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Thread: Wild goat chase in the Massif Central

  1. #1

    Wild goat chase in the Massif Central

    Hello everyone.

    It’s been a long time since I last had an adventure worth sharing on here, but the time has come at last. Last week I finally made a long-hoped for but only recently planned trip to the Cantal, in the Massif Central mountains of France, to stalk chamois, Europe’s only antelope and not actually a goat at all as the thread title suggests (that was poetic licence). Thanks to a cancellation, my friend WH extended the unexpected invitation to me to join him in an end of season chamois hunt, before snow ends it. The cull plan for the year was almost complete but there were still tags for a yearling or “eterlou” and, icing on the cake, an old barren female which could carry an impressive trophy. This was an amazingly generous offer from WH but he’s very liberal that way, just like I am. In preparation for the trip, I decided to forego my usual wishy-washy approach and studied many photographs of chamois to practice identification. I didn’t want to find myself wringing my hands, agonising over discrimination according to age and gender in the field.

    Thanks partly to the principle of free movement of people, the flights from London to the tiny airport of Aurillac went without a hitch and WH met me at the gate late on Tuesday evening. We spent the evening going over plans for the next day. I hadn’t taken my own rifle with me as WH and I have very similar tastes in rifles, so I forewent that complication. Indeed, he has my Sauer drilling’s little cousin, a 16-bore/7x57R over-and-under, but I opted instead for the.270 Blaser K95 kipplauf. WH wouldn’t be stalking but acting as a guide, although he carried his 6.5x57R Brno single-shot in case a back-up, stopping shot was needed, and as he said “So that I don’t feel naked”.

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    The next morning, we set off in the dark towards the two sectors surrounding the Puy de Peyre-Arse which we had been attributed for the day. We first stopped as the hunting association’s office to collect our tags, sign the paperwork and exchange a little gossip. We heard that the previous evening, two stalkers had shot a mouflon ram in the field next to their car, after a day of hiking up and down the extinct volcanoes that for the extraordinary range of the Puys d’Auvergne. They’re quite cunning animals those mouflon, as we shall see again later. That buoyed our spirits, and we set off down the valley with our two chamois tags. On the way, we stopped in a meadow owned by a farmer that WH knows so that I could take a couple of test shots with the K95, under the indifferent eyes of said farmer and his cows, who were all enjoying a leisurely subsidised morning at the British taxpayer’s expense. All was fine, so we soon began our ascent of Peyre-Arse.

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    We climbed a narrow track flanked by rowan trees laden with bright red berries, contrasting with the patches of snow and yellow clumps of larch amongst the other evergreens. As we reached the top of this track the snow-covered summits appeared and we stopped to glass thoroughly. I was delighted when after a few minutes I spotted my first two chamois on a snowdrift, just under a crest towards the Peyre-Arse, perhaps a kilometre away. They were there waiting for us! So we set off over a boulder and grass covered ridge, a gentler climb. At the end of the ridge, we took advantage of the all-encompassing view on the deep corries on each side to spend some more time glassing the escarpments. Seeing nothing, we started up the next steeper slope, now walking on hard snow and Provence broom, a shrub which delights in growing woody stems between snow-coloured boulders in an attempt to break your ankles. Suddenly a chamois male ran out onto the snow no more than 50m to my left, and as I tried to signal this to WH, I saw that he was pointing at two more who were running the other way! The chamois rut was on and clearly these three had been mucking around just over the ridge from us when we’d been glassing. We weren’t looking for male adults, but such a wonderful close encounter left my incredibly soft hands shaking with excitement!

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    Spot the Chamois competition: answers on an e-card!

    WH took the lead, and soon dropped quietly to his knees behind a boulder, and I followed suit. “Mouflon!” he whispered, “Get up very slowly”. As I peered over the rock, I saw two magnificent rams perhaps 70m away, first their backsides, then they turned sideways on to examine us, but not very worried. As I’ve mentioned before, they’re clever, and those blue eyes of theirs can read our paperwork from that distance: they knew that they were in no danger! The standoff lasted a few minutes before they ambled off uphill, stopping for one last peep at us before disappearing. An unbelievable experience and a privileged moment.

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    From the flat top of a volcanic outcrop, we stopped to survey the slopes of the corrie to the right. The snow was covered in chamois and red deer tracks, but of the animals there was no sign. Of course that just meant we couldn’t see them, but that wasn’t about to improve as a bank of white fog swept in, leading quickly to a total whiteout. We had something to eat whilst hoping it would clear up, which it did but only in part, which we took advantage of to explore the slopes of the quarry. But time was moving on, there were no chamois there so we started to head back, planning to ambush chamois when they came out onto the grass from cover of the rowan trees in the late afternoon.

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    From a grass ridge we could survey a shallow valley on each side, one full or rowan, one of broom. A roe doe was chewing the cud 300m away in the brush, unconcerned by our presence. A single chamois stood on a patch of yellow grass 500m to the left but there was no way of approaching it. I started to feel the melted snow in my shoes as we sat there, but eventually the fog caught up with us and we had to pack up.

