The long climb through the bush eventually resulted in me emerging into the damp low bank of clouds. I was thankful for the lack of sun for there was little water to be had but at the same time I was not relishing the lack of visibility that would meet me when I eventually reached the bushline.
Upon accessing the tops I soon found that the visibility there was less than a 100meters and the tussock was high and rain drenched so it wasn’t long before I took on the appearance of the proverbial drowned rat. I still had a long way to climb and although I knew where I would like to camp on the map I had not actually been there in the flesh before. The day was getting old when I finally set my pack down in fact it was 4p.m. There was little wind and the clag was all around it was as silent as the grave. I erected my fly and set about making my home that done I then changed in to some dry gear. A couple of cups of tea later and I felt like a new man…well at least better. Around 6 p.m. the cloud lifted and I raced for my Leicas but after a few moments the scud came down again and I was reduced to groping about like a blind man. In those few moments though I was able to have a quick look around my block and I was happy with what I saw now I just wanted some clearing weather.not too much to ask eh?
I was in my pit at 7.30 having dined if not wined and through my open doorway could see that the mist was at times clearing before reverting back to a white blanket in a monotonous rhythm. Never-mind I thought as I blotted out the dismal scene with my heavy eyelids tomorrow will be a new day.
My Casio Pathfinder delivered its message at 05.30.out of spite I first thought. In the dark I groped for my lighter and lit the stove and my brew was on the way. I lay in my bag with the flickering gas flames less than an arm length away and noticed out of the fly doorway that the country was in sharp focus. Dark it maybe but I could see the stars and that can only mean one thing.
I was soon dressed and ready for the day. The scene that greeted me was a good one it was mostly clear skies and down in the valley far below there was a heavy blanket of the fluffy white stuff reaching up to the bush edge. Good enough for them mere mortals down below I mused.
A chamois head-skin was the target for the trip after missing out last week I was more than ready to play the game today. I crested the main divide and quickly descended the other side before the rising sun could pinpoint my bearings to ones that might take an interest. I soon came upon fresh chamois foot prints in the loose shale they angled right to left and the direction they were taking would have them disappear around some small bluffs in the distance. I noted this but carried on so that I could descend further to a point that would enable me to glass just about a 180 degree area and also to see into a gulley that ran all the way down to the bush fringe a long way below.
I took a spell and started glassing and straight away just above a huge bank of rising mist I spied two red deer feeding well up in the tussock. I had no sooner started appraising them when the bank of crud crept up the gulley and enveloped them…gone.
I swivelled to my left and started to glass the high ridge that was opposite me and I picked up a chamois looking straight at me while another was lying down with its back to me. Her/his eyeballs bore into me. I checked my watch and stared right back not moving an inch. They were perhaps 400/500 yds away and probably the animals that made the fresh marks in the scree that I had seen when I descended. Fifteen minutes went by and she [I decided it was a female as there were two of them- but that was unconfirmed] finally took a break and looked briefly away. The more time went on the more often she would glance elsewhere. Finally I decided that when she looked away next I was going to retreat and duck behind a small hill and try to sneak the long way around so that I could get a closer look and verify if it was a buck. Once out of sight it was a doddle and I was able to stand upright and make fast progress in an arc above their position. I was descending a small creek when I picked up their prints again and clearly saw the way they had travelled the same route and I could even make out their marks on a scree that was close by on the other side of the creek. It led to a spur which joined onto the ridge that they were occupying. Before I could follow onto the scree I had to cross an area that was visible from the ridge so I did so carefully. I saw the animal and it was looking straight at me again but this time it did not hesitate in its actions and moved over to the resting animal which was out of my picture and disappeared. It was if she was monitoring my progress and knew I would appear in that creek bed sooner or later. I felt like the dunce in class and was prepared to stand in the corner for a period.
I carried on my stalk anyway even though my head told me that I had been compromised there could still be a remote chance of them still being there. Of course when I got to where they were stationed I found the area had been abandoned. Bugger!
