I had a long xmas break with a lot of inactivity it is now the end of January and the steep climb to 1600 meters has begun. The sweat has already permeated my light Ridgeline shirt and my legs protest the 20kilo backpack as I labour forever upward. The weather forecast is good a high pressure system covers the country there is little wind and the sun is already making its presence felt. It is already 11 o’clock and there is not a breath of wind under the bush canopy. I am planning on a three night trip and the goal is to explore some new country and harden the body at the same time.
The climb is painful and I dread any openings in the bush canopy where the sun can maul me with its aggressive rays. Eventually shaky and drenched in perspiration I break out of the bush and at last the sun has me at its mercy. The tussock tops simmer in the mid afternoon heat and my goal now is to find water and shade so that I can pass the rest of the day away in relative comfort.
I always get pleasure out of setting out my camp. I soon found a suitable flat area close to a large tarn. Where I pitched my tent was a large rock and I scuffed out a wide and deep trench next to it for my kitchen gadgets. I dug my primus in below ground level and raised the ground level around it with clods of the earth I had excavated to form a wind break. I filled my water bladder and then put a brew on and lazed the afternoon away lathered in perspiration. I slipped away with an hour of daylight left to explore the nearby bush edge but returned empty handed.
The next day I was away by seven fully packed and relocating further into the ranges. A short while later I was watching a hind, yearling and fawn a couple of hundred meters below me through my video lens. They finally got my down draught and made quick their escape. It was perhaps twenty minutes later when I saw another two deer just ahead of me slip off the ridge I was on. I followed in quick pursuit to follow their progress when I saw two more way down on the bush edge frolicking in a tarn. They commanded my attention for the next five or so minutes until they had tired of splashing around and returned to the bush. The two deer which had moved ahead of me were long gone now. A few minutes further on again was a large stag taking it easy on a prominent ridge and it was only whilst filming him did I realise that I had not captured the three animals I initially saw on film. Why?, I had not tripped the record button that’s why!. Not a Steven Speilberg type of mistake I wouldn’t think. I made sure this time and was rewarded with a few minutes of film. Then I stalked nearer and captured some more. The stag was of decent size antler wise but lacked the Bez tines, which is so common for this area, also he was still in velvet so he was safe for a while longer.
The rest of the trip was uneventful about an hour and a half later I located another tarn and decided that would be camp 2 for the trip. Camp was established at around 10.30 but by this time it was unbearably hot and there was not much else to do but to wait the day out. This is when a crossword is a handy tool to pass the time away it is also useful in swatting the unwanted attention of blowflies too. Eventually the day started to cool a little and I decided at around 6.30 to stroll around the basin I was in to a prominent looking ridge and settle myself there for an hour or so with my binos. It enabled me to look into an adjoining tract of land as well as keeping an eye on the piece I was in. Around 8.20 a stag emerged out of the bush on my side and was moving purposely away from me the range was 500/600 meters. I set off in pursuit the minute he had his head down. There was a lot of stop /start in the stalk until eventually he dropped over a rise and was out of sight. I then made all haste to close the gap, but making sure I followed behind him as there was an evil breeze that would compromise me if I tried to head the stag off. Approaching the last rise in the ground I battled to control my breathing and cautiously raised my profile. I was in a semi crouch and my eyes were scanning to left and right. “Now where did you go?” I whispered. Another couple of strides and I was face to face with the animal he was backside on but his head was swivelled round and staring at me. He was around 50 meters away and I sank slowly to one knee and found him in the scope. We both remained motionless for some time. He was the first to move and I instantly squeezed the trigger and he collapsed in a heap he raised himself momentarily kicked out with his front legs and sank back to the ground.
His eye teeth were brown and of a good size I noted he had one velvet clad antler around 60 cms., in length and no tines with only a stub on the other side. He was a mature animal and at least three years old but with not a lot of class gene wise so I lost no sleep re. the kill I got to work removing his back steaks.
In five minutes or so I was back at camp and with twilight fast approaching I hung the meat out to cure overnight and then pulled my sleeping bag and bivvy out of the fly. I had elected to sleep out under the stars tonight. I had taken my boots off and just idly taken a Glance back to the ridge I had earlier vacated on seeing the stag when I noted movement. It was a chamois buck and he was 500 meters away that was confirmed with my Leica rangefinder. The light was fading fast but I lay my rifle over my pack anyway and viewed the animal through the 5x magnification. I turned the CDS dial up to 500 and steadied myself. Hmmm I mused not a good enough view really. I watched the animal for sometime but then I ejected the 168 Amax topped round and retreated to my sleeping bag. There were not many stars that night as a dirty big moon arose and it was damn near daylight all over again. My thoughts were to stalk the chamois in the morning as they rarely move much at night but with this moon and all he might not know it was bedtime. I decided I would just make a cursory check in the morning and then continue on to country I wanted to cover anyway.
