Destinations Magazine

Medieval And Modern Hunting Techniques On An Austrian Mountain

By Linda
Medieval And Modern Hunting Techniques On An Austrian Mountain

photo : Liz West

In medieval times hart hunting was a privilege afforded mainly to the higher echelons of society. In modern times hunting has become much more the province of the masses. Both medieval and modern hunting techniques have played their part in the history of an Austrian mountain in Styria.

Castle Hartberg

Built in the early 12th century, Hartberg castle is quite unusual in that it is set in the heart of a town along the Styrian Schlosserstrasse. It has experienced a turbulent history characterised by much fighting between the Austrians and invading Turks, Hungarians and Bohemians, often resulting in the need for remodeling to enhance its appearance and strength in the face of foe.

In 1584 the castle was remodeled in the Renaissance style and in the 17th century a new wing was added with extended arcades (arched walkways) in the Italian style. The castle is open to the public, though it is also an educational centre and headquarters of significant business concerns.

The setting of the castle is important, as it’s on Hart mountain –  a hart being a mature red deer and one of the most respected of hunted animals. It was also the beast most sought by the aristocracy in the Middle Ages.

Medieval Hunting Techniques

In medieval times, hunting was an activity that was as much about prestige as it was about feeding the family. It was essential as training for war; a privilege for those whose contributions to Court were commendable; and jolly good opportunity to socialise!

One of the key accomplishments of medieval Knights, was that they knew and understood the terms of hunting. They were also accomplished in the different weapons used for the ‘sport’ – things like bows and arrows, crossbows, lance, and spear. They were also conversant with the differing levels of hunting – the main one for hart hunting being ‘per force’.

‘Per force’ was a strategy with dogs used to run the hart ragged before the kill was made. It was a complex procedure involving 8 steps:

  1. To start the proceedings, a skilled huntsman would find the quarry
  2. A social gathering would then be arranged – often involving a breakfast meeting –  to examine the hunter’s findings, then plot and plan the hunt
  3. Dogs were then positioned along the route the hunter predicted the hart would take. The purpose of this was to ensure that the dogs didn’t tire before the chase was over
  4. A junior hunter was sent out to track down the hart in preparation for the hunt to begin
  5. The chase was the highlight of the ‘sport’ for many of the men involved and marked the start of the hunt proper, with the dogs chasing the hart along the pre-planned track
  6. When the hart reached the point of exhaustion, the baying phase began. The wearied animal turned towards the hunters to defend itself .They held back the dogs, allowing the Lord or highest ranking member of the party to make the kill
  7. A rather gruesome ritual was the penultimate part of the hunt. This involved dissecting the hart in a ritualistic manner, before
  8. Giving its entrails and other unsavoury innards to the dogs as reward for their hounding of the hart.
Modern Hunting Techniques on Hart Mountain

A noted above, Hartberg castle is the home of a number of business concerns. One of these involves the manufacture of cosmetics. And as we all know, cosmetics have been expressly formulated to enhance appearance and promote the attractiveness of the user.

In modern hunting on the mountain, man hunts with the use of artificial stimulants. These might be considered the bows and arrows, lances or spears of the modern world. The pursuit of pleasure and prestige of the hunt are no less now than in ancient times – it’s just in a different format and more available to the wider range of people!

Watch any group of people in a club (or other social setting) and you will see:

  • the experienced huntsman stalking his quarry
  • much mirth among group members as they plot, plan and generally encourage the hunter to go after his (or indeed, her) prey
  • all sorts of manouvering  going on to entrap the prey where he or she is wanted by the huntsman
  • and as all hot blooded men and women will know, the chase is still the best part of the plan
  • but what they are really after still remains the ‘heart’ of the prey.

So for Hartberg castle, not much has changed over the centuries. Whereas in ancient times it was a centre from which there was pursuit of harts, today it is at the very centre of the modern day hunt for hearts!

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