Ходихме на Лов!//We Went Hunting! (Nov. 6, 2010)
We were up before dawn, the sun was beginning its slow move into the valleys and onto our side of the mountain. It always takes longer to get here, leaving us in the dark that much longer.
Thermal wear under throw-away clothes, shirt with a picture of a pig on it for luck (we were hunting wild boar), knife, coffee.
Also, I’m not a hunter, I’m just along for the ride.
We’re at the cafe//кафе (the word is pronounced roughly the same) and my landlord, Ivo, who invited, me asks if I have my camera.
“No, I left it.”
“Well go get it, what are you thinking?”
“Will everyone be here for a bit?
“How can they not be?”
I make the quick trip back to my room, get the camera//апарат//apparat.
Everyone piles into jeeps and 4×4’s and heads out of the village West around the bend. There they get back out and plan the days formation – “X number of people there on that ridge, so many more down-hill, put half the trucks at the bottom and have some hike in, start the dogs and the fire crackers from this side and have them move in that direction…”
An explanation is in order. It’s wild boar season. The way these guys hunt boar, every weekend, is like this: they pick side of a mountain or a valley, they disperse along the sides of the valley or along the mountain, maybe 15 or so people, they spread out so no one is in shooting range of anyone else (no accidents) and so everyone is as far apart as possible without too big an opening in between them, forming a kind of net or perimeter below the ridge them came down from. Once everyone is in place, a group with dogs and firecrackers (m80’s) starts off from one end attempting to flush out the boar(s) toward the to other waiting hunters.
What happens if they catch one and why they need so many people I’ll get to later.
After the miniature strategy session is over, we get back into jeeps and head toward our ridge. We get out and everyone puts on their neon vest to avoid being shot/breaking the law. One guy complains about it a lot and Ivo//Иво (my landlord) says to him, “Formalities”//формалности//formalnosti, which makes me laugh because A) it’s one of these words that sounds enough like English to be understood without already having seen or heard it and B) it’s always funny when I find the same problems/annoyances here in Bulgaria as there are back in the States – “gosh, this bureaucracy is just like home!”
I shadow a guy named Rumen//Румен//Roo-men. He and I hike down from the ridge into the forest for about 15 minutes. There’s no trails or paths, except those made by animals. It’s just wilderness. We find a good spot next to a tree up the hill from here:
and under these:
Not a bad place for a picnic or even a nap as long as there’s daylight.
Of course it’s not to be, there’s work to be done…
Rumen and I sit, motionless and quiet for 20 minutes. We can hear the first firecrackers being set off somewhere far away. In the valleys and below the ridges of the mountains, distant sounds come from most everywhere, all at once if they come at all.
Another 10 minutes passes by and we here a distinct yet light sound, something is prancing through the autumn leaves to our left just around the corner where we can’t see. It’s close and it’s clear enough to know where it’s coming from. Rumen motions for me to pay attention and to be totally quiet as he stands up and readies his rifle – judging by the sound we heard, he thinks he’s about to shoot a deer.
A moment later a pack of 10 boars comes blazing past us, left to right. Just as fast as they appear the boom of Rumen’s rifle sounds and he let’s out a rushed but gratified “heh,” – he got one. There’s a lot of them still rushing past us, it’s only even been a second since they got here and he aims and fires 3 more times. They disappear over a ridge to our right. Out of sight and out of earshot.
He turns around, we look at each other, “HaHA!” I say. He’s glowing, I’m ecstatic, he points at the pig on my shirt and says, “luck”//късмет//kusmet,” and then, “Two or three”//две или три//dve ili tri.
We wait for a minute, and then head down to find the boar he shot.
This immediately gets even more interesting for me because the boar didn’t just fall to the ground, it kept going somewhere and so now it needs to be tracked to where it finally fell.
It’s easy to find. We go to where it was when Rumen shot it, there’s a blood trail//Кръвска патека//Kruvska patteka as well as some clear tracks.
The blood trail:
A short time later – this:
When we get to the boar he takes out his knife and, after slowly approaching and then jarring the beast with his boot, slits the throat to end it. He pulls out his cell and calls two of the nearby hunters that walked in with us, telling them to come to where we are, “we got one!” (It’s amazing how good the cell reception is in these mountains, by the way).
