For decades the small game hunts were a perfect cure for the spring solstice. Some kind of ease accompanying them helped to absorb all the wealth of pictures, sounds and scents the nature, now waking up after the winter slumber, wanted to share. But with time and more law restrictions most of these hunts vanished. No more spring male mallards or woodcocks for the spring small game passionate…
Only the muskrat remained, but has become almost forgotten by the modern hunters. Although the fur is one of the highest quality, it has little value, now when the fashion designers turned their heads away from natural leather and fell. But there remained a small group of hunters wanting to pursue this little animal. For them nothing has changed, the muskrat hunt was still a treat in the early months and the fur remained one of the best materials for a great hat or muff. Being a member of this little club, my friend Hubert, gave me the call this year. “I know a great place for muskrats. Let’s go hunting!” We went to a very special place called Stawy Milickie, an extraordinary ecosystem created by the Cistercians in XIII century. “I know a great place for muskrats. Let’s go hunting!”
The valley of the Barycz river, some 50 km north from Wrocław, with its many shallow excavation left by open-pit mining has appeared to the industrious monks perfect to start a big scale carp farm. It’s area soon reached 13 thousand hectares and has remained the biggest pond complex in Europe to this day. It is easy to imagine how after 800 years of existence this balanced ecosystem has become a great mainstay for over 270 species of the waterfowl. Rich forest and never ending reeds are home to a large population of both large and small game. Naturally the furry little rodents, we were so passionate about, included.
We went out early in the morning. Our spot was just outside of the reserve, on a bridge over a small stream supplying water to the first pond. What a noise! – my first thought was. Heavy traffic like, but with singing birds instead of automobiles with amazing voices rather than the engine roar or horn hooting. Geese, cranes, ducks, bittern and hundreds of creatures I could not recognise made an incredible symphony. If these were just the outskirts, what must have been going on deep in the heart of the park?
The small Leica Noctivid I took with me quickly turned out to be not only just a spotting instrument. Surely I was constantly scanning the stream surface in search of a small furrow made by the muskrat. But being able to observe the colours and all the small details of birds flying over my head and landing on the green field in front of me was just amazing. For once I could truly understand the birders. If that could not be satisfying enough I noticed a water wrinkle some 50 meters in front of me. There was a muskrat! I waited with my heart beating fast for him to come within the shooting range and then fired my gun. But I knew the shot was too high. Waiting for the small animal to reappear on the surface was useless, I have missed.
For the most part of the day we walked and enjoyed the spectacular park. Hubert was telling me stories about his dad, who had loved this place like none other. I heard tales of amazing red deer ruts happening in the reed and small islets, spectacular waterfowl hunts and naturally the passionate muskrat shooting in the past days.
In the late afternoon we arrived back at our spot. The wind was blowing hard, so the odds seemed to be against us. Nothing was going on and the time passed quickly. I decided to take a picture of my gear in the last good light. But climbing up the dike I had a thought to be extra cautious – just in case. And surely there it was – the small muskrat I saw in the morning, carelessly swimming down the stream. I put all my equipment on the ground and mounted the shotgun to my shoulder. Careful not to make the same mistake of shooting too high I squeezed the trigger. 5 minutes later I was rearranging the composition for my photo, this time with one big change in the foreground! Being able to buy some extra skins from a friend I can’t wait to order my muskrat hat. Not only will it protect my ears in the colds of the coming winter, it will whisper tales of the marvellous warm world when it’s finally gone.