The hunt is on for the 'King of the Woods'
October 25, 2012
By Mark Iacampo
HOHENFELS, Germany --"They call him the king of the woods," said Norbert Wittl, USAG Hohenfels public affairs officer and avid hunter, referring to Germany's "Hirsch" or red deer, and the first buck of the season here was brought down recently by Air Force Lt. Col. Rodney Jorstad out of Landstuhl.
The red deer is the largest deer in Europe with the males standing up to 51 inches at the shoulder and weighing up to 370 lbs.
Jorstad has been hunting for almost 30 years and has even hunted big game in Africa, but he called the recent hunt on Hohenfels "the hunt of a lifetime."
"To me, the red stag represents Europe, as far as game is concerned," Jorstad said. "I feel very privileged."
Wittl said that of the half dozen class one trophy animals that are taken each year from Hohenfels, typically only one falls to an American hunter.
"For a German hunter, to hunt red deer is kind of the peak, the maximum you can get. Most of the off-post hunters have never seen red deer out there in their area, so they know it only from the books or the movies, but on post you are able to hunt the king of the woods," said Wittl.
Getting to hunt on Hohenfels is not as easy as just buying a license and loading your rifle. Jorstad said acquiring a German hunting license required a large commitment.
"It's a 12 weeks course, two nights a week, and three hours a night," said Jorstad. "Then you have rifle, pistol, and shotgun practice on the weekends and then you have to qualify with all three of them. You have to shoot from different positions, seated, standing and with shotgun. Then you have to take a written test."
"They want to know you can shoot well because they want a good, humane kill," he added. "I learned a lot in the course."
The difficulty in acquiring a license is an offshoot of the respect the German hunters hold for the animals themselves. That respect, and the traditions between German hunters, intrigues Jorstad.
He explained that when hunters greet each other, they exchange the "Waidmannsheil," or "hunter's cheer." At the end of a social hunt, all the hunters gather and lay out the day's take in what is known as the "strecke legen."
"It's a very traditional ceremony where they pay respect to the game that was taken that day. They play certain songs and music with their hunting horns, everyone takes off their hat and the person who shot the highest ranked game that day is presented as the king of the hunt," explained Jorstad.
"Any cloven hoof animal, when it's shot, they present it a small branch, usually pine or oak, and they place it in its mouth as a sign of respect. It's called 'the last bite," Jorstad explained.
Most of the meat taken during a German hunt shows up in restaurants and guest houses, especially during the "wild week" in the fall when many eateries feature a menu exclusively made up of game.
Since being stationed in Europe, Jorstad has participated in several hunts around Germany and even into the Czech Republic, but he said this one will always stand out in his mind.
"This is the time of year when they deer are rutting, trying to breed. The Hirsch are calling, roaring all the time. But they're also herding the cows and that only happens for a couple weeks a year. Watching them in and out of the fog in the valleys, it was a great experience, very unique," he said.
"The trophy on the wall is one thing, but it's the memories that go with it," Jorstad said. "I'll always remember this."