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Stalking roebuck in the Austrian alps

Daniel Smith travels to a lonely outpost in the scenic Austrian Alps on a quest to stalk roebuck, but it’s the region’s chamois goats that will make him return

The dirt track that winds up from the valley floor to the hut near the top of the mountain is eight kilometres long, climbs 800m in altitude and connects two locations that seem worlds apart. The terrain, weather and views in the high peaks differ greatly from those languishing at the foot of the slopes. Up here, the snow lingers, even in May. Chamois — a native species of goat-antelope — are everywhere. But two men who have just arrived at the lonely outpost seek a different quarry. 

Daniel Smith and local guide Otto Schatz are after shootable roebucks and plan to use the hut as their base. The season is set to start the following day. For Daniel, who has stalked plenty of roebucks in the UK, tracking alpine deer at up to 1,700m above sea level promises to be a novel experience.

The two hunters are up before dawn to greet the new season, but with heavy rain showers in evidence in the uplands above the hut, Otto decides to trek towards the valley, where the weather is generally milder. Yesterday, before Daniel had arrived, he spotted an old roebuck in a meadow there. It only had one antler, making it a good candidate
for shooting. 

Daniel glasses the slopes below from the high seat

It is still quite dark when they catch a fleeting glimpse of the same animal. Unfortunately, it quickly bolts into cover and fails to reappear. The pair continue onwards. They quietly walk across the alpine slopes, where they catch sight of a bachelor group of healthy, in-velvet red stags and some female roe. A little further on, as they draw closer to a patch of woodland, they see another potential roebuck target. This one has a damaged eye, leaving it blind on one side. Otto agrees that Daniel can take it if they can get into a suitable position. 

They creep forward into range, but the buck edges closer to the tree line. Daniel can’t see a good bullet stop in the shadows behind the deer and is forced to hold his shot. Moments later, his prey turns and disappears into the woods: the morning stalk is over.


In the open

The sky clears as the sun reaches its zenith and Daniel dozes after a welcome late breakfast. He’s stretched out in the sun on the deck in front of the hut, lazily watching a handful of chamois that are spread across the hillside. Just before lunch, a roebuck appears on the slope below the cabin, just 120m away. At the same time, a red deer hind with a female yearling emerges 500m away. But while the hunting season is open for one-year-old red deer stags and hinds, Otto has a rule that no animals can be shot in the vicinity of the hut, which may be why three species are out in the open in the middle of the day. 

With the arrival of evening, the weather turns once more, shrouding the alpine retreat in fog. But despite the poor visibility, Otto suggests they try their luck in a high seat up in the peaks to see if they can spy any alpine roebucks or shootable red deer. There are plenty of chamois en route, some no more than 10m away. As he clambers up into the high seat, Daniel is grateful for the roof over his perch. The fog has already turned into rain and, every now and then, the wind picks up. Whenever the fog parts, they can see the chamois munching on the mountain greenery below. 

Daniel has several encounters with the chamois during his two days in the Austrian Alps

Despite the wind gusting from all directions, the chamois seem oblivious to the smell of humans. But after a couple of hours, Otto decides enough is enough. The wind might not affect the chamois, but red deer will not venture into the open if they smell people. The weather is so wet, the roebucks are likely to stay put for the night. It’s game over for the first day.

The inclement weather continues the next morning. Otto decides to go back downhill in search of the one-antlered buck and the half-blind one. However, the deer with the missing antler proves every bit as skittish as the previous morning. As soon as they reach its patch, it vanishes into the woods. After a while, they continue to the meadow where they’d seen the one-eyed buck the morning before, but it’s empty. 

The pair scan the field, hoping to glimpse the deer, and suddenly there it is. It had been lying down but has now stood up to graze. Otto quickly helps Daniel into position to take a shot. Yesterday, the same animal had succeeded in escaping into the trees, but today it stays in the lower part of the field, focusing on its feeding. 

Luckily, it is on a small, humped part of the pasture, meaning its body is exposed above the sea of vegetation, and Daniel can line up a shot. If the roebuck had been on one of the level stretches surrounding the hump, the grass would have obscured its body, making the shot difficult, if not impossible, to judge. However, everything goes Daniel’s way for once, and he makes a great shot that drops the roebuck where it’s standing. The animal rolls downhill a few metres, then stops.

As the fog parts, the pair can see chamois munching on the mountain greenery below


A trip of firsts

This was a trip of firsts for Daniel: it brought him his first alpine roebuck and his first chance to shoot with this calibre. It is virtually impossible to judge a weapon or bullet with a single shot, but the combination worked well for Daniel’s purposes. And despite the shot being on a bit of an angle, the Nosler AccuBond bullets didn’t damage the meat and left just a small exit wound.

Daniel appreciates variety when stalking, and taking this roebuck after trying a wide range of approaches fit the bill perfectly. And while he’s not normally one for repetition, he has already decided to return. But next time it will be for a chamois, a species he has never hunted and has only rarely seen until now.