The emergence of livestock rearing, complementing plant cultivation was a significant stage in the evolution of humankind. This happened only a mere 10 000 years ago, a very short stretch of time from an evolutionary point of view. From this point on, the presence of wild animals is a threat for man as they cause damage to man-made assets issuing from their natural lifestyle. If we divided the history of humankind until the present day into 24 hours, we would actually find that it was only in the last 1 minute that hunting no longer served for man as a means of subsistence!
With civilization getting more and more developed man’s relation to nature changed, and so did the purpose of hunting.
What distinguishes hunting, regarded as separate from game management, from plain prey acquisition and places it on a higher level is the professional culture that surrounds it and the written and unwritten rules of the hunters’ ethics/etiquette, observed by hunters in an everyday context. Hunting is a way of life. It is a special mode of coexistence with nature which, owing to the practices of game management, has turned by now into an independent sector of the economy − an active form of nature preservation.
Hunting traditions, hunting customs
One of the most beautiful moments a hunter can experience during a hunt is when in complete silence and his head lowered he assumes ownership over the big game he brought down, paying his tribute and expressing his respect for this miracle of nature lying before him. Different branches snapped from the surrounding trees are used in the hunting tradition when it comes to this moment.
Branches snapped form the surrounding vegetation are used as a kind of sign language among hunters and many customs centre round them in the culture of hunting. Snapped branches have a practical function in addition to their traditional significance. The branches can only be snapped and never cut from trees and are usually used after big game were brought down. In the classic hunting tradition only branches from a pine or broad-leaved tree served this purpose. In the German hunting tradition the following tree species are eligible to provide a ceremonial branch.
− Pine, Oak, Alder, Beech
When the above species are not available on the spot, a branch will suffice from any leaved tree in the immediate vicinity or in close proximity from the spot where the game was brought down, as a last resort, even a branch from a cultivated or weed plant.
The grouping of snapped branches: catafalque branches, branch of mourning and signalling branches.
Catafalque branches: branches used in connection with the harvest of the animal, snapped down from trees in the immediate vicinity of the place where the game was found.
Branch of capturing: a branch of a forearm’s length signalling ownership and the animal’s killing in conformity with the rules. The branch should be placed across the left shoulder-blade of the game that has been laid on its right side. When the harvested game is a male the snapped end of the branch should point towards the trophy, when it is a female, the shoots of the branch should be placed closer to the animals head.
The last bite: A branch as big as a man’s palm placed into the mouth of the game. The last bite symbolises humility in the face of nature, respect and gratitude for the downed animal and an act of conciliation and asking for forgiveness after the harvest. The branch accompanies the animal on its final voyage. In the classic hunting tradition this rite was performed only in the case of male trophy game but now all big game receives a last bite. The branch is placed in the game’s mouth by the shooter, less often the hunting guide.
The shooter’s branch: a snapped branch no bigger than a span of hand presented to the shooter after it was brushed across the wound of the harvested game. The branch is handed over to the hunter on his hat or on the flat side of a knife-blade from the left hand of the presenter. The shooter receives the branch together with the presenters words of congratulation ‘Hail to the Hunter!’ or ‘Hunter’s greetings to the harvester!’ with a handshake over the body of the game, and in response, inserts the received branch to the right side of his hat and says ‘Hunter’s thanks for the hunt!’ If the wounded game fled and was successfully tracked down afterwards by a bloodhound, the shooter hands over a small twig from the shooter’s branch to its leader who fixes it onto the dog’s collar or leash. According to the etiquette, the shooter’s branch should be worn only on the day of the kill and only one branch should be inserted on the hunter’s hat even if he harvests several game on the same day.
Branch of mourning: a branch of a span of hand inserted on the left side of the hat with the reverse side of the leaves facing outward. They are worn when a fellow hunter/friend is buried and cast into the grave of the deceased. By this act, the mourner sends him off on his last voyage, to the eternal hunting grounds.
Rules of preparing the game’s catafalque
Be it an individual or a collective hunt it is due to give game the last service. The custom which evolved in the culture of hunters for this purpose is to lay out game on a catafalque prepared at the end of the hunt and to pay homage to them in solemn arrangements.
Game are laid on its right side, wild boars generally on their stomach, however, the German/Hungarian tradition allows wild boars to be laid on their right side, as well.
Animals of prey (foxes, golden jackals) are always placed at the front rows and on their stomachs when the bag is counted at the end of the day and all harvested game are laid down on the ground.
Male specimens always come before female specimens of the same species but the animals are arranged according to weight, as well. Small game are laid on their right side just as big game, while in this category the rule is to lay furry game in front of feathered game, e.g. hares before pheasants etc.