I descended the ridge further but it was becoming increasingly steep and awkward to travel so I decided to “de- ridge” via the next accessible place. Once safely down on the grasslands I made up my mind to drop further down the gulley into the frothing cloud in the hope it would sometime lift and reveal the venison I had spied earlier. Eventually I found a position that I reckoned would put me in good staid if the cloud lifted .I sat it out comfortable in my Ridgeline Monsoon II smock from about ten o clock untill just after 12- well not really sat but dozed, daydreamed and generally filled my face with scoff. The cloud finally began to dissipate and gullies and spurs materialised as if by magic. There was no need for binos when two animals with their heads down in the deep tussock could be seen it was a hind and her young un and both under the 300meters too. Time for a stalk it didn’t prove too hard either for the two of them hardly lifted their heads. After a couple of days feeding in the mist they must have forgotten all about potential enemies. I finally got the range down to 163. The camera was extracted from my Ridgeline Pikau and I snapped a few shots away. Then I made the decision to take the fawn as she was big enough for my needs and really not that far off the size of a yearling in size. I lay my forester on my pikau waited for the animal to give me a side on view and then tripped the trigger. Upon the shot the animal ran down hill then stopped after 30 or so meters and tipped over backwards with its heart shattered. The hind looked up and glanced to where the young one had fallen then made all haste for the finger of bush-line that was opposite her and within a couple minutes she had disappeared.
After taking what meat I wanted I was left with the huge climb back to the tops. It was 3.30 in the afternoon by the time I had crossed back to my side of the range and I was still remonstrating with myself for stuffing up the chamois stalk earlier in the morning when I noticed a chamois buck standing side on looking at me at around 100 meters. By the time I reacted it had gone. I hurriedly followed but by the time I got to look over the spur it had disappeared. There was just the one whistle and then the sound of silence. Oh how mocking that silence is and oh so loud! He had melted into the terrain as if he had never existed and if I was annoyed at myself prior to the sighting?…..well just don’t ask how annoyed I was now!
The next morning dawned with the usual crud all around and it was cold too. I strode off into another watershed confident that it would clear within the hour. At around 11 a.m. still surrounded in cloud I finally gave in. I had spent the morning not really making a hell of a lot of ground and mostly sat at various stages of my limited progress waiting for the mist to clear. It would partly clear and then close in again. Enough was enough I was returning to camp for lunch then I was going to pack up my gear and drop down a couple of hundred meters and establish another camp. You can’t get what you can’t see!
I was packed and away just after 12 and began the long descent. About an hour later I found myself contouring out of a gulley and approaching a saddle that would lead into a different watershed. I approached it with some stealth and inched my head over the ridge slowly. I was rewarded with the sighting of an animal I at first thought was a red deer for the hide appeared red in the sunlight but further examination revealed a chamois buck Eureka! Third time lucky maybe.? I took my pack off and retrieved my binos and range finder. The chamois was feeding away from me under the base of some rocks he was 350 meters away he poked around a bit more before finding a shallow gulley to climb. While he was doing this I busied myself getting a good rest off the top of my 85 Litre Macpac with my rifle. He paused when he reached the top of the gulley and the range now was 376 meters. He then turned broad side. My scope was wound up to max at 5x on the Leupold vari 3. I flicked the cds dial to 376 and I began squeezing the trigger. At the report the animal turned away from me and moved up the hill a few paces he then turned to his right and attempted to climb a bank and just when I was thinking I had missed he stuttered and stumbled before falling back and down. I reached for my binos and could plainly see just the top of his back inert in the tussock. I waited a minute or so then turned my attention to putting my gear back in my pack. When I looked up some minutes later I could not place him at all no matter how much I scoured the landscape. Ah well I thought he is definitely down anyway. I took some reference points and then proceeded down to him.
The upshot was that I spent an hour in that tall tussock looking for him before finally finding him at the base of the rocks. He had managed to slide down a quite different gulley altogether taking him away from all the areas I thought I might find him in. Of course he was in the best position for me to start the head-skin procedure-not!
Eventually though with him stowed into my pack and my goal finally achieved I was able to get him home that night and into the freezer.