In October on the Croatian island of Cres, tourists make way for fallow deer and hunters. We followed. A twenty minute ferry ride sufficed to link the Istrie peninsula in north-west Croatia to Cres Island (pronounced tresse with a rolling ‘r’). Once on the island, you’re in a completely different universe. With its 400 some km2 spread over 65 kilometers from north to south and a maximum of 13 kilometers east to west, Cres is the second largest island in the Croatian archipelago. It only houses 8000 inhabitants though, outside of the summer tourist season. It truly is a slice of paradise, where one hunts in an atmosphere smelling of pine, aromatic herbs and the salty sea air.
Cres’ coastline is very abrupt, featuring cliffs and a few very rare beaches of fine sand as well as a few coves allowing boats to come ashore. Forest and maquis scrubland makes up the majority of the vegetation, but in the central part one can find a few zones exploited for sheep pastures and olive fields. The fallow deer, an ungulate of Mediterranean origin is at home here, but the area’s poverty concerning vegetation does not allow them to develop the muscle mass or antler size equivalent to that found in central Europe. Nonetheless, hunting fallow bucks on Cres has the reputation of being difficult and represents a true return to the source for lovers of this species. We would soon realize that. Nonetheless, hunting fallow bucks on Cres has the reputation of being difficult and represents a true return to the source for lovers of this species.
After having traversed the island from west to east by means of a network of sinuous roads, sometimes above impressive drop offs, we arrived at the East coast, more specifically in the small village of Beli. This town is known for its scuba diving and its colony of griffon vultures (see write-up). A rural holiday cottage would be our main accommodation for the next three days. We were welcomed by Vlatko, who would guide the hunt with the help of his associate islanders. It was four in the afternoon and a first outing was foreseen before nightfall. We left the village on foot and entered the mountains following the askew path markers intended for hikers.
According to Vlatko, there was no longer a single tourist on the island at this time of the year and we would meet nothing other than sheep, goats, and fallow deer. The air was unbelievably mild for the end of October and the Mediterranean odors were always so intoxicating.
It was almost difficult to get into a hunter’s mindset, but a few kilometers later a fallow’s roar suddenly broke the silence, followed by those of a competitor posted on the opposing hillside. We stayed motionless a few moments to assure ourselves of the positions of both males, before beginning our approach across altering vegetation’s of maquis, pine, and rock fields. The sun was setting and we were pressed for time, but it was impossible to walk any faster since the terrain was very craggy. A rock could break loose and give us away at any moment. We finally decided to abandon the stalk since the wind turned on us and it was better to let the animals be until the next morning.
The next morning, while it was still pitch black, we took off in the same direction. The bucks had left last night’s arena and not a sound pierced the dawn’s silence. As always, a brutal temperature drop took place before the sun popped over the sea, and it was at this moment that we were present for an explosion of roars. Apparently there were fallow all around us and we no longer knew in which direction to advance.
Vlatko decided to stay put and wait until the sun’s rays lit up the undergrowth a bit more. The mist quickly cleared and we left towards the base of a valley where two bucks were battling relentlessly. An hour later, after having steered clear of multiple fallow with sharp eyes, we slid along an old rock wall that led to a pasture where one of the fallow had just driven back his opponent and had clarified who was boss of this area.
His roars resounded in the valley and the other males responded by keeping their distance. We were only 150 meters from the edge, but it was still impossible to shoot across the undergrowth. We would have to stalk closer to make an ethical shot happen. A dozen fallow does were pressed to the dominant buck’s side, who chased them in turns. We used this commotion to slither closer to the scene, when suddenly, a fallow to our left that we hadn’t seen before alerted the herd. In a few seconds each and every one of them had disappeared, but the buck returned on his tracks, thinking that another rival must have provoked the chaos. It was a fatal mistake for him, since the illuminated reticle was already hovering over his shoulder and a shot tore through the island’s silence.
In the afternoon we went out on another stalk but this time, despite many attempts, the game was stronger than the hunters. Nevertheless, on return to our accommodation we were invited to eat grilled fish marinated in local olive oil and drink Croatian rosé, a very nice way to celebrate our morning’s success.
The next afternoon we decided to attack the summited area of the north part of the island. Four hours of walking later and despite numerous signs of presence, we had not spotted a single fallow. In the afternoon we left Beli towards the north of the island on a small fishing boat, but this time we attacked from the coast by scaling a vertiginous cliff overhanging the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. Arriving at the top of the cliff, we tumbled upon the ruins of an old observation post that had been occupied by the Italians in World War II. Behind the ruin was an immense clearing of approximately five hectares. A few sheep, fifty fallow does and prickets frolicked in the clearing, but there was not a single big buck in sight.
We crawled until the edge of the clearing. The wind was perfect and all we had to do was wait for our tenor. Vlatko explained that this area had once been occupied by a Roman camp due to its leading position on the channel between the island and the continent. The camp remains could still be seen in the middle of the clearing. We were trying to get a good glimpse at the remains through our binoculars, when a pair of palmated antlers caught our attention: the herd buck was in fact bedded down behind a low Roman wall and was resting!
The rangefinder indicated 380 meters, we would have to stalk closer. The difficulty was in bypassing the numerous does surrounding him. The sun had already passed behind the mountain and we could not lose any time. Therefore, we crawled on all fours towards the buck. It took us nearly an hour to close the gap to 150 meters, when the buck suddenly stood up and dashed towards the skirts of a doe that was obviously in heat. It would be impossible to weave a bullet through this mad dash. The animals ran every which way and once the buck stopped, the line of fire was systematically blocked by another animal or by a shrub.
It was getting darker by the minute, when finally a herd of prickets made their entrance in the arena. This was unacceptable for the boss man, who charged towards them to chase them away, and ran after them until in the undergrowth, roaring the entire time. The moment when he came back on his track to seek out his harem, the rangefinder indicated 180 meters.
The rifle was placed on a rock at ground level, the reticle was illuminated and the 7mm Blaser Magnum struck the buck who thereby left his position for future generations. We returned to the boat after descending the cliff while carrying the 70 kilograms of our animal. He would be celebrated with dignity with our friends the Croatian hunters on the Island of Tenors.
Translation by Savanna Koebisch
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The Vultures of Beli
Cres’ coasts feature very impressive cliffs which are home to multiple griffon vulture colonies. The main colonies are found around the village of Beli. A refuge was thus created in Beli to rehabilitate young vultures who have fallen out of their nests and into the sea. It was impossible not to watch the performance offered by these majestic flyers, very much appreciated by the livestock farmers and hunters of the island who can get rid of sheep carcasses and the viscera of wild game at a lesser cost.
The Forgotten Hunting Dog
Appearing on the frescos of colossal Egyptian tombs, the Dalmatian had been brought to Croatia from Anatolia by the traders of Dubrovnik in the 13th century for their numerous qualities, such as hunting talent. Entrusting them with other missions such as detecting burning houses and by praising their beauty on all seas of the world, Croatians have without a doubt participated in the fame of this bread, but have equally contributed to the neglect of their best quality: hunting!