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Hunting in France, expensive, complex but lot of game and passion.
by Dominique Czermann

 I've sent some pictures of hunt in France with lever guns and Jim Taylor asked me if I wanted to write a piece about hunt in France. I'll try to give you an idea of how hunting is, in our country. Hunting and firearms passion can help good guys to understand each other. 

First, a little bit of geography. France is about 550000Km2 in surface, about 1/17 of USA including Alaska. Not big as your country but not small compared to Belgium, England, Holland or Italy.  With more than 60 millions people living there, it's a bit more crowded than in States. France is divided in 95 administrative divisions called "departement". The landscape is varied, plains, hills old and young mountains, big agricultural territories. More than a quarter of the land is forest, which is increasing each year by about 3%. Most of these forests (74%) are private. The rest belongs to state or public communities. In Europe only 60% of the forest is private. Each departement has his own "Federation de chasseurs" (hunter's federation) which regroup all the hunting associations of the departement. This Federation elaborates the hunting rules, opening and closing dates, number of head of game to be taken during the season, special rules in case of climatic problems, manage game wardens and anti poaching operations … under the control of state authorities.

Not too bothering, follow me. To hunt of your own in France you must be 16, follow a small formation, pass un exam about  knowledge of species (game and protected), laws, performances of guns and ammo, safety rules and a practical small test of shooting. Then with that licence in pocket you must pay each year (yes each year) between 120 and 330 euros depending if you want to hunt only one departement or all the country. Can you imagine the luck you have guys in Montana, Arizona, Wyoming or even Vermont. And that's not over: then you must join a private hunting club or and community association (from a village or small town) and pay again, (money nerve of war). Seem complex and virtual for you, for 1 million of French guys it's the awful reality. More the less as in States we are attacked by the anti gun and anti hunt groups. Only the power of our votes saves us to this day. And contrary to the USA all political groups are against guns. Remember, Europe history and France particularly is filled with revolts and revolutions.

Come back to hunting.

Now you're ready to hunt. We practice different types of hunt: stalking, generally in summer or in mountain for horned games. It's a trophy or selective hunt.

Stand hunting: generally in east of France near Germany or in the middle of the country (Sologne) where most of hunting grounds are private. I don't speak of tree stand, most of time these stands are as in Germany, comfortable miradors.

Driven hunt: called battue in France this type of hunt regroup the majority of hunters. More than a hunt, battue is a social activity where people enjoy the same passion and spend time together. In our society more and more individualistic and turned to profit for profit, this hunt is the only social activity in some small villages and it preserves the community tissue.

We have chance in France that game is increasing in quantity and quality thank to very strict management. The paradox is that, now there're too much game (road crash, agricultural damages), for the Green and antis, we hunters, are responsible….

We have good population of wild free ranging game:

Wild boar: the most hunted in battue. Wary, intelligent, tough, sometimes really tough, the big male wild boar with shining and sharp tusk is the dream of all French hunters. A big male adult can be heavy, 150kg (330lbs) with some in the 195kg range (400+lbs). In Eastern Europe it can weight 300kg (700+lbs).

Roe deer: smallest of the deer the roe is very interesting to hunt. Stalking in summer, only the antlered male are taken, really difficult to close in real wild place, most are taken on the first hours of morning or at dusk (night hunting generally forbidden in France). Small and light ( 30kg/70lbsmax) the roe is not a big target, in some place in the north of France, on the big plains you can't close more than 200m (220yards), offhand or with a stick it's not an easy shoot.

Hunt in battue it's a small, fast and jumping target. When pushed by dogs, running, changing direction, it's and interesting shot even at 50meters. Contrary to the wild boar the roe, as all antlered and horned games are managed at state level with consultation of each departement and hunter's federation. People from the forest industries don't like them because they eat small tree's heads and buds.

Red deer: same family as the elk but smaller the stag is generally hunt stalking or on stand and less in battue. In some clubs or associations it's forbidden to hunt antlered stag in battue, only spikes, does and fawns. It's a severely controlled hunt and we have different tags for stag. As it's difficult to count the numbers of tines when such a beast is rushing through trees some prohibits shooting male during battue.  

The French stag was interbred with some polish and eastern countries stag under scientific control (they are same species) after Second World War. The results are bigger and nicer trophies. The best are taken in south of France (Cevennes Mountains) and not in the east, near Germany as most people think. 

Mouflon: the Corsican ram is a totally managed game and you need special tag for it. For best trophy hunt you need to hunt with a guide and it can cost you a lot. A gold medal going to more than 1500 euros. A male is not too big, about 50 to 60kg (110 to 130lbs) but in it carry very nice trophy. Medium mountain game the mouflon can be interesting to hunt if you really want to stalk and not to shoot, because you need to walk and climb to approach. We hunt also female and young the same way, for management. Normally the yearly plan is a third of each, male female and young.  

