Sarkis punctuates his conversations generously with sound effects and hand gestures. Like all the professional hunters I have known, he has one special animal that excites him more than any other. For Sarkis, it is the wild boar. When he is hunting them, everything about him changes. His senses become so acute that they filter out everything but his quarry; perspiration forms on his brow and his hands become clammy.
Driving slowly along a rutted track in the dark of night, I could hear Sarkis' loud breathing and feel his tenseness, like an electric current, in the jeep. A heavy rain pounded on the canvas roof and almost blacked out the beam of his light as he played it across the rice paddies. The idea was to stop the jeep as soon as the light picked up a boar in the field, jump out and fire before the animal ran off. It all sounded very impractical, but I saw no reason to say so.
All of a sudden Sarkis braked the jeep, and I hit the windshield with a crash. He was jabbering incoherently, but from his excitement I knew he could only mean boar. I lost valuable seconds forcing open the door that chose that moment to jam, then fell flat in the mud as I slipped jumping out. When I finally shoved a cartridge in the chamber and located Sarkis' light beamed from the other side of the jeep into the field, there wasn't time for anything more than a hasty snap shot at a dark shadow disappearing out of the hazy circle of light.
Sarkis was out of the jeep almost before the shot went off. He had a big red setter named Joker with him, and they both acted as if they expected me to come along too. About the most ridiculous thing I could think of at that point was to stumble through an overgrown field in the pitch blackness after what might turn out to be a wounded wild boar. I tried to explain this in English, but Sarkis didn't understand any better than the dog. Reluctantly I started into the field.
I hadn't taken a dozen steps when the dog began to bark and I heard Sarkis cheer. He came toward me in the darkness dragging a great boar by the tail and grinning from ear to ear. I was definitely in with Sarkis.
The best wild boar hunting was in the Elburz Mountains, where we made camp 12,000 feet high in a yoghurt maker's abandoned log cabin. His reasons for abandoning it were clear. Most of the shingles had been blown off" its roof and gapping holes ventilated every wall.
Camp lacked such refinements as sleeping bags and air mattresses, but I was given five blankets. They looked suspiciously thin as I spread three on the bare, wet ground and, dressed in every item of heavy clothing I had with me, pulled the other two around me. By 4 o'clock in the morning, in an agony of aches, I decided if I did eventually fall asleep it would only be the first symptom of freezing to death. I tried to gather some wood to build a fire.
In the night the stream outside my "cabin" had frozen solid and everything was frosted with a filigree of ice. Standing on the top of the mountain in the predawn half light I forgot my misery in the enchantment of the cold beauty around me. Clouds were piled like cotton candy in the valleys far below, and the lights of a village many miles away flickered like tiny birthday candles against the darkness. In the distance were scattered stands of oak and pine trees and deep basins choked with shiny green holly. At least a hundred waterfalls tumbled swiftly into thin, dark chasms lavishly hung with chandeliers of dripping moss.
In one such chasm, later in the day, we happened upon what at first glance seemed to be a family of five wild boars, all snuffling and snorting as they rooted with their tusks beneath a carpet of fallen leaves. I picked a good-sized one for camp (the meat is excellent), and when my rifle went off, to our surprise at least a dozen other pigs exploded up the cliffsides and out from under the brush in all directions. We actually had stepped right by the biggest ones.
Boars weren't the only game that outsmarted us. On our last hunt I had a disappointing experience with an ibex. The Shah was very enthusiastic about the big ibex in the Farahabat region and he wanted me to take home a good trophy. As we rode along, the Shah told me of several that were so old they were white in color and had horns four feet long.