I would love to start this camp fire session off with how prepared and organized I was, and believe me when I say I really thought I was this time. Two full days before, everything was either in my Kifaru or in my truck, it should have been all in my Kifaru. The morning of started off normal, five am emails then into a business meeting. Steven my brother and business partner, had been scheduled to come on this trip with me but sadly would be unable to attend.
The five and a half hour hike in started around twelve thirty and would put me at my intended destination well after 5 pm which was sun down. In hindsight I think having this in my head lead me to forget a few things that I really needed. I think it was around one thirty when my brain registered two things that I had forgotten, spare batteries for the Canon and Usb cable for my cell both forgotten in my haste. This would be a largely undocumented hunt.
The hike in was uneventful, allowing me to really put the hammer down and complete the five and a half hour hike in only four hours. Also managing to stop off near the end, getting a few liters of camp water for the night before making my way to my destination all well before dark.
The evening was spent sorting camp out before night fall and glassing the clearings near me. These, while quite a hike away, seemed to hold some really great deer numbers with seven counted before night fall. The valley I was over looking had terrible wind from a bad direction, so the decision was made to stay put and not blow the entire valley out.
The first night came and went well below zero, not even the fire could help. The weather forecast had been for rain so I was stocked with clothing but it was to no avail, even with a roaring fire, a negative 9 rated bag and all the clothing I had either on or in the bag with me, it was still a bitterly cold night. I awoke well before dawn after a fitful night sleep, made coffee, had breakfast and finally loaded up my day pack (which is just the lid off my Kifaru fantastic design). I unloaded all my remaining water into my bottle and prepared for the hike to the crystal clear water source some fifteen hundred feet below me. It had been a brutal frost and the ground was like ice even over the rocky ground everything had just frozen together. I was treated to a truly beautiful sunrise and a mist covered valley below making for some breath taking views.
As is the way with hunters we need to be forever the optimist when hunting and while I had never seen animals in this valley early morning it was still with great caution that the valley floor was made and water gathered for the rest of the trip. New trails were located and opposite ridges were spied. As the map shows, this area is basically a massive big basin with two converging smaller rivers merging into one big river on the valley floor. You are able to get around the entire top of the basin which is some four to five kilometre hike. Those opposite faces are somewhere I have never been and wanted to head there in the next hunt as it held very good animal numbers this morning.
Now we get to the first interesting encounter for the day, as we all know one of the perks of solo hunting is that when you receive the call from nature you are able to answer it quickly and promptly. It was during this time with pants well and truly around my ankles and in the middle of shale we say relieving myself, that a tremendous noise came from a bush directly below me. By directly I mean the bush that I was relieving myself right next to. A large silver boar came roaring out of it and to my left. All bristled up and screaming his displeasure to the world, very startling considering the previous perfect silence and calm. As I recounted some days later when a friend asked "did it give you a fright" to which the reply was "at least my pants were around my ankles because it did indeed scared the crap out of me". It would have been a comical sight for an onlooker, as I tired to gather my bow, nock an arrow and grunt at the boar to stop him, all from a squatted position with pants around my ankles, what a sight. A shot was not made and with bowels well and truly cleaned out I continued on to get water before heading back to camp for a session of stump shooting.
Stump shooting is one of the remarkable parts of shooting a trad bow and anyone who does it on a regular basis, will know the joy of being able to shoot in many differing positions and angles while they are out for a walk / hike. The time was now nearing midday and the intention was to stump shoot for around an hour. Its remarkable what a stick and string are capable of achieving and archers the world over have, since time immemorial, wondered at the arch of an arrow into a target. It may be partly due to this nostalgia or something deep within us that makes some of us head back to those bygone days. What ever the reason, its very good for ones soul and I for one find peace in
times like this. The next hour passed all to quickly as I shot lots of different angles, ranges, through and over things, always trying to mimic the varying hunting situations I have either been in myself or heard of from friends. Lots of thanks was given to the Lord above, for the ability and indeed the desire to be out in the cold times like this.
After a quick lunch back at camp and stocking up on firewood for the night to come it was back behind the glass. Now a few hours after lunch it has always been my experience that high country animals usually start to move or "check off" areas they intend to feed on in the evening. So sitting myself down in the sun I proceeded to glass up all the areas I thought there could be deer in or areas that were known to have deer in them during the evening feed. Some thirty minutes later the time was rewarded with six animals feeding up on a ridge some 900 plus yards away, it would be quite a haul to get to them and that course of action was decided against. Continuing to glass up valleys below me periodically the reward came when a good stag was seen poking his head then entire body out into an area I had hunted before. After watching him for a while and feeling like he had little intention of heading back, I headed back to camp to grab some gear and start an afternoon stalk as his position was very favorable.
Sometime later I had made a good vantage point over the area where the stag had been located but he was no where to be seen. Cursing my speed, doubt crept in as thoughts told me I had gone to quickly, or a wind shift had blown him out. I was not dressed for a prolonged sit only being in shorts and a t-shirt by now, so with some great reluctance and much prayer, the decision was made to back out head back to camp, now 750 ft above me in steep terrain, re-gear for a long sit and wait it out on the valley wall watching this area to see if he would reappear.
