Monteria, a unique kind of a driven hunt, developed on the Iberian Peninsula, in Portugal and Spain. Monteria probably originated as the village hunt, where all people cooperated to ensure hunting success, with better bowmen and spearmen taking positions for the kill, and others driving the animals in their direction. But nobility took over and developed it into a truly royal affair, with elaborate structure, rituals and practices.
When you think “living like a king”, or “a prince”, you shouldn’t forget a few hundred years ago a king or queen was actually the head of state, and his or her days would be as busy as a president’s or a prime minister’s today. Even entertainment usually implied settling political questions, especially the hunt. Europeans long discovered the concept of wildlife management, and with preservation and protection, the Master of the Hunt did his best to ensure the king had more game to kill than anyone else in the kingdom (the status thing and all that). But while the monarch had perhaps only a few days in a season to dedicate to hunting, the methods had to be found how to harvest all this game in a short time. Big driven hunts evolved, including Monteria.
What makes Monteria unique
Three things make Monteria stand out: its scale, the use of dogs, and organization. A Monteria usually covers a lot of ground, up to ten by ten kilometers. A large number of hunters, or “monteros” – up to 40 – take places in an elaborately positioned lines known as “armada”. There are various positions in an “armada”. “Cuerda” is a position on top of the hill, overlooking wide tracts of terrain. A “sopié” is a place below, typically close to a game trail. A hunter placed at the “traviesa” will have to watch out for the opposite side of the mountain or ravine.
A number of packs of hounds, or “rehalas”, about 20 dogs in each, are released into the areas, assisted by their handlers and drivers, and the hunt is on. The idea is to give each hunter at least three or four opportunities to bag a big-game animal, usually many more. The usual quarry are red deer and wild boar. In some areas you can also harvest fallow deer and mouflon. Large scale and elaborate structure of roles and movements require sophisticated organization, which is another characteristic trait of the Monteria.
Misconceptions about Monteria
There are many kinds of hunting that cause knee-jerk reactions in people, and Monteria is one of them. Images of a few people standing next to dozens if not hundreds of red deer, fallow deer, wild pigs and mouflons lying dead in neat rows, make non-hunters and even some hunters want to scream “Wanton slaughter! Why kill so many! Bloodthirsty murderers!” This is wrong.
A Monteria is a tool of wildlife management. Hunters harvest a large number of animals, but this number isn’t unlimited. In fact, the harvest is scientifically justified, and carefully controlled. If taken as a share of the overall general population, the limits are not above the harvest of white tailed deer and wild hogs in certain areas of the USA. Only in America hunters would get all these animals individually and at different times, while on a Monteria the harvest happens at the same time and space. That’s why it looks so impressive and to some maybe shocking.
With strict organization and control, Monteria is anything but “mindless slaughter”, and in fact if you try to slaughter animals mindlessly during a Monteria, you’ll find yourself in deep, deep trouble.
“All the pheasants ever bred won’t repay for one man dead”, as a British gun safety poem from the XIX century runs, and replacing birds with deer or mouflon doesn’t change a thing.
It goes without saying that were there are many hunters (shooting long-range rifles), and dozens of drivers with dogs, safety is Job 1 for the hunt’s organizers and for every hunter present. Shooting a running animal with sustained lead, the only possible way when you’re shooting a bullet or slug, it’s all too easy to overswing and have the barrel pointed in a not-quite-safe direction. In addition, there may be dogs on the animal’s heels, and you should be careful to shoot so as not to risk killing them instead of the animal.
Accurate animal identification
Monteria is a tool for wildlife management. If you can kill hundreds of deer, it doesn’t mean you can kill any number of any deer. There’s a limit, and shooting over it carries heavy fines. So does killing an animal of the wrong sex or age. For example, wild boar limits are generous or non-existent on most Monteria, but almost invariably, a sow with piglets is a no-no.
Usually there are three lists of animals. The first is what is included in the regular price of the hunt, the second for those that you can shoot at an extra cost, and the third – for beasts that aren’t to be killed, period. For instance, the roe deer season is typically over by the time the Monteria season begins, making them illegal to shoot. In the mountainous areas ibex and Barbary sheep occasionally wander into the territory where a Monteria takes place, but that doesn’t make them legal to shoot. If you do, in addition to a fine, you may face prosecution for a hunting law violation.