Now the hunt is on again, only this time we’re looking for the other boar he shot.
He asks me where the others ran to. “Over the top,” I tell him. We hike back up, and, still under the trees, but at the top of our sub-ridge there’s no useful tracks (none of the big ones that a wounded animal would leave), and, more importantly, no blood.
We go back to our spot where we were waiting before and sit for a bit. Rumen calls some more people, we hear some shouting from others trying to find us and we shout back.
Back at the boar again: Rumen looks around and notices another blood trail and more tracks coming from the same direction as the set we followed, however these continue on after the boar that’s dead in front of us.
These tracks are much more clear than the first set we followed.
We hurry along, as fast as we can without losing our footing and just sliding down the hill. Then Rumen stands tall and looks over his shoulder at me, his other hand pointing at a dark mass lying in a flat spot half way down to the gulch at the bottom. I congratulate him and we talk a little bit and it jumps up and takes off running, over the edge and out of site.
Rumen moves left, down past a tree, and takes aim. We wait 5 more minutes and then he fires, apparently after it decided to stop resting and moved into sight again.
And viola! We have Hungry Man Dinner number TWO!
Also, where we were standing looks like this:
Looking at these two beasts I’m starting to get an idea as to why it’s important to have 20 people with you. I ask him, “how are we getting these out of here? Back up to the truck?”
“Hahaha, no.” He says, “hard work//трудна работа//troo-dna rah-bota.
After the others arrive the “hard work” of dragging these two along the “almost-a-creek” bottom of the gulch begins. We make it about a kilometer and we run into another 10 guys all waiting in a partial clearing near where a number of “almost-creeks” meet and turn into a real creek – running water and everything.
A hand full of guys pull out hunting knives and start skinning, de-hooving, gutting and quartering the two boars. I lend mine to a skilled hand in need of a blade – he knows what to do with it, I don’t.
There are lot of things that I’ve experienced in Bulgaria that might otherwise make me uncomfortable, if for no other reason than they’re so different from most of our experiences back in the States (say, drinking butter milk and brandy, together, on a hot day). As is usually the case, however, the way Bulgarians go about these things, most everything really, is so matter-of-fact, so natural that I can’t help act and feelg the same.
“Alright guys, let’s take the skin off of these two animals and then cut ‘em into 4, or maybe 6 pieces so we can haul them outta here back to the jeeps. Ready? Ok. Go.”
It’s like that. And then that happened. Everyone pulls out a couple of large, thick plastic bags and after about 40 minutes of serious-business dissection, I’m carrying 20 pounds of freshly dead boar meat under my arm.
For the butchers and doctors in training out there. I got most all of it on video.
The first of which is here:
*You may need to go to the album to watch the video, the embedding seems to have some problems.*
Link to the whole album.
There you can find the rest of the (more gruesome, though very plain) videos and the other pictures.
We get back to the trucks, Rumen is awarded the “best hunter of 2010” t-shirt, the kind of trophy that gets passed around until the end of the season. Apparently he’s better than most of the guys, who knew?
We get back to the picnic area 4km outside of town, have lunch and then everyone leaves on another hunt except myself and three others.
Now that the boars have been caught, it’d only be right to divide them up into equal shares for everyone, right?
How many hunters were there? 20? Oh, right. I guess we’d better make 20 piles then, huh?
And now that we’ve got these piles of meat, that are fairly distributed amongst all of the participants, how’s everyone going to get these home?
Why, bags of course!
The red bags on the left are for the big boar and the yellow ones for the small boar. They color code them because the boars have to be tested for trichinosis//трихинилоза//Trihiniloza. If one tests positive, you throw that bag away – it’s that simple.
All-in-all, a pretty excellent day. I got to be in the outdoors, see a real (previously) live wild boar up close! Just like at the zoo! And then I got to see it methodically turned into ribs, loins and dinner steaks (more on that later).
Thanks Bulgaria, much appreciated. You are, as always, a delight.