Be on the tops at Daybreak


           The sun rising against the western side of the valley; A good time to be on the tops

The Led LenserH7 headlamp picked out the track and left the rest in shadows the overspill highlighted the damp foliage glistening under the harsh alien glare. The only sound was the scrape and thud of the heavy leather Meindl boots as they pounded the softened rain battered earth. The air was heavy and breathless and the temperature mild. I was already sweating heavily under the straps of my day pack only twenty minutes from leaving the hut. It was unseasonably warm considering we were into the last week of May.

It wasn’t long before the contours began to huddle together and the ground became a lot steeper. The mind numbing process of putting one foot in front of the other drove me deep within myself leaving only a flimsy awareness of my surroundings and any concentration that remained was focused on that halo of yellow light at my feet.

I had been climbing for about an hour and a half when the artificial illumination became surplus to requirements and I paused to pack it back into my pack making sure I turned the middle battery end for end so as not to accidently have it turn on which has happened to me in the past. It wasn’t long after that I climbed out of the gut and ascended the main ridge and the bush began to thin and make way for tussock and alpine plants. The quickly gathering daylight revealed the alpine scenery ahead almost immediately a buck chamois was spied silhouetted against the sky on an exposed ridge I was aware of a cooling breeze at precisely the same time. I took off my pack once again and donned my Ridgeline Monsoon 11 jacket and favoured Scottish bonnet. Warmed I paused to glass the lone buck with my much used Leica compacts. He was now staring directly down at me and was making strange guttural noises. I kept motionless and in a while he disappeared back over the ridgeline it was now decision time was I to go to my left and try and circle around him or to  my right up on a prominent rock and try for a shot or lastly forge straight ahead in the gut I was in and stalk him down.

I went with the latter and proceeded to quickly make my way toward him and find cover in a series of folds in the land. Unfortunately it was at this moment his head reappeared over the ridge and caught my movement. His whole body seemed to go rigid and the guttural noises started again. The impasse lasted for some minutes he finally looked away and I sank out of sight amongst the deep Hebes plants I was in the midst of. Plan B seemed the way to go and that was to veer to my right climb the large rock and reassess everything again. After much huffing and puffing I was atop the rock and lying prone just in time to see the wily one re-emerge out of a gut and place himself again on a high knob a little further away again. They don’t like you disappearing on them suddenly when they have you pegged out I’ve noted time and time again.

He was standing broadside and statue like so I delved into my Markhor Eterlou pack and fished out my Leica 900 rangefinder [I normally only use for my varminting pass time but thought to try it out on this hunt] I ranged him at 307meters. My short barrelled .308 shooting my favoured 130 grain Barnes TSX usually shoots around six inches low at 300yards so I allowed the narrowest slit of daylight on the bucks back with the horizontal wire on the 4x Leupold. My rifle was nestled into my pack and was rock solid. I squeezed off the shot. Despite the recoil I clearly saw the buck roll back and disappear behind a fold in the landscape. I held my position for some moments later and scanned all possible escape routes from where he was last seen.

There was no further movement so I stood up and made my way up to where he was last seen. Arriving at the spot I scanned around and couldn’t find any sign of him. So I ranged back to the rock and the reading was 384 meters. Damn I am too far up the ridge so back tracked until I had a reading of 284 and sure enough there he was just a little further down his near side shoulder completely blitzed. He measured just over nine inches with very little hook making him look a lot bigger than he was. I took his winter coat and packed it away under some ice for I wouldn’t be going out for a few days and I had no salt so at a height of 1525 meters it was well designed as an impromptu freezer. I packed the head into my pack and climbed up to meet the sun and find a place suitable for a spot of lunch afterwards I returned back down the valley with some much needed camp meat .

The next day I decided to hunt the opposite side of the valley the route to the tops would be untracked but an early morning start was still important so as to be on the tops at or just after daybreak. Time flew by the going wasn’t too hard and I soon emerged into the shadows on the edge of the bush line. The sun was behind me and lighting up the peaks high above. I was looking upon a mainly tussock clad valley sweeping up to alpine plants and steep rocky faces on all sides. Within a few minutes of glassing some movement towards the top end of the valley caught my attention it was a chamois buck and he was making fast progress on the opposite side but nonetheless heading down toward me. He was directly opposite me and under the bluffs on the other side of the valley and I was just wondering what he was up to and more importantly where he was going in such a hurry when all of a sudden he veered away and attacked the face in front of him he gained altitude quickly and was amongst three other chamois which up until that time I had not picked out.

