Photo: Vincent Prétôt @pretothunting
Chamois hunting in western Switzerland isn’t what the public think about when we speak about it. They Imagin mountains, Granit, with grass patches, wild berries brushes and boulder fields, with a little bit of snow on the tops. That’s true, that’s the place where chamois classically live in Switzerland, in the alps. But the mountain chain I live in is not that one.
I live in a lower mountain chain called the Jura ( it gave it’s name to Jurassic Park!) spreading between Geneva in the south and Basel in the north, marking the border between France and my country. Maximum height Is around 1700m. The hills are covered by beech and spruce in majority. Where there’s no forests, you find meadows and fields of grass, with lakes and rivers here and there. Most of the fields are used by farmers for cows pasture and to produce grass for the winter.
In some areas, woods are covering mossy rocks and cliffs, old marks of a glacial past, when the glacier of the Rhône was covering our land. And that is the kind of area where we find chamois.
Every second year, you can get a tag for a chamois with a defined sex, nanny or billy (Still haven’t found a gender fluid chamois). This year, I received a tag for a nanny and at first I wanted to go after one in a remote area of the state, a place that you can’t reach by car which obligates you to walk for 30 min minimum to get to a place where chamois could live. I went many times, found tracks and a lonely billy but no nanny in sight.
Nanny are really challenging as you need to find one who do not have a kid, so it takes a lot of time and perseverance if you want to be sure of the one you take. As time flew and the opening day was getting closer and closer, I needed to find a second option, and that’s when I thought about that big nanny I saw in 2020 when I got back from my round the world trip. She was already wearing a beautiful trophy but every year she was with a baby on her side. But what about this year?
I went more and more to the place she used to live in. Every opportunity was good, before work, after work, weekends, morning, evenings… I searched for her with patience and perseverance, and it eventually paid off. I finally found here in a little meadow, with a yearling nanny but without kids. A great sign. And then I lost her for a week again. The high temperature of late August was certainly disturbing her habits and, hey, big chamois don’t get old being stupid. She knew how to be discreet.
A week before the opening, she appeared in an other meadow, joining a group of other females, with few kids and 3 billies. I stuck even harder to her, paying a lot of visits. She was there, every day, every evening, until Friday evening where I saw her walk into the woods for the night under a vibrant sunset. Saturday was the opening day, and I was sure of my strategy. I was going to be the first on the spot, the place I was going to shoot from was already clean, ready. All branches were cut, nothing was left to chance. After many years spent hunting chamois in this country with my parents, grand father and brother, I knew what was the way to success.
After a short night, as the owls were still fighting in the trees, I walked to the spot, took position, and waited. All was perfect, she was going to come out between 150 and 250m depending on which side of the field she was going to come out , as they use to. Light slowly came, noises of night left space for noises of day, and as soon as my eyes could see in this blueish morning light, I glassed and saw the dark coat of the mature billy she stayed with the day before. First movements, good signs.
An other buck came out, strong in horns, weak in body. That’s a true future buck, one to let grow! At 2,5 years old, he would already score close to a bronze medal, I let you imagin what you get if you let it few extra years, leaving him time to spread his genes! Then the third buck followed with the tight nanny, with her really orange and silky coat, and her kid. And time passed by, hours after hours, until they all went back into the woods during the hottest hours of the day.
I saw the group everyday, from Saturday to Tuesday, with some extra chamois in the group, tight ones, wide ones, females, males, youngster, babies, even a young dry nanny that I could have taken. They were sometimes coming from the right, sometimes from the left, sometimes not at all. I started to lose patience and especially confidence, went back to the field I saw here the first time before the season, moved to an other location, stalked, nothing.
My brother once said that in hunting, confidence is temporary, and nothing is more true.
After all these days of patience in the heat of the sun of late summer, rain eventually came to water the ground and change the air. I was confident that this change in the weather was also going to bring changes in the animal attitude. The Wednesday morning was going to be the moment where luck would come.
I stayed out, under a pooring rain, sheltering my rifle and binos under my pack cover from the first light of the morning, eating on the spot, living on the spot. Dark buck, heavy buck, medium buck were there for a long time. But where is she?
Being that long outside, you eventually get wet, sore, and bored. I was waiting in a ball, with my dewpoint jacket on, tight on all openings, keeping the water outside and the heat inside, arms crossed, hood on. I was numb, lost in my own head, as in a meditation state, raising my head once in a while to see if a new dark spot was in the field. My ballistic turret set on 250, sure that at this point only the worth of situation could happened.
I was thinking about a new flat, or maybe a new phone, or camera gear that I would love to buy, or maybe was it about some souvenirs of a past hunt in Norway where luck was not always on my side, I don’t remember, but as I took my head up and looked one more time on the left corner of the field, 11 chamois were 100m away from me, out of nowhere, without a sound.
My heart started rushing in my chest, and experience calmed me down. Moving slowly, I took my binos, and started looking each animal individually. Tight nanny, baby, baby, wide thin nanny, young nanny, big billy, future billy, medium billy, big nanny, small nanny, baby. God that must be her, the big nanny in the middle. Yeah it looks like, the trophy is similar, and the hairs looks like the ones from a dry nanny, with that old and uneven look. But it is in this kind of moment that hesitation takes over. Are you sure Vincent? It would be a shame to mess up after all this time spent waiting.
It was as if I saw a ghost that was not real, unbelievable, like a mirage.
But experience teach us a lot of things, and I had thought about it before hand, as I was looking at her all these days before the opening. Look at her right ear, it’s broken and bends toward here horns at the tip, that’s a great way to recognize her.
Yes, that’s her.
I took my rifle, changed the ballistic turret to 100m and waited for her to give me an easy, broad side shot. The old trusty 300 win mag did the job beautifully, dropping here on the spot as the rest of the group ran away.
I sat back, looked up and felt the rain fall on my face.
The chase was over. Perseverance paid off.