Luton, a place most Brits know but no one wants to go. Our adventure began with a quick curry that set our backsides ablaze. Little did we know that this spicy ordeal was just the beginning of our misadventures. Starting at 0300, we embarked on a Wizz Air flight, and that's when Nick's talent for losing things kicked in. First, it was his phone in the security checkpoint. Swiftly recovered, only to be followed by leaving his new Kuiu jacket on the plane. We couldn't help but wonder what mysterious negotiations he made with the gay steward to get back on the plane, but whatever it was, it worked.
Upon landing in Belgrade, we were greeted by Vukasin from Wild Srbija. We embarked on a journey across the Danube to his family home. Within seconds of arriving, we were presented with Rakija, the most popular drink in Serbia. But that was just the beginning. Vukasin's mother spoiled us with an array of game meats and vegetables from her garden, only to surprise us with a full-blown three-course meal afterward. Little did we know that this was just the beginning of Serbia's culinary delights.
Having stuffed our faces with food, Rakija, and Vukasin's mother's lovely peaches, we loaded into the car and headed to meet some local hunters. To our delight, we were then presented with a huge platter of local fish, expertly caught by our host. Joining us was a mutual friend from Austria, Wolfgang the "wolf," who arrived on his KTM. Wolfgang possibly makes the best rifle stocks in the world and might even be cooler than Mr G. With our bellies at maximum capacity and spirits high, we were ready for our first hunting outing. Tonight, our targets were jackals, foxes, and maybe even piggies.
As we set out to hunt from towers, thermal spotting became our key strategy. Mr G had a good evening with two jackals and a badger put to bed, while the Wolf successfully took down a wild boar. But it wasn't all smooth sailing. Tracking down the boar turned into a heart-pounding pursuit, involving crawling on all fours and even a slightly injured tracker dog. On the other hand, Nick's evening was slightly less successful as he continued his losing streak by dropping the mosquito repellent out of the tower. He then proceeded to be eaten alive by mosquitoes and had no opportunities for a shot. Nonetheless, it was still a good evening in nature.
After tracking down the boar at 0400 hrs, we finally thought it was bedtime. However, Serbia had a different plan for us. We unexpectedly found ourselves in a wild chase after poachers. Our host showcased the race track capabilities of his 1990 Lada, pursuing the poachers in an equally impressive 1980 Renault 12. Not content with having a friendly chat, our host initiated the "ram the poachers' car" policy. As one can imagine, this escalated quickly and tensions ran high. Eventually, the battle of who has biggest balls subsided, and we made our way back home. How foolish of me to think it was time for bed. Of course, in Serbia, the night was far from over—it was beer time, After all, we were in Serbia.
Finally hitting the sack at 0600 meant we had only three hours of much-needed rest. After our scarce amount of sleep, we were awakened to a sumptuous breakfast featuring wild boar burgers, venison sausage, homemade bread, and cheesecake. In Serbia, it became evident that sleep was optional while indulging in feasts became a way of life. Nick, in particular, fully embraced this lifestyle with great enthusiasm.
Heading southeast with the Wolf in hot pursuit, our destination was Sokobanja, a beautiful small town nestled in a sub alpine region. Two years prior, this area was teeming with wild boar, but unfortunately, an outbreak of swine fever had drastically reduced their numbers to less than 10. Despite the challenge, we remained determined to pursue our target species: roe buck. However, the thriving populations of wolves and wild cats posed a significant obstacle. The pressure on roe deer was immense, as they had become the primary prey for these predators.
The perfect combination of food and terrain in Sokobanja made it an ideal habitat for roe deer. In the UK, we would expect to spot roe deer at every turn, but Serbia had a surprise in store for us. The grass was exceptionally high, providing excellent cover for the roe deer, and making patient observation and careful glassing the order of the day.
Undeterred, we loaded into our trusty Lada, a former Soviet Block budget car, and headed towards the pyramid mountain. We decided to hunt on foot, stalking through the terrain in search of our elusive quarry. On our first evening, luck seemed to be on our side as we encountered a shootable roe buck. However, the cunning creature had other plans and swiftly evaded our pursuit.
With our experienced guide by our side, we continued stalking for an hour, hoping for another opportunity. Eventually, we found ourselves in a picturesque spot, offering excellent vantage points for spotting our quarry. However, the serene environment hid a perilous secret—Serbian mosquitoes. These blood-loving insects transformed any moment of stillness into a painful encounter, leaving us feeling like human pin cushions.
Hours passed, and despite our perseverance, we failed to encounter any roe deer. It seemed that the roe deer had mastered the art of camouflage, evading our every move. Disheartened but still appreciative of the stunning Serbian landscapes, we retreated to our cozy lodge while our Serbian friends and the Wolf ventured into town for more food and beers.
