When someone is taken out of their culture and their comfort zone, they look for familiar things that make them feel comfortable. This helps to ease their apprehension with living in new surroundings. When I moved to Germany in September 2009, I searched for the local hunting community. I had read about the different styles of hunting in Europe, having visited briefly twice before. I was intrigued and eager to learn as much as I could, to begin a new chapter in my hunting career.
In spring 2010, I enrolled in the German hunting course for American military members, dependents and civilian employees. It was required to obtain a Jagdschein (German hunting license) and held at the Kaiserslautern Rod and Gun Club. For 10 weeks, 2 nights a week, 3 hours a night, I learned about the hunting culture, conservation management, rules, regulations and game available to the Jaeger including the biology of each animal. The Germans are very proud of their traditions and culture and are held in high regard by the public. Eight centuries of hunting this land has been honed to an efficient and time honored past time.
There are many different species of animals to hunt, most of which Americans have never heard of or know very little about. Game is categorized into two groups known as Hochwild (big game) and Niederwild (small game). Although I started on small game as a boy, I grew into hunting big game as I suppose most do. Here in Germany, I wanted to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity and began pursuing the local Hochwild.
Of the local game available, the most popular tends to be the Roe or Reh Deer. Much smaller than our Whitetail in the states, there are numerous Reh Deer which I believe are more skittish than the Whitetail. An adult male may reach 3 1/2 feet in length and 30 inches at the shoulder with a live weight of 35-45 pounds. Females are normally about 10% smaller.
There are no large predators left in this part of Europe, with the exception of the odd Brown Bear that may wander over from Croatia occasionally. The only naturally occurring threat to the Roe is the fox and the wild boar. There are reports that wolves are on the rise in Europe, but currently don’t have the numbers to seriously threaten the Roe. Due to strict laws regarding pets, feral dogs and cats are not permitted and may be shot on site. For these reasons, the Roe population and corresponding harvest tend to be the highest of all the Hochwild.
Hunting for Roe begins in April, shortly after most bocks have shed their velvet. If bocks are found still in velvet by July, it is considered a genetic failure and they are shot to prevent passing along inferior genes. A healthy, mature bock in his prime will grow three points to a side. They are referred to as a “sechser” with antlers reaching 11 inches considered exceptional. Antlers that are 8-9 inches are excellent.
Due to multiple work issues and conflicts, I was unable to hunt until spring 2011. But, I was eager to begin and started looking for places to hunt. Ultimately, I hunted on the property of my senior hunting instructor from the course. Max Butler is retired Air Force and married to a very nice German lady. I didn’t have my own weapon yet. When he invited me to hunt with him, he also loaned me a weapon, an old Mauser 98 in .308 Winchester. Other than it being right handed, it was a very nice rifle with an extremely smooth action, all topped with a Schmidt & Bender scope.
The first evening he put me in a stand that was in an elevated box blind overlooking a right-of-way cut through the forest. No deer were seen that evening, but I was entertained by a young fox. On the way out of the forest, we saw a sow Wild Boar and four of her young cross the road 20 yards in front of us in the headlights. One of which felt brave enough to run up to within 5 yards of the vehicle and challenge us by sticking his nose up in the air. He was brave until his momma called him. He turned and ran into the woods after her.
He invited me back the next week. This time I sat in a different stand, about 200 yards from the Autobahn. I could overlook multiple open fields where the Roe might come out. As the afternoon wore on, I watched a rabbit and a pheasant in a field about 150 yards behind me. Eventually, a fox began stalking down an open creek bed trying to catch a meal. It was fun to watch. But I think the fox went hungry that evening, as I never heard or saw any commotion from that direction.
About an hour before dark, a Reh came out into the field about 350 yards away. I wouldn’t take the shot, which would cross a walking path that many people were on that evening. It was not worth the risk. About 15 minutes later, I glanced down the edge of the field and got my first glimpse of a Roe deer up close. And not just any Roe deer, a big sechser! I couldn’t believe he was coming out only 100 yards from where I sat. As I got my rifle ready, I scanned the background and area behind him and saw no walkers. I watched him graze for a few seconds then lift his head to look around while eating. Slowly, he eased out into the field taking a few more steps.
At first, I was a little nervous, “Bock” fever maybe? But as I watched him for a little while, I felt a calm come over me. I regained my composure and began to line him up in the scope. When he was about 15 yards from the brush line, he came out and I fired! I dropped him in his tracks. The Barnes 180 grain TSX did its job superbly. After I reloaded and watched for a few seconds the excitement and the shakes began. I couldn’t believe I had my first Roe!
Figure 1 “Photo” Kyle Shaffer and his first ever Roe Deer.
The first thing I did was to send a text to my wife Terri in the states. I wanted to share the moment with her. Then, I called Max to tell him what happened. He said he would be there in a few minutes. I got down out of the stand and walked over to the deer. He was down in the 20 inch tall grass. He was even prettier and better than I thought. I paced the steps back to the stand to measure the distance. By the time I got my backpack, Max showed up. He congratulated me with “Waidmannsheil” (Hunters Good Luck) and I replied “Waidmannsdank” (Hunters Thanks), as he presented me with the shooters branch that I put in my hat, after placing the “last bite” branch in the bucks mouth.
Figure 2 “Photo” A close up of Kyle’s trophy Roe Deer.
After a few photos (I couldn’t stop grinning) we field dressed him. We took him back to Max’s house to wash him out and weigh him. Field dressed he weighed 38 pounds, bigger than I expected. He was a beautiful deer, especially for a first one. I truly did have Waidmannsheil with my first Roe!
After talking to several friends and looking at photos of other Reh, I decided to have it scored by Safari Club International Master Measurer and retired Air Force Captain Bob Peterson. It scored 40 7/8 inches and made the record book as a bronze medal buck. Not bad for a first Roe indeed. He tasted better than he scored. He was succulent and very tender, the reason why I wanted him in the first place. I’ve never been a trophy hunter, rather hunting for the experience and the nice meat. Making the record book, was icing on the cake!
Thanks to Max for his hospitality and introducing me to Deutsche Jagd. It wasn’t just about the kill. As Peter Hathaway Capstick said, “Getting the golf ball into the hole is the conclusion of the challenge. How one gets it there and how many strokes it takes is the challenge itself. The putt is to golf, as the shot is to hunting.” It was about learning the rich hunting customs of Germany and enjoying quiet evenings in the stands. Watching the wildlife and taking it all in, made it more worthwhile. It brought me back to my comfort zone. It also once again helped me to appreciate my surroundings, and the peaceful affect that hunting has on me.