A lot of outdoor writers’ misadventures never see print. This is one of them.
Long, long ago in a land far, far away, I was a “guest” of a European optics manufacturing company. After a factory tour that demonstrated how their scopes and binoculars were made (very precisely,) the company treated me and a few other guests to a traditional hunt in Europe’s answer to our Rocky Mountains — the Alps.
In the Rockies it’s mule deer, elk and bighorns. In the Alps it’s roe deer, red stags and chamois. I was cleared to take the little roe deer, which ruts in July.
My guide — we’ll call him Hans — was a young, affable forester new on the job. In that country a forester is a professional silviculturist who also manages wildlife, hunting and game protection in his woods. European hunters are a bit like Texans. They typically sit in “blinds” or shooting houses they call hochsitz, literally high seats. These can be elevated or merely ground blinds, Ansitz. Many overlook bait.
I professed my dislike for baiting deer, so my guide and I sat in blinds over travel routes, grassy meadows and even one unharvested wheat field. We passed a shot at a good roe buck the first hour, Hans unsure this stranger from the U.S. could make a 300-yard shot with a borrowed Blaser R93 in 243 Winchester. I didn’t press the issue, assuming if we had a chance to score this quickly in the hunt, we’d have plenty more.
At the end of day two, all hunters in our log cabin camp high in the mountains were tagged out and celebrating by consuming significant quantities of cheese, sausages, speck (smoked belly fat,) Jaegermeister and Schnapps. One fellow American awoke in a one-man bunk nestled cozily beside a guide he’d never intended to sleep with. My guide awoke all by himself atop a picnic table, bedecked with morning dew and chagrined. Guiltily, he stuffed his headache in his pocket, fired up the truck and drove us to our last-chance stand. The Ansitz looked up a narrow avalanche chute ripe with young, nutritious brush.
Within a half hour Hans was snoring comfortably. I almost hated to wake him, but a roe deer feeding at the edge of the chute looked promising. Hans had the binocular. I elbowed him and nodded uphill. The animal’s head was hidden in the boughs of the brush it was nibbling. “Buck?” I asked.
Hans stiffened, glassed, turned wide eyed and nodded. “Schiesen!” Shoot.
“Yah?” I asked for confirmation, pointing the rifle upward and raising my eyebrows. “Shoot?”
“Yah, yah!” He was watching through the binocular now, a new one, the best the Austrian company made. It was bright and sharp and precise. But it apparently couldn’t see through leaves. When I fired, the deer reared up before plunging, dead, into the chute. I saw, to my horror, no antlers.
“It’s a frau!” I hissed, the only German word for female I could remember. Hans dropped his binocular and turned to me, looking as if he hoped he were still on the picnic table, having a bad dream.
“Die frau?” he squeaked. I nodded.
It was indeed a female. Hans bent over it and honored it by placing a sprig of leaves, the traditional “last bite,” in its jaws. Then he gutted it, opened the drawstring on his rucksack and stuffed the animal inside. Female roe deer aren’t very big. Hans then, in broken English and sign language, indicated I should carry the pack down to the forest road while he hiked back for the truck. And one more thing. One very important thing. “Hide,” he said.
One vehicle rumbled past as I crouched behind a pine trunk. When Hans coasted up, I jumped down to the road. He stuffed the rucksack in the back and we headed to a town down in the valley. There he drove to what must have been a friend’s place. A true friend and confidant. We sneaked the illegal frau roe doe into his garage, shook hands and left the man to skin and, I assume, eat her. Our illegal hunt was over.
On the drive back to the cabin, Hans turned to me to request one small favor. Mastering his best English and shaking an index finger back and forth, he looked me in the eye and said “No say.”
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