    The next morning visibility was awful, so we had a bit of a lie-in and I went to the farm next door to buy some Salers and St Nectaire cheese to take home. Venison was a possibility, but at least cheese was a a given! Later that morning where we returned to the hunting association HQ for an update and to pick up a mouflon ewe tag to add to the chamois ones as we prefer our quarry diversified if possible. We glassed the lower, grassy slopes of the valley that weren’t shrouded in fog, but given that the hoped for mouflon weren’t there (because they’re too clever, as previously mentioned), we resolved to head to the back and climb up the corrie towards where a series of waterfalls fell from the Peyre-Arse summit into a valley where chamois often come to graze in the evenings. It was hard going for two hours on difficult slopes, and I was surprised at how my not-very-red blood was nevertheless able to keep supplying my effeminate legs with enough oxygen to keep going. Finally we reached a suitable place to set up a hidden firing point, behind a granite boulder.

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    It would have been perfect had we been able to see more than 10m before everything disappeared into a wall of fog. The wind picked up and I sometimes worried my hat would fly away, but luckily it was weighed down with rainwater. Every few minutes, a break appeared in the mist and we had a very short window to glass the slopes. It was during one such opening that WH exclaimed “An animal on the crest above! Maybe a horse though…” Quite what a horse would be doing 1500m up in these conditions is a mystery, but I raised my binoculars towards the section of clouds WH had been looking at. Ten minutes later we both saw it: unmistakably a lone adult chamois, quite possibly the female we were after. We had less than an hour’s daylight left, nothing to lose, so we left out bags and started to climb towards the crest on a forty degree slope. There was plenty of cover provided by the mist and very tall grass, but it went both ways. If we found this chamois, there was every chance it would be under our noses and offer only a fleeting chance to make judgement and take a snapshot. Halfway up, WH told me to go on alone. With every step I could smell the wild thyme I was crushing underfoot, I made sure I was balanced after each step, scanned every bush and hollow for a flickering ear or a curved horn. But night fell. It wasn’t there. There was only one thing I could do now. I unloaded the rifle, slung it over my shoulder, and lobbed a perfectly-aimed snowball into the back of WH’s neck. Then I called out to thank the chamois and wish it well for the winter before heading back down for the long, dark stumble home.

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    We didn’t shoot our chamois but I don’t mind, it was exhilarating and my word we hunted it! I can now say I’m a Mountain Hunter and that’s something I’m proud of. I hope to return one day, but even if I don’t, I’m glad I lived that adventure. Besides, I’m not empty handed. Thanks to the harmonisation of feed hygiene standards and customs union, I have a fridge full of cheese. And through WH’s forward planning, I have a chamois skin from an earlier animal in the freezer awaiting tanning, not a trophy, but a souvenir. One hell of a souvenir.
    Last edited by Pine Marten; 22-11-2016 at 15:37.
    "Wishy washy hand-wringing diversified all encompassing liberal"

  2. #2
    Hard luck on not getting your beast,but at least you,ve had an adventure.great write up.atb doug

  3. #3
    Great write up Lawrence, hard luck on the Chamois but sounds like a great trip. On my bucket list...

  4. #4
    A great article and sounds a great hunt. Will you be invited back again next year to see if you can get your goat ?

  5. #5
    An enjoyable read PM thank you.
    Enjoyed the sense of humour too. Look as I may, there seems to be one item missing from your detractor's lexicon.......... I just couldn't find 'Pinko' anywhere .
    Best regards.
    A pessimist is an optimist with experience.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by deerpath View Post
    A great article and sounds a great hunt. Will you be invited back again next year to see if you can get your goat ?
    Glad you enjoyed it! As for next year, there's no way of telling as in the end, tags are handed out on the day or the evening before, depending on how the cull plan is going and who else wants one. But beyond that, this year there a lot of luck involved with someone else dropping out just at a time when I had a few spare days of holiday to take, etc. So you can ask the stars to align, but in the end it's up to them... Certainly both WH and I would like to do this again! It's apparently easier earlier on in the season.
    "Wishy washy hand-wringing diversified all encompassing liberal"

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Uncle Norm View Post
    An enjoyable read PM thank you.
    Enjoyed the sense of humour too. Look as I may, there seems to be one item missing from your detractor's lexicon.......... I just couldn't find 'Pinko' anywhere .
    Best regards.
    You're welcome, Uncle. I thought that using that word in addition to the bit about my pale blood would be overkill!
    "Wishy washy hand-wringing diversified all encompassing liberal"

  8. #8
    Superb account as usual my friend, see you in a few days.

  9. #9
    Great write up thank you PM.

    I was invited out to the Pyrenees to shoot Chamois in January and was lucky enough to get a result. Having come over last weekend to shoot pheasant with me last weekend he has invited me back to the Masif Central in January to try to find a Mouflon.

    Can't wait!
    So much to learn and so little time left

  10. #10
    Great write up PM.

    Again on my bucket list.

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