No matter what side of the Atlantic a hunter is chasing wild hogs, the beauty of the autumn landscape, the excitement of the chase, and the laughter and good times with others lures us back in and fuels the hunt’s desire once again.
For many American hunters, the wild hog is a nuisance, a pest, something to be gotten rid of at almost any cost.
Given the destruction to agricultural land and damage to wildlife habitat that invasive feral hogs are causing in many locales — Texas, for instance, a state with millions of the wild rooters roaming around — and that passionate desire is somewhat understandable.
But not everyone feels such strong emotion in the chase after wild swine, particularly in the woods and uplands of Europe where the hog is hunted with a bit more reserved emotion. There, the centuries-old tradition of pursuing wild boars on driven hunts brings a measure of respect for the game animal, the need for woodsmanship, and culinary skill that turn meat into a fabled meal for the dinner table.
In that light, it’s just as understandable that the hog is pursued with a different kind of passion in Europe. Just ask American hunter and conservationist Mitch Petrie, a member of the Wild Boar Fever X crew, a My Outdoor TV original series that begins a multiweek MOTV run on July 8.
Set in the beautiful autumn forests of the Loire Valley in France’s Sologne region south of Paris, the new season of Wild Boar Fever features the legendary Franz Albrecht Oettingen-Spielberg, a hunter and conservationist from Germany who rarely misses a driven hog, thanks to his crack shot shooting skills.
Joining him this season is Petrie, who might be a newbie in Europe but is actually a veteran hunter from the U.S., along with Feliew of France, and Desiree Lantz from Sweden. There's also Frederic Hanner of J.P. Sauer & Sohn, a centuries-old rifle maker, along with Sweden's Alexander Nordin, who is with his country's well-known red-dot sight originator, Aimpoint.
After beginning with some time on the range to make sure rifles and optics are properly sighted in, along with some shooting practice at stationary and moving targets, the hunters on this season-opening episode of Wild Boar Fever donned their Harkila hunting clothes and moved on to the damp and muddy woods to see if they could readily transfer their skills there.
While it wouldn’t be easy, Franz certainly seems to make it possible as he has shown in seasons past. After watching the veteran hog hunter do his work with precision and skill, Petrie had his own reason to hope as he prepared to head for the woods.
“I think with practice, a skilled hunter can get to Franz's level," he said. "But when you have all of the elements coming together, the (guide) saying 'Shoot,’ the sizing of this boar, and you have to choose to shoot, and then the cycling of the bolt to get onto another target, it's absolutely incredible.”
If that description sounds a bit foreign to American hunters, it is. In the States, most hog hunting is either incidental to other hunts conducted for game animals like the white-tailed deer or centered around chasing the rooters near key food resources. But across the Atlantic, hunting hogs is based upon the long-standing European tradition of driven shoots where drivers clad in hunter-safety orange make their way through the woods, pushing game toward hunters waiting in elevated stands.
Add in the driven hunt’s need for proper sexing of boars — only mature male boars are sought — not to mention the sights and sounds of game suddenly appearing on the run in the colorful autumn woods. The result is an adrenaline-charged moment all hunters know and live for, regardless of where they happen to live.
The hog suddenly appears on the run, darting this way and that, bringing the need for a snap decision to safely shoot or not. If the hunter and his guide make the decision to shoot, that moment is immediately followed by the need for a skillful and safe shot, one that humanely dispatches the game animal destined for the table.
“Driven boar hunting is completely different than hog hunting in America," said Petrie. "Here, we're on a stand and working with beaters and dogs who are pushing boars by your stand, whereas in America, hog hunting is about eradication, so it's (about) shooting everything and not being as mindful about shot placement and sexing and sizing (of hogs) as we are here. It makes it more difficult.”
It certainly isn’t easy in Europe or America, but Oettingen-Spielberg seems to make it look otherwise thanks to his cool demeanor and deadly accuracy with a Sauer 404 bolt-action rifle.
In one rapid-fire sequence in the season-opening episode, Franz quietly shouldered his rifle as a wild hog appeared in the woods, turning loose an accurate Hornady round that quickly anchored the rooter as it ran.
Moments later, another big boar appeared, bringing the same result after a quick follow-up shot was sent downrange. And before the wisp of smoke had barely finished curling away from the warm steel of Franz’s rifle barrel, the process was repeated for a third time in a matter of mere seconds.
”When you're hunting with the Michael Jordan of wild boar hunting, four shots ... that's probably four boars on the ground,” said Petrie with another grin.
Well, even basketball’s all-time great occasionally missed, and so did Franz along with the others. But the whole point of a driven shoot is essentially the same as it is in America — taking meat for the table while effectively managing the number of game animals on a particular piece of ground, keeping them within the carrying capacity of the land.
Add in the deep traditions of European hunters that have been going on for hundreds of years, and the result is an experience that moves the senses thanks to the rich colors of the autumn woods, the smell of the muddy turf, the sounds of the hunting horn and hounds in the forests, and the thrill of the chase as game suddenly appears.
Follow that up with reverent honor for a downed game animal, the preparing of that animal for the table, and the enjoyment of good food and drink with fellow hunters, family, and friends and getting a case of Wild Boar Fever is an almost certain result.
Whether you’re a newbie like Petrie or a seasoned veteran like Franz.
Because he’s out there, the wild boar you’re dreaming of, no matter which side of the Atlantic you find yourself hunting upon.