Hunting chamois in the Pyrenees

Cédric steers the SUV through a small village in the French Pyrenees and parks it under a large robinia. Here the time seems to stand still. In the village there are not more than a dozen houses, built from sandstone and rubble like in ancient times. The landscape looks peaceful, and the sun is warming our limbs still stiff from last night’s sleep. The air is filled with the sweet-spicy scent of dried herbs.

Cédric takes it slow, and so we cross the meadows towards the edge of the plateau at a leisurely pace. Up here at the edge of the plateau, local hunters try to get to the day-active chamois. After feeding in the morning, the animals usually retreat into the semi-high cover left and right of the plateau. We probably walked for about 20 minutes, when Cédric assumes his ducked stalking posture. I do the same, and slowly we get closer to the ridge, which separates the plain from the craggy rocks.

Cédric sits down and takes a quick glance over the edge down the steep rocks: Craggy rocks sloping down almost vertically for about 1,000 metres. Thanks to the varied hiding places and retreats, the chamois must really feel at home here. We scan the area in front of us carefully with our binoculars, but don’t spot any game.

Wide valleys, plateaus, deep crevasses and ridges alernate. No roads or villages to be seen anywhere. Finally we avert our gaze from this wonderful panorama and continue our stalk a few hundred metres further, again in the direction of the ridge. Now we spot the chamois. At 300 metres altitude a chamois is standing on a cliff edge looking down. Cédric scans the slope in front of us with his binoculars and draws my attention to a female chamois with her kid. About 400 metres below the two of them are standing in a wide boulder field feeding on the meagre vegetation.

As their colour blends in perfectly with that of the landscape around them, it is hard to spot them. You can actually only see the chamois when they are moving from one bush to the next. With an experienced eye, however, Cédric is able to spot them without his binoculars. We decide to wait a while, because the buck might be close by. In the rutting season this is more than likely, but this time luck is not on our side. And so we cross the plateau in order to look out for game at the opposite side.

Tirelessly we scan the area in front of us. A sudden movement by Cédric makes me stop instinctively. We kneel down instantly and duck down. Deep below us we spot three chamois at about 350 metres distance. A female one with her kid and a mature buck. The buck would be suitable. But it isn’t quite so easy to get to the animals. In front of us there is a small steeply sloping cirque. To our left the ridge of the crevasse falls deeply into the valley, and beyond that there is a range of vertical rock formations. We have no choice but to stalk down the small cirque. Going down the steep slope in serpentines we have to bend our knees so much that they soon begin to ache. Then Cédric shows me a place on the ridge where I can prepare for my shot.

My rangefinder displays about 170 metres. “Should be possible,” I think and take up my rifle and aim. I try my best to find a comfortable shooting position. Cédric is getting uneasy. “Wait!” he whispers. Of course, I don’t want to shoot the kid, but where is the buck? Now the female chamois leaps two steps forward, followed by the kid. Soon both disappear behind some rocks and bushes. Now another chamois is coming from the left heading towards the place where the kid had stood before. One more time Cédric takes a close look at the animal, and I too look through my binoculars.

That’s the buck! “Shoot,” is all I hear, and seconds later the bullet hits its target. The buck collapses precisely where I shot him. We wait a few moments, before we begin our descent. When we reach the buck, Cédric congratulates me. I am happy about my successful hunt and the good outcome of our stalk. Back at the hunting lodge Cédric cuts the carcass into pieces. Meanwhile, I have the privilege to quietly reflect on the day and say farewell to the Pyrenees at a magnificent sunset.

Ilka Dorn

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