8

“Anything that moved, he was ready to shoot,” said Lebow. His personal record was reportedly 2,140 kills in a day. Franz Ferdinand tallied his kills in a massive journal. The grand sum of pheasant, partridge and ground game that he shot was 272,511, according to calculations published in “Archduke of Sarajevo.”

The above is an excerpt from the article 8 Things You Didn't Know About Franz Ferdinand published on PBS' website. From any other news source, I would have considered the information obviously untrue. But PBS generally holds itself to high reporting standards, and certainly would not stoop so low to publish outrageous clickbait.

My question then, is how on earth can someone, anyone, possibly shoot almost three hundred thousand animals within a mortal lifetime that was also probably mostly occupied by royal ceremonies, stately duties, and the like. Even more unbelievable, the article states that he shot 2140 animals in a day. I did the math, and that evaluates to 1.486 animals a minute, or about one animal per 45 seconds, for twenty-four hours straight.

I want to know what techniques he employed, and whether he used a machine gun or some armored vehicle on hunting trips. Because it just seems frankly impossible that someone could kill so many animals within so little time otherwise.

  • Note the word "reportedly" in the article. – Moishe Kohan Oct 7 '16 at 10:16
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    You need to consider the wake of death and destruction that can be generated by a punt gun – Separatrix Oct 7 '16 at 12:42
  • @Separatrix Ah, a punt gun. That's indeed very likely, I think. But that still does not explain how he shot 272,511 partridges, pheasants and ground game throughout his lifetime. – Michael Orwell Oct 8 '16 at 0:39
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    #7 was "Their biggest hit was Take Me Out" – T.E.D. Oct 8 '16 at 0:54
11

It is possible to kill a ridiculous number of birds in a day, if you do driven game shooting. The Wikipedia article specifically describes grouse shooting, but pheasant and partridge can be shot in the same way. This doesn't resemble what most people would call "hunting", it's an activity of wealthy Europeans, especially the British nobility. The classic phrase "Hunting, shooting and fishing" makes it clear that this is not hunting.

Birds are raised on large estates, looked after by a gamekeeper, or more than one. You need to be extremely rich to afford this, but that was no trouble for the heir of the Austro-Hungarian empire. On the day of the shoot, the gamekeeper and other supporting cast acting as "beaters" drive the birds towards the shooters. It's kind of like clay pigeon shooting, except that the birds fly on much more varied trajectories.

Using several shotguns, with servants to reload them and pass them to you, getting a shot off every 10 seconds or so is easily possible. You have more servants to collect and count the birds. Shooting 2,140 birds in a day would be a long afternoon for a good shot (the British record seems to be 1000 in a day, out of nearly 4000 shot by that shooting party) but there's nothing impossible about it.

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    Here's an oldish clip from The Daily Show at a place that does this. – T.E.D. Nov 4 '16 at 21:42
  • Ah, thanks for that! I see now how someone could shoot so much in a day. Besides, this fits in so perfectly with the narcissistic hedonism practised by monarchs/nobility of the period. Wonder what PETA would've done if they were there back then. Thanks again! – Michael Orwell Nov 5 '16 at 3:00
  • @MichaelOrwell PETA'd have been hanged for their subversive activities :) – jwenting Jul 2 '18 at 6:31
  • And similar hunting practices go on to this day. Where I grew up farmers would bait freshly harvested corn fields to lure in birds, with a dozen or more men standing around the edges with guns at the ready. Hundreds of birds can be killed that way in a matter of minutes. – jwenting Jul 2 '18 at 6:38
5

The German wikipedia page of the Archduke gives an even higher number. Specifically it says that he shot on a single day in June 1908 2763 black-headed gulls. They even cite a book as a source just for this claim, so it seems to be a reliable number. However, I wasn't able to find anything on how or where he accomplished that number.

However, what John Dallman said is true. He usually didn't reload the gun himself. In this picture, which is titled Franz Ferdinand hunting in 1912, you can see that in addition to him there are at least to other people holding a gun (maybe even the guy on the right). Although the description of the picture doesn't specify that explicitly, those guys are most likely his servants responsible for reloading his guns while they hand him a loaded one. That way he was able to shoot with a high frequency. (This was in general how the higher aristocracy at the time was hunting.)

While by hunting birds you can get a large body count in a short amount of time, Franz Ferdinand shot also many larger animals like deer. The general strategy of the aristocracy at the time was to designate certain areas as your hunting grounds and to appoint several people who's only job it was to make sure that when you go hunting there is enough game. Usually this resulting in an substantial over-population of game in these hunting grounds. Then on hunting day, the servants looking after the game sent you to a promising spot, where game was very likely to pass (That's what actually what you can see in the picture). When the hunt began some people went with dogs into the woods and made some noise, which made the game moving. That way you had the chance to kill several animals during a day. (The Archduke didn't bring 3-4 guns with him for nothing.)

Actually, the trophies of his hunting trips survived until today; they are still in his former hunting castle. For instance, just watch this video of somebody visiting it: Trophies of Franz Ferdinand (the relevant part starts at around 1:30).

Finally, while Franz Ferdinand was excessive in his hunting, it is just the high number of kills that made him stand out from his fellow aristocrats. For instance, according to German wikipedia, emperor Wilhelm II. shot around 46000 animals during his live. Apparently, aristocratic duties were no obstacle to going hunting a lot.

Btw.: machine guns and armoured vehicles are not really effective for hunting. In contrast to humans in a war, animals tend to run away when they hear shots, and with a machine gun only the first shot tends to be precise. There is this surreal episode where the Australian army tried to decimate the Emu population. It is called Emu war and was a complete failure. With respect to hunting them with a vehicle, the corresponding wikipedia page explicitly states that 'At one stage Meredith even went so far as to mount one of the guns on a truck: a move that proved to be ineffective, as the truck was unable to gain on the birds, and the ride was so rough that the gunner was unable to fire any shots.'

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