Hunting is sometimes full of surprises. To tell the truth, the story I have decided to share with you today will seem so curious and unusual that the reader will easily understand that I hesitated a great deal before deciding to recount it.
It was last December, in the heart of my native Normandy. A week before it took place, I had received an invitation to participate in a wild boar hunt through a long-time friend, a great wild boar enthusiast and an excellent shot.
An invitation that does not refuse
Knowing that I prefer small rather than big game, my friend had found how to convince me by boasting the remarkable quality of the territory in question, the density of animal populations living there, the great hospitality of our hosts but, above all, he insisted on the absolutely uniquely original character of the hunting that was practiced there, although he refused to reveal to me in what this originality consisted: “I am certain that you have never seen that; I will not tell you what it is; just expect something … extraordinary. You will thank me then!”
Faced with so much enthusiasm shrouded in mystery, anyone would have been intrigued, if not persuaded! So I accepted and, in the early morning of Saturday, I went to the hunting appointment with my rifle, my bullets, my elegant fluorescent hunting vest and all the necessary paraphernalia.
The day of this extraordinary driven hunt
The weather was very average, rather wet, and visibility was blurred by persistent drizzle; although it was winter, the real winter was slow to offer its dry cold and delightful luminosity. I soon caught sight of my friend in good company, seated among the other hunters, devouring a succulent bowl of tripe cooked in the Caen fashion and accompanied by a crisp, dry white wine. I recognised the familiar faces of some hunting companions who had clearly been told not to tell me what was the famous “surprise” – indeed, they all had sealed lips, despite my insistent questioning.
After this invigorating breakfast, and after the safety and shooting instructions were given by the person in charge of the hunt, we were placed, for the first stalk, in the positions attributed to us by drawing lots. I was located at the end of the enclosure where we were going to hunt – a kind of funnel consisting of a forest of large oaks that ended with a thick, impenetrable thicket of brambles where the very clear tracks testified to the constant presence of animals. To put it simply: under my boots, the hoof prints of wild boars were intertwined, crossing in all directions.
From my position, I saw in the distance the big four-wheel drive vehicles carrying the trackers and the dogs. What astonished me, however, was that I did not hear barking or any of those plaintive cries that any hunter perceives when, on the lookout for the animal that might escape before being shot, he himself becomes silent, listening with his gun ready to fire.
A few minutes passed: the stalkers set to work and, from time to time, brief trumpet sounds were heard. But there was no sound of dogs barking! I was all the more astonished to hear the rifles of my fellow hunters on three occasions firing outside the enclosure – followed each time by the trumpet blast announcing a kill, as is customary in our region. Time passed and, as a preamble, I saw in the undergrowth the tail of a very fine black fox who must have felt it was inadvisable to remain in the vicinity. I couldn’t shoot it, it sailed like a shadow through brambles and tall grass, too far away. A few seconds later, it was the turn of a hare to follow the same path, stopping just for a moment in the middle of a trail, before taking leave in the exact direction of the fox. Who has never seen these kinds of scenes that look like a Disney film? Prey on the track of the predator: what an amusing symbol!
Small dogs without fear
Nevertheless, following the passage of this extraordinary hare, something much more bizarre happened. First, I heard a whole series of squeals, as if ferrets were bleeding rabbits in a burrow, which obviously did not make much sense in the present situation. Then, the scream intensified and was accompanied by strange, quiet, high-pitched grunts. Among the thickets, I then heard branches cracking increasingly loudly and then a terrible hubbub that seemed to indicate that “it” was coming towards me, and at a brisk pace! Suddenly, a huge loner – 100 kilos, at the very least! – arose from the brambles, in the middle of the track, only about forty yards away! Without losing a second, I instinctively raised my gun to my shoulder and shot: the boar was hit full on and crashed flat on to the ground. Next (everything happened very quickly), three small, slim, if not scrawny, white dogs appeared like furies from the underworld: at the time I was unable to say to what race they belonged, but I saw them throw themselves without any hesitation on the boar which was already coming back to life; I had obviously not touched a vital point. Furious, enraged, endowed with a power inversely proportional to the frailty of their frame, the dogs dug their fangs relentlessly into the vast beast, two on the head, one at the throat, and the wild boar, which was struggling like a devil, suddenly began to scream and scream, loud enough to pierce your eardrums! However, naturally, I could not shoot again: the fight was literally close combat!
Indeed, when the trackers arrived, two minutes after the dogs, the superb loner was already almost dead, stunned, smothered…! When it was finished off with the dagger, I looked carefully at these perfectly groomed dogs that were not at all “rustic” in appearance; I observed their bright white coat, smeared only in some places with the blood of the boar and a little mud – and only then did I realise that I had just experienced the most surprising hunting scene of my existence, because these infernal dogs, with their demented strength and incredible temerity, these monsters of violence that had won an unquestionable victory over one of our most dangerous wild animals were, in the end, nothing more than… poodles!
The reader will grant that there was a good reason to be deeply shaken: I could never have imagined that these drawing-room doggies that are forced to be dressed up in ridiculous knitwear and get wild only in sandboxes, can prove to be such formidable killers in a hunt! Especially so since my shot – as we later saw – had been far from lethal, just a shot in the apophysis, only a superficial wound!
A surprising discussion
When the morning’s hunting was over, I returned to the lodge and immediately questioned the owner of this curious team that the other guests had already seen at work (including my friend, who was happy that the “surprise” had worked so well). Pierre was a man standing one metre ninety tall and, whip in hand, he explained to me that he had discovered on his own the extraordinary hunting potential of the poodle, particularly with boars, and that this was indeed very little known to hunters but that they would eventually find it out. “As you have seen,” he said, “poodles can be extremely strong biters, especially small ones – the only ones I use, in fact. Their instincts lead them irresistibly towards the wild boar just as, for example, the fox-terrier is led towards the fox or the setter towards fowl. How can we explain this attraction and the fact that excitement increases the power of these rather small dogs to an unprecedented extent? Frankly, I do not know. When they get their teeth into a wild boar, they are like David against Goliath, yet I often find it very difficult to make them let go. That is why I usually do not let loose more than three per hunt because they tend to choke wild boars that lack a little nerve and defence directly in the enclosures – which spoils the hunt itself!” Furthermore, while he described to me the basics of training poodles as running dogs specialised in wild boar hunting, Pierre added that these dogs, strangely, had no taste for deer, fallow deer or hares, and that this represents a significant advantage when it comes to their favorite game – but, even more strangely, that he knew several examples that were “totally mad” for ducks and other waterfowl!
In the evening, as I took my leave after a hunting party that I shall never forget, Pierre whispered in my ear the following: “I understand that you were surprised, to say the least, by what you saw today. And I suppose you must regret not having brought your camera because most people will refuse to take your word for it: we know those hunters’ tales! Well, next time you come, I’ll show you how we unearth badgers and foxes with tiny … Yorkshire terriers! You will see, it’s just as impressive!” Pierre has not called me yet, but I do not doubt that the opportunity will come one day. Of course, I shall tell you all about it!
Have you ever experienced unusual hunting practices?
Do not hesitate to share your memories and comments with us!