If I had to name one type of hunt that especially appeals to me, it would be hunting chamois in the mountains. Rarely are one’s hunting skills and physical abilities challenged as much as by hunting this fascinating game species. It is not only a matter of personal fitness and condition, but also of stamina, surefootedness and, depending on the terrain, a certain degree of freedom from vertigo. In addition to the personal challenge, however, it is above all the beautiful surroundings and the impressive landscape of the mountains that quickly make you forget the arduous climb and make this hunting experience something very special.
I followed a hunting invitation to the French Maritime Alps north of the Côte d’Azur. Rasmus, my local hunting guide, picked me up at the airport in Nice and drove me directly to the hunting grounds located at the foot of the Tête de Rigaud, a mountain nearly 2,000 m high. Tired from the journey, we briefly discussed our plans and agreed to meet at 4:30 a.m. the next day. I managed to get my gear ready before falling into a deep sleep.
The alarm clock woke me from my dreams. It was 4 o’clock, and outside, it was pitch dark. The hunting ground was large, and to get to the starting point of our stalk today, we had to drive for about an hour. Morning was already dawning, and gradually the uniform black around me gave way to a dark gray. The first contours became visible. The mountains and hills stood out on the horizon, and towards the east a narrow, pale orange stripe appeared. It would be a beautiful day…
A short time later, Rasmus parked the pickup on a plateau at the side of the road. In front of us was Tête de Rigaud, with its characteristic shape somewhat reminiscent of a volcano. The plateau offered a fantastic view of the adjacent mountains and valleys, and even though the sun was not quite up yet, I could already enjoy the breathtaking panorama.
“We should get going,” Rasmus whispered to me quietly, pointing to the mountain ahead. Briefly he explained to me the further procedure. We would first climb a little further up and circle the mountain. Afterwards we would look down on the valleys below us again and again, perhaps we would meet chamois game there. I got my rifle ready and stowed everything I needed in my backpack. We would be out all day, and I wanted to be ready for anything.
It was still cool, so I was glad to be able to move a bit. Rasmus led the way, choosing a comfortable route up the mountain. All morning, we stalked through rocky terrain. The red shale was porous, and each step had to be chosen carefully. Concentration and surefootedness were called for, and by now the sun was so high that my forehead was beaded with sweat. But I enjoyed the stalk to the fullest. The landscape was so varied and beautiful that I had to stop every now and then to take it in properly.
But we had to hurry, because Rasmus wanted to reach a part of the district where, over time, the red shale terraces and the fissured rock have formed ledges that protrude far into the canyon. Since the red shale is more porous than the limestone that surrounds it, wind and weather have exposed the layers of shale, forming bizarre-looking structures in the landscape. These shale terraces are overgrown with boxwood, so high and dense here that it gave us enough cover for stalking, but also made it much more difficult to spot game. And when we finally spotted game, it disappeared again a short time later.
Further down, we spotted a few chamois and if we were careful enough we could manage to get within shooting distance. We hurried, leaving jacket and other excess baggage behind, and cautiously stalked closer. My heart beat faster, and my knees grew wobbly. Crouching, we walked along behind a rocky outcrop until we finally approached the cliff edge on all fours. The loose red shale dug into my knees and palms. We made ourselves even smaller, lay flat on the ground, and scrambled forward the last few inches. Cautiously, we peered over the edge. Below us stretched a small plateau with loose growth of bushes and trees. It was slightly larger than the usual rocky outcrops and was only about 150 m down. An ideal distance! The vegetation was thinner here, and now I also saw the chamois. A female with two yearlings was moving across the area directly below us, towards the cliff edge. We had agreed beforehand that we would hunt what was appropriate in the situation. A trophy was not important to me, so we quickly agreed that the choice would be one of the two yearlings. I tried to find a reasonably comfortable shooting position, which was not so easy. The rocks were hard and sharp, and the backpack didn’t raise the rifle high enough. I couldn’t get the yearling in my glass and had to change my position, losing valuable time. The female was getting restless, moving further behind the brush. I had to find something to aim the gun higher. The backpack was not enough, so the Leica binoculars had to step in. Now the rifle was in the right position. One of the two yearlings moved on, came into my field of fire, and I let the bullet fly. The yearling rolled over in the shot and disappeared into the thick brush.
We waited a little while as I struggled to straighten up from my uncomfortable position. The game was quickly found: A blood trail led into the bushes where the chamois lay. Relieved, I hugged Rasmus, and we tended to the game. The sun was already high in the sky, and we had to hurry to gut the animal and bring it into the shade. A small competition broke out as to who should carry the game. In the end, the gentleman won, and we made our way home.