Partridge hunting in Portugal – Things you do to travel!

Our trip to Portugal began with an invitation in a chat on Instagram. Yup! Something we always will tell our kids NOT to do! Even Miguel,”the man my husband met on the internet”, admitted that he probably wouldn’t have gone to Denmark on the same conditions. But we lowered our expectations and if the hunting part would fail, the two of us would still be on a little getaway and most important; I would get to travel!

I love to travel. My husband Michael loves hunting. Can you combine the two without doing both partially? This wasn’t our first hunting trip, but technically it was our first time travelling with weapons. Once we brought his compound bow by plane to Spain, but that only classifies as “sporting goods”. And I so wished this was the plan.

Because there is something special about airports that make all your need to test any limits vaporize the moment you set foot in the airport terminal. You want no dumbass joke to be the reason you didn’t get on the plane. And even if you spent most of your life breaking enough rules to avoid being labelled as an overachiever, you realize your brain is going through all the regulations on fluids, medication and luggage weight again and again to follow even the minor details of the rules.

As an ordinary air traveller you are already in a mildly state of anxiety, so what can possibly go wrong if you chose to travel with someone who brings a rifle and suitable ammunition?! Once they wanted to test our travel adapter for traces of explosives and this time almost every piece of gear we brought is stored in the very room where Michael is handling gunpowder for reloading his ammunition! Now that is a conversation with security I have absolutely no need to experience outside of my imagination…

Even if it the atmosphere in the airport can be intense when you are traveling with weapon, they did smile when they saw our souvenir on our way home

No pressure... or?

But of course, all of us, arrived safely. The rifle included. Portugal hit us with the most beautiful always changing scenery on the drive from Porto. It was kind of “love at first sight”. That evening we met our Portuguese contact Miguel and his friend Nuno for the first time briefly before aiming for the bed. It is one thing to exchange courtesies with people from a different culture. It requires something else to perform well enough as a hunter to make a first impression that you can live with at the end of the week.

We were told that Michael’s hunting guide the next morning was a former fighter pilot from the navy. A Portuguese version of Top Gun’s Maverick. That didn’t exactly ease the pressure.

Our hunting guide who quickly got the name "Maverick"

Arriving at the gate to the hunting area we got out of the car, greeted each other and they were discussing in Portuguese wether our simple rental car, with a motor at the size of a VW UP, would make it through the terrain! An international hand sign for “Never mind!” followed the conclusion that if not, they would just have to tow us. But our first hunting experience Portugal didn’t have to be getting stuck with the car.

On another holiday Michael brought us safely up and down a Spanish dirt road with a sign that said “Off road vehicles only” in a Peugeot Partner! He knows a few tricks when it comes to four wheels and a steering wheel, but when he saw the muddy condition of the dirt road, he gave a focused command of “No comments”! My reaction was somewhat irrational. Somewhere growing up I must have reasoned that the best way of helping in a situation like this, is to hold my breath until we were safely on the other side. Like I could cancel gravity, and it seemed to work!

Our little hunting company getting ready for hunting partridges

Another level of multitasking

‘Maverick’ had brought his Portuguese pointer Marco, because the primary challenge of the day was “Hunt for Redlegged Partridge with pointing dog”. Saying it fast it almost sounds like a classic Olympic discipline.

And it actually is kind of an artform in a complicated interaction between dog, man, wind, bird, and in our case an extra shooter. And as for most things it is harder in the beginning. First and foremost, it requires skills to read the signals of the dog when it catches the scent of a bird. The dog lowers the chest and sneaks up on the bird hugging the ground hiding when danger approaches. When the scent is strong the dog freezes. On signal from the dog handler, the dog makes the bird take off, and the hunter shoots the bird if he is fast enough. When the bird goes down or makes a longer “emergency landing”, the dog retrieves the bird, and the job is well done.

But when the dog is not yours, and you are meant to walk side by side with man and dog without getting in each other’s way when it is time to shoot(!), everything is communicated I Portuguese that makes absolutely NO sense, the friend of the hunting guide brought his more than cute 5 months old puppy along for the training, but it is consistently sneaking in between your feet … it is a lot to navigate.

The puppy wasn't always aware of what was going on

Everyone involved slowly figured out the game. Michael hit the first partridge and Marco the dog found it. Another wounded bird landed further along in our direction. Marco caught the scent, pointed and waited patiently. Not until the entire hunting party was almost standing on each other’s feet did I realize that the bird was hiding right under our noses.

And then everything happened so fast! The bird only flew 1-2 meters before Marco catches it in the air accompanied by an excited roar of surprise from all of us! That would have been epic on video, but no. Every time it even smelled like action at all, I was caught up in the excitement, froze and forgot everything about the camera!

Marco with one of the redlegged partridges

It is what you don’t shoot that matters the most

Most of the morning the atmosphere changed between cautiously walking around the hilly terrain, intense excitement when scent was registered, witch again was cancelled when the dog changed from sneaky mode to relaxed sniffing around.

We were walking well distanced from Miguel and Nuno most of the time and had to process some jealousy from the frequent shots released in the valley, while we only flushed a few birds with no real chances to shoot.

