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May Roebuck Hunt in Switzerland

Cav1

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Joined
Mar 9, 2017
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235
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Central Montana
My wife Olivia is a naturalized US citizen but grew up in Switzerland, and my Mother-in-Law Gerda and her late husband Traugott were long-time hunters there. Unfortunately Traugott passed away shortly before I met my wife, but I got to know Gerda well. She still hunts in her home canton (state) of Zurich, but no longer pursues chamois and ibex high in the Alps in the canton of Graubünden. When we visited her in May and she offered to take me roe deer hunting as a guest, I jumped at the chance.

You have to really love the hunt to become a licensed jaeger in Switzerland. One has to learn and is tested on a wide variety of subjects including both game and non-game species, trees and shrubs, hunting dogs, and firearms to include the various actions, ammunition and ballistics, and optics. Today a new hunter must also serve a 3-three year working apprenticeship with a hunting lease group. Members of these groups have a variety of other conservation-related tasks to perform besides hunting.

I enjoyed learning some of the Swiss hunting traditions from Gerda and my wife. When an animal is killed, a ceremonial “last meal” of local vegetation is placed in its mouth. It is also a widely-practiced custom to eat the testicles of one’s first buck, properly cooked, of course. Others, when they haul away their Hirsch, turn its head back for one last look at the mountains. In many areas, most notably Graubünden, the mountain hunting season ends with the celebration of the St. Hubertus Festival, where thanks are given to the patron saint of hunters. I learned fellow hunters were wishing me luck when they said, “Weidmannsheil.” The proper response is, “Weidmannsdank.”

Before I could get a canton hunting license (Jagdpass) and insurance I had to first pass a shooting test that involved putting four out of four shots within the 8-ring on a 10-ring target. The target itself, the Jagdshutzen, most commonly depicts a life-sized picture of a roebuck standing in vegetation. Shot at 100 meters, the subdued, concentric rings of the scoring bullseye cannot be distinguished by the shooter even through a scope, just as if you were shooting at a real deal.

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100-meter roebuck qualification target.


I had borrowed Gerda’s main hunting rifle, a bolt-action Blaser SR 850/88,old enough that it is stamped “W. Germany” on the barrel and chambered for the good old .30-06 Springfield cartridge, topped off with a Leupold VX-3i 4.25-10x scope with the big light-drinking 50mm objective lens.

After a few dry fires to get the feel of the trigger and the action, I went to zero the scope at 100 meters and was very pleasantly surprised that Gerda’s zero was spot on for me. A large group of new, young hunters were testing that day on the 100-meter targets, so I was given the option of firing on the 150-meter chamois target instead. Shooting from a rest made to simulate the window of a shooting stand, I passed with flying colors.

Just on general principles, I am very much against any and all addition government regulation with regards to the Second Amendment…they already have far too much trouble interpreting even simple phrases like, “…shall not be infringed.” But the idea of a shooter qualification for hunting does have some merit. Even in Montana I’ve occasionally seen some abysmal marksmanship and almost painful ignorance of rifle ballistics over the years.

A couple of evenings later, Gerda took me out to the hunting area she leases with a group of hunters in the Zurich Oberland. The area consists of rolling green hills topped with predominantly hardwood forests alternated between villages, farms, and fields and on clear days the snow-capped peaks of the Alps shine on the horizon. I was reminded that back home in Montana we are much further north latitude-wise. Although it was only the 9[SUP]th[/SUP] of May many farmers were already getting their first cutting of hay and the field of peas we passed were knee-high and in full blossom.

We were seeking the western rhe or roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) which are, at best, maybe half the size of the average whitetail. They aren’t known for wall-hanger racks, only rarely reaching more than three points. Roebucks actually grow their horns in winter rather than summer and breed in late July and early August. This gives them a chance to fatten back up before winter. So that the fawns are still born in early May when the vegetation is greening up, the bred does form a blastocyst so that the embryo does not begin to develop until early January.

As we were driving towards our stand, I said, “Well, lookie there.” Out in the middle of a hay field were two roe deer and their summer coats really did shine red in the slanting rays of the late afternoon soon. Gerda grabbed her Swarovski 7x42 binos and announced that one was a legal (forked horn) buck. Then they were gone, bounding off into the forest. Their tails are small and you don’t see the waving white flag of the whitetail deer as they flee.

Even though we’d spooked the deer, it was still quite early, about 1530, so we took a chance that they would be back. Gerda said reh tended to only sprint a short distance and then hide up in thick cover. We parked up a gravel lane well into the forest and made our way quietly down to the stand.

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Her hunting group builds and maintains the stands within their area. This particular one was a nice new elevated box of wood atop a lattice of poles, the floor ten or twelve feet above the ground. Inside, it had a swivel chair and the floor, walls, and window sills were all carpeted to muffle noise.

Facing south, we opened the shooting windows on three sides to look out over a field of hay and an adjoining one of peas, with a field of flax bearing bright mustard yellow blooms beyond. Past the crop fields stood the red-tiled roofs of a cluster of farm buildings, with brown and white Guernseys grazing nearby.

A few other things were different from what I was used to, most notably being on the approach route to a large international airport and having fat-bodied jetliners roaring overhead every few minutes. When the breeze was just right, I could faintly hear cowbells tinkling in the distance and once, on the hour, I heard the low gonging of church bells rolling across the landscape.

