Hunting and Shooting in Serbia
Serbia is one of the world’s best kept secrets. I shot there twice last year, once for birds, and once for boar. Both experiences were arranged through Bogdan Srejic’s Lasarotta hunting, and both were positive. I would rate Serbia’s bird shooting as some of the best in Europe if you’re interested in wild quail or high volume pigeon shooting. The duck and goose shooting are good too, and pheasants are available – both walked up and driven, all at very competitive prices. Generally, Serbia offers good facilities and great value.
As for big game, as well as pigs on open and fenced estates, red, fallow, white-tail, and roe deer are on offer (though deer are no bargain anywhere in Europe or the Balkans because of high trophy fees) as well as mouflon and hare. Shooting is controlled by hunting associations in Serbia. These are local, official, bodies which still have something of the feel of the old regime about them. They tend to be very friendly, however, and any visitor may be assured of the warmest of welcomes as well as a fascinating look at the way another country goes about its sport (there is as much in common as there is different).
The country is trying very hard to develop itself as a sporting destination. Although there is bureaucracy to contend with, Serbian officials are keen to advance sport in their country. It is still subsidised by the state to some degree, and, there are some excellent, state-run, shooting lodges. I have travelled with a gun quite extensively in eastern-Europe and the Balkans, I found the hunting experience in Serbia one of the best, not least because the Serbians themselves. Contrary to our foggy stereotypes, they are a laid back, friendly people, who enjoy themselves, food, and the good life whenever possible.
Before going further, perhaps, a little history is in order. It’s complicated, but useful should you go there or to neighbours like Croatia or Slovenia. Serbia was, of course, the major part of the old Yugoslavia which included, before the chaos and conflict of the 1980s and 90s, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Slovenia. Serbia has borders with Hungary to its north, Bulgaria and Rumania to the east, Macedonia to the south, and Croatia, Bosnia and Montengro on its western side. There is also a disputed border with Albania (a country through which I used to run aid convoys and which remains the third world compared to Serbia).
After the break-up of Tito’s Yugoslavia in 1986, a union of Montenegro and Serbia, still called Yugoslavia, lasted a little longer. This twinned state ended ten years later when the two countries declared independence. Serbia’s capital, as was Yugoslavia’s, is Belgrade. Another metropolis is Sarajevo where assassin Gavrilo Princip set off the First world war when he shot the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. Serbia has often been the victim of political tension. It fought for generations against Muslim invaders, and later against the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Serbia fought with us against the Central Powers in the Great War). We may have bombed them during the Kosovo war, but, surprisingly, the Serbs bear us little if any, ill-will blaming instead the politicians who set them on the road to war and dislocated them from the rest of Europe (to which they feel they belong). Serbia is not an EU member yet.
Now, back to sport. I was lucky to enjoy an especially interesting package of wing shooting with Lasarota. Flying into Belgrade by JAT airlines (basic but efficient and economical), the first thing was to sort out guns (of which one may bring two) with the police. This was no real problem, and rather enjoyable, most of the police on duty at the airport are pretty young women! I don’t know if this is a deliberate policy, but it made Heathrow seem dull. All you need is your UK Shotgun Certificate (or, FAC, if you are taking a rifle) and a letter from your hunting operator. It is all conducted efficiently, and you will need 20 Euro for the paperwork fee.
Equipped with my temporary firearms permit, Bogdan met me as I exited into the main concourse. We went over to his car, and drove some 150 kilometres North East of Belgrade to the extraordinary Hotel Fantast built by converting the story book Dunđerski castle (which is famous as a riding centre as well). We were only 34 kilometres from the Hungarian border. It is notable, that most hunting in Serbia is no more than an hour and a half from Belgrade.
There was an early call the first morning, and we set off to shoot quail over pointers. These were shot on flat ground and called in by electronic means (don’t think Serbian hunting is altogether old fashioned). The dog work was good. If you have not shot quail, they are a small bird, quite a bit smaller than a grey partridge, and not especially difficult to shoot once you have the knack. You must be quick, though. They tend to be shot fairly low – so you must also take great care with shots both as far as human and canine companions are concerned (click here to see me in action in Georgia with Fausti). One may shoot with a couple of fellow Guns – my preference – or, in line, as on a Scottish moor.
We finished mid-morning, moved to a nearby location, and the quarry changed at to collar dove. This was fast and exciting shooting in sunflowers and over stubble. I shot 50 birds with my trusty Beretta 303 32” gun and felt well satisfied. In the afternoon we moved on 40 kilometres east to Kikinda near the Rumanian border. This was our location for the smaller, but challenging, turtle dove (much tougher than the variety with which we are familar). I shot another 50 or 60 birds.