I rolled over in the early dawn and lit my primus and while that was working on my brew I extricated myself from my tomb and got dressed and organised my gear for the coming day. The new day was warm with no hint of morning chill and so indicating another scorcher was on the way. I was downing my scoff and scanning the ridge at the same time. I really didn’t want the choice of stalking the chamois so was hoping he would not appear. The early morning lack of light was not helping matters either. I didn’t spend half enough time looking for the animal as the reason for this trip was to cover the country ahead of me I guess my mind was made up anyway.
Breakfast over I made long strides in the opposite direction…… I had new country to cover. Once I topped the rise above camp most of the up till now unseen country materialised before me. There is nothing that raises the spirits more than a brand new tract of country to explore. Seeing and shooting animals in the same location more than once or twice is a tiresome excercise and it is one of the reasons I reckon the turn over for deer cullers was high. It was certainly true in my case.
In fact there was so much country that it was impossible to sit down and glass it all in the short time I had before that roasting ball of yellow made its presence felt. Morning shooting is always a case of racing against the old enemy-time but in this weather it was doubly so. The morning is cut in half in these conditions unless you can find a westerly aspect somewhere. I stayed high but was always seeking places I could look down and cover the bush edges. It wasn’t long however before the sun began to raise temperatures and another sweltering day was begun. Even though I knew on my current course the chance of sighting an animal was minimal I still wanted to cover the ground and log it upstairs in the “grey” for future trips.
It was around nine o clock I had climbed and sighted as much as I could and my ridgeline shirt was soaked and the sun was already biting into all the exposed skin bits. It was time to hunt my way back to my bivvy but this time I would concentrate more on the westerly side of the range in the hope of an animal still moving about in the shade. I noted the large and seductive tarns on the eastern side basking in the sun and seemingly inviting me to climb down the 3oo or so meters and fill my water bottle and swim a few lengths. I mentally balanced the three or four warmish mouthfuls of water I had left in my pack with the climb down, the luxurious feel of a cool mountain tarn on my body, refilling my bottle with chilled clear water after slaking my gagging thirst, and then the climb back ….Yeah well the climb back sort of clinched the deal and I sadly continued on the way I was going and tried to shut the vision of the tarn out of my mind.
A few minutes later and my thirst was temporarily forgotten for there was a buck chamois feeding on a steep section of alpine grasses and plants directly below me. I released the straps of my Markhor Eterlou day pack and then delved into a side pocket for my Panasonic video recorder to attempt a few minutes filming. However with the view finder open and exposed to the sun on my shoulder locating the animal was a frustrating experience. I eventually managed a minute or so but it was more guess work than anything and the end result was more than a little disappointing. The animal was moving steadily and soon would be out of sight in an intervening gut. I was in the market for a summer head-skin so I moved the pack across as a rest and reached for my Sako L579. Peering through the 4x scope it was evident there was no need for a rangefinder and the range was no more than 200 meters. I squeezed all the juice out of the 1.5oz trigger pull and the 168 Amax was launched. The buck hit the ground as if pole-axed and without pause slalomed down the steeper than it looked ground at a rate of knots and quickly disappeared from view. Great I thought now that leaves a very tricky and long climb down just to see where he has gone. The descent was very steep and took a while until I found the tell tale red bits of tussock marking its route. I managed to down climb over a particular nasty crumbling bit of rock face which gave me a view onto a rock scree way below. I was rewarded with the sight of the inert form of the buck. He had been funnelled through a grassy chute out onto and over a dry waterfall and landed hard on large sharp looking rocks well below my vantage point and then he had proceeded to bounce even further along the jagged rocks before finally coming to rest.
The sun had now found me and was boring into me, I was parched my legs were shaking and there was no obvious way down to inspect the animal more thoroughly so with much reluctance and disappointment I began the long climb back up to the ridge top. It was not entirely stress free either and was mostly conducted with rifle securely fixed to the back of my pack leaving both hands free to cling to any and all vegetation I could find. Finally with much relief I was back where I started. I tore open my pack and made short work of my remaining water supply. That would have to do me until I got back to my camp.
An hour or so later I reached my oasis… well more like a stagnant warm tarn but it was wet and I drank copious amounts of the stuff, I put on a brew and kicked off my boots and relaxed for a few hours. Then I packed my gear and made the trek back to my first fly camp. I would spend the night there and then make my way out early the next day.