SI Vault
Charles W. Thayer
October 28, 1963
A former diplomat, shown here stalking deer in the Alpine solitude of his private Bavarian reserve, tells America how to profit from a centuries-old European system
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October 28, 1963

A More Sensible Way To Hunt

A former diplomat, shown here stalking deer in the Alpine solitude of his private Bavarian reserve, tells America how to profit from a centuries-old European system

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"Deer hunting in July?" asked my nephew, fresh from Pennsylvania and slightly alarmed when I suggested recently that he come stalking with me. I have become accustomed to this kind of shock, for it is the reaction I usually get when one of my countrymen comes to visit me in Germany and I suggest a summer deer hunt. To them, geared as they are to the hunting regulations of the United States, it would be hardly more improper to shoot your grandmother in July than a deer, and I must confess I had much the same viewpoint when I first came to Bavaria some 12 years ago. But now—thanks to some canny political maneuvering by my German neighbors—I am what might be called at least the junior master of my own hunting reserve and I have learned a great deal about a sport that many Americans think they understand yet don't. "Nephew," I said, trying hard not to sound wiser than thou, "Europeans have been hunting deer six months out of the year since the Pilgrims sailed for Plymouth, and there is still plenty of game to go around. We are going hunting."

My Bavarian hunting reserve is not one of the great showplaces where European aristocracy once entertained its kings and emperors and where nowadays the German industrial aristocracy of the Ruhr entertains business friends on expense accounts. In fact, as reserves go, it is very modest indeed—about 2,500 acres of pasture and timber comprising the holdings of 30 or 40 dairy farmers in the bowl of an Alpine valley some 60 miles south of Munich. To the south the wall of the bowl reaches up to the state forests on the higher mountain slopes. To the north it dies out into the foothills that eventually give way to the flatlands of the Inn and Danube rivers. Its game includes chiefly stag or red deer, akin to the American elk, or wapiti; roe deer, a small version of the whitetail; and the chamois, a distant cousin of the mountain goat. In addition there are some wild duck, hares and an occasional capercaillie, a turkeylike mountain bird that provides very good sport in the early spring.

When my nephew arrived, ready for our hunt, he was dressed in a loud red sweater and a yellow cap. Our volunteer jaeger, or game warden, Lorenz, winced, but before he could say anything I took my nephew inside and redressed him in green.' "But what if some other shooter mistakes me for a deer?" he protested. "We're going hunting," I said acidly, "not shooting. Besides, hunters here stay in their own bailiwicks."

It is a 10-minute drive by car from my home near the village of Ruhpolding to the foot of Hasselberg Mountain, where my reserve begins. We parked the car at the Meadow Farm, happened to see the owner and briefly discussed with him the state of the weather, the condition of the hay and the whereabouts of the deer. Three bucks, he told us, had recently been grazing every evening on his upper meadow, but a fourth, much larger one had been seen by his son in a clearing near the top of the mountain, where Lorenz had built a "high seat," or stand, in the trees.

So we set out across the upper meadow to the forest above. The acrid fumes of the barnyard manure heap gave way to the sweet smell of new-mown hay and then to the pungent odors of rotting vegetation in the damp beech forest. At the edge of the forest we paused and looked back over the valley.

Southern Bavaria has only two basic garments. When the snow melts in May or June everything is green—the rich emerald green of the Alpine meadows flecked with golden primroses and buttercups, the softer green of the woods and thickets and the deep blue-green of the forests above. In autumn the forests are touched with the gold and scarlet of the hardwoods, though not so brilliantly as in our northern states. Then in November or December, overnight, the whole countryside turns pure white, dotted here and there with the red-tiled roof of a farmhouse or the black of a cliff face. There is no intermediate gray-brown stage as there is in America, when the grass is trying to revive in spring or when the sap has drained away in late autumn but the snow has not yet come.

My nephew and I stood catching our breath and enjoying the green panorama until Lorenz jerked his head to get us moving again. He was carrying a light over-and-under, the 16-gauge shotgun barrel intended for foxes and other predators, the rifle barrel to be used, theoretically, against poachers. Leashed to his side was his big wirehaired German pointer, Alfy. I was carrying two equally necessary pieces of equipment, my six-foot alpenstock and my Winchester .30-06 with a four-power scope. Bavarian hunting law prescribes very precisely what caliber, weight and type of bullet may be used to shoot every variety of game, the intent being to assure a heavy enough load to kill an animal outright. The use of buckshot is strictly forbidden, since it so often wounds an animal, condemning it to a slow death deep in the forest. The law also prescribes that when an animal is wounded, the hunter is obliged to trail it, usually with dogs, until it is found or the blood trail ends. Hunters are seldom tempted to shoot with a substandard rifle lest the bullet miss a vital organ and make it necessary to trail the wounded animal for hours.

There was a perfectly good path that zigzagged up the mountain, but Lorenz, whom my wife calls the "slave driver," headed straight up through brush and thickets. Pine branches whipped our faces, tore my glasses from my nose and clutched at our clothing like claws pulling us back.

At one point we came to the boundary of our reserve, where a tongue of our neighbor's shooting area reaches into ours. Our neighbor is a good friend and we have often discussed exchanging permits to cross each other's territory, but somehow, in good Bavarian fashion, we have never gotten around to it. German lawmakers know that no feud can be more bitter than one between hunting neighbors, so they insist that without a written agreement no armed hunter may set foot on his neighbor's reserve. At the boundary we unloaded and put the bolts of our rifles into our knapsacks. When we got back into our own territory we reloaded and struggled on upward.

We had been climbing for a good hour when at last we left the thickets and tall timber and came to a low wall of rock. A precarious goat trail wound up it, and, as I cursed Lorenz under my breath, we scrambled after him. Suddenly the dog stiffened and strained at his leash. Following his point to a clearing across a narrow ravine, we saw a chamois standing motionless, his head cocked on one side, staring curiously in our direction. Through my binoculars I saw from the downward bend of the tips of his horn that he was a buck, but was he old enough to shoot?

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