Miguel and Nuno walked with their dogs as one team and we followed the two Portuguese pointers and their owners as the other team. I think I understand the pressure you might put on one another during hunting. As a guide you might feel the pressure to succeed directly linked to the subjective experience of the hunter, that usually improves when gamebirds are shot. But what looks like at great shot from the perspective of the guide, might be a irresponsible shot from the perspective of the shooter with a risk of hitting dog, guide, fellow hunter or the wife trying to get the perfect shot with the camera…

It takes some character to let the bird go for the fourth or fifth time while hearing shouts you can only translate as “Shoot! Shoot!” and the inner voice starts questioning whether you are ready to be known in Portugal as “the shooting instructor who didn’t shoot anything”?

Time to enjoy the view

Hunting also requires cultural understanding

Miguel made a beautiful shot at 45 meters, and the bird went straight down, which triggered spontaneously cheering from the others.
After following the scent for a longer time, the dog flushed a partridge that took off in the direction of another hill separated from our position by a slope. Michael released a shot, but the bird was too far away for the second shot to be reasonable. The dog searched the other side of the slope but without results. I guess everybody was getting heavy legs and a bit slower.

During the break right after they asked Michael why he didn’t take the second shot. Michael tried to put in words how the shot is rarely deadly beyond 30 meters when using steel hail, as we do in Denmark. That is why he made it a habit to cease shooting at this limit. Even though he knows that lead has more speed and makes a heavier impact at a slightly larger distance, it is hard to unlearn the fast measuring of distance and intuitive assessment of opportunity.

They were discussing in Portuguese for a while, and it was impossible to tell whether they were disagreeing or having a neutral conversation. Miguel translated their conclusion and they agreed to the advantage of fewer non-lethal hits if you keep within the 30 meters even if you do use lead.

We left for Portugal with the expectations of simple hunting experiences, but have found some potential very good friends, that are openminded and curious to a degree that can be unusual for the hunting community, where opinions often is black and white. It is like digging in your back yard and finding gold.

Miguel and Nuno understands the combination of hunting and friendship

All’s well that ends well

From the time we booked the flight till hunting the average temperature managed to drop from 35 to 17 degrees, and I was probably the only one who didn’t appreciate that while we were walking up and down the hilly area.

November is like spring in Portugal and after a week of pouring rain, the ground between the many cork trees completely green and filled with little white flowers. Exept from where the wild boars had plowed the soil, searching for acorns.

It was early afternoon and the temperature had reached close to 20 degrees before we headed back towards the cars with a feeling that this might be the end of the hunt. The shotguns were opened and semi-automatic secured with a shell put in sideways and the guns were carried on the shoulder. There was increasingly longer in between the bird as it got warmer. Even though Michael just hit a single partridge on this first hunting day of our trip. It had still been a good experience with lots to learn. The atmosphere and company were definitely impeccable!

But nobody had told the dogs that the party was over because suddenly Marco pointed for so long that even I understood that he caught a scent! Two birds flushed and Michael shot twice really fast! The first one made a small cloud of feathers so no doubt that was a hit! But the other partridge stayed on its wings for quite some distance and there was no doubt about Michael’s reaction either… The spontaneous joy over a perfect shot mixed with some regret, because it was SO close to being a double! Everything came together when he replayed the sequence in his head over and over again. The position of the birds in relation to the swing of the barrel, the distance, nobody else than the birds in the sight and it obviously bothered him that he didn’t manage to pull it off. Or at least that was what he thought… Shortly after the dog found the other partridge in the grass. Not just hit but dead. It surely was a double! And what a finale!

The count reached a total of 15 birds before late lunch on the local seafood restaurant.

Hunting is so much more than hunting

This was the first day of an amazing trip. Time wasn’t split equally between being tourists and hunting. I guess if we were going to, all the museums would be a serious stretch for him. But to me the traditional cinnamon pastry in between the drives also counts as a cultural experience. The same goes for the restaurants where the others agreed to order and share dishes that we wouldn’t have the courage to order ourselves.

To be invited home for local red wine and homegrown oranges and olives is a gift only granted to a few tourists. When the conversation with a passionate human being from a different culture touches the subjects of politics, social indifferences, the national values and you feel the frustration and pride, it is far better than anything I can read in a travel guide. I have only won by exploring the world Micheal’s way.

And as a bonus, without lifting a finger, he found the most charming Bed & Breakfast close to the city of Evorá, which is classified by UNESCO as a world inheritance. Earnestly I don’t think he knew it before we were there, but he made it a priority to spend time as tourists as well. Ony because he knows I love it.

We also had time to visit the bizarre Chapel of Bones

This trip also included hunting wild boar and snipes. The latter was a different and surprisingly tough and great experience that I will have to tell you more about.

The most frequently used expression that week was “Next time…!” There is so much more explore in Portugal for both of us. We left with the feeling that there is a great potential of hunting tourism in Portugal, that opens up when you know somebody that knows somebody. And we do now! We are definitely not done with Portugal, hunting or hunting in Portugal!

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