Abfangen I

It was a fine winter’s day, in a forest in Germany. The air was cool and crisp, the ground covered with a thin coat of snow, the sky was blue and the sun shone so that everything sparkled around us. I was with a group of beaters, taking part in a pressure hunt on wild boar, roe deer and red deer and that had commenced about two hours earlier, in the late morning. I had just struggled to get out of a thicket of young trees, partially overgrown with the thorny trails of bramble and briar and now stood at the edge of a snow-covered meadow. I could hear the voices of the other beaters still in the thicket here and there, so I took a few deep breaths and looked around. Our dogs were nowhere to be seen. One of them had the tendency to disappear again and again so I tried to spot him. But all I could hear was one dog continually barking a bit further away, out of my sight. Was that him? I couldn’t really tell. Yet something wasn’t quite right. Usually the dogs moved around and so the barks should, too. But this barking didn’t move. As the other beaters were still inside the thicket I called out to D. that I would go and see what the barking was about.

At the far end of the meadow there was a path separating a thicket to its right and left. The barking seemed to come from there. When I came closer I could see J, the dog I was looking for, about halfway down the path barking in front of the right-hand thicket, and a hunter was standing right behind him. I couldn’t make out what this was about but I speeded up now as I sensed that something had happened here or was about to happen.

„What’s the matter?“ I asked the hunter, looking at him and at the dog still barking into the thicket.

„A wounded sow’s lying there.“ He answered and pointed.

Surrounded by thick layers of bramble, in a dip in the ground, I could now see her, lying there, watching us. And I suddenly realized the danger of the situation. I couldn’t see how strongly wounded she was, whether she was still able to attack us or not. I stood right behind the dog who tried to snap at her, and tried to call him away but without success. For the dog, only the sow was important now.

Now the other beaters were finally arriving, too. D., an experienced forester and hunter, talked with the hunter next to the dog. The two women in our group came closer as well, but M. urged the inexperienced, young woman not to get too close as it was too dangerous. As I heard M.’s warning I realized that I was still standing right behind the dog, directly in the line of attack should the sow choose to burst out of her hiding. The dog was still barking all the time as suddenly the sow tensed and speeded forward, but stopped right in the movement and laid back again, eyeing us suspiciously, so it seemed.

We all spread cautiously around her now, trying to be out of her way while still trying to hold her cornered. When D. removed his rifle from his shoulder I slowly began to understand what we were doing here. This was an Abfangsituation. There was a wounded animal and of course it had to be killed. Having never before been in such a situation, I just wasn’t aware that it would be right here, right now, and I right next to it.

We moved in a bit, our dog checking in the sow from the front, D. and me from the side. With one hand only D. held the barrel of his rifle right to her head, behind her ear and pulled the trigger. Boom! The sow hardly moved. Was she dead? With a gnarl, the dog snapped at the sow’s snout, I tried to hold him back, thinking it somehow inappropriate to disturb her dying. The sow lay still but not different from before, although her eyes did not move. D. prodded her with the barrel of his rifle. Nothing. She was dead.

We grasped her forelegs and dragged her out of the dip and the brambles.

„Come on. Let’s move on.“ said D. to us, shouldering his gun and – with a goodbye to the hunter – we all moved on to continue the rest of our beat.