Summer time is a busy season on the farm; keeping the animals fed and healthy, hay making and family time leaves little occasion to get away into the mountains so when a free day turns up and the weather allows, to miss the opportunity would be almost criminal.
After spending Christmas day on the hay rake, Boxing day, and the day after that carting hay, a break showed itself before the New Year’s celebrations. The 28th of December, damn near the end of 2010 could be a slack tidy up day on the farm, followed by a day off for the 29th. Willis Macbeth was keen to go for a wander in search of the illusive 10” chamois buck with me so I picked him up and we drove for the Alps. After a little bit of four wheel driving, my truck had a whole new look about it thanks to the unforgiving broom branches… Fail!
We were parked up and looking at a fairly rough looking scrubby face by 6pm-one great thing about hunting in summer is the day length allows for plenty more time constructively spent on the hill. It was hot and still and the 1000 metre climb to our camp site summit of a little more than 1500masl sapped a lot of energy from me, Willis though who’d been making the most of the summer hunting set the pace beyond my abilities. Hill fitness is very different to sitting-on-a-tractor fitness!
Half way up, sign of pigs and deer was abundant yet the only animal to be picked up by Willis’ trained eyes was a lone chamois on the opposite side of the valley. With no sign of a youngster trailing behind or other animals nearby interested us, suggested that it may well be a buck-worthy of a closer inspection. We reckoned we could summit, trudge the ridge and catch up with our loner orange friend before dark, but it wasn’t to be. Reaching the summit just after 9.30pm, we decided to leave it for the following morning and instead let our bino’s search the valley hidden behind our summit as the sun set on a perfectly still and clear evening.
Thinking ahead, we found a campsite on the south eastern side of the hill, as we knew if any wind was going to get up it would come from the prevailing direction; the west-north west. After a quick dinner, we weren’t let down by the wind gods and as the night progressed, the wind got stronger and stronger. The tent flapped all night long, which meant we got minimal sleep. Patience rather than rest got us through the night, and at the first sign of light we were up and packing the tent away. Travel in any direction saw a massive increase in wind speed, our selection of camp could have been much worse! We headed for the most sheltered looking basin to start glassing as it became light, though it wasn’t all that warm.
Nothing quickly presented itself, so we became cold and edgy to get up and wander over to the next spot, back towards where we camped. The wind was still blowing strong and the light was still unclear, but a movement in the tussock looked a little unnatural.
Just the wind, I told myself, but having been caught out before I stopped and got my binoculars out. Clear as day through the Leupold’s, not 50 yards from where our tent had been set stood a chamois.
“There.” I told Willis, “Keep down, let’s get closer for a look.”
We halved our distance quickly, hidden behind a small rocky ridge. Not sure what we were about to encounter, I opted to drop my pack and just take my rifle and camera over the rise.
Poking my head over a rock, I wasn’t disappointed! Four chamois fed in the rockery less than 100 yards from us, two nannies and two kids but we hadn’t seen them all! Another chamois that was aware of our presence stood in the tussock and watched us before letting out a whistle and heading down to the rest of the now alerted group. I put my rifle down and started snapping photos but my camera wasn’t enjoying the light conditions and I could see the shots were only coming out as a blur. The chamois broke down hill at a full gallop, and still I didn’t have a photo! We backed up behind the ridge we’d crested then ran down the gut to try and intercept the animals. This plan worked well, when we stuck our head over a nanny and her kid stood only 30 yards away as we snapped off some better photos.
They kept moving, but stopped and looked back repeatedly for more photo opportunities.
Pretty happy with our efforts in the poor light, we sat and rested while letting the binos cover some more country. A hind and a fawn walked across a shingle scree on the opposite face. No more chamois were lurking, so we moved back over the ridge where we’d camped to see if we could spot our lone chamois from the previous evening. Surprisingly quickly, Willis picked it up again. It hadn’t moved more than 50 yards from where we’d originally spotted it. The tiredness was forgotten as we again moved in behind the ridge, out of sight and hunted our way behind the lone chamois’ basin.
The next gully we arrived at looked like more chamois country, and as Willis whispered to be careful and take my time, chamois broke from just in front of us. We sat and watched four animals; a nanny and her kid, a yearling and what looked like a young buck vacating the area as Willis reminded me just how cunning these animals are! I’d become complacent, having seen a mob of six animals, and knowing where another lone animal was, I didn’t think there would be many more around, so it was a good wakeup call! And luckily it was not the illusive 10” buck that disappeared!
Around the next ridge, a yearling chamois stood guard overlooking its basin. We were near our loner now, so a quick distant photo was enough before we headed back over the ridge to go see what we’d spent the last evening and morning thinking about and working towards.
Sneaking down the face, our chamois was nowhere to be seen. Slowly and thoroughly we scoured the area below us, keenly aware that any fold in the terrain or single rock could hide a 10” monster.
“There he is.” Willis again hissed out behind me. Directly below us, he was skipping his way uphill towards us, almost as though he was coming to check out what we were, very obviously a buck with quite a bit of horn. As we watched, he came up to a clay pan, stood and looked around then sat. We weren’t sprung, but we were a long way from any cover out on the face about 300 yards from him. Slowly we snuck down the ridge to a single bush to hide behind and discuss our next move, somehow without getting spotted. We studied him, and studied him for an hour, even waiting for the sun to lift high enough to give us a better look.
It was decided that he was between 9 and 9 ½” but worth shooting. Willis offered me the shot, so I set about readying myself. The range finder read 260 yards, and at a fairly steep angle I reckoned from my drop chart that the 150gr Hornady SST fired from my 30-06 would hit spot on. Taking my time to get a good rest, I lined him up square in the shoulder, aiming to break bone. We didn’t want him to get up and run as there was plenty of cover below him.
“Boom!” barked the ’06, and the chamois rolled over, lights out!
Reaching it, we were a little gutted at its size, only just making the 9” mark we had put as bottom estimate, but he was old. His horns were well worn, and a rough count up suggested he was at least 11 years old. The last few years’ growth hadn’t put much length on his horns at all.
My neighbour really likes chamois meat, so a butchering session saw my pack swell with as much meat as I could rescue. The head I tied onto the outside of my pack as they can be awkward things to carry with sharp horns that can pierce precious gear if packed without thought. Was a hot stroll out but that didn’t stop my last hunt for 2010 from being a beaut, and I’m hoping that 2011 brings a few more like it!
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