WILD BERLIN - Where wild boars and civlization meet.
Metropolitan Berlin and its wild inhabitants, we are not talking about participants of the world famous party scene of the German capitol, but the numerous wild animals that roam the darkness of the streets after hours. Our animal neighbours cross our paths every day in urban lives, wether it shows in looted garbage bins, traffic accidents or ransacked gardens - the city is magical place for wild game and the theater of operation for a highly specialized for of hunting - Urban Hunting.
Join Marcel Graf, third generation hunter, and voluntary wildlife management officer on a sight seeing tour through Berlin of a different kind. Stalking the city parks and streets around the city, he will take you through an extraordinary hunting evening looking for wild boar in the urban jungle.
CHAPTER #1 // RODEO IN THE GARDENS
It is Thursday 9:23 pm early June, the sun has just set beyond the horizon. There had been no clouds visible in the sky for days and the heat was gripping the city tightly, but on this day the weather had finally turned and provided some much needed rainfall. It was a mild 14 degrees Celsius and the cloud cover had dissipated timely for the approaching evening which meant dry conditions. One could feel nature breathing in the respite of cooler air and rainfall that blew through the streets earlier in the day. These were perfect conditions for a nocturnal round of stalking wild boar in the city. Just the week before there had been a clash in bright daylight between human and boar here. A man had tried to chase away a Keiler out his front yard, but the Keiler decided to take off and flee in exactly his direction, running him over quite badly in the process. Luckily there were no serious injuries except for some bruises that told the tale of the collision. But the fear and shock of his wife and family, especially the concern for his childrens safety were paramount. Marcel was contacted promptly for help in dealing with this unwelcome intruder. The boar was said to live close by in the thickets and brush while making his nightly raids for food in the neighborhood. Answering this call for wildlife management, Marcel readied his gear and starting preparing for a night of hunting to come.
EQUIPMENT - EACH HUNTSMAN HAS HIS TOOLS
Marcel's equipment consists of a Sauer 404 Forest XTA, in combination with Zeiss HT 3-12x56 scope and a Hunter 55i silencer from Roedale. Together, they make the perfect tool for him to conduct his boar hunting and pest control in an urban environment. A staple in his bag of gear is his thermal imaging device because safety and efficiency are paramount and required when conducting a hunt in the city. On an urban hunting night such as this, one has to be prepared for anything, be it bicycle traffic, a pedestrian or a loving couple hiding in the bushes. Be that as it may, safety is allways priority one and caution is going to be the only commandment. The use of technology enables Marcel to establish conditions for safe shots even in total darkness. There is no margin for error in this urban environment, each shot must strike perfectly with a full measure of precision and trigger discipline. Marcel has to be able to rely on and trust his hunting equipment completely, the right choice of ammunition is therefore critical in determining the success and safety of a city hunt. As a game warden for the city, Marcel needs to choose his ammunition wisely. The game must be put down efficiently and without noteworthy distance travelled after the shot. The comparatively short distances of between 5-20 meters calls for a wet bullet with minimum energy delivery to minimize risk of over penetration in densely populated areas. .222 Remington with an aggressively expanding bullet such as Norma TIPSTRIKE Varmint at 3,6 grams is an effective bullet for a lot of situations. But depending on game size and type, 308 Win, 30-06 and 8x57 JS can and must be used according to regular hunting laws. Reliable penetration upon impacting the body of the wild game and the subsequent expansion of the bullet in the vital areas are the key to delivering maximum knock-down effect. It is also important the bullet delivers all of the energy as rapidly as possible so as to hopefully not punch through the animal with enough energy to be a dangerous projectile on the other end of the exit wound or ricochet into unsafe areas.
CHAPTER #2 // ON THE BOAR TRACKS
Having arrived at the scene of the boar rodeo, Marcel parks his pick-up truck in an adjacent alley and calls the police department to inform them of the hunting activity that is about to take place. Each deployment of pest control or protective hunting such as this is reported to the police to ensure safety and to let police officers know what is going on. Marcel retrieves his rifle from its cover, loads up the weapon, grabs his thermal imaging device and begins stalking the Keiler. Let's see is this wild intruder is to be found tonight. The time is now 10:46 pm and darkness has firmly set in the city. Street lights illuminate the wet city streets, reflections on the pavement revealing puddles along the roads. It is a quiet and still night in Berlin, barely any activity and the only one to cross Marcel's path is a lone cat. Local residents have reported the Keiler to make his rounds between the hours of 11pm and 3am, so the hunt is on to see if Marcel can catch him.