What this comes down to is instant identification of game animals, and remembering where they stand on the to-shoot and not-to-shoot lists of animals. The lists change from season to season, from preserve to preserve, and occasionally from drive to drive. In the heat of the hunt it’s not easy to avoid confusion, but you’ve got to do your best to keep a cool head, unless you want to be a disgrace and run into thousands of euros of extra expense.
Shooting a running animal
Finally, there’s a question of shooting. In these days of tackdriving rifles, high power scopes, and laser rangefinders, offhand shooting at a running animal is becoming a lost art. Even in Africa most PHs will insist on your using the shooting sticks. But not on Monteria. This is a show for traditional shooting skills.
Hounds make it easier to locate and bag crippled animals, but it’s important to remember that wounded animals are counted against your limit, and will carry a fine for overshooting just as those that die in their tracks. In any case, an ethical hunter must strive to kill quickly and humanely. One thing that’s a must do before a Monteria is to visit a range that offers running deer or running boar targets, and sharpen your skills.
Organization and environmental effect
Monteria is one of the hunts when one day of shooting requires a few seasons’ worth of preparation. The area that is being driven typically covers a few square miles. The armada (hunting posts) must be strategically placed, to cover all possible escape routes and to prevent accidents to hunters and the population. Up to 200 hounds or more, assisted by humans, are used to drive the game towards the hunters. The drivers and dog handlers must cover all ground thoroughly, so that the game is not left behind in pockets of shelter, and travels towards hunters, and not at any random direction.
A lot of work in wildlife management is required to keep the hunt going. Ensuring large numbers of game animals takes a lot of protection, forestry development, and cooperation with local agriculturists, to provide animals with shelter and food, but at the same time to prevent overpopulation and unwelcome crop damage. Monteria estates do a lot of work for preserving biodiversity in Spain.
A successful Monteria requires a work of many people, acting in different roles. Drivers and dog handlers drive the game to hunters. Organizers control their motion, location of the hunters, collecting and processing of the harvested animals. A hunter may be assigned with a “secretary”, who helps with game ID, suggests what animals are shootable and what are to be passed, and keeps score of shot and wounded game. If you’re new to Monteria, it’s a good idea to ask specifically for a “secretary” that speaks your language, or a language you know well.
The meat of the harvested animals is not wasted. Designated butchers process it, and send them to be sold in stores or further processed into sausages, the famous Iberian jamon, etc. Estates also employ taxidermists who make sure hunting trophies are properly treated and preserved for a lasting memory of the hunt. Last but not the least, there are cooks and waiters to serve the traditional breakfast, and the no less traditional dinner after the hunt. Once you figure how much goes into it, you stop wondering how they come up with the price tags.
Traditions and rituals
The secrets of successful land management and hunt organization are often passed from generation to generation, and when a Monteria estate boasts of its ancient tradition it’s not just empty marketing blah-blah-blah.
The ancient ritual that a Monteria follows is a beauty in itself. As the hunters assemble in the morning, they’re treated to a traditional breakfast. Then comes the very important part: safety instruction and drawing of the stands each hunter will take. The hunters assume their positions, and the drive begins. For 3 or 4 hours the hunters will be in the state of excited tension, as at any moment you may face your quarry. Now there’s some motion in the bushes, leaving you in wonder what animal is moving under the cover; then there’s the baying of the hounds, who are driving game in your direction… or not? There’s never a moment to be bored during a Monteria!
An essential part of the hunt is the final layout of the trophies, as a homage to the harvested animals and recognition of the hunters’ skills, followed by dinner and socializing. Hunters typically come from all parts of the world, not just Spain and Portugal, but also other Western and Eastern European countries, North and South America, the Orient, and even Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Nowhere else will you get so many opportunities to mix with such a diversity of hunters, and share your experiences and traditions. Most estates offer hotels and spa facilities, where non-hunting companions may enjoy their stay while the hunters await their chances up in the mountains.
Monteria is a challenge you’ve probably never faced before
You only have a few seconds to a) correctly identify species, age and sex of the animal; b) make a decision whether you can or can’t shoot it; c) make sure the shot is safe, there are no dogs, drivers or other hunters in the danger zone; d) take the shot at a running animal offhand. To us, that doesn’t sound easy at all. Monteria is far from “a mindless slaughter”, it is rather a year of common big game hunting rolled in a day.
You will never see so many big-game animals at a time (OK, maybe in Africa). You’ll be hunting like a king, and become a part of an ancient tradition. If you have to travel to Spain (or anywhere in Europe) during the Monteria season, check out the offers on BookYourHunt.com – there may be hunters who’s been there and regretted it, but they’re sure hard to find.