It Was Seven O'Clock when I stepped from the pink-fronted hotel into the narrow roadway which was the main street in Andujar. Great black limousines straddled the cobbled sidewalks. A small boy chattered something to me in Spanish. I fumbled a reply. "You can't stop," I was told. "The cars are already loaded. Once the Generalissimo arrives, the hunt begins and late-comers are left behind."
The road from Andujar to the Palace of Lugar Nuevo is a distance of 20 miles. The long file of automobiles moved slowly, grinding against the roughness of the steep road. The sun had just crossed the last mountain barrier when we pulled into the graveled courtyard of the Palace of Lugar Nuevo. This was the beginning point of the Monteria, the most important and exclusive shoot in Spain. It represented the official closing of the big-game hunting season and to it were invited only those personally approved by Generalissimo Franco. The honor of invitation was great and the famous names of Spain had traveled from many distant places to assemble here in the gray morning.
Already long rows of horses and mules stood with attendants, saddle bags bursting with food, ammunition, rifles, chairs and miscellaneous equipment. Among fruit-laden orange trees, strangely tropical against the jagged gray mountain background, hundreds of native boys scurried about. Hunters in colorful costumes of deeply embossed leather, suedes and felts were everywhere—91 of them in all with their chauffeurs and more than 350 hunt servants—filling the courtyard with excitement and expectancy.
The dog-tenders stood amidst their rehalas of multi-ancestored dogs, each animal collared in the color of its owner, each wearing the small brass bell peculiar to its service. The podenquerros, clad in thick leather chaps and shabby cord jackets, joked among themselves as they rolled yellow paper cigarets and fingered the large shell horns with which they called their packs. Together they waited for the signal which would send them ahead of the armadas up the mountains to beginning points at which, later, they would release the dogs.
May 1, 1955
Nearby, in patient rows, the secretarios and assistants rechecked mule loads and routes to the shooting posts. Behind them stood the donkeys, shabby and unkempt. At the end of the day they would be led, sure-footedly, to the flags indicating kills.
Suddenly, as if by signal, the voices stopped. Up the steep incline, growling in protest to the rocky road, sped the three official hunt jeeps of the Spanish government. From running boards and backdrops red-bereted soldiers of the Personal Guard leaped to the ground and waited at attention. Throughout the crowd hands were raised in salute. From the second jeep, a small, somewhat stocky hunter emerged in a swirl of tweed cape and leather accessory, looked once about the crowd, removed his hat and began shaking the dozens of proffered hands about him. Maids and waiters from the kitchens and dining rooms of the palace slipped noiselessly to the balcony for a glimpse of their Generalissimo. Small donkey-boys bent to see between the legs of the hunters.
The General waved his hand to those on the outside and moved to greet at greater length the Minister of Agriculture, official director of the state forest on which the shoot was taking place. Within five minutes, each old friend had received a welcome and each new hunter had been presented.
Then from the center of the group Generalissimo Franco offered a prayer for the souls of dead hunters and success and safety in the shoot. Around him, with bowed heads, the hunters joined him in asking La Virgen for her protection and good wishes. At his side an official shouted, "Viva la Virgen." In one voice the crowd replied: "Viva!" The Monteria had officially begun.
In rapid movement gunners rushed to their appointed mule lines, mounted, shouted last-minute suertes to fellow shooters and began the long climb to the posts. I was carried along with the throng, which moved as fast as the rapid flow of Spanish about me. In the distance I could see the General astride his horse, moving toward the post from which he would shoot.
Soon each armada was alone, wending its way between brush and rock, along drops of many hundreds of feet and over narrow slate-filled streams. From high on an upper path, tiny insectlike figures could be seen below, each seeking his appointed post.
"Where is the General's post?" I called in very poor Spanish to Antonio, the boy who would be my secretario for the hunt.
"Far," he answered, bending around the head of the mule he was leading.
"What do you mean far?"
"Far from the other monteros." He made a motion with his hand, indicating that the General's post would be well out of range of accidental fire. In each of five armadas, there were about 20 individual posts, widely spaced to reduce as much as possible the danger of injury to the hunters from ricochets or misdirected shots.
Ahead, portions of our line began to drop off toward individual posts. By late morning we had found our destination and preparations were made for the actual shooting which would begin at noon. The mule keepers unloaded their animals and departed for several central areas out of range of gunfire. The secretario dashed about chopping branches and brush for construction of the post. We loaded rifles, set up shooting chairs, hastily ate from paper packages of ham and chicken and strong Spanish cheese.
As noon approached, all activity ceased. There was silence across the mountains. The secretario crouched behind our chairs, hands close to ammunition. His ears and eyes were trained to the smallest disturbance in the brush. We listened for the first barks of the dog packs which would mean the shooting was about to begin.
