Walk the course, stay on post
In France, driven hunts are mainly for the big game: boar, obviously, but also roe-deer, red deer and fox. On some vast and populated estates, it is not necessary to check for the presence of animals before hunting them; on smaller shoots they “walk the course” beforehand. In the early morning, an inspection of the edges of the shoot is carried out, sometimes with the help of a bloodhound, to determine as far as possible the presence of fresh tracks of animals entering it, taking care not to miss indications they have also left it.
On days when the ground is damp, the going is easy – but when the ground is dry and hard, it’s quite a different matter. This step is essential for at least two reasons: firstly it prevents setting out on a hunt and returning empty-handed (which is never very gratifying) and secondly – and most importantly – it prevents the contamination of the shoot with smells and tracks which would probably make the wildlife understandably apprehensive over the following days.
In addition, once the decision to hunt is taken, the head beater gathers the participants and gives instructions: identifies the animals which can be shot, and the number of blasts to sound in case of a kill or a sighting depending on the species; and re-states the safety regulations (downward shot, 30° angle, etc.). The head beater also ensures that everyone is wearing, as required, a fluorescent orange hi-vis vest.
Finally, it is the head driver’s responsibility to allocate posts – and one of the golden rules of a driven hunt is invariably repeated at this point: at no time should any hunter move around or leave their post; everyone has a duty to be patient until the end of the driven is sounded.
During the drive…
Although sometimes silent and without dogs (which startles the game less and encourages them to use their usual paths), the driven is usually conducted with shouts and noise. Within the enclosure, the beaters walk slowly, hitting the undergrowth and brambles, encouraging their four-footed helpers (hounds and terriers) and making sure they don’t miss a potential hiding-place: the toughest animals are usually the last to get up, and they are capable of resisting the longest the urge to flee, to break cover.
Meanwhile, the hunter must – and this is obvious – remain discreet and immobile, and never consider shooting into the driven, even if they think they have full knowledge of what is happening: ideally, you don’t shoot until the animal has clearly passed behind the line (everyone is advised beforehand of the situation of the other surrounding hunters).
Nowadays, many hunting associations recommend using stands, which we can only be glad about, as these fixed stands provide excellent visibility, reducing the risk of a shot which might not be strictly downwards.
Another important point to bear in mind: should a shot animal not stop, it is useful to pay attention to details which could help find it again: attitude at the moment the trigger was pulled, speed, direction, reaction, etc. Thanks to these often decisive clues, it will be possible for the dog handler to track down the boar, red deer, roe-deer or fox that has been singled out for a shot. If needed, the details noted could be useful for a scent hound.
And in conclusion!
Naturally, driven hunts are different according to country, culture, type of game: a technique used or ojeo for small game, montería for the big game. We will definitely be evoking the past heritage of Germany or Spain, which is still practised today in future posts. But please let us know about your own experiences and comments.