Hunting Red Deer In The French Pyrenees

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If you were to ask me which place has particularly fascinated me on my many travels over the years, I would immediately say: the French Pyrenees. From a hunting perspective, the remote valleys and peaks of this mountain range, which separates the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe, are an incomparable attraction with largely untouched fauna and flora. Although tourism is increasing with hikers and cyclists, the region with its lonely mountain villages still seems wildly romantic and secluded, almost sleepy. But the people you meet are open-hearted and amiable.

Here, my friend Tanja and I have the opportunity to hunt red deer with a French hunting party. The hunt is true to its origins, traditional, and focused on the communal experience. The owner of the small guesthouse where we are staying is also the chairman of the hunting party. While he greets us in a friendly manner, the other guests who will hunt with us gradually arrive at the hotel. We also get to know our hunting guide Eric, who will accompany us for the next three days.

At 4 a.m., the alarm clock rings. Still tired from yesterday’s journey and a late first evening, we haul ourselves out of bed. Despite the early hour, a light breakfast is prepared for all hunters. Eric wants to take us higher up into the mountains and stalk the edge of the small ski area. This has the advantage that we can drive quite a bit up the mountain by car, because the roads have been built to accommodate snowcat vehicles in winter. The horizon is already turning reddish when Eric parks his car at the edge of a ski slope. From here we continue on foot. We strap our luggage onto our backs and set off. Visibility is still limited in the first light of dawn and the mountains are peaceful. Farther down, we can hear some stags calling, but here, at almost 1,800 meters, it’s pretty quiet.

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We follow a small ridge, repeatedly scanning the meadows covered with heather below, and marvel at a spectacular sunrise over beautiful terrain. Further down, at 800 meters, we can make out a small herd of deer that keeps descending. There’s no stag in the group. Now that the sun has risen, the wind shifts and blows up from the valley, into our faces. Eric seeks out a small rocky plateau from which we have a sweeping view of the meadows and adjacent woods below. The place seems promising. We can make ourselves comfortable here and rest a little, because nothing is happening yet. Unfortunately, this does not change in the course of the next hours.

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When it’s almost eleven o’clock, Eric urges us to depart. On the way back to the valley, the hunting party has a little surprise in store for us. The other hunters are already waiting in a small clearing, having prepared a sumptuous picnic in the forest: Salads, pâtés, ham, cheese, vegetables, sardines and, of course, fresh baguettes lie on a blanket, ready to be enjoyed. A few glasses of French red wine are to be had, as well. As we recount our travails, we learn that a total of two stags and a young doe have been shot. In honor of us German hunters, the game is laid out in the traditional German way.

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The next evening, we want to head into the valley. Since it is still so hot, the red deer are further down, where it is cool and shady. We park the car at the edge of a somewhat busier road and continue on foot. Right at the beginning we come across does and their young again, but we don’t pay any attention to them. Instead, we head for the lush meadows at the bottom of the valley, which border a larger alder fen.

There’s a lot happening here, we hear that fairly quickly. Stags are calling from all sides. An old, broken wall is to serve us as a cover; we can comfortably rest behind it. In front of us are two meadows, separated by a strip of bushes. Behind them – at a distance of about 300 meters – the forest begins.

We don’t have to wait long for the first doe to appear on the scene. Ideally, she would move to the front meadow. In the alder fen, we can already make out two stags. Either would be suitable, as far as we can tell. They would just have to come out of the trees. Then a little closer – and the distance would be perfect. But now a stately royal stag moves from the left onto the front meadow. Eric shakes his head energetically and whispers “Shoot – no!” to us. We quickly realize that this stag is not free game. In this hunting area, only ten-pointers or less may be shot – no matter how old the stag is.

But what must happen, happens: This particular stag comes towards us, stopping less than 20 yards from our wall. We hardly dare to breathe, standing eye to eye with the stag, but he doesn’t seem to even notice us. Leisurely, he turns away and heads for the doe already standing in the back meadow. The other stags seem to notice his intentions. Perhaps they will now come out of hiding to chase the intruder away. But, instead, the doe becomes restless and retreats.

As we look at each other, perplexed and resigned, we notice a movement at the edge of the alder fen. It’s one of the two stags we had sighted before. Now he moves along the edge of the forest, still too far away, unfortunately, but at least he is out of the trees. The light is failing, and we lose sight of him, but then he suddenly emerges further to the left and walks along behind the row of bushes. I could tear my hair out: Whenever I have a clear field of fire, the stag moves on, and when he stops, he is hidden by greenery!

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But, finally, the stag stops where we can see him. “Shoot!” is all I hear, and the shot breaks. I cannot see whether the stag drops. I notice something jumping off to the right, but that’s a doe.

“Morte,” Eric announces, and I know enough French to understand this good news. All our tension drops away as we joyfully hug. No one had expected such a golden opportunity at the very last minute.
 

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