Hearing the names Biscarosse, Mimizan, immediately prompts the mind to wander. When I think of these places, I hear the shrill droning of cicada blending with the smell of pines, sea spray, and the feeling of hot sand between my toes. Sure, this is what I imagine when thinking of these places, but the lazing about only lasted about five minutes. Then it was off to the forest of the Landes de Gascogne, where animals with very strange trophies hid. It was time to hunt!
Once past the ancient, imposing metal gates that separate the outside world from the state-owned hunting territory of Biscarosse, we entered another dimension where time had stood still, just like the construction of transatlantic seaplanes that were built here in the 30’s. A strange calm ruled over this massif’s 12,000 hectares. The reason: it’s a controlled military zone. Right now, an evening in July, much of the site’s personnel had returned to their places of residence. Essentially almost everyone, except a sergeant major of the national police force who controlled our passports, and Stéphane, an agent of the ONF (French forestry administration) who accompanied us to monitor our every move. We would have to steer clear of trouble! Rest assured, the ambiance looked nothing like what you would expect from a China-Kyrgyzstan border crossing and everything went smoothly.
After these formalities, we confirmed the fine-tuning of our tools. This is a necessary and reassuring procedure for the client as well as the guide. As ‘plugged in’ hunters we use local products and on the road from Biscarosse, we knew a stop at Cestas was necessary. Here we found the national headquarters of the “Solognac” brand, where hunters can equipment themselves from head to toe, and feed their rifle with new, eponymous ammunition. Three bullets two centimetres above the bullseye at 100 meters, it would have to do. It was time to tread on some blonde sand.
Gascony’s pine wood’s ungulate population consists of three species: red stag, wild boar, and roe deer. These species are well represented on the Biscarosse land. Delegated by season, we were after roebuck, and boar too if the opportunity presented itself, but let’s be honest, if we made it all this way it wasn’t impossible. As we glanced at the ONF’s advertising brochures, we realised that their marketing was spot on, and they had well understood that you can’t attract flies with vinegar.
In this case, the flies were dressed in stealth camo and their favourite flavour of honey was an animal with an extra-terrestrial look, yet was Made in Gascony: a Perruque buck! The most learned of you will know well that we aren’t talking about a capreolus that believes himself to be Louis XIV, but simply a buck who is the victim of a permanent antler deformation, which are covered by a “velvet” mass that continues growing. There are many reasons for this deformation and those curious to learn more about it can dive into one of some excellent books you find on the market, while geeks can resort to Google. Both resources are interesting reads, but we preferred practical knowledge, which is why Stéphane took us on the trail of a Perruque identified several months ago.
We progressed underneath the pines, and the sand worked to our advantage by dampening the sound of our footsteps. A rumble with constant frequency caught our attention. We were hearing the Atlantic’s waves breaking at their final destination more than two kilometres away on the beach. Now try to imagine the calm ruling over this territory and how easy it might be for the animals to notice us. This game would not be outfoxed easily. We crossed paths with several hinds, stags, roe does, and foxes in broad daylight, but there was no buck to be seen. Near a firebreak, Stéphane stopped and scrutinized a far-off hillside. We copied him, and a reddish spot caught our attention. It was a roe, and according to Stéphane it was the Perruque buck. In general, these animals aren’t hunted until after having taken a “classic” roebuck, but we had to seize this opportunity since the rut was close, but these animals don’t participate. We only had two days left and according to the guide, the opportunities to find a classic roebuck were far more common.
We departed on the stalk. During our advance, we filed between blooming gorse bushes. We regularly spooked animals, which thankfully didn’t reveal our presence to their peers. Ultimately, the Perruque had disappeared though, swallowed up by the vegetation as dense as an Italian espresso. Returning to our hunting cabin, Alain Pacouil sported a smile. The explanation behind his smile was on his camera screen. While we were submerged in the gorse and brambles, he was comfortably positioned on the hood of his vehicle with a Perruque in his objective lens. As you can imagine, we were tearing our hair out. It’s well known in hunting, that the young folk use their legs and the old folk use their experience. This buck was getting what he deserved, and the next morning we were on our feet at day break. In vain. Not even a classic roebuck crossed paths with our scope. Nothing. Cosmic nothingness.
It’s times like these that it takes an enormous amount of self-motivation. Towards 10 am the heat was so intense though, that we reassigned our hopes to the evening stalk. This wasn’t any more spectacular than the morning’s. Nonetheless, the sheer volume of fauna was as always very satisfying and there was no doubt that there was a “buck of a lifetime” in these woods. We even had the chance to witness the spectacle of a marauding badger, who was not at all impressed by our presence.
It was the last morning, and we would have to seal the deal today. It was still dark as we began walking. Nighthawks grazed the tops of the pines, a group of wild boars returned to their wallow and the Atlantic poured its waves onto the deserted white sand beach. We were positioned not far from a dense plantation, where Stéphane had spotted a colossal Perruque buck fighting with a small button buck who emerged victorious from of the quarrel.
Once there was enough light to see 100 meters, we crawled on all fours to attempt a stalk on a reddish spot that passed through the ferns a little further ahead. Very quickly the animal stood still, and was ranged at 160 meters, but its head was hidden in the plants. The tuft of hairs between its legs left no doubt regarding the animal’s sex, but what was on his head? The rifle was poised on the shooting sticks, ready to fire, but when the buck lifted his head it was a small four point who deserved to live. The wind swirled and the buck thanked us by launching rough barks warning the entire area of our presence. This wasn’t the end of the world, since our pursuit of the Biscarosse bucks ended then anyways.
Not pulling the trigger is just as much ‘hunting’ and our sweat soaked shirts were proof of it. Nevertheless, we had discovered a well-managed area, met guides passionate about their mission, saw dozens of animals in an isolated countryside, what more could we ask for. A wig? Yes, and it was the perfect enticement to return…. as well as to enjoy the beach and Gascony’s nonchalance.
Translation by Savanna Koebisch
Photos: Philippe Jaeger and Alain Pacouil
Biscarosse in Focus
With its 12 000 hectares that stretch over 23 kilometers from north to south and 4 to 7 kilometers east to west, the Biscarosse state forest is part of a vast, wooded massif of coast-line dunes going from the Arcachon Bassin to the Adour Estuary. The ONF practices forestry mainly of maritime pine, the rest consisting of trees behind the dunes and on the east slopes of the dunes that are not classified as “productive” forestry, their protection being the main priority. The large fire-breaks cut the massif into regular strips of timber, benefiting from natural regeneration, yet subject to several hazards (poor fruit bearing years, summer droughts, destruction by animals). This forest falls under the regime of the military grounds and access constraints are imposed, but the true defining feature of this massif is the proven and regular presence of Perruque bucks, of which 3 individuals can be hunted per season.
Tel: +33 126.96.36.199.39