12 Deer and a Chamois

The long climb to the tops was an arduous one, the sun beat down relentlessly which resulted in copious amounts of precious fluid lost. The continual sucking on the platypus umbilical was a necessary attempt at redressing the situation.

It is early March and the mission is to locate a stag on the tops before the roar sets in.  The forecast is good for the next couple of days and looks perfect for camping on the high tops.

The long climb over, the time has now come to descend the opposite side of the range to where I reached my campsite in a knackered state. It doesn’t take long however before the tent is erected and a hot cup of tea is firmly entrenched in my hands. I sit in my tent doorway and revel in the surrounding mountain vistas, sleep will not be long in coming tonight.

I stretched my arm out of the tent doorway, turned on the gas, and placed my already filled kettle on the primus. The stars twinkled in the still night sky, although there was a hint of light emerging on the peaks across the valley from where I lay. The scalding tea tasted good in the quiet predawn and I had plenty of time to contemplate the day ahead. I finished my cuppa and with the still warm contents of the kettle, emptied them into my “dehy” cereal.

 Breakfast was already a thing of the past as I reluctantly absorbed every available bit of moisture from the thigh high tussock I was wading through. Every stride was new ground for me physically, although I had been here many times via the map over the preceding months.  My destination was a large amphitheatre of tussock, rock, scree and avalanche debris .Two creeks forming a “y” tumbled from the high tops and merged just above the bush edge. The distance according to the map measured two Klicks from side to side.

Ninety minutes passed  very quickly and a lot of ground was covered before  what I reckoned was the final spur that lay just ahead, from there  I would be able to cast my eyes on the reality of my map planning.  As always though, after breaching the spur, I found another 100 or so yards further would enable me to fully eyeball most of the nooks and crannies in the neighbourhood.

 So it was that I found myself in a narrow finger of beech and sweating cobs.   I took off my day pack and lay back with Leica “trinivods” in hand to scan the ground ahead.  I had to wait a while though, because due to my exertions the sweat pouring off my brow was misting up my binos, so I gave my bare peepers a work out on the nearer bit of country whilst I cooled down.

Out in the open

It was about a half hour later that I picked up my first deer, in fact it was two, a hind and bambi a full two klicks away and much higher in the open ground than I would have expected. Then came a hind a lot lower in altitude, but still a long way away from the bush edge. Then lastly even higher than the first two and almost on the ridge top were four more.

The time I noted was 9.15. I also noted that these deer were very strategically placed. They were well spaced out, protected throughout the length of the creek they were in by a precipitous looking ridge on their south side.  A catabatic wind from beneath and a natural eddy from the north favoured their position. The only stalking route seemed to lend itself to an approach from above.  I lay their watching those deer until 12.40, when some of them were starting to bed down.  In all that time the uppermost  group of  four had only descended a mere 200 yards or so.

I had finished my lunch and was heading back to camp with the thoughts…maybe tomorrow as a challenge, I should try and work the huge distance around and come at the four from above…. hmmmmm.

I arrived back at my tent around 2p.m., peeled off my clothes and lay atop my sleeping bag and sweated and semi -dozed the afternoon away.  Around 6.30 I donned my boots, didn’t bother with the socks and grabbed my rifle and wandered about 50 yards to an inclining rock on which I lay prone.  I was looking down into the tussock headwaters of a creek.  I hadn’t even raised the binos to my face when three animals materialised directly under my position, feeding amongst the tall tussock and alpine scrub. It was the usual family order of mother, yearling and bambi. It was the yearling I singled out as I placed the cross hairs a little lower down on her body than I normally would to compensate for the steep angle. She lunged forward at the shot and continued running for some twenty yards before pawing the air with her front legs and settling down. The remaining two stood unmoving and uncertain. I took a quick bearing on where the hind had fallen and then had to return to my tent for my knife. When I returned, there was no sign of the other two, so I began down climbing the rocky face to retrieve my meat.  I flushed the bambi not long afterwards and she made strongly for the security of the bush. Now where is my deer? It never fails to amaze me how a large animal can completely disappear in tussock and how an area you have seen from above can take on such different proportions when down amongst it.  I must admit to a frustrating half hour scouring up, down and sideways before eventually finding the heart shot beast.

The next morning the sun caught me high above my campsite blocked by a wall of rock. I managed to find a route around eventually, but then had to descend under a series of sheer rock faces before being able to ascend again to the prominent ridge that would eventually lead me to the four deer I spied yesterday.

It was while I was negotiating steep loose scree with the inevitable rock fall that is associated with such actions, when a lone chamois appeared on the skyline in front of me and stared intently in my direction. “What’s all the noise then “? He seemed to ask before ducking back over the ridge and out of sight. I was feeling slightly abashed, but consoled myself with the thought “chamois are for winter who cares”….yeah right!

Breathlessly regaining the height I had lost, I was now on a shark’s fin of a ridge which plunged away to nothingness on the western side. My thoughts were constantly changing throughout the long journey…I will,…. I wont, …let’s just see what’s over the next hump etc…  Three hours of constant travel and it was really only at this point I believed I was actually going to carry this stalk out.

The day was warming up considerably, I had already discarded the “Tahr” anorak and now I paused to take off my gaiters. The sun burned out of an azure blue sky and the panoramas and vistas were all pure mountain tops as far as the eye could see. The only breeze was pure catabatic, drifting up from the warming valley floor. Indeed good news for one who’s plan was to hunt down toward his quarry.

