Top of the world: Paul Childerley heads to Slovenia for the hunt of a lifetime amid not one but two mountain ranges.
It was a true honour to be invited to Slovenia to hunt for a species I had never hunted before – in fact I’d never even seen one before. The chamois is a unique mountain dweller that I’d had on my bucket list for many years but never had the opportunity before, as the best time to hunt is the rut, which clashes with my peak driven game shooting but with a bit of forward planning, it was booked.
Soon, I was on my way to Slovenia. I really did not know what to expect, but on arrival, I found that it was truly breathtaking. I’d describe the areas I visited as similar to Austria, but without the tourists.
I’d checked my weather app beforehand. It said there would be a light dusting of snow on arrival. That was true enough, but it was soon followed by a total white-out, with a heavy fall that lasted through to the middle of the first day’s hunting.
Peter Matjastic, our host, had in-depth knowledge of the area and had hunted here for many years. He took me to the hunting lodge in which we were staying, situated between two mountain ranges. It was more than you can imagine. Not only hunting for a species about which I had only dreamt, but also staying in the most magical, picturesque location, was going to make this a trip of a lifetime.
After having a coffee, we still had some light left to check zero on the rifle. We literally walked five metres in front of the lodge, lay down and shot at the target, which was placed at the base of one of the foothills. I was on parade for Sako and I was using their new rifle, the 85 Black Wolf in .30-06 calibre.
It’s a stable rifle, excellent for taking longer shots. It has a few special features, too, with two adjustable pieces on the stock and an ergonomic pistol grip, which gives the whole rifle a comfortable feel.
We woke at first light the next morning to inspect the snow fall. It wasn’t too bad, but when the guides, Marion and Darko, arrived, they explained that there was no visibility in the mountains. Heading out would not only have been pointless but, owing to the areas for which we were bound, it would’ve been dangerous too.
After a long morning of hunting talk, Marion gave the nod that we should head out on to the lower slopes to see if we could find any chamois rutting. Darko explained that it was the first snow of the season, so the chamois would react slightly differently to their normal daily routine. There would be much more lying down and sheltering from the blizzard.
After a long trek through the forestry tracks, we came to an open area where there were several old wooden buildings next to small grass paddocks. The woodland opened up to sheer rock faces to our left and our right, which Marion and Darko scanned with their binoculars.
The first chamois they spotted was a female on an open rock area in between trees; she was browsing but soon spotted us against the white blanket of snow. Within moments she disappeared up a near-vertical rock face, which would take you or I several hours to climb.
We pushed on through the snow and were joined by another guide, Bostjan, who was a young guy but had obviously been out that morning searching. Bostjan led us up through the trees a mile or so and the gradient was getting steeper and steeper. We soon headed away from any manmade tracks.
All of a sudden he stopped and pointed out a chamois male lying on a rock ledge, then pointed across to a mountainside about 500 metres away. To me it looked like there were several dots. After a few minutes of searching, I could eventually make out the chamois resting in the snow.
Marion took the lead and headed into the tall forestry, trying to cut the distance by heading to the base from where the chamois lay. We stopped several times to glass, and the distance was getting shorter and shorter, but the snow was still falling hard and I wanted the distance minimal.
We eventually approached the edge of the forestry, where we could peer through and see the rock faces between the fir trees. It was now about 180 metres away but the angle was about 45 degrees. Peter, Marion and Darko knew what I had to do: aim low. For anybody that has done a lot of angle shooting, this would be an easy discipline, but for someone like myself, it is very hard to aim for below when your mind tells you this is not correct. As always, I put my faith in the guys on the ground, as clients normally do when they hunt with me.
My rucksack was placed on a snow-covered log; I bedded the Black Wolf on top and pushed my elbows into the snow, which gave me a solid platform from which to shoot. I think it’s fantastic when you can take shots using the equipment you have been carrying – it gives a real alpine feel.
The chamois was lying down but had spotted us and was peering straight down at us. Time was of the essence. A lying-down animal is always a tricky shot at the best of times but I held my nerve and aimed right at the base where the body met the snow.
The shot placement was perfect and the animal dropped instantly. What I didn’t realise was that the guides were concerned that this might be a difficult recovery from this part of the mountain. But with the animal’s final kick, he toppled down, almost in slow motion, to the base, where we could retrieve him.
Finding him in the depth of the snow, I was able to pull him out, and Peter talked me through all the fascinating facts of this unique creature. To list a few: the shape of the hoofs so they can run, climb and dig; the coat thick but soft; the body shape; the horns are swept back; and Peter was able to age the buck by rings of growth. This one was five years. All these characteristics of this amazing animal help them to thrive in these extremely harsh conditions.
We headed back and celebrated my first successful chamois. After a couple of beers, Darko suggested we head to the high mountains in the morning, to go above the mist line to try a cull animal as they needed to reduce the animals in this particular area.
We headed out after breakfast. It started as a relaxed walk but I soon realised this was a serious hike and was going to be tough. I had taken one of Marion’s mountain sticks to help me in the deeper snow, which was a true godsend. My rifle was safely packed in my Shooterking rucksack – it needed to be, as I had several falls and slides throughout the five-hour hike up.
As we emerged through the mist, we started to see more ground evidence of chamois movement. Marion confirmed that this was one of the preferred areas of the rutting chamois. We got into a comfortable position and waited between the drifts of mist until we could see several different small groups with a male chasing females – but nothing suitable for their cull, so we headed up further.
It was now beautiful sunshine with a view you could only imagine, but still cold with a crisp chill. We finally hit the crest of this mountain and slowly peered to the adjacent side where instantly we could see animals moving below us. We manoeuvred slowly out to a rock overhang where we could peer directly down.
There were several animals there and Marion soon picked a suitable young cull beast. The yearling chamois was slightly smaller than the others in the group and would be perfect as he might not survive the harsh winter weather.
The shot was on, and it was again an extreme angle, but this time straight down. It’s a difficult decision to make when your brain says the bullet will go low but it will actually go high. So remembering my instructions, I aimed low to give me the perfect heart shot.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one I can truly recommend to any fellow hunter. My top tip if you are heading out on a mountain hunt is to choose your equipment wisely and make sure you’ve tried and tested before you go.
Hunting in Slovenia is available with Childerley Sporting. Contact Paul on 07715 638934, visit www.childerleysporting.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.