In high places

Pic01_Tolmin Slovenia June 2013 05701Slovenia is the perfect hunting ground, as long as you’re prepared to work for it, says David Barrington Barnes

Last June I took a short fishing holiday in Slovenia’s Sava Valley. The Pension Stare was in prime glassing position, and I started each day by casting a scree over the mountain opposite my balcony. My trusty Gray’s extending three-drawer telescope never had a better subject than the fine chamois ram I often spied, and I spent many an enjoyable session watching him bask in the morning sunshine.

This year I revisited Slovenia to fish the famous River Soca in the town of Tolmin. While I found the Soca high after a cold, late spring, the Baca, Idrijca and Trebuscia were all in great order and a pleasure to fish, yielding rainbow trout up to two lbs and my first marble trout. The Tolmin Angling Club control 180 kilometres of rivers that provide spectacular fishing in superb surroundings – a quick Google search will give you everything you need to know.

Before going to Slovenia this year I was introduced to a keen local hunter who, with enormous generosity, took me out stalking in the Alps. This was very kindly arranged by his friend Tomas Leban, my host at Pri Kafolu Tourist Farm in Prapetno, whose family provide excellent, reasonably priced rooms and local food.

Pic02_Tolmin Slovenia June 2013 06302Al, as I will call him, took me off to his nearby rifle range, a proper set up with permanent concrete benching and seating for left and right shouldered rifles. He produced everything necessary for me to check zero: 7mm rifle, home loaded ammo, adjustable rests, and even ear defenders. I was impressed!

The next morning, Al picked me up at 4.30am and we took off – almost literally – for the mountain. He tackled the winding mountain roads with zest, his four-wheel-drive Panda as sure footed as a chamois above the abysses either side. Now and then we passed Alpine meadows. Many had their grasses cut, it being haymaking time, but others were lush with wild flowers.

On two of these, a brief stop and spy revealed mature roebucks grazing greedily within range of the road. As we watched them I was delighted to discover that Al had no appetite for roadsiding: here was not just a highly competent hunter, but one with impeccable ethics. We left the bucks in peace and powered on, finally starting our morning stalk at around 1,200 metres. Fully light by now, Al explained that we would have a couple of hours before walkers caused a disturbance. We quietly stalked our way along a track, looking out over a deep valley to spectacular views of the distant snow-covered tops.

Coming to a bend that gave way to higher pastures, we spotted a small parcel of red deer. Al picked a way for us along a ridge, pointing out fresh signs of wild boar – newly-turned tussocks of grass and slots. The ploughs of the forest were at work. Game on!

Pic05_Credit Rosino06

We followed their tracks quietly for some distance and, with a breeze in our faces, I could tell Al was optimistic of a meeting. The spine opened up into a rough pasture and he proceeded with exemplary caution. But alas, it was not to be. Mr Pig was likely close by in the forest, but not in view on the grass. By this time the reds had slipped away too and, as Al had predicted, all too soon the first multi-coloured power walkers of the morning appeared.

A great morning concluded with us spying a distant parcel of old mouflon rams just below the snow. Al used his enormous spotting scope to sex and age the beasts, and explained that they would come down in the early winter snow, at which point they could be more readily culled.

The evening outing had us ascending a steep pasture from a settlement of summer herders’ houses (now weekend second homes) high in the Alps. Picking a discreet route, Al took me to a rocky outcrop with a spectacular all round view. He overlooked the grass grounds below and set me to watch the curling forestry edge above, from which he hoped an ancient roebuck would emerge.

In the course of a magical evening, the shadows lengthened and the sun finally disappeared behind the high, snow-covered tops. Between us, we saw a roe doe and several mouflon, but the old roebuck failed to put in an appearance at any point. The fickle, swirling breeze was responsible for that – one moment it was in our faces and the next it was at our backs.

Should you be wondering why I enthuse about two blank outings, I will let you into a secret. During our early morning hill climb, from the car we spotted and spared a mature roe buck, the shooting of which would have been nothing but roadsiding – assassination by another name. Neither Al or I wanted any of that!

So, after a quiet outing, although the usual definition of a successful stalk includes a dead deer, I prefer the poet Maya Angelou’s alternative definition of success as “liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” On these criteria, Al was a successful hunter whose good sportsmanship reminded me that proper behaviour in the hunting field knows no frontiers.

Although I was just a very lucky guest, hunting packages are available in Slovenia and I would say to you: “Go while you can! Slovenia Alps are a great location for a hunt.”

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