Eventually the southern most creek was espied, this was the one that held the seven deer from the day before. My bearings were two distinct rocky outcrops with which I was now level and about 300 yards away from.  It would be only a short time before I needed to glass the way ahead.  Just as I was slowing my stride, a red form materialised under a shady depression the other side of the creek and around 100 yards lower in elevation.  Exactly where they were spotted yesterday I mused, that is if there is four of them.

My target was the older of the two on the left

I edged out of their line of sight and carefully closed the distance. The final part was to down climb a rock band and ease myself into a gut and from there contour around a flattish part of a spur, this I duly did half on all fours and half crawling.  I positioned myself for a look into the creek. They were up about 20 yards from the creek bed and paired off under two identical shaded entrances of rock. The two on the right were yearling females, the two I was more interested in turned out to be a four-pointer and spiker.  It was a teenage group  after all…..ah well I have come this far!  The target, I decided, was to be the four pointer, the trouble was the spiker was alongside him, blocking any chance of a shot. I took off my day pack, rested the Ultralight mcmillan stocked sako .308 atop and waited. 

They were pretty chummy, licking and sniffing each other, a couple of gay boys I thought absently. At last the spiker moved enough for me to see the shoulder of the older male. Tenaciously clinging to the sight picture, I touched off the shot, sending the 150 grn sierra match hollow point on its 200 plus yard journey.  An almighty crack as the projectile hit the rock behind the stag. The shot was a good one.  Had it gone straight through?  No real sign of being hit, the two dropped to the level of the creek and were mightily confused as were the two yearlings 50 yards higher. The Lapua case spiralled up and out to the right and another round rammed home.  The rifle recoiled – pause – a slight look of discomfort on Mr. Four points, but still standing. Exit stage right Lapua case and now number three handload rammed home. Yet another 150 grn reached out into the void. This time ole Four points was levelled. Hmmmm!

These guys were some green horns they just stood about for an age, so I thought to sneak in a further 100 yards and take a few piccys. Rising over the next spur with camera at the ready, I was confronted with three deer in la-la land. Eventually I stood up and talked to them, they were still reluctant to leave! By this time I was thinking my meat would go off in the heat if I didn’t make for the fallen one.

 I was taking the first back steak when I looked over my shoulder, I could see the three of them huddled about some 100yards away and barking intermittingly. It was at this point I remembered my camera had a movie facility which I had never used before. Upshot was, I took about a minutes worth of footage for a documentary entitled “How not to behave in front of a loaded rifle if you are a deer”.

Job done, it was time to retrace my steps outta there, besides it was getting close to lunch time. I found a piece of flat ground with a great view back down the creek on the true right slopes all the way to the bush edge. I could still see the deer, though by now no more than specks, they had met up with the hind and bambi further down the creek and all were now picking up the pace and heading for the bush edge. Not before time I thought….deary me!

It was pleasant sitting up there in my eagles nest surveying the massive tract of country that lay before me, but eventually the sun persuaded me to shift my stumps, turning up the volume heat wise considerably in the next hour. So it was with some regret I reshouldered my pack, picked up sako and trudged back more or less the same way that I had come. I suppose I had covered about a third of the distance back to camp when I noticed a saddle up against the ridge that I had traversed on the way in, only I had missed the saddle and climbed a lot higher than I needed to. If I went through that saddle, I mused, it would mean I could actually head down hill right now instead of this gruelling never ending climb.  Problem was that maybe my route down would end in a series of bluffs that I could not negotiate. Oh hell …who dares wins…or something along those lines, I started my descent. After a half hour of travel, my heart was in my mouth as I could see ahead of me that the ground that I was on came to an abrupt end. It was with some trepidation that I covered those last remaining yards to the edge, and peered over and into the creek below. All was ok,… not exactly plain sailing, but with some careful down climbing I was sure I could safely reach the bottom. The last hurdle, a small jump, and I was in a band of luxurious waist high tussock.  I made a few tentative steps through the high stuff when a hind jumped right up in front of me, staring uncertainly.  Another rustle of grass and the bambi took its place beside it. Placing my rifle down and throwing off my daypack, I was in a frenzy to find my camera.  All kinds of precious stuff were discarded, my Leica binos, spare rounds, head torch to name but a few.  I could hear, meantime, the wild ones departing. At last my camera – would be at the bottom!!  Got the picture though just as they were crossing a large rock strewn scree.

They scooted across the scree.

They again were reluctant to leave me, barking and carrying on for some time, eventually they disappeared, making toward the bush edge.

After stopping a while to take my boots off and let my feet get some precious air, I started the long hot climb into the saddle through and down the other side to my campsite. Exhausted, I sweated out the rest of the afternoon and evening in the one man Macpac. Tomorrow I was scheduled out.

I awoke to a heavy mist, I breakfasted and toileted, then packed away my soaking tent. It was still the sombre early hours as I started my climb up through the stunted tussock clad ridge. An hour later and I could see wisps of blue overhead, then rock faces started to form to my right and then all of a sudden the main range ahead sprung out to greet me carpeted in golden tussock, with a cobalt blue sky as backdrop and I was at last out of that all enveloping crud.  Looking back I could see a huge white carpet of cloud with the first rays of the rising sun bringing light to its edges.

I finally surmounted the thin bladed main range with the cloud below me on both sides. You would have to be made of wood not to be in awe of such surrounding splendour. I felt a song coming on….”Who will buy this wonderful morning”…the words from the song in the film Oliver sprang instantly to mind. I wasn’t tired, but I sat down, and drank my fill of the beauty that was mine that morning.  With the sun climbing higher, I was treated to the spectre of the Brochan.  I had an identical buddy stride for stride with me across the high tops until all too soon I was to bid him goodbye and descend back down into the gloom alone.

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