Chamois and Isards (Gams): they are the same species but one, the chamois, from the Alps, Jura and Vosges mountains on the eastern border of France and the other, isard, from the Pyrennées Mountains, border between France and Spain. As the mouflon they are managed and very controlled games because their living and hunting areas are not far from ski and holidays resorts. A big male chamois is 55kg (120lbs), the isard is smaller, 45kg max. You can't hunt them in battue or even with dogs only stalking. Difficult to close in and living in troops, they are difficult too fair chase and generate a real passion. For guy not living in mountainous areas it's difficult to integrate an association of chamois or isard hunters. The only solution is guided hunt with federal association. Believe me for a French medium class working man it's expensive. As we have no draw hunt if you're not resident better go in Austria…

We also have a big population of bouquetins, ibex mountain sheep, but they are totally protected. Better shoot the game warden, cost you less!

Thank to the Greens who reintroduced wolfs in South of France near the Italian border and their protection maybe in five years could we hunt this animal who cause great losses in game and domestic sheep. For the moment only some are killed each year by federal agents. 

Normal hunting season open between second Sunday of September till second Sunday of January except for managed game (antlered and horned) which can be hunted till 28 of February. We don't have special season for BP or bows. Long time forbidden bow hunting is allowed. Hunter must pass test of knowledge and shoot some arrows on 3D targets. All his arrow during the hunt must be marked with his federal hunting license number. Crossbows are prohibited except in totally fenced private hunting parks.

For the wild boar the season can begin the 15 of August in case of great agricultural damages but this requires a special government authorisation. Normally stop second Sunday of January. Three departements near the German border hunt with German laws (yes crazy, we had two wars with Germany for these territories but people living there are French when it's good for them and German when it's better). So they can hunt wild boars from first of April till 28 of February, even at night. Complex I told you….  

In 2005 more than 500000 (five hundred thousand) wild boar, more than a million roe deer and 40000 (forty thousand) red stag were taken by hunters. These numbers are a bit low because a lot of game is killed and not tagged by hunters, not really poaching, just a little bit of neglect. (bursts of laugh please).  

Hunting the French way, guns, shotguns, gun laws. 

If hunting is complicated in France gun laws are simpler but totally insane. Some calibres are forbidden, as are some types of weapons. As you know during the Second World War, France was the most fought country (western front) with millions of left over weapons. It's not difficult to find old Mauser, 03, M1 Garand, MP40, Enfield, M1 carbines and more. A lot of full automatic weapons remain hidden: BAR, Bren, MG34 and 42, as the ammo don't age well these guns are not really a problem. So to prevent people getting new ammo all the"military calibres"are banned and you need special registration to buy and use them. You need to renew your licence every 3 years, practice in a controlled shooting range and so on. Military ammunition is banned for hunting. We are the only country in EEC where you can't hunt with a 30-06 a 308 or 8mm Mauser. You can't use a 30-06 but a 338Lapua or a 30-378 is free.

In 95 our politicians, minds filled with second category American TV series, began to see the pump shotgun as a really terrific gun, able to blast car to pieces and throw humans meters away, may be even stop trains, so they banned them. Even for ducks and goose hunting. But semi auto are free.

For the rest at this time, as soon as you have a valid hunting or shooting license, you can buy all the rifles and shotguns you want (handguns are another story) but they are registered direct from the gun dealer to the authority (police and administration. Semi auto carbines and shot guns are limited to three shots including chamber. The carbine must have a non detachable magazine. Bolt and lever can be ten shot. More than ten shot magazines (even tubular magazines are restricted). BP handguns (front loaders) are totally free if they are reproduction of an historical model. The Ruger BP is banned. BP rifles are free, and you can use them for hunting. Not a lot of people use them. I do sometimes.

As most hunting is in battue, with running game, favourite French and southern European hunter guns are the semi auto. We have 9 generic models to choose, with tens of sub models.

Browning Bar and Shortrac, Remington 7400/7500, Verney-Carron Impact, H&K SLB2000, Merkel SR1,  Benelli Argo, Winchester Vulkan, Ruger Deerfield. All with swivelling 2 rounds magazine. You saw them at the Orlando Shot Show. The most used calibres are the 300Winchester Magnum because of the Bar success, the 280 Rem of the 740, 742, 7400, and the 7x64 Brenneke. Then come the 7Rem mag. The new craze in semi-auto are the WSM "marvels" (not for me), which are as battue calibres as politicians are honest. For some years now minds are changing and manufacturers began to offer hunters real battue calibres in semi auto. The 9,3x62 is coming strong. All except French Verney-Carron and Ruger have one. Remington has no 9,3x62 but his 7500 is back in 35 Whelen. Maybe you don't know that, you cowboys, but Remington as made batches of 7400 and 7600 in 35 Whelen for France long after they were out in States. And what a calibre it is, to stop wild boar and stag; about the same efficiency as the 9,3x62.

