The Corbières produce wines whose reputation has jumped far past the country’s borders. According to the Mayan calendar however, this region also boasts a mysterious mountain where one can cross paths with little green men. They were right!
We arrived in Sougraigne by means of a small winding road along a stream that was flanked by steep slopes. These were covered in a thick, century old, layer of mud and majestic sweet chestnut trees. We noticed a few mowed meadows here and there, but the local economy had taken a hit from a rural exodus and few remained. This village houses a population of a hundred residents in the summer, and less than half of that in the winter.
Here, we met Marc Torrejos, president of the local hunters, flanked by his loyal collaborator, Rémi, the “whipper-in”. The latter is responsible for hounds used in driven hunts for boar, his passion, for which he criss-crosses mountains nonstop from September to the end of February! Never mention roe deer in front of him though, he’ll flip out. The small Cervidae have the annoying habit of tempting the dogs’ noses, and misleading them far away from the track of the black beasts they were originally chasing. To take a stand against the roe, that was our mission over the next two days.
In the south of France there’s nothing but mountains that overturn (see enclosed), and the weather has also decided to do its own this. One could cut the heat with a knife as we embarked on our first summertime outing. It was mid-june and luckily for us, the fields that we strode through were covered by wild orchids, just to remind us of the season! Marc set the pace with a brisk yet flexible stride. Stalking is not engrained in the local’s traditions, and remains to be discovered by many local hunters.
However, this ex-police officer had not lost a gram of his sleuth instinct. He wove in and out of obstacles like a feline, avoiding twigs and traitorous stones, without risking the chance of our presence being revealed, and regularly stopping to have a listen. It was a real pleasure stalking with him. Our satisfaction was reinforced by the fact that we were being guided by a true local. He was also a nature and recent history fanatic, who did not miss a chance to enlighten his guests. We learnt a multitude of things about the territory, that currently remained masked by a haze. For example, the brook that ran peacefully in the valley’s depression, consists of salt water coming from traces stored in the earth. Salt accumulated there 215 million years ago in the Keuper age. It’s also why the region was a vital area for salt traffic during the very unpopular “Gabelle” era.
Finally, after just under an hour of climbing, we came out at what resembled a plateau. We were catching our breaths under the shelter of the ruins of a sheep pen, when suddenly Rémi froze and told us not to move. He had heard boar below us. Indeed, we picked up a few cracks and the characteristic grunts of a sow accompanied by her piglets. The group quietly moved to our right and surprised a roe, that sprang away barking. It was echoed and followed by a second roe, whose voice was far more hoarse. Marc stood up and asked us to follow him towards a field that bordered the forest.
By happenstance, the fog lifted and the visibility increased to a good hundred meters. The binoculars scrutinized the visible area and didn’t waste any time in spotting a red dot on the edge of the forest. It was a buck rubbing his antlers against a bush. According to the rangefinder, he was 114 meters away. He hadn’t let up his guard, and frequently lifted his head, intrigued by the noise that the boar were making. We stalked, doubled over, hoping to find a post which we could lean against without being seen, since employing the shooting sticks would be too risky.
We were pressed for time since the wind was pushing the blanket of mist towards us again and in a few seconds our visibility would be obstructed yet again. At the shot, the buck disappeared into the vegetation and we were immediately engulfed in the white, meteorologic soup. Marc, who had stayed behind, seemed confident, but we would have to wait for the next clearing before finding our game, a very nice six pointer.
Our companions, hunters who exclusively participated in driven hunts, were delighted to discover the use of a shooting stick and spotting scope. These accessories were classified as science-fiction in their books. They were primarily passionate about shooting when animals crossed trails into impenetrable vegetation. This is precisely the type of exchange of information between hunters from different traditions that makes a hunting trip interesting! On the way back, our hosts did not run out of anecdotes of their driven hunts in the wintertime.
The next morning we explored another section with Marc. The flora made us use twice as much caution. It also allowed us to play a little game of hide and seek with the roe buck. Several individuals took off literally from right underneath our feet, without offering the slightest chance at a shot. Only one sow, accompanied by a dozen piglets, let us approach her in the undergrowth. Once she had given the alarm signal to her brood, she snuck off discretely.