The following day, at 0300 hrs, it was time to hunt again. Despite having only three hours of sleep, we were determined to make the most of our time. We soon located the buck we had been pursuing, but the tall grass obstructed our shot opportunities. We continued hunting, exploring every corner, clearing, and wood edge. However, luck was not on our side as we failed to spot any roe deer. Nevertheless, the breathtaking views in every direction compensated for the lack of game. To pass the time, we indulged in delicious wild strawberries, relishing the flavours nature had to offer.
Reluctantly, we bid farewell to the beautiful part of Serbia and headed southeast. Arriving at Knjazevac, we unloaded our gear at a former Soviet hotel. Although it lacked all the modern trimmings, the Serbs recognised a good thing when they found it— an entire roasted pig. Embracing the Serb way, Nick and I knew better than to skip the starters. With one large pig and twelve hungry Serbs, along with the two Brits, we made a concerted effort to savor every part of the pig, even devouring the head and eyeballs.
Our journey continued as we set out in our obligatory Soviet Lada. Vukasin and I ended up in a tower perched on the side of a mountain, offering an awe-inspiring view across the valley. It was a hunter's paradise, unlike anything I had experienced before. The tower provided an amazing vista that took my breath away.
Confident of success, we patiently waited for the evening to unfold. The location had it all—bears, wolves, wild cats, and some boar. Across the valley, we soon spotted a roe buck at a distance of 390 meters. However, with no clear shot available, we decided to wait for other opportunities. As darkness loomed, the sounds of nightjars filled the air, adding to the enchantment of the evening. It was a truly remarkable experience, lacking only the harvest of a roe buck to complete the picture-perfect moment. Undeterred, we planned to return first thing in the morning, knowing that the roe buck would likely not have ventured far.
While Nick and Marco occupied an ancient tower, known for its amusingly loud creaking noises with even the slightest movement, darkness descended upon them. The serene atmosphere was accentuated by a stunning mountain sunset as they patiently waited for their chance.
The next morning, we were ready for action. However, our guide had other plans in mind. Exhausted from spending the previous night recovering a wild boar shot by his friend, he had managed a mere 29 minutes of sleep—an acceptable feat for the average Serbian. Consequently, he was reluctant to drive far, denying us the opportunity to hunt in our desired beauty spot. I couldn't help but feel frustrated by this unexpected change of plans.
Dropped off in another area, which would typically have delighted me, we couldn't shake off the disappointment of missing out on the honey pot we had previously observed. Nevertheless, we made the best of the situation. Slowly stalking and gaining ground, we positioned ourselves on high ground, providing a comprehensive view of the surroundings. The call of a roe buck rang in our ears, indicating its proximity. Carefully setting up the rifle on the sticks, we readied ourselves for the shot. As we called the buck, it approached, using the cover skillfully to remain hidden. While I was confident it would reveal itself, roe deer hunting has taught me that the more you know, the less you truly understand. These elusive creatures never cease to surprise me.
As our final hunt neared its conclusion, no roe deer came into view. At my age, I have learned to savor the moment and appreciate the experience rather than solely focusing on the harvest. While it would have been thrilling to harvest a Serbian roe buck, it in no way detracted from the incredible adventure of hunting in this beautiful and distinct land, so unlike the UK.
A few miles down the road, Marco, Nick, and our sleepwalking guide had a stroke of luck. A quick shot opportunity presented itself when a magnificent buck emerged momentarily from the tall grass. The young Spartan showcased his skills, taking down the mature roe buck with precision from his trusty Spartan Ascent Tripod. As tradition dictates, we paid our respects and expressed gratitude to nature for providing us with this opportunity. Of course, a healthy dose of Rakija was swiftly consumed, and the buck was carefully transported back to the village for processing, ensuring that not an ounce would go to waste.
Meanwhile, our Serbian friends showcased their hunting prowess as well. One member of the team, utilising his Javelin Bipod, made an impressive 487-meter shot on a roe buck, flawlessly placing the shot and successfully bringing down the animal. It was undoubtedly a testament to his skill, demonstrating what can be achieved with the right tools, knowledge, and expertise.
Serbia captivated us with its breathtaking scenery, friendly people, and rich culture. Hunting runs deep in the country's roots, and the passion among the hunters is palpable. The way of life in Serbia is grounded, with people not burdening themselves with trivial matters. It was a refreshing experience that left us with a sense of realism and a better understanding of what truly matters. If the opportunity presents itself, we wholeheartedly encourage others to seize the chance to visit this remarkable country. As for us, there is no doubt that we will return, eager to immerse ourselves once again in Serbia's remarkable landscapes and embark on more unforgettable hunting adventures.