Story and photos by Zoltan Nagy
I have been a professional hunter in a large hunting area for 36 years and have my own outfitting business in northern Hungary where several professional hunters guide hunting guests for big game. Hundreds of game are harvested every year, and a not an inconsiderable number with bow and arrow. I myself have successfully guided at least 500 times for red stag in the rut. At this time of the hunting season, we are very busy and we usually fall into bed totally exhausted in the evening. And during this time you can hardly think of hunting yourself.
It was 20th of September, a hunting group had to cancel and so I had some spare time. I actually wanted to use this opportunity to get a few pictures of roaring stags during the peak of the rut. For some reason I took my bow with me, although at that time I had no serious intention of actually shooting a stag. In the early afternoon I drove the car to a hill in the hunting area. From up there I could already hear several stag roaring loudly. In the valley down below, there were at least 20 or even 25 vocal stags roaring back and forth. Some of the older herd stags had laid down in the heat of the day in the middle of their harem and the smaller stags circled the herd like satellites. Around 3:00 p.m. the vocalizing peaked and the valley was filled with a cloud of sounds of angry, longing and searching rutting calls and roars. Meanwhile I had already stalked into the valley to possibly find a deer which might not have been known yet to me or my professional hunters. After a good kilometer I came to a distinct trail leading into a thicket where I settled down next to it. But nothing happened and so I decided to stalk back to the car after a good half hour. But by that time there was also heavy rutting activity in the immediate vicinity of my car. It was my guess that there were at least seven stags on not more than one hectare that was half wooded and the other half tall grass and shrubbery. I could not help and got persuaded “inwardly” and decided to make another detour in the direction from where all the ruckus was coming. I was relatively relaxed at first, but suddenly I was right in the middle of the action! The roars and screams hit me from all sides at close range. A touch over 70 meters away I saw a really big and also mature herd stag, carrying a trophy weight of certainly nine to ten kilograms. He stood perfectly unobstructed but was well out of reach for my bow. He stretched his impressive headgear steeply upwards with every challenging roar. Probably no more than ten meters to my left, separated only by thick bushes, another red stag raged. At this point I was already sneaking low, no hand could fit between my stomach and the ground, and my complete body was lower than the grass around me. I knew that the wind plays a lesser role in the main rut, since the senses of the rutting giants, let’s say noble, are a bit clouded by the hormones. Nevertheless, now that I was gripped by the hunting fever, I didn’t want to ruin everything by becoming careless. So I continued my leopard crawl and came across another mature stag with a trophy weight of a good seven kilograms. Behind me and on both sides dense bushes concealed me and I had this impressive bull standing exactly 48 meters and broadside. In front of me, grass and low bushes were only knee-high at most, so there was no question of approaching further unnoticed.
I was well hidden from view by the last row of bushes in front of the open area. By that time buck fever really kicked in and I tried to get my heartbeat under control again and therefore consciously exhaled slowly and deeply. Meanwhile, I repeatedly brought the range finder to my eye and checked the distance. Exactly 48 meters! Then, without thinking, I pulled out the film camera and shot a video of the king of the forest roaring full steam. The film sequence is more than a minute long. Then I measured the distance again – 48 meters. I routinely kept the other deer in focus out of the corner of my eye and all my movements were in slow motion. I took my bow, straightened it carefully and slowly pulled to full draw. I was surprised myself at how calmly my aiming pin rested on the sweet spot which I was aiming for on the brown hide of the deer. Nevertheless, I let down again, took out my rangefinder one last time and again read 48 meters on the display. Now totally focused, I repeated the slow drawing movement from just before, letting my pin rest on the hide as I exhaled very carefully and allowed the almost silent shot to take me by surprise. I saw the arrow fly like on rails in a slight parabola to the targeted point, about two inches behind the front leg, and then disappear in the hide. Now, with my gaze still resting on the spot where my feathered projectile had disappeared, I heard the soft thump of impact and the stag reacted very lightly, much less than he would normally do with a striking bullet. The stag then moved away at a light trot, stopping after about 100 meters. He staggered slightly, then moved back a few meters in a wobbling gait, collapsed without making a sound, and succumbed.
I had watched the scene unfold with open mouth and immediately a feeling flooded through me that I had never felt in this intensity before. I was almost beside myself, wondering who I am and what I was doing here and most importantly, what made this king of the woods perform this “dance” for me. I quickly regained my composure and after two or three cigarettes, inhaling the soothing smoke while sitting, I got up and walked slowly towards my red stag. When I got there, I felt pride, amazement, satisfaction, and sadness all at once and then in furious alternation. The hunting ceremony of giving the prey the last bite and the wake beside the stag felt even more special this time, it propitiated me with the stag and calmed me down. I watched the whole scenery from a seated position, the huge red stag with the wonderful trophy right in front of me, my bow, the hunting arrow that I had barely been able to pull out of the dry ground after it passed through the deer.
After well over half an hour I called one of my professional hunters over the phone to help me with the recovery. Until he got to me, I reviewed the shot again. 48 meters is a long distance, but under certain circumstances it can be mastered by a very skilled shooter and experienced hunter and, in my opinion, can also be considered an ethical and responsible shot.
I shoot a fairly strong bow at 72 pounds draw weight with a 28-inch draw. I use a high-quality, two-blade broadhead and my arrow is heavy and big game-proof. The distance to the rather large vital zone of the stag was known exactly and hadn’t changed for several minutes, the stag was literally frozen to its place. I had regularly trained distances of well over 50 meters and was sure to hit the vital area of the deer at this distance. I also had my pulse totally under control, so I could shoot very calmly. To get into that state I had to take my time and calm down. Due to the loud rutting activity, the screaming of the deer and the beating of the bushes, a noise level was created that did not allow the deer, which were already distracted by the rutting hormones, to hear the sound of the bow going off. And the stag had his head turned away from me all the time, his attention focused on a point in the opposite direction from me.
To this day I still mentally review that shot with my eyes closed and in slow motion and I do it with a happy and broad smile. That was definitely one of the best shots of my life.