On the second day we moved to a Salasi private hunting lodge near the town of Senta. This was a more intimate location than the castle, set up with a restaurant and chalets, and my preference not least because small place though it was, it was run by en ex Belgrade hotelier on a gastronomic mission – a Bijou establishment by any standard. We shot our quail that morning near the town of Ada. The hospitality, as I began to expect, was fantastic, a local businessman, Rudolf, a keen hunter, joined us. He manufactures, in a modern factory equipped with computerised knitting machines, a range of sporting clothing including ‘highland’ sweaters for certain outlets north of our own border. Another arrival was David McCombe, an Ulsterman with a big smile and a passion for shooting.
I was, meantime, impressed (indeed, surprised) by what I had seen of Serbia, the main roads were pretty good (some better than ours), the standard of living relatively high – a sort of 1970s time warp. People were not only friendly, but they seemed fairly prosperous. The shops were full (how different to my own experience of eastern Europe in the bad ‘ol days), and things like petrol stations tended to be as good or better than those at home. Everywhere I went the locals were helpful and relaxed – apparently less stressed than the inhabitants of modern Albion.
In the afternoon of the second day, we shot doves. This time we were at Becaj, some hundred clicks from Belgrade. On the third and final day, there were more quail and dove, and, in the evening, and most memorably, excellent high duck shooting. We were back near Ada. This was the best evening’s wildfowling I have had for ages – made the more memorable for my companion, and picker-up, a local poet who was somewhat in his cups when we began but extraordinarily amiable.
I enjoyed the bird shooting so much in the late summer, that I went back to Serbia for Boar in the winter. I have shot one kind of pig or another in France, Poland, Croatia, Africa, and Australia. Serbian pig shooting is much like the sport on offer in Poland and Croatia, save for the fact that it is cheaper, and more pigs may be shot. We were put up in the excellent Karakusa state hunting lodge near the town of Sremska Mitrovia towards the corner of Bosnia and Croatia and only about 70 kilometres East of Belgrade. The food and drink were excellent (there are a number of good, reasonably priced, local red wines on offer – main meals tends to be game or chicken). The Maitre d’ could not have been more helpful (even allowing me to use his office as a makeshift studio when I had to make a sudden unscheduled broadcast for the BBC).
I shot on the first day only with a gamekeeper and a cameraman (we were making a film). Walking and stalking in the woods we eventually put up a big boar. I shot him at no more than 15 yards. Hitting him well on the shoulder with a .300 Win Mag, he still went for 150 yards before expiring. It was a good thing he was not running in! I have been charged by elephant, and buffalo, not yet by boar, though I have seen it. Though I have had a malfunction, I still prefer a controlled-feed (Mauser style) bolt gun though. Most boar experts prefer a double 9.3. I think I would get in more of muddle reloading after my first two shot – all my charges to date required more than two shots to finish the business.
On the second day, a large party of British shooters arrived at the lodge. This, it transpired, was one of the most interesting groups of people I have yet had the good fortune to shoot with. The following morning, travelling east some 50 kilmetres towards Bosnia. We went to the Kucine estate. Shooting was on the ground, my preference, rather than in Miradors. One thing I did not like was the requirement to shoot only behind the line. This cost much sport, and encouraged tight angle shooting on the tracks where shooters were also placed (typically 50 - 100 metres apart). Bogdan assures me that he will not use estates where this is required in future.
The third day we shot on Kamariste estate, and I thought the quality of shooting not quite as good as previously – but there is always some luck involved with boar. Bogdan, meanwhile, tries as hard as anyone I know – and that is how I judge his operation. One always takes something of a risk when booking a shoot abroad, you must deal with people you trust and who try hard. Bogdan scores on both counts and offers good value. You must have realistic expectations, though and understand the difficulties. Enjoy the adventure!
Mob: 078 32 100 524
Land: 024 76 639 779
Mixed package for quail, dove and duck. 3 day and 4 nights all inclusive with up to 50 birds per day per gun (quail and dove) - 1450 Euros. Duck are charged at an extra 10 Euros per bird.
Unlimited package on dove (three species). Cost, excluding cartridges, is 1900 Euros for 3 days and four nights. Daily bag for a team of 6-8 is 500-1000.
[If you are planning a trip for birds, the best time is the last 10 days of August and the first 5 days of September. The season starts from the first of August (2009). Quail are best early and middle of the month, duck are better in late September, if one intends to shoot all three species, late August would be the best compromise. For Boar hunting, budget on about 2,000 Euros and book as early in the year as possible to ensure prime sport.]