Boddington's Adventures

Hunting free-range red stags in the U.K.

By Craig Boddington

The stag was tending hinds in a clearing just on the edge of the thick fog. He was too far to count points, but the rack was very big, seeming to dwarf his body, which, in turn, dwarfed the bodies of his hinds. The stag’s roars carried clearly across the dell, and we watched the herd for quite a while as they drifted in and out of the mist.

Unfortunately that was all we could do, because we were near our boundary, and the herd was well out of our area. But at least we saw him, and he was well worth seeing. We were hunting private land on the edge of the New Forest in southwest England. Well, it was "new" when created by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century! And these were free-range English stags, the same red deer that got Robin Hood into trouble, as the legend goes.

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What if you get to your hunting destination but your bag doesn't?

By Craig Boddington

We all worry about it. In my experience it doesn’t happen all that often, but it does happen: You arrive just fine at your hunting destination, but one or more of your bags doesn’t.

The best way to ensure that your bags arrive with you is to arrive in plenty of time for your first flight, and absolutely do not let your travel agent book close connections. For me that means at least an hour on domestic flights, and about two hours on international connections. But even with the best planning flights can be delayed, and sometimes, for whatever reason, your luggage doesn’t make the flight.

The only hedge against this is to pack your carry-on bag as if it’s the only bag you will receive. (Once in a while it will be.) Just the other day, traveling from California to South Africa (via Phoenix and New York) it happened to me: My gun case made it in just fine, but my duffel bag did not.

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When it comes to handling loaded guns, it is absolutely impossible to be too careful.

By Craig Boddington

We talk endlessly about the relative dangers of one member of the Big Five versus another. Statistically, even hunting dangerous game is a whole lot safer than a lot of other popular pastimes—but I am convinced that the most dangerous creature of all is another human with a firearm. For a guide, who is often in front, the risks are obvious. I am not resentful of guides who are anal about checking chambers and not allowing rounds to be chambered until permission is given. This just makes sense, and I was that way back when I was doing a little guiding. I’m the same way with my kids, but it’s actually worse when you’re hunting with a stranger with unknown safety habits—and a level of excitability that is also unknown.

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You never know if opportunities at game will come easily or not at all, so don't pass up a gift when it's given.

By Craig Boddington

I’ve often written that goat country starts where sheep country stops, and that goat hunting is thus generally tougher than sheep hunting. This is true, but it always depends on your luck and the exact circumstances. Just recently I did a spring hunt for Beceite ibex in southeastern Spain. Realistically, because of intensive and effective management in somewhat restricted islands of habitat, hunting any of the four Spanish ibex is generally less demanding than hunting the other races of ibex. The Beceite is often the least strenuous of the four Spanish ibex because their country is lower, wooded hills that usually aren’t especially steep…although locating them when they’re in the trees can border on impossible.

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Sometimes you can't use your own rifle on a hunt. What then?

By Craig Boddington

Many hunters are also serious rifle nuts. I guess I’m one of them, because one of the great pleasures in planning any hunting trip is figuring out the exactly perfect rifle, scope, cartridge, and bullet for the upcoming event. Some of us agonize over this endlessly, and it’s truly not only part of the fun, but part of the satisfaction to take that perfect combination and use it effectively on game animals we have long dreamed about.

On the other hand, there are many extremely successful hunters who are not “gun guys” at all. To them the hunting firearm is simply a tool, only slightly more complex and interesting than a shovel. Sometimes I envy them, because it’s easy to get caught up in the nuances when all that really matters, within very broad parameters, is to “hold ‘em and squeeze ‘em.”

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