This is a
difficult question for a hunter to be asking himself at the moment when he is
all but squeezing the trigger. The fact that it must be asked is one of the
keys to the European conservation system. The law demands selective shooting.
It is designed to eliminate the weak, the badly antlered males and the barren
females, preserving the young and the strong. The law actually classifies all
types of big game from the point of view of both age and quality, and specifies
how many of each class may be shot in a given reserve in any one year. To
enforce this provision, at the end of the season hunters must submit all their
trophies at a show where experts check their classification. A hunter who
mistakenly shoots a young buck or stag gets a red mark on his record. If he
gets too many red marks he will lose his hunting license. He can even be fined
for a gross mistake.
It is difficult
enough for a beginner to determine the age of a stag as he stands in the bushes
200 yards away. To judge a chamois often requires much longer experience and a
very high-powered telescope. But now, as I watched the chamois we had sighted
through my binoculars, it was plain from his size and his slender horns that he
was hardly three years old—far too young to shoot.
For 10 minutes we
waited, clinging silently to the rocks lest he take fright and raise the alarm
with his shrill whistling bleat. At last, his curiosity satisfied, he turned
and ambled up the slope out of sight.
minutes of climbing brought us to the high seat. It was hardly more than a
bench set 30 feet off the ground between two tall spruces. It had a waist-high
screen of boughs in front and a rickety ladder leading up to it. Lorenz moved
off to a clearing half a mile along the slope-where he was building another
high seat, and my nephew and I made ourselves comfortable and prepared to wait.
In front of us was an open clearing rising steeply 200 yards to a rocky
skyline. Except for a tree or two we had an unbroken field of vision. High up
among the rocks at the top of the clearing we could still see the young chamois
we had spotted earlier, now browsing unconcernedly, as though he knew perfectly
well that his youth exempted him from taking any precautions.
The swish of
branches in the pine trees to our left caught our attention. A hind emerged and
trotted to a patch of grass in the clearing. Behind her came another hind and
following them a white-spotted fawn only a few months old. The season for young
hinds was open, but I knew one of the two was a mother and therefore protected.
Which one? The book says the old hind is rounder in her rear quarters and her
belly line sags. The young hind is more angular and her belly is straight. For
10 minutes I watched the red deer through my glass, trying to make out which
was which. I wanted to make no mistake. At last I made up my mind which was the
young one and trained my rifle sight on her. But as I adjusted my gun a twig on
the screen in front of us snapped. The three deer raised their heads, stared in
our direction and then, with a toss of their heads, galloped back into the
Half an hour went
by. Then my nephew pointed down just below the stand, where a yearling roe deer
was browsing among the ferns. As delicately as a ballerina it picked its way
silently and gracefully through the rocks and fallen tree trunks, hardly 20
feet from us. We sat motionless and watched it as it wandered unsuspecting
along the slope. The wind had turned cold and I could feel the bench shake with
the shivers of my nephew. I pulled a corner of my green shooting cape around
him. The fawn must have seen the movement, for it raised its head and bounded
off into the thicket, barking in high, alarmed cries.
Once the alarm
had been given, there was no point waiting for the big roebuck. So we climbed
down and started back to the lower slopes whence we had come.
Lorenz had built
an elaborate, enclosed high seat overlooking the upper and lower meadows, with
a bench long enough to stretch out on and a foam rubber mattress that we called
"The Deluxe." Windows on all sides overlooked the fields. There,
sheltered from the evening breeze, we watched the meadows around us. A doe and
her fawn were grazing in the freshly mown grass behind us. Two yearling fawns
emerged from the woods and slowly made their way across the field in front.
The light was
beginning to fade when a single doe appeared in the meadow 200 yards above us.
Hopefully I watched her, for the rutting season was beginning and a lovelorn
buck might well be following her. At last I saw one emerge from the brush.
Through my glasses I could make out his rack—a sixer, but the points looked
short and thin. Reluctantly I decided to let him go for another season or so.
Then he raised his head, looked behind him and scampered off across the field.
A moment later another buck came out, slowly, cautiously. He too had six
points, but his neck was full and thick—obviously better developed from the
weight of his rack. Four years? Five years? If the former, I should let him go.
In the flatland you would also pass up a 5-year-old, but up here in the
mountains a roebuck seldom develops well beyond his fifth year.
I had to decide
quickly, for the light was failing fast. I took aim and fired. He dropped where
he had stood. My nephew, cramped from the hours of sitting, was eager to climb
up to where he lay, but I sternly told him to wait while we smoked a cigarette.
The traditional pause, prescribed by hunting custom, was to give the animal a
chance to breathe his last in peace and quiet.