HABITAT AND SPACES - THE TABLE IS AMPLY SET
The city offers perfect conditions for wild game, not only is there an abundance of food resources, there are also a plethora of spaces for animals to hide, take shelter and raise their younglings. Be it a family of raccoons under a rooftop, foxes in the garden house, deer at the soccer fields or a pack of boars in residential ruins. In any metropolitan area quarters are tight and every livable area is eventually inhabited. Historically, Berlin has allways been home to a large population of wild boars, aided by the access to water, forests and open fields. In Berlin as an in most places in Germany, wild boar numbers are on a steady rise. Wild boar count among the most adaptable species on the planet and can and does inhabit most any place in the world with few exceptions. The reasons for overestablished populations of wild boar are known to most hunters around the world and with it comes the ever increasing risk for epidemological threats such as the African Swine Plague. Therefore it falls to the cadre of hunters around the world to manage boar populations to a more reasonable and sustainable levels. To believe that boars only enter and dwell in cities on account of the waste that is produced there is erroneous, Marcel's many years of studying and observing boars in an urban environment have convinced him of this. In his view, the ever increasing pressures of growing populations at the edges of the cities and around the countryside in combination with a safe and steady all-year-round supply of food is what draws boars deeper into our urban areas. Intelligent and adaptable, wild boars quickly learn to co-exist with the noice of the city, realizing that most humans do not exhibit any danger to them. Many urban residents exacerbate the problem by feeding the boars or handling their waste in an unsafe way. Further, nice tidy city gardens and recreational parks offer a buffet of worms and insects. Planted alleys of oaks offer plentiful acorns for hungry boars as well. The culinary richness of a city such as Berlin offer tasty treats not only to humans, but wild game as well. The pacified districts of Berlin contributed roughly 22% of all boars in the county, 593 out of 2644 in the hunting calendar year of 2017/2018.
CHAPTER #3 // TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Marcel trudges along the streets, passing houses and gardens. The flicker of TV-sets eminates from living room floors, here and there someone is taking out their trash. Cars are being parked in the driveway, the odd bicyclist passes by. It's just an average normal Thursday night at edges of Berlin. A surreal image, one could not believe that just across the block there is a Keiler in supposed waiting over by the bushes. Hopefully Marcel can locate him. Suddenly some steps are heard and the slow squeaking sound of a garden gate opening. It is an elderly lady and her dog, greeting Marcel and apparently not noticing the equipment he is carrying. Marcel greets her back, of course she would not assume someone at this hour would walk by with a rifle and thermal optics. Unfortunately, she is headed the same way as our city hunter, not an ideal circumstance. It's getting close now, just one more street to cross to get to the supposed hideout of our raiding Keiler. Marcel is now looking for a smooth way to let the lady pass him, decreasing his pace and hoping that she will cross the street into a different direction than his Keiler target. From the intersection it would only be a distance of 12 meters to the perfect vantage spot from which to observe the Keilers hideout. It offers the perfect shot as well, as the angle would send any bullet that manages to punch through into a raised patch of earth, eliminating any safety risks. It is now 10:54 pm and Marcel has finally arrived, the dog-walking lady luckily took a left turn at the intersection.
Marcel now turns to his thermal optics to get an overview of the situation. Faint heat signals emerge from the bushes. Experience tells Marcel that something big is hiding here, it seems he is in luck this evening. The name of the game now is to bide time and to wait for the right moment. Positioning against the wind is decent, so Marcel removes the rifle from his shoulder and starts to look for a good, clean spot to aim from. A mailbox at the street corner appears to offer the best support for the shot. As Marcel mounts his rifle against the mailbox, he is peering through the scope to ascertain the lighting conditions. Street lights are both a blessing and a curse in this type of situation, often times light pollution will distort ones vision in the scope to the point of being unusable. Tonight, the conditions are perfect however. Just as Marcel adjust his Rifle, the bush starts to come alive. The accompanying noises indicate clearly that something has just finished a nice nap. The rifle is now held in firm grasp, magnification is turned down to x4 and the wait is on to see when this Keiler will rear his head out from under the bush. Barely a minute passes and the Keiler obliges Marcel. As the boar peeks out to check his surroundings the sound of a silenced gun echoes through the street. 22:58 pm and the Keiler lies still in his tracks as silence returns as promptly to the street as it was abrupted. Talk about timing, not another minute could have passed or else Marcel would have missed the opportunity.