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View from the stand.



I glassed the edge of the woods intensely, looking through the “wall of green.” By constantly and minutely fine-tuning the focus on your field glasses, you can train yourself to look through thinner intervening foliage and see deeper into the forest itself. It wasn’t easy here for hazel brush, maple and seedlings crowd the edges of the woods, reaching for sunlight with their leaves.
Within the first few minutes, however, I just happened to spot a deer. A shaft of sunlight from the setting sun angled through the leaves into the woods to briefly illuminate the rump of a deer before it stepped behind the smooth gray trunk of a large beech tree. Watching that edge intently, twice more I saw movement, only a patch of hide visible for a moment through the leaves, but it was the proper color and moved right, as a deer would while slipping through cover.

Something told me the deer would come back out, but we waited nearly two hours without seeing any further movement before they did. Around 2000 hours, the doe dashed out of the far woodline and out into the hayfield where she stopped abruptly, looking around. Several seconds later, the buck ran out of the trees to join her, and now his little forkhorn antlers were readily visible. Back home, with my own rifle zeroed for maximum point blank range and shooting from a rest, I could have taken a shot then and there, but over there I didn’t want to shoot over about 150 meters if I didn’t have to.

Fortunately, the deer worked their way straight out into the field, and as they did so they brought themselves steadily closer to us. As we waited, I noticed the wind start to pick up a bit, blowing from right to left and full deflection, but as yet not a considerable factor. It was also darkening quickly as black rain clouds crept closer and thunder began to mutter in the distance. Finally, the deer approached the point that would bring them closest to the stand. With a rest I was more than steady enough, the range was roughly 150 meters, and the wind remained acceptable, so I decided to take the shot.

Just then, something on the far side of the fields spooked the deer and they took off running, bounding through the tall grass and weaving back and forth. It looked like they would pass almost directly beneath our stand, but I had already decided I would not take a running shot with an unfamiliar rifle I’d only put eight shots through. Back in Montana, when the deer run I imitate the cough-like alarm call of the whitetail, and this usually causes them to stop, look, and listen long enough to get a good standing shot in. I briefly considered making my deer call but wondered if hollering out in "'Murican" to Swiss-speaking deer might just spook them further. So I only watched the action excitedly and gave a small mental sigh that they would get away if they didn’t stop.

Fortunately, they both did just that only fifty meters from the stand, looking back the way they had come. I could no longer shoot from the sitting position in the chair, but had already risen into a crouch and could still rest the forearm.
Everything froze for that unique moment in time when the hunt all comes together. I centered the crosshairs right behind the buck’s shoulder and when the Blaser cracked, the buck made one slow motion jump forward, faltering on the second and piling up lifelessly. As always, I immediately worked the bolt, but no follow-up shot would be necessary. Only peripherally did my mind register the doe bounding away.

I was ecstatic and for a moment couldn’t talk as I checked the safety and leaned the rifle up in the corner. Then I was thanking and hugging Gerda and we were both laughing excitedly. Silently, in my head, I thanked God too. Honestly, I had been grateful and happy to just have the opportunity to hunt a rehbock in Switzerland; actually getting one on my first hunt was really icing on the cake.
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As we approached the deer, the first drops of rain began to pelt us. There he was, obviously dead, with a tiny, neat entrance wound behind the shoulder. The exit wound showed that the 168-grain boat-tailed Speer hollow point had indeed expanded well even at close range on a small deer. My first thought was that I was a little amazed at just how small he was; I've had bigger dogs. But that was just a passing observation and didn't interfere with my happiness at bagging him.

We drove to the nearby Jadghutte, the neat little cabin the hunters of that area use and share, where a chain suspended between two trees had gambrels on it. We weighed the rehbock whole at 15,29 kilos (33.71 lbs) and field-dressed at 13,9 kilos (30.6 lbs). Gerda tagged him and recorded the information, which is incorporated into a monthly report by her hunting group that is sent in to the canton, whose officials determine the harvest numbers.

I met several of Gerda’s fellow hunters at one of their many informal get-togethers at the Jadghutte a few nights later. Despite the language barrier everyone was very friendly and they all seemed genuinely happy for my success. I could only thank Gerda and a healthy dose of good luck for the most unique hunt of my life.
 

Dave N

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 20, 2013
Messages
5,751
Location
Illinois
Congrats! They sure are a neat little critter, aren't they? Very good looking animal for sure. Just like my hunt in England, you'll have memories for a lifetime now.
 

devon deer

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Joined
Aug 25, 2011
Messages
2,596
Location
Devon, England
Great write up, what are the legal shooting hours there?

We don't have to take only form of qualifications in the UK, but i have, very useful sometimes.

I stalked into a field last night, roe doe, her follower, and a nice 4 point buck, i was very tempted as it was only 80 yards away.

I have tried shooting stands, they are not for me, drives me nuts thinking that they might be feeding in the next field when i am looking into an empty field!

Cheers

Richard
 

1_pointer

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 20, 2000
Messages
18,108
Location
Indiana
Great writeup and pics. Over the past few years, a hunt in Europe has steadily climbed up the rankings on my bucket list. Well done!
 

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