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"It was a bit quick," he said consolingly. "Next time wait for a few seconds after he comes out, till he is off the alert and starts feeding." As we turned back toward home, I glanced at my watch. It was three minutes to 5. Until I finally fell asleep that night, the only thing I could see in my mind's eye was that big, black grand piano and then the heels of a graceful ballet dancer disappearing over the pine tree.
Personally, I have always found boar hunting one of the most exciting sports, not just because there is an element of danger when a wounded tusker charges, but because, when he thrusts his ugly head out of a thicket and peers at you with his small, malevolent eyes, you instinctively feel on the side of the angels, especially when your shot finds his shoulder and sends him spinning end over end.
Dr. Halasz was a traditionalist and believed in the sovereignty of the stag as emperor of the forest. So next morning I reluctantly gave up thoughts of bagging the boar, and we set out long before dawn in a hunting carriage drawn by two husky horses. Soon we were plunging up a rocky mountain trail, the carriage bouncing and swaying over rocks and ruts. The game warden, seated by the coachman, and Halasz, beside me, swayed and rolled effortlessly, like broncobusters on bucking horses, but I sat rigid, holding on to the seat with both hands, my rifle squeezed between my knees.
As we crashed along, it seemed incredible to me that any stag within earshot would not bolt for cover, and as the morning passed without a sign of game my skepticism grew. Cold, carsick and shaken, I wanted to turn back after a few hours, but Halasz was insistent. "Even if you don't want to shoot a real imperial stag, at least you have to see one," he said, brimming with Hungarian pride. "This is the worst possible season, but perhaps we'll find a poor one that fits your budget," he added with a tinge of scorn, for to him the idea of an American sportsman without unlimited funds was too absurd to contemplate.
So on we rattled and bounced till suddenly the coachman reined in and with his whip pointed into an open glade where five hinds were grazing. As we approached they raised their heads in curiosity, but showed no sign of fear. Then the warden pointed behind them and raised his glasses. A few yards back of the herd I saw a great stag lumbering through the trees, his head swaying majestically from side to side as he maneuvered his antlers through the branches. I counted 11 points on one side—a 22-ender—the largest I had ever seen. Indeed, as I gazed at his huge spread he seemed even bigger than Herr Ohlig's.
For a full minute the warden watched the great animal in silence. Then, to my astonishment, he turned to me, his voice tense: "You may shoot him." Mesmerized by those antlers I raised my rifle and quickly had him on the point of my sights. But a small tree masked his vital shoulder. Recalling my hasty blunder in Czechoslovakia, I paused, waiting for the stag to take just one small step so that it would be past the tree. My com—pardons, misunderstanding my hesitation, urged me to fire.
"You'll never have a shot like that as long as you live," Halasz whispered, hoarse with excitement.
"Gold medal if I ever saw one," muttered the warden.
The coachman spoke up: "Shoot, damn it! He's no more expensive than another Mercedes-Benz for you."
The last words struck me just as the stag started forward and I was about to squeeze off the shot. Mercedes-Benz? What madness! Hastily I lowered my rifle. A second later the stag turned away, his magnificent antlers still swaying majestically through the trees.