URBAN HUNTING - SAFETY COMES BEFORE HUNTING SUCCESS
Stalking boars is a challenge, especially in an urban area where safe shots are allways a must. While one may encounter and see the boar while stalking, it is rare to simultaneously have a clean shot at taking it down. They might be located in front of a parked vehicle, there can be a lack of backstop or the animal suddenly crosses the road. Boars have accustomed and adapted themselves perfectly to life in the city, especially the leading female sow is very astute and knows how to safely guide her squeakers around. This makes it very difficult to get close to a group of boars and to pick out a particular individual. Rifle shots in a residential area offer extreme hazards and pose risks of damage to both people and property. Therefore, trigger discipline and precision shooting are central to conducting a hunt in an urban area. Opportunities for a clean shot are rare and hard to come by in the city, viable shot sectors can often be as tiny as a few inches. In order to bag wild game in the city it is often required to have many circumstances align perfectly for a brief moment, as well as having the necessary ammount of experience in the types of situations that arise. With the city as a backdrop, the hunter needs to put the outmost care into positioning himself perfectly when approaching the game in question if he is to get close. The commandments of stalking - Smell, Sound and Gait are not allways possible to observe in an urban environment.
CHAPTER #4 // THE CITY HUNTER, YOUR FRIEND AND HELPER
Marcel approaches the Keiler slowly, peeking through the thermals to make sure no signs of life are still present. The boar is down, the tension is slowly dissipating and wave of relief is washing over our hunter. The bullet has struck just next to the ear, the perfect shot placement and 0 meters of escape distance. Upon closer inspection, the size of this boar is becoming more apparent. Marcel has to struggle to drag this Keiler out from his resting place but after a few heaves the animal is lying right on the pavement, ready for pick up. The truck is quickly retrieved, this Keiler needs to get to into a cold room right away. At the same time, local police is informed of the successfully bagged boar, the policeman a hunter himself wishes Marcel Waidmannsheil as is customary among German hunters. As Marcel returns with his truck, a familiar face makes a reappearance - the elderly lady and her dog. They had heard the shot ring out and understandably wanted to check on the situation. Marcel lets her know that he is the designated city hunter out on voluntary duty for the night, making sure to interrupt his efforts with the Keiler and carefully explaining the situation. Having inspected the boar herself, the lady wishes Marcel a pleasant evening as she recounts how she herself has had troublesome run-ins with the boar while walking her dog at night. Marcel explains with care and patience that the usual boar encounter is harmless and that most dangerous situations occur when the human party behaves in a way that the boar perceives as a threat from which there is no escape.
Marcel loads the boar unto his truck, arriving at the cold room shortly thereafter. The measuring scale reveals a dressed weight of 86 kilograms. It is now 00:38 am and another successfull night of wildlife control in metropolitan Berlin has come to an end.
CRAFT AND TRADITION - EVERY HUNTER IS AN AMBASSADOR
Dictated by the theater of the city, the only feasible shot on hunts such as this is a close range one and therefore it is important to know your holds reflexively. The bullet trajectory crosses the line of sight at two points and runs in a flat curve in-between. On short ranges this means that you run the risk of hitting low, a risk one must keep in mind especially in this type of hunting situation. When aiming at the head of a wild game, the vital and lethal area is extremely small. There is a reason why this shot placement is controversial in hunting circles, as the slightest error can have huge consequences and lead to laborious search efforts. As a city hunter, this particular shot placement is strongly advantageous to someone like Marcel as it ensures that his target won't run out into a trafficked street or into an inhabited residential area. Marcel practices this type of shooting regularly at the range and at variable distances to practice his aim and to engrain the various holds into his muscle memory. The rifle is hunters tool and only through routine practice can one improve his skill in hunting situations to ensure the ethical and secure felling of wild game. Alongside the hunters skillset, Marcel holds communication to be an ever more important aspect of hunting in order to increase the acceptance of hunters in broader society. Being an official city hunter in Berlin, Marcel comes regularly into contact with people who might not have any touchpoints with wildlife or hunting in their lives and might be averse to it for those reasons. Marcel holds that only through dialogue can the hunter do his duty as an ambassador of this fine craft to dismantle any preconceived notions or prejudices against hunting. This requires patience, openness and transparancy on the part of the hunter. We are all ambassadors of our tradition and hobby in Marcels view, irrerespective of wether we are hunting in the field, the woods or in the city.