A frame, generally of pine or oak branches, is made around the game arranged on the ground according to the above rules. Usually a bonfire or several bonfires are built and lit at the sides and corners. By the light of the fire the leader of the hunt (if a collective hunt is in question) gives a report of the results and achievements of the hunting day to hunters and beaters standing in a regular order by the fire.
The words of the leader should be listened in silence and with a bear head, just like the horn player (if there is one) who hands over the game bag to the hunters by sounding a specific horn signal (the so called ‘Hallali’ signal), marking the death of harvested game and the end of the hunt.
Finally, harvested game are taken possession of and there is a chance to take photos and examine the game bag more closely.
Note: the harvested game should NEVER be stepped over by the hunter but always walked around and it is similarly forbidden to kneel or stand on the game!
The order of big game species in the arrangement for bag counting:
- Red deer , Fallow deer, Wild boar , Mouflon, Roe
Arrangement within the same species: Specimens of the same species are generally arranged with the male/trophy specimens in the front and the female specimens behind them, arranged according to weight and age in a descending order.
The ‘hunterly’ inauguration of hunters
It is an old tradition among Hungarian hunters to inaugurate each hunter for each game species they harvested for the first time in their lives in the framework of a ceremony. For the inauguration ceremony, the hunting guide cuts a stick of about 1 meter in length with which he will touch the successful hunter 3 times. The hunter should kneel/bow over and across the harvested animal laid out on the ground, after he has placed his hat and emptied gun by its side. Following this, the hunting guide, the ceremony’s ‘hunter godfather’ − who can only be a hunter inaugurated for the game species in question − inaugurates the harvester with the short speech outlined below. After the godfather finished his speech each inaugurated hunter of the game species concerned can greet their freshly inaugurated fellow with a touch of the stick and their good wishes.
The inauguration speech is as follows: Always be a true hunter, patient and courteous. Protect, respect and love nature. Feed and care for game rather than just shooting them! Honour and observe the Hungarian hunting traditions and share your experience with others; never be a hunter who is jealous of his own and of others’ achievement
According to the old custom of Hungarian hunters, on the occasion of your first (name of the game species) harvest…
On the first touch of the stick:
I hereby pronounce you in the name of St Hubertus, the patron saint of hunters a (name of the game species) hunter.
On the second touch of the stick:
On the behalf of true Hungarian hunters I inaugurate you.
On the third touch of the stick:
And on my own behalf I pronounce you an inaugurated hunter of (name of the game species). May you be favoured by Diana on your hunts, enriched by similarly wonderful hunting experiences and wear a branch on your hat many more times.
The ten commandments of the true hunter
- Know and protect the natural environment as it is not only the setting in which we conduct our daily lives but also a prerequisite for life on Earth, in its whole diversity and the existence of humankind as part of this diversity.
- Love and respect all forms of life − embrace the principle of wild animals’ dignity and be guided by it throughout your life.
- The hunter must not turn into a killer. The hunter is a ‘gardener’ in charge of the huntable species of the wild. The gun in his hand must not be an instrument of killing but his working tool with which he prevents overpopulation, removes unfit specimens and harvests the ‘mature fruits.’
- Hunting is not merely a passion, sport and economic activity but a profession, even a science. Therefore the hunter’s life should be defined by continuous learning and the acquisition of new knowledge.
- Give a fair chance to game! Game animals are not your enemy and hunting is no war. If you resort to the most recent technology in hunting you are nothing more than a hired killer.
- Exercise moderation! Quantity has little to do with the beauties and eventfulness of hunting!
- Safety comes before everything else. Passion must be checked by self-restraint. You have no right to expose others to danger!
- The death of game is both a celebration and mournful event. Pay the harvested game due respect, get to know and nurture the rich cultural heritage of hunting.
- Be a true hunter in your civil life, as well: be temperate and disciplined. Do not give cause for anti-hunting sentiments to strengthen.
- Regard every lover of animals- and nature and every professional or voluntary contributor to nature and environmental preservation your ally. Respect − and if possible, facilitate − the work of those who cultivate on hunting grounds.
‘… Those who intend to pursue game, be it, nobleman or peasant, master or servant, keep always in mind that as men are God’s creatures, so are game God’s creatures. Even more so, as game are more perfect than the most of men. Therefore, dare not any man take a spear in his hand for pursuit, nor rear a hound, who does not respect game as much as he respects his own father. It is not weapons, strength and skilfulness which befit hunting the most, but honesty. For it is that which makes a hunter a hunter, a man a man…’
‘Blessed be the craft of hunting, this magical, exhilarating, rejuvenating pastime that delights the heart and the soul, this gift from God. Be it blessed and let it be a consolation to men, worn by this hectic, over-civilised, pitiless world ‘till the end of time, that is, for ever.’