day. At about eleven o’clock, the last remaining group of hunters is assigned to their stands. They are right at the center of the area, so the wait has been well worth it, but this does not stop one individual from complaining about the poor organization. Childish impatience…

Shortly before noon we reach our stand, accompanied by a man whose task is to support our hunting activities and keep us comfortable: the so-called secretary. He also makes sure hunters use the assigned stands, notes game and, most importantly, monitors our behavior to minimize the risk of accidents. Perfect. We are lucky: Our shooting stand sits on a rocky hilltop. It’s known here as the “balcony stand”. From here, we enjoy a view of several hundred hectares and the possibility of taking aim in a 360-degree radius. The first shots are already echoing off the mountain walls and the baying of the hounds is causing tension to rise. About 300 four-legged hunting assistants (podencos) are on the job today. That may sound a lot. However, one must take into account the extremely dense vegetation and the immense area of 1,500 hectares. All this with game that has not been hunted for three years. About 50 handlers and drivers accompany and support the dogs. Action is guaranteed.
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We novices find it difficult to keep calm. Suddenly, the echo of the dogs sounds from the opposite slope. The secretary whispers “Jabali” and shortly after, a reddish blur pierces the green oak forest and comes right at us. A first shot, without success. Followed by a second and finally a third, bringing down the first sow of our montería. A dozen podencos immediately pounce on the young sow. We quickly intervene to prevent the dogs from devouring our piece of game. Then we continue the hunt. Shots are fired everywhere, which keeps the tension at a high level, intensified by the encouraging calls of the handlers, who lead their packs excellently. The hunters are in high spirits. From our rock, we keep spotting large elusive deer trying to escape. But the hunters are strategically placed, so the trap relentlessly closes. A buck approaches the neighboring stand, and we follow the action closely, with our binoculars. Our neighbor takes three shots. The first one seems to hit the big antlered buck, but it continues to run before pausing. He is more than 300 meters away from us. So he is out of sight of the hunter, but in a perfect position for us. The rifle is placed on the shooting stick; the rangefinder indicates 310 meters with 60 cm correction. The red-dot sight finds its mark. Our first shot hits at the shoulder. The buck continues on his way for a short time, then stops and is hit by a second shot. An unforgettable moment. The secretary is beside himself with joy and informs us that we may now shoot two more deer if the opportunity presents itself. Indeed, the montería is different from our driven hunts, especially since many more pieces of game can be shot by each shooting stand. On this one hunting day, we have the opportunity to shoot three deer (regardless of the size of their antlers). The rest are off-limits. This is what Spanish hunting law prescribes.

After taking the sow and the buck, it gets relatively quiet in the mountains. The packs move away, always accompanied by the dog handlers. Again and again, shots are fired, capturing our attention. In the sky, about a dozen griffon vultures are circling. They take advantage of the thermals and are surely looking forward to the meal that awaits them.

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Lulled by the continuously rising temperatures, we fall into a kind of daze that saves the life of a beautiful wild boar. Finally, the sound of moving stones betrays him. But it’s too late to make a safe shot. We have to pull ourselves together. The dogs are approaching, and the baying of the pack suddenly rises to an overwhelming volume. The secretary gives us a signal and we catch sight of a deer. The rifle is shouldered and the red dot follows the elusive body, but then bushes and trees obscure it. Now the magnification factor increases to 1 and everything improves. The field of view enables planning and already the EVO bullet, .308 Win caliber, fells the deer right in front of its pursuers. The handler rushes over and brings his hungry predators under control so that they don’t tear the deer’s thigh meat.

And the hunt can continue. According to the schedule, we still have an hour. When the dogs reach the ridge, they once again raise a wild boar that comes straight at us. He is not ready to leave his life without a fight. The approximately 30 dogs give chase. Tension reaches its climax when bushes and leafy oaks once again make it difficult to see. Any shot fired now would endanger the dogs. We have to wait. After a good 15 minutes, the boar’s nerves get the better of him. He attacks the dogs with a force that drives the pack apart. The boar moves away. He moves into a rocky gorge where we can successfully apply three shots within a few seconds. That is enough to cleanly fell this handsome boar with imposing teeth. The dogs were brave – fortunately, none were hurt.

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Then the end of the hunt is announced via walkie-talkies. Then – as if from nowhere – the mules appear. They are used to retrieve game in terrain that is difficult to access. Off-road vehicles are responsible for everything else. With the high number of shots, our bagged game should be considerable. As the hunters are picked up, everyone reports on their experiences and tall tales abound… this is simply part of hunting under the Spanish sun.

The day ends with a delicious meal. Local specialties are served. Afterwards, the quarry is presented. All in all, we bagged 128 pieces of game, mainly deer. This form of hunting corresponds to local traditions, although not to criteria used in the more northern countries of Europe. Again, a state representative is on duty, and a veterinarian examines each piece before it is loaded into the waiting refrigerated vehicle.

Stamina, discipline, tradition, and conviviality – these are the impressions we take home after our first Iberian hunting experience. If you are interested in experiencing a hunt that is subject to numerous prejudices, do not hesitate to arrange a meeting with Pascal, Sergio, and Paco for next winter. After that, you will not only like but even admire the montería. You will come as customers and surely leave as friends.

AUTHOR: Philippe Jaeger
 

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