Then it was noon. As the hands on many watches came together, the mountains erupted with clamorous and mingled sounds. More than 20 packs of dogs broke through the brush and ran in seeming frenzy through the thick foliage. Their barking echoed across the valleys. Behind the dogs came the podenquerros, armed with ancient muzzle-loaders. With each explosion of their trabucos, a mushroom of white smoke rose from the short barrels and drifted skyward. Between discharges they shouted loud calls at the dogs, each other and the game.
ON THE RUN
"Over there," my partner whispered. "You can see the dogs coming through. Any minute you'll see game."
I fingered my rifle and followed the rapid movement through the brush. I couldn't get used to the noise. My ears rang from the multiple explosions of the trabucos.
"Look!" my partner half shouted. He flipped the safety off his rifle. I did the same. In front of the dogs, leaping and crashing through the brush, raced several terrified animals. They changed direction, veering toward our post.
"Hembras," the secretario said. Does. They ran right at us, barely missing the post. Behind them, three more broke loudly through the bushes, scattered and disappeared behind rock boulders.
On the slope of the mountain opposite we could see the dogs move past our post area and into range of the next. Momentarily there was relief from the pandemonium. We clicked on safeties, lit cigarets and counted...seven does, no bucks.
Behind us the secretario raised his head and listened. Then, with a finger, he pointed to a ridge some 60 yards away. We moved around, facing the ridge. A moment passed, two, three. The silence was loud after the noise. The ridge remained bare. The boy continued to point.
Suddenly, with one movement, an animal cleared the ridge. "Hembra," the boy said aloud. He too was disappointed. The doe passed within a few feet of us and disappeared over a hill behind. Eight does, still not a shot.
Then came the sharp crack of a nearby rifle. A second shot, a third.
"Muerte," Antonio mumbled.
"The next post," my partner, José, commented.
From around the mountain the faint sounds of barking and calling moved farther and farther away. The podenquerros had passed five, six, maybe seven posts distant.
"Good," José remarked. "Now you must be on guard. The does will run in front of the dogs, blindly. But not the old bucks. The big ones, the time-wised ones, do not survive to 18 and 20 points by fleeing recklessly before their pursuers. They are clever. They move instead stealthily through the ranks of the dogs. It is now, when the noise has passed, that they think they are safe."
THE SHUDDER OF A BRANCH
Antonio continued to crouch behind our chairs. He did not look over the five feet of brush which sheltered the post. His thin body was motionless, his eyes half closed. Even the wind seemed reluctant to stir his tattered clothing. Suddenly his head shot up. He opened his eyes and with a single change of expression indicated a point to our right. We swung quietly and peered in the direction he had signaled. There was nothing visible but six-foot clusters of mountain brush and low, jagged rock. Antonio did not move.
"Mira." His lips formed the word, "Jabalíe."
Near the gray rock, a branch shuddered, then moved to one side. Between it and the rock, a black figure emerged. The boar moved slowly. It had not scented us. Little piglike feet took deliberate, thoughtful steps. It had escaped the dogs and was seeking a place to rest. Directly toward us it came, 50, then 45 yards away. Antonio raised his hand to delay an impatient shot. Closer and closer the boar picked its way. Soon it would have the scent. Antonio waited—calm—then dropped his hand. The Holland & Holland .300 Magnum shattered the stillness. The boar raised its head, lowered it, raised it again, with one movement swung its clumsy body sideways, lunging toward the nearby brush. Two yards from where it had first scented us, it dropped heavily to the rocky ground, rolled, righted itself and fell a last time.
"Bueno," Antonio grinned at me.
With glasses we surveyed the kill. Two hundred pounds, perhaps more. My partner turned to look at Antonio. He had shot with the boy before and knew his service well. Still, he had to study once more the simple peasant face. For probably the 50th time, he left unanswered the mystery of the boy's hearing which had detected the sound of the animal's silent coming minutes before it was visible. Antonio's face was immobile. The boy had again returned his senses to the woods and rocks about him.
Nearby, another rifle sent its charge into the brush.
"What do you think it was?" I asked José. Three more shots, rapidly.
"Could be boar or buck," he whispered. "Be ready. There must have been more than one. He probably got the first one, but maybe not the second."
DEATH OF A BUCK
From the left came the sound of crashing brush. Then silence. Then again, the crack of breaking twigs and branches. In one great leap, a heavy-antlered buck cleared the ridge some 40 yards away and fell before there was time to set its image in the sights. Behind it, in a single movement, five dogs leaped from the undergrowth upon the dying animal. Then there was nothing visible but the slow swaying of green foliage.
I scanned the area in which the six animals had disappeared.
"You won't see them for a while," my partner chuckled. "The podencos are claiming their reward. They'll eat until they're full, then leave the bones."
From the bushes we could hear the angry growls as the dogs fought each other for prime parts. After 20 minutes or so they slunk quietly away. Only antlers and hooves were left to tell the man in the next post the story of his kill. This, unavoidably, was sometimes the order of the Monteria.
Antonio, as if reminded by the dogs' feast, passed us sandwiches from the saddle bags. We drank from bottles of cold wine, droplets of moisture running through our fingers.
