Los Vega : Part 1 – The Los Vegas of Roe Deer hunting in Norway.

loasvega1

Vega is a small Island located in the Norwegian Archipelago in the Noordland County.  This area is a World Heritage Site and consists of 6500 islands.  The Vega Archipelago on the Helgeland coast comprises 1037 square kilometers of open cultural landscape made up of a myriad of islands, islets and skerries.

Fishing, trapping and hunting have been happening here for thousands of years. Only 59 of the islands are inhabited with Vega been the most heavily so.  The Vega Archipelago is not famous for large monuments or its architecture, its universal value lies in its natural heritage and the culture and traditions handed down over centuries.  New commercial enterprises do not seem to have reached this area and life continues at a far more subdued pace.

Vega forms part of an exposed coastline which is known as a Strandflat.  This is an area consisting of numerous low islands and scattered coastal peaks.  It has an extremely rich marine life and 228 bird species inhabit this area.  This type of landscape is only found in a few other regions of the world.

This island was to be our destination for a Roe Deer hunt.  What an amazing venue for another Lowlands hunting adventure.

We, once again, had been invited by our long-time friends and hunting clients, Aun Egil and Kjartan Vikor, to join them on a trip to explore and try out a new hunting area in Norway that had recently come to their attention.   Another of our hunting clients, Jim Alan Stensrud, had invited us all to join him on a hunt in this area.  According to all reports we were in for a treat.  It is a great honor to have such amazing friends living in amazing places in this world.

Hunting in Norway is a way of life and a new good area is a sought after and cherished commodity.  Norway is the one country I have visited where there is hunting on the country’s promotional video.  This is viewed by all its visitors.  Hunting in Norway is fiercely protected and I, as a foreign hunter, am not always welcome by the local hunters.  It was truly a massive privilege and honor to be on this trip. It was to be my 6th hunting trip to Norway.

With the hunting at Lowlands being extremely busy this year I hardly had time to prepare myself mentally for this trip.  I knew I was in for an amazing trip but I simply did not have time to get excited.  All I had time for was to get my VISA  and make sure we could board the plane.

My girlfriend Kate was to join me on this trip and it was going to be very nice to have someone to share this adventure with as usually I travel on my own.  This makes it extremely difficult to come home and relive the memories or tell stories, as no one has shared the experience, sights, smells and adventures with you.

We landed in Norway and were met, as always, buy Aun Egil and it was not long before we were already talking about Vega.  We were clearly super-excited about this trip and the adventure that lay ahead.  However, work had to come first and we had to prepare and help with the Norwegian 3D bow shooting championship.  Then on the Saturday night I did a marketing presentation to a large contingent of the shooters at the championship.

Soon we were packing the Audi A6 and the Toyota Quantum.  Excitement was rushing among the group.  The group consisted of Aun Egil, Kjartan, Stig, Bjarne, Kate and myself.  We were to meet Jim Alan at Vega.  So without any time wasted we climbed into the vehicles and left.  Rifles, hunting gear, clothes and some food was hurriedly thrown into the vehicles.  Bjarne and Stig were piloting the Quantum, and Kjartan his A6.  I do believe we had the better long distance travel machine.  Kate and I again got to see parts of Norway I do not believe many get to see and the fjords and mountains never fail to take my breath away.  We completed the journey with two ferry trips, these in them-selves spectacular.  I do believe Norway to be one of the most visually impressive country’s around.

As we climbed off the last ferry, slightly wary and I believe only propped up by our excitement for the hunt, Jim Alan was awaiting us on his motorbike.  We greeted him and immediately tales of Roe Deer were exchanged.  The excitement lifted further.  Straight away Kate and I were amazed at the scenic splendor of Vega island with its two large mountain peaks at its centre.

Jim Alan first took us to his house which was located on an isolated beach with a magnificent view over the sea and onto the distant Norwegian mainland.  It was a breathtaking place to wake up in every morning and call home.  We had an ice cold beverage and discussed the plan for the week ahead.  Jim Alan, as always, made us feel right at home.  We quickly made a fire from drift wood gathered off the beach and had a good Norwegian style braai/ barbeque.  I had one thing on my mind… I wanted to go and look at the hunting area!

It was not long and we were off to see our base camp.  This was a very nice old building which has a long history with Vega Island.  The building had been a school for the fishing and farming folk on the Island.  It was, however, no longer used and it was hired out to us visitors as a cottage.  It consisted of three inter leading bedrooms upstairs and a large lounge, kitchen and bathroom downstairs.  I don’t believe the building was bigger than 100 square metres.  It suited us well and would be a super base to explore Vega Island.

Once we were unpacked it was off to the shooting range.  This consisted of a stake in the beach sand, a target stuck onto it and a lying down position from a small grove of trees on the edge of the beach.  What a shooting range.  We checked our equipment and played with a few toys you would not expect to see on a beach in Norway.  Kjartan had bought with him a Holland and Holland 450 Express black powder rifle and a 500 Jeffery.  This would be far more at home in Africa than on a beach in Norway… However, they were fired and all was good.