Then come the double rifles, side by side and over under.

For long time these were really expensive firearms but under the impulsion of the French market and French manufacturer Chapuis the prices are less prohibitive. With some Italian makers you can have perfectly regulated double rifles for 2000euros. The best Chapuis models and German Heym, Blaser, Merkel, Krieghoff are from 3000 to 3500 euros. Then the sky is the limit. Perfectly adapted to running game hunting where ranges are short (a study on 26000 game animals shot give about 50m average) the double rifle or express (how they are often called) offer fast follow on shoot. Calibres are 8x57JRS, mild, it allows fast second shoot. Most people shoot it more precisely because of soft recoil. A little bit on light side for really heavy wild boars and mature red stag (rarely hunt in battue). Then the 9,3x74R, very powerful it's a stopping calibre for Europeans or most of American game. This year 2007 Hornady offers ammunition and bullet in this calibre as Nosler I think. When you hit game with this heavy bullet (296grs) even if too far back you know you have connected. The animal even in full adrenaline shows the hit. The recoil is a bit on heavy side in light express and discourages practice.

The 30R Blaser, based on the 9,3x74R case is a new calibre, about 10 years old. Its power is about the same as the old 300H&H Rimmed, a bit more than the 30-06. I don't like it because of the pressure it generates but it is effective.

There're some double rifles in 7x65R (280Rem power) and you can find (rare) some oddities as 444Marlin, 45-70Gvt and now that's ammo is available again old Belgian doubles in 405 Winchester. Most of carbines and doubles are scoped with battue variable scope (1,1/1,25-4x20/24) of German origin or with red dot sight mostly  Aimpoint 7/9000 or Bushnell Holosights.

Bolt actions are often Mauser system but a lot of Steyr Mannlicher, Sauer, Verney-Carron are used. The Blaser R93 is considered as a must because of his straight pull system (I don't like it) as is the new Merkel KR1 with is telescopic bolt. Winchester, Remington and Browning bolt  actions are often used for mountain stalking or to build customs. My favourite is the Winch 70 ( I own 5 models) and Alaskan Wilderness custom Rem 700.

Then come the most interesting for you readers of Leverguns: the lever action rifle. Long looked at with disdain by most of hunters because of "it's lack of power" the lever guns are making a strong come back in French hunting circle, specially in the south, near the Mediterranean sea were forest are very thick and where spaces are closed. Most of time dog leaders who follow their dogs in pursuit of wild boar have to tangle with vegetation. Here the short, handy but powerful models from Winchester and Marlin in 444 (mainly because of easy to find ammo) 450 and for some hand loaders 45-70 have a lot of advantages. The slow (?) but heavy bullets really anchor games. Important, when you get not too good relationship with hunting or non hunting neighbours.  

Easy to carry and light, the lever actions are appreciated because they are very secure and fast in action. You can carry them loaded but chamber empty, if dogs are threatened by wild boar the lever gun could be in action at the blink of an eye.

Where boars are mostly in the 80kg weight range you see some Ruger 94/44. With enough power to take game cleanly the load can be improved by hand loading. Once I used to prepare some 44mag with Partition 250, Gold Dot 270, Hornady 265 for some friends or even Speer TMJ (forbidden cause full jacketed but deadly). Now they make their own themselves. These premium bullets are more effective on heavier games. Now I'm using lead slugs, cold water quenched, cheaper than jacketed bullets, they penetrate as if there is no tomorrow (sorry for copying Brian Pierce words).

Most of guns are Winchester Timber in 444, Marlin Guide in 444 or 450, some Winchester and Marlin in 44Rem Mag. You also find some Big Bore 94 in 375Winch and in 356 (got one) the 307 is rarer and it's a pity such good calibres are misunderstood by hunter or wannabee journalists. For most of hunting situations here in Europe or in America (I spent some time in Canada) 307 and 356 Winchester can be more than enough.

You can also find some Savage 99 in 300 and 358. Some years ago I miss one in 358, what good carbine for battue…

With the closing of New Haven, Marlin will get the biggest part of the cake and I expect the demand will increase because prices are low, 3 Marlin for 1 Blaser and lever action are deadly.

To close the gun chapters we must not forget the semi-auto 12gauge slug guns, often used in south by old chaps, some combination guns and another American standard: the pump action rifle. Browning models are not often seen, but the Remington 7600 in 280 or 35Whelen cartridges have a loyal following. With eighteen inches barrel, four shots magazines they are effective in dense cover, save to carry and powerful enough for the largest boar and stag.  