"What would have happened if the dogs hadn't gotten that buck?"
"It would have come at us," José answered, "and we would have shot it."
"But whose trophy would it have been?"
"Ah," he smiled. "That is the interesting question. In the Monteria, we have a rule. The first hunter to draw blood claims the trophy. Even the tiniest flesh wound makes the game his, regardless of who fires the death shot."
"That buck was as good as dead when we saw it," I commented. "But with a tiny flesh nick it might have passed several posts before being dropped. Who could ever decide which hunter had drawn first blood?"
"It's very simple. When we stop shooting for the day, the hunter goes to the spot where he marked his flesh shot," José explained. "He looks for blood. Then he follows the trail of blood, no matter how slight, as far as it goes. Eventually it will lead to a dead animal, if the animal was later shot. When the hunter finds the dead game, he goes to the post from which he believes the death shot was fired. When he reaches the post, he says in his most polite and pleasant manner to the hunter inside: 'My friend, I believe you did me the service of killing an animal which I had previously blooded.' The hunter in the post then replies, 'Good day, my friend. And what animal is that to which you refer?' The first hunter points to the animal he has just tracked and with great pride proclaims it his own.
"At this point," José continued, "the second hunter generally bows deeply and surpasses the first in courtesy. 'I am certainly pleased, my good friend,' he will say, 'to have the privilege of showing you my prize trophy. But what makes you think that it was first blooded by you? It would please me indeed to know that such a fine animal was yours, but I am afraid that you are mistaken.'
"Thereupon much conversation ensues." José lit a cigaret. "After perhaps an hour or two of debate, all very polite and pleasant, you understand, the two hunters walk to the place where the dead animal rests and the first hunter points out the tiny trail of blood. Usually they retrace the steps of the first hunter back to the original point before one or the other concedes defeat."
"In other words," I laughed, "the situation isn't really very different here than in any part of the world."
"Not really, except that in Spain it takes about three times as long to settle the question."
"Se√±or," Antonio broke into our conversation. "Venado."
Some 80 yards across, halfway down the side of the opposite mountain, a form moved slowly between the bushes. I raised the Holland & Holland to be ready when the game was clearly revealed. The animal moved cautiously, unaware of the post ahead. Seconds passed like hours as the form approached. Antonio's eyes and ears, as always, were accurate. As the shape moved closer, we could see the antler points of its giant head.
STRAIGHT FOR THE POST
Suddenly a roar tumbled across the distance between post and animal. I jumped, startled at the unexpected noise. The spot in the sights disappeared. Leaping many feet ahead, the buck galloped in terror before the dog which had charged around the mountain after it. Next to me there was a shot. The buck continued to lunge forward. A second shot. The animal crashed toward the post, seemingly unharmed. It was too close to fire again. Then it dropped with an audible thud, less than 20 feet from where we were stationed.
José leveled his Winchester at the fallen animal and waited. I could feel my heart beating. The single dog, still barking, charged the dropped buck. Antonio shouted and the dog turned and trotted slowly back in the direction from which it had come. José lowered the Winchester.
"Heart shot," he said. "There won't be need for the grace shot. It was dead before it fell."
In the distance, a low bleating sound ranged across the mountains. The conch horns of the podenquerros were calling the scattered dogs. It was 4 o'clock and the hunt was over. Crossing the hill, from whatever had been the day's sanctuary, we could see the outlines of the mule boys leading their beasts to the posts. They sang in soft voices as they walked toward us.
Antonio moved about rapidly, packing saddle bags, gathering equipment. Before the mules reached us the post was bare. On the antlers of the dead buck and on the tusks of the boar he placed small white flags bearing our names and post number. He put his fingers around the width of the antler and nodded to himself. We could see he approved.
TIRED MEN AND HUNTER'S LUCK
The sun was low as we again approached the courtyard. Most of the gunners had already returned and stood in small groups discussing the day's shooting. Generalissimo Franco and his party were still in the hills, and counts and dukes and generals speculated on what his luck had been. When his group was finally visible against the backdrop of mountain, we could see that he was smiling. As they approached, the word passed through the crowd. The Generalissimo had gotten two bucks, good ones, and a boar.
It was night before the last of the game was brought in from the brush. Cigarets made tiny lanterns in the courtyard as the total bag was counted. Eighty-two bucks, thirty-four boar. Tired men departed to eat dinner and drink wine and talk for endless hours of guns and game and hunter's luck.
In the moonlight the courtyard of the Palace of Lugar Nuevo presented a strange picture. The noise of the day was over. A breeze, as quiet as the night, moved noiselessly among the dead animals, whispering a mournful dirge. The white light of the moon touched first an antler, then the ivory of a tusk. The shadows of many pointed trophies cast weird images across the courtyard. The season had ended in Spain.
[Dark Blue Area]armada lines
[Light Blue Area]area covered in day's hunt
SANCTUARIO DE LA
VIRGEN DE LA CABEZA
Road to Andujar