Since we were in the south, the weather seemed to orientate itself towards something a bit more conventional for the season. That called for a poolside-siesta at the holiday cottage! Towards 3 pm, Rémi and his brother Sébastien took over. This time we changed valleys and headed out on the Bugarach side, where the biotope is pleasantly cultivated in the valley bottom, and the slopes less steep. The Pic de Bugarach stands tall and proud at the end of the valley. This summit was the favoured place of gathering for hundreds of “Bitniks” who collected here waiting for the world to end. We however, wanted nothing but big bucks.
The bucks hadn’t known of the invitation though, and weren’t waiting there for us. After a beautiful ascent up the sides of the mountain, we reached a rocky vantage point from which we could see all directions. We stayed here for close to two hours, during which a single roe doe, a few Pyrenean chamois, dozens of boar and three vultures ensured a spectacle. That was already pretty good! However, Rémi did not want to be defeated by these devilish “goats.” As the day ended, we heard a visionary, who had a rendez-vous with some martians, beating a rhythm on his African drums. We filed towards another section in a fast pace, where our guide had seen a buck the previous week.
Without any breaks, we got to the area completely out of breath, and jumped a doe. She took off running before stopping to bark copiously towards us intruders who had interrupted her from snacking on raspberries. Another roe to the left, cloaked by a curtain of trees, immediately replied. “It’s him!” whispered Rémi. The Helix was put into position on the shooting sticks, the illuminated reticle switched to night mode and we could make out the silhouette of the buck in the scope. The 50 diameter allowed one to see the animal very distinctly. Rémi barked, the buck stood still, and the detonation of the 7×64 finally put an end to the noise of the African drumming. A nightingale, perched not far from there, sang a melodious verse, and thus concluded our trip in the Cathare country with a beautiful and soft ode to the buck.
The Aude Hunting Federation launched the “Hunting Tourism” sector in order to pair the owners of hunting rights wanting to offer opportunities, with hunters wishing to come on such a trip in the area.
There are complete packages available that include the hunting, accommodation, and meals, along with cultural and athletic activities. These are also family friendly.
Around fifty territories adhering to the Hunting Tourism standard offer trips from the coastline to the highest mountains, small and large game, and individual or collective hunts.
Hunting Tourism – Marion Najac – Tel: +33 184.108.40.206.32 / +33 220.127.116.11.92
Accommodation: Logis Ecluse au soleil in Sougraigne +33 18.104.22.168.44
The Spilt and surprising Mountain
Standing 1,230 meters tall, Bugarach peak is the culmination of the Corbières. It’s certainly a geologic curiosity, since it arises from an overthrust stratum. The uppermost layers are more ancient (135 million years old) compared to the lower layers (15 million years). This gives the mountain its nickname, the “upside down mountain.” Its reputation however, is even more linked to occultism than geology. According to the dozens of legends that surround Bugarach (Jesus is buried under the mountain, the Ark of the Covenant lies within the rocks, etc.), one is linked to the phenomenon that a geologic reversal will take place once the magnetic poles find themselves interchanged. According to numerous prophets of all kinds (New age, Christian millenarianism, etc.) that gathered here on the date presumed to be the end of the world as per the Mayan calendar (December 2012), the apocalypse would provoke, among other things, the inversion of the earth’s magnetic poles and only this peak would survive. For the moment, nothing has moved !
Another persistent rumor that is circling, states that satellites have detected huge cavities as well as an immense dome under Bugarach’s summit. It is said to be a metallic cupola measuring thirty meters long and fifteen meters high. For sects of all sorts, no doubt remains that we’re dealing with a flying saucer and Bugarach peak is an extraterrestrial base whose occupants are originally from the Orion constellation. But in fact, the small green men are probably nothing other than roebuck hunters whose aircraft was parked on the slopes of the Toulouse Blagnac airport.
Philippe Jaeger is originally from Alsace and in his youth he was opposed to hunting. He changed his opinion when he met people who explained to him that the foolish behaviour of some hunters had nothing to do with real hunting. Philippe got his hunting licence and bought a hunting dog, which he trained himself. Today he can’t imagine his life without hunting. He is now 46 years old and has a son, and, when he is not travelling around the world to go hunting, he enjoys his family life in the Vosges Mountains.