When I'm not testing a model for the paper I write in I like to stalk Corsican ram and roe deer, for that, most of time I carry my 700 AWR prepared and modified by French gunsmith Mr Dorleac, a real wizard of rifle he can make classic rifles British way, or he can build you an ultra light mountain rifle with bench rest precision. I also use Winchester 70 in 243, 264mag and 270. All are scoped with Leupold except de 243 which mount a 4x32 Schmidt&Bender.

I like my Merkel KR1 in 7x65R, with 150grs Partition or 156grs Norma Oryx, this is a deadly combination for all non dangerous game from roe to Swedish moose. With only one shot you take time to aim right.

When hunting in battue and not testing semi auto or express, I carry one of my favourite Winchester 86 in 45-70 loaded with 300grs Partition and 60grs of VN133, a rather stout load or with water quenched 405grs lead slug in front of 52grs of the same powder.

I like to carry and hunt with the soft as slick Browning 71 carbine. I use Hornady bullet with heavy load of VN560 or with French Vectan TU7000 (about IMR4350) for around 2400fps and good practical precision.

If I need a scoped one my BB94 in 356Winch do the job, the 1x4 Leupold shotgun and muzzle loader scope with heavy reticule is perfect in dark wood. I zero 100meters so have no problem in case of shot at still target 150meters away, in a clearing. I use 180grs Speer FP with scope or 220grs without for short range. Powders are French designed SP7 (very close to TAC same manufacturer, French owned PRB de Clermont Belgium) or VN 133&135.

February 2007 I'll be hunting Corsican ram female with that gun or with a 307 if I get time to develop a good load with 170grs Partition.. Last week I found and rare Marlin 336 ER in 356 Winchester and as price was very low because of hard to find cartridges I bought it.  

Writing in hunting magazine give me chance to meet other hunters and answer their questions, this permit me to speak more of lever gun and to promote these reliable, powerful easy to carry rifles. But now with the election for President closing in we need to be on our guard and begin lobbying cause not a single of these liars is for the right to have guns and future is not so bright.

 In France and in Europe we don't have the 2nd Amendment. I think we're like the dinosaurs, going to disappear. 

May be some of you had found this text interesting even if it's miles away from your preoccupations, I hope so.

Want to thank Jim Taylor for his kindness. See you in 2008 at the Shot Show (only if in Vegas). Long live lever guns, good hunting and shooting. 

Dominique Czermann

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Here it's me with a young isard in Pyrennées Mountains. The rifle i carry is a Sako 75 in 9,3x66 but I shot it with my Alaskan Wilderness Custom rifle in 7Rem mag that my friend is carrying
The Sako is too powerful for such a game, it was there for test on stag. Don't find a good one
Here is a classic rifle made by my friend and gunsmith Joel Dorleac in Perpignan France. Called Fast Game the action is from Argentina 1909 Mauser, blue printed and totally trued. Bolt locks are polisher and mated to barrel recess. Trigger is from Timney, safety is Winchester 70 clone, barrel from Heym famous german gun maker in 9,3x62. This rifle is very well balanced and fast to the shoulder, it's optimised for running game, the heavy one or for Africa. Precision is much less than an inch at 100m with most of good commercial ammo. Here is a picture of some of my lever guns. I use some for hunting some for shooting. 
From the left: 94 Big Bore 356W whith Leupold shotgun scope 1-4x20 heavy duplex, very good for hunting running game in heavy cover
95 Russian contract original in 7,62x54R, good piece of shooting iron, with his original guide for clip loading. It works.
Winchester 86 made in Japan, 45-70 with Lyman 66 peep sight. Used without peep as a ghost ring sight, effective in driven hunt withheavy load, 300grs Partition and 60 to 61grs of VN133
Browning 86 carbine, very good shooter used for shooting from 50 to 300meters with standard loads.
Browning 92, 44magnum, used with 250grs partition and stout load of Vectan SP3 (about the H110) when driving hunt dogs behind wild boar. Easy to carry and powerful enough.
Winchester 71, original rifle, normaly used with a left side mounted Weaver 1-3 scope, here without scope.
Browning 71, 348 winchester used for hunting with Hornady 200grs and a good load of VN560 or french TU7000 (about 4350) very precise a lot more than the original model. Powerful for stag and wild boar. Also use 200grs cast from RCBS mould.
Marlin 94CB, 24 inches barrel used for shooting or hunting depends of loading. Very precise with Black Hill CB loads, can put fifty rounds in paper plate 100meters away resting on elbows. With 24 to 26grs of Vectan SP3 and 250grs Hornady i on the heel of 44mag, but with less pressure. Good for driven hunt.










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