After the rifles were checked and all the shooters were happy, we drove out to have a look at the hunting area.  We had been given an area that covered approximately a third of the island.  This ranged from Gladstad, the town centre, to the base of the large mountain at the center of the island.  The area reminded one a little of Alaska with a similar feel to it.  The region was covered in natural bush and then dotted with farmers and their fields of grass that were bailed for winter food for livestock.  This formed a beautiful area of diverse habitats and boy did it look ideal for Roe Deer.  We drove right around to the furthest point of our concession which looked over a large mountain peak, known as Sola, which  jutted out of the sea.  Jim Alan gave us the dos and don’ts and we were now raring to go.  However, time was short and for today we would have to remain patient.  We looked at the shed where we were to skin the animals should we be lucky enough to shoot a deer or two.  This was located at Jim Alan’s dad’s house and facilities were basic but more than adequate.  With this we headed for camp and on the way we saw our first Roe Deer, a female crossing the road.  Now the excitement was running at full throttle.

Hunting in the Arctic Circle brought about a new challenge that I, as an African, have not experienced:  That of the extended daylight hours.  Being September, it was light for most of the day with the sun setting at around 11.30pm and rising at about 2.30am.  This would make for an extremely long day and some unusual evening and morning hunting hours.  The sun seemed to rise and do a circle around you before setting in a fairly similar place to where it rose.  This was quite confusing for an African who is very used to the east/west travel of the sun.

We got back to the cottage and opened a cold beer.  This was well earned, especially by the drivers who had been on the go for two days.  Equipment was taken from bags, guns and ammo checked and alarm clocks set for early the next morning.  Knowing we had only a few hours to sleep it was not long before all where in bed.

The alarm clock vibrated and with excitement I climbed out of bed, changed into my gear and went downstairs to start up the coffee pot.  Soon I was joined by  Bjarne and Stig, and then Aun and Kjartan.  It was light and soon we were on the road in the Quantum to look for Roe Deer.  It was not long before we were seeing Roe Deer.   A female and calf were grazing in a field closely watched by a moose cow.  Man, we were almost uncontrollable now.  Scenes like this I had only seen in books of faraway lands.  Now I was there living the moment.

We had decided to drop guys off along the main road to walk toward the mountain and investigate the area.  None of us being familiar with the region knew what to expect or where the area was better or worse.  Aun and Kjartan were dropped off in one area, and Stig and Bjarne were set up in a still hunting position ahead of them.  This was in case they disturbed some animals and chased them toward Bjarne and Stig.  Everyone was set up and dropped off.  I had decided to investigate and hunt an area under the large mountain that looked very promising.   It was dotted with interconnecting grass fields and thickets of woodland with more gullies of dense woodland running up the side of the mountain.  It was also covered with large rocks and boulders making for good vantage spots.

I left the vehicle, readied my 30-06, and proceeded to investigate the unknown.  I checked the wind and began my way up the slope.  The sun was starting to pull itself out of the ocean and the island shone like pools of molten gold.  A sight I will not soon forget:  An absolutely spectacular vista.

However, I got my mind onto the task at hand and began to imagine if I was a Roe Deer – where would I be?  What would my movements to be?

Looking at the terrain I believed that these small Deer would be feeding in the fields and maybe bedding up on the mountain side or in the thicker cover on the mountain slopes.  I made my way down to the fields and found thick woodlots along the edges; these would be perfect for stalking along.  There were also drainage ditches dug along the edge of the field; these too could be used to stalk along.  I began making my way along each field. I moved slowly, checking the wind and glassing for movement.  I had never seen a Roe Deer buck so was not entirely sure what I was looking for.  I continued along the field and noticed a small grove of trees in the centre of the field.  I watched them, glassed, but did not see any life in the trees.  Some of the fields where cut and bailed and others were still holding good, long grass.  I wondered to myself which fields the Deer would prefer, full grass cover or freshly cut.  My hunting mind was working when a shrill and sudden bark echoed from the cluster of trees.  A  Deer broke out…  My binocs flew up and I immediately saw that this was an amazing buck.  From my limited knowledge and research this looked like a spectacular buck, but he had seen me and was under no illusion as to my presence.  I got down on the ground and tried to ready myself for a shot but as quickly as he had appeared, he disappeared.  Man, I was shocked and disappointed.  I believed the best course of action was to follow this buck and do my best to get a shot at him.  I followed the animal through the fields as I could vaguely see his track in the morning dew.  I was covering ground fast, perhaps too fast.  Again the loud rasping bark echoed out in front of me. I searched the tree line and made out a buck’s form exiting the back of the woodlot.  I chased after him and thought I might get an opportunity as he ran up the mountain slope.  I broke out the tree line and immediately saw him about to crest the first hillside.  I got down and prepared for a shot… I then barked as if imitating the buck.  He did not fall for it and disappeared over the hillside.  I gathered my rifle and ran up the slope, hoping to see him again.  As I crested the hill, a dense valley lay behind it and the buck had disappeared.  I sat on the hillside glassing, hoping to see the buck again. Man oh man, had I blown my first and best opportunity?  It did not take a genius to realize that this was a good buck. He had an awesome set of symmetrical antlers and had all the features I was hoping for from a trophy Roe Deer.  Sadly though, he had given me the slip…  First lesson, these animals are sharp, do not underestimate them.

I now had a far better understanding of the animal that I was dealing with.  These Roe Deer are a small elusive Deer with great eye sight, smell and of course a 6th sense. An African comparison would be a cross between a Bushbuck and Grey Duiker; and in size very close to a Mountain reedbuck.

I proceeded up the slope and entered into the thick bush in an attempt to find the buck.  However, it was in vain.  I could not locate the animal again, but I had learnt a lot and knew I needed to spot these animals before they spotted me in order to be successful with a stalk.

It was warming up and with mid-morning on its way we decided to gather at the vehicle and discuss what we had all seen that morning.  Everybody had seen Deer, but I had been the closest to a shooting opportunity.  From what I explained it