                             Chamois Buck shot at 307meters. He sported good 9”hooks

All hell then broke out all four animals dropped off the face two of them were chasing each other around like maniacs and obviously they were two bucks sparring for the right to mate with the remaining two nannies where as the nannies were content to just graze and slowly follow behind in the wake of the demented ones. I glassed the animals as they made their way back up the valley they were never less than 600yds away at any one time and as they stretched the distance even further I decided I would follow in the hope I could at some time narrow the gap so I dropped down into the main creek so as to lower my profile and proceeded after them. Toward the head of the valley three animals started to climb. The dominant buck was herding his harem before him and then just as suddenly he paused and stared down at the other buck. Next thing and with an amazing burst of speed he jumped off the face and chased his challenger damn near out of the county. He then rejoined his ladies and they resumed their leisurely breakfast.

I was atop a small waterfall in amongst some huge boulders I had already ranged the animals at 630 meters and with it all open ground between me and them and not much of a chance of a stalk I settled in and enjoyed the heat of the strengthening sun on my back.

It was a half hour later and I was busy  trying to figure out where they would most likely go next and making plans for a possible intercept when I noticed once again the buck was coming back down off the face. I quickly scanned the valley floor with Leica and picked up the other buck standing his ground underneath him. While they would both be caught up with each other and not be likely to be looking around too much I made a quick decision to make up some ground still in the creek but with a view of getting into a position so as to be able to cover most aspects of possible animal movement in the future. It was only about a 150yds to my designated area and when I finally got there I slowly picked up my head and started to scan the ground on all sides. It was Barren all round and no sign of any of the two bucks. The nannies were still on the face and one of them and decided the day was getting all too  warm for her and lay down in the snow to cool off it suited me fine because she stood out all the more and I could keep tabs on her without the binos.

It was probably another twenty minutes before the buck was seen making his way back up towards the nannies. Where the hell he had got to had me beat anyway it was back to stalemate. No sign of the lesser one

Yesterday and the day before had set a pattern weather wise that repeated itself today. At around ten thirty to eleven o clock cloud formed in the higher valleys and slowly descended to the valley floor it would only last a half hour or so and then it would burn off and the day would resume clear as a bell. This is exactly what started to happen and it wasn’t long before I could not see any of the animals on the face. Well also if I couldn’t see them then they couldn’t see me. I picked up my gear and hightailed it up the now dry creek bed with a view of reaching the head of the valley out of line of sight of the chamois, then I would have to hug the bottom of the cliffs and make my way down the other side of the valley and be directly below and across from my quarry. I was at times knee deep in snow and the going was slow and arduous but it all worked in well because as I was nearing on the final part of my stalk the cloud had completely dissipated.

I crept up half crouched over a shallow ramp of short grass and Hebes to a point I hoped would afford me a view of where I had last seen the animals. The next stride and I was face to face with the side on profile of the buck at just over a hundred yards and he was looking intently my way. I hit the ground smoothly but couldn’t get a decent rest and the rifle just wasn’t comfortable but I couldn’t afford any more time so I lined him up and tripped the trigger.At the report he reared up and fell over back ward and out of sight. I had blood dripping from my eyebrow- the deadly Leupold kiss.

It looked from where I was situated that the steep climb up for the body would be a piece of cake. How wrong can you be? Hands feet and gums were employed on that face just to keep me from falling. I then had to find another body part to resume climbing.

Cut to the chase I spent an hour looking in every conceivable nook and cranny before finally giving up. I returned to my pack and just happened to look down and there he was. He had somehow slid off the slope without any snow disturbance or blood trail and was now lying fifty yards below me. He was a disappointment hook length wise and went just over the 8”.

By the time I had stopped for lunch and caped him out and removed his head it was time to be descending to the valley floor.

           Typical cloud conditions experienced throughout the trip-It was unseasonably warm.

The next day I again got up early to climb back up to 1525 meters and retrieve my skin shot on Saturday. The hole I had made and re-covered had iced over quite hard and it was only with some determined kicking that I was able to extricate my trophy. I stuffed it into the Markhor and looked up to see a chamois buck on top of a huge rock looking down at me imperiously. He was a long way off but he was nonetheless a sight to behold. A fitting farewell I thought as I was about to leave his kingdom for the last time this trip.

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2 Responses to Be on the tops at Daybreak

  1. Interesting articles Steve – really takes me on a journey. Great stuff.

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