The antlers on the roebuck below us are not impressive. The two tips between the ears on the animal are not those of the mature buck Jens Kjaer Knudsen and I have travelled to Turkey to hunt.
It is our first encounter with this Asian ‘subspecies’ of roe deer, but already we have discovered that the animals here are very attentive. This young buck discovered us hundreds of metres away, and constantly barked during his escape – the hunt in this valley is over for the morning.
ANATOLIAN HIGH SEAT
It’s late afternoon. We drive through forest roads, over one mud hole after another. Kilometre after kilometre we have been shaken around in the vehicle before our guide, Erol Ak, suddenly stops the car in the middle of the forest. A little further, the forest seems brighter than where we had parked under the green beech crowns. It’s opening up into meadows just a little further along. This forest boundary is the place in which Erol has seen an old buck come and go.
Typically for hunting in new countries, nothing is as you would expect. The ‘high seat’ we are going to sit in turns out to be an old cabin. In the summer, shepherds use the cottage. They live here in the mountains with their livestock, but on this spring day the house will work as a high seat. All around the cottage there are grazing landscapes with succulent grass, a variety of herbs and a million yellow flowers. The whole scene is surrounded by forest as far as the eye reaches.
We divide ourselves into the rooms. Erol takes the east side. The hunting officer from the authorities, who has to be present during all hunts, takes the south side. Jens and I share the last two compass points between us. Shortly before sunset, a doe slides over the open area. She seems nervous, and disappears quickly in the woods again.
An equally nervous buck goes into the ground just before the sun is completely gone. It passes the ‘high seat’ less than 100 metres from us, but even though it’s a nice six-pointer, it is not old enough. The behaviour of the animal indicates that there are more bucks in the immediate vicinity, some of them probably of considerable age.
ECHO FROM THE MINARET
The hunt takes place in Turkey at an altitude of 1,300 metres, in the mountainous areas of the Black Sea region. Small villages dot the mountainsides, each with its own mosque. Calls to prayer echo from these several times a day to be heard across Cangal – our 29,000 hectares of hunting ground.
It has become so dark that even bright optics can no longer work. Then, the call for evening prayer goes up. The buck in the dark does not respond to the echo that strikes between the hills. He has heard the sound several times a day throughout his life. He continues to eat. If prayer will help us it would be nice, as it seems like we need some luck.
Erol takes a thermal optic from his pack. With this, we watch a female bear with two cubs pass only 300 metres from the cabin, with a deer just 200 metres away from them. Funnily enough, the deer doesn’t seem to mind the big carnivore at all. Watching the movement of the deer on the thermal screen, we can tell that it is an older animal, but with dark having fallen, we know we won’t get a shot. We enjoy watching the meadows through the thermal for a little while longer before beginning the long drive back to the hotel to snatch a few hours’ sleep before we hunt again.
BUCK AFTER BUCK
One evening later in the trip, we sit on the ground between the rocks over a small lake located on a landscaped area no larger than 300 square metres. We have driven about 50 minutes on gravel and dirt roads in a four-wheel drive to reach here. It has been worth the whole trip – the place is a little paradise in the middle of the forest.
It isn’t long before a young six-pointer buck shows up 100 metres below us. The animal quickly passes the open area, but offers several optimal chances to shoot. Anyway, it is too young; there must be at least one older buck in here. We’ll wait for that.
Suddenly, a four-pointer slides down the forest edge on the opposite side of the open area. It disappears in a thicket a few hundred metres to the left. Shortly afterwards, a tall six-pointer with long spikes follows. It’s exactly the sort of buck we are after. The pattern of movement, the thick neck and body tell us that this is definitely an older buck. He brings his nose to the ground in the track of the youngster.
The old buck disappears into the same thickness as the younger one. Seconds after, he passes under us. He is in full speed over the open area. He is only 80 metres away, but does not offer a chance for Jens. I try to snap a quick photo, though the lighting conditions are not optimal. However, later, as the old buck comes close after the young just beneath us, I get a better one. While it’s a perfect situation for me as a photographer, for Jens it’s not an easy shot. Ten seconds later, both bucks are absorbed by the forest. We will not see them again – a plan for the following morning’s hunt has to be made.
Roe deer are found in two species, each with a subspecies in Eurasia, and have been introduced to a few other places. The ‘subspecies’ we are hunting on this trip is popularly called Anatolian roe deer. Anatolian roe deer are very similar to common European roe deer, though they generally have a higher body weight. Older bucks in Turkey will generally weigh from 30kg up to 37kg live. Therefore, the Turkish or Anatolian roebuck looks, when you see it in the field, bigger and longer than its western European cousins.
Over the past few days, we have seen several roebucks. All have been in almost constant motion; rarely have we seen them eat. In spite of the low hunting pressure, Turkish roe deer seem to be easily spooked compared to those on most European hunting grounds – though with good reason. Roe deer are last in the food chain here: wolf, lynx, fox and bear, not to mention the huge wild boar, all like the meat of roe deer, and the wild boar in Turkey can achieve enormous dimensions. It is common for keilers to weigh more than 300kg.
Similar to hunting in western Europe, the cuckoo is here, with dove nests and larks in the sky. We enjoy all of this while we wait the next morning for the buck to break out of the forest and give Jens the chance of a shot.
BEAR TRACKS IN THE GRASS
We have just been sitting for half an hour when Erol suggests we go stalking. Jens isn’t keen on the idea – partly because it’s very loud when we move around, and partly because there aren’t many open spots in the woods around us, making shooting difficult. After a further half an hour, Erol persuades us, and as quietly as we can, we climb down the rocks and cross the short grass towards the forest corner where the buck came from last night. Along the way, we pass fresh bear tracks in the grass, but there is no time to think of bear – it’s all about the buck.
Erol stiffens mid-step, pointing downwards, and mimes to Jens that a shot might be on. Jens takes a step forward. I see him sit down, shoulder the rifle and put his cheek on to the stock. I cannot see anything, but it seems to me that he’s going to shoot. I take the chance to move half a metre forward so I’m just behind Jens. From there, I see the buck. He knows something is wrong, but is not sure if it is danger or a young buck that needs to be put in place. His antlers are partly out of sight behind a branch, but the whole body is clear. From the body size, the skin colour, the animal’s pose and the part of antlers seen just under the branch, Jens reaches the conclusion that it is an elderly buck. It is so close that I don’t dare take a photo for fear of him hearing my camera. I push the button halfway, focusing on the animal, and, at the moment of the shot, I take two photos of the bullet hitting – nice.
THE RIGHT BUCK?
Jens is not quite sure that it’s the old buck from yesterday that he has shot, but he knows it’s an old one. We can’t quite tell from my photo with any certainty either, so it’s with extra excitement that he and Erol follow the blood trail. After following its short dash into the woods, Jens lifts a branch and breaks out in jubilation.
It’s the buck from yesterday, the one we went for.
It’s a great piece of luck, but of course you make your own luck. The more you prepare, the more you train, and the more experienced you are, the luckier you are. So perhaps one of the many prayers from the minarets in the mountains helped Jens and I. We do not know – but taking into consideration the great result, it is definitely an option.