Pack filled, warm cloths on, and stomach filled, I made my way down and next to a rocky outcrop I could huddle into to escape the bitter wind whipping in from the valley floor and up into my face. It was coming in from the direction of the snow covered alps and to say that even with all my warm cloths on I was cold is a true understatement. What ensued over the next few hours can only be described as a both mental and physical torture that only a hunter would put themselves through willingly. What was lacking was a good pair of warm leggings. Soon teeth quickly began to chatter and hands shake so violently that holding the glass was a real problem. The mental anguish came when the stag reappeared along with
his harem of hinds three came into the open right away but a cautions fourth stayed in the tree line smelling the air and scanning for a full ten minutes before they decided once again to beat a hasty retreat back into the trees. I was left cold and frustrated wondering if I had setup to close to the staging area. Some thirty more minutes would elapse before I saw them again, during which time I resolved myself to sit until dark if necessary. Thank the good Lord that that was not the case, I really do not know if my body could have handled the cold much more. What is amazing, is how once everything kicks off, that the cold of before just fades away into the background, the human body is an amazing thing.
The stalk finally came, I had now watched for sometime as the four of them fed out of the treeline and into a very good position that from where I was glassing from looked as if I could stalk in very close to. Those last ninety yards always seem to stretch on and on and it wasn't until the final forty yards that I finally ditched my boots. It bears mentioning here that when I left the rocky outcrop I was sequestered next to that I was quite worried about finding my stash of pack and warm cloths, which had now been ditched. As mentioned earlier I had not taken my charging cable so my phone which doubles as my GPS was well and truly down so tagging where my gear was was out of the question. In what I can only describe as a moment of divine revelation. An idea struck me, taking a stumping arrow, removing the nock and replacing it with a lighted, Nocked Out nock I stuck this in the ground nock high and proud like a little green beacon, while it didn't matter right then, if I came back in the dark this could be the difference between finding my gear and not.
So much to a close up stalk is the prep work, have you glassed the area surrounding the animals, do you have a route planned, where is the cover located or the dips and dives in the terrain. I had spent the time gathering the information I needed and had a solid plan down to where I would remove my boots and I intended on sticking to it if all possible. Due to this planning the first one hundred yards of progress was made relatively quickly, as quick as you can go when stalking in on gun weary animals. Lots of bow on lap and reverse crawling down the slope, shoulder surgery makes me a tad slower on the right side but slow is good in this game so no complaints. Some thirty minutes later I had made it to a large tree that would serve as my removing boots point from here I had to cross a clearing and either make my way to the right across a small scree field or to the left up onto a small ridge directly above the feeding deer. Both had pros and cons the right being noisier but much more cover filled,the wind seemed also seemed more favorable. The left on the other hand would enable me to get much closer but had less cover requiring me to have a different approach. In the end I opted for the right, I have killed Chamio on scree fields so was confident that I could make it across with out making to much noise. At this point I was sub forty yards and if I could make it to a little depression beside where they were feeding it would put me sub ten yards. At this range it really is amazing what you get to witness and the part, that I guess rifle hunters and even a good compound shooter will never see. The roar was well and trully over by now but the stag was still putting on a great show for the ladies, balling up his lip and making the coolest noises, running back and forth between the hinds it was like watching a kid in a candy store he really had no idea where to go next. He was a solid eight point
with good length brow and bey tines leading to a good main beam and two solid points in the crown. Solid brown and stark white tips, for a heavily hunted area like this one on public land he was a really beauty. This is where I went wrong and hindsight comes into play.
I had now painstakingly made it to within eighteen yards of the stag and only ten to twelve yards of the hinds. The issue now was finding a shot, from where I was sitting behind a bit of brush on a slope, I would not be able to get a shot on him. The hinds were a totally different matter, with all his movements they were focused on him and two were perfectly broadside to me at a very close and shootable distance. As my wife would later say I possibly should have shot one of them, as meat on the table is meat on the table, I however decided I needed to make it to the depression in the land. From there I could shoot from either my knees or half standing using the ground for cover. I made a mistake though in slipping from cover I thought I had him behind a small stand of bushes but in the running around he had moved to my left. The moment I moved out he had me pinned. Heart racing I knew he had zero idea what I was or what I was doing I had to remain still for as long as possible. He won the stillness competition. My legs could not take it anymore and I had to lower myself back down to the ground during this movement I dislodged a stone and they all took off. Gutted.
It seems that this is the way with hunting, hindsight is a wonderful or truly horrible thing. Making my way back to my boots cursing myself for not shooting a hind I looked up onto the now darkening slope above and and was very glad that moment of divine inspiration had me put the lighted nock up for a beacon from down the bottom I could see nothing but as I made my way up the slope I could finally make out a little green star above me. Turning I glanced
down into the clearing below only to see on of the hinds milling around the edge of the clearing, they clearly had still not smelled me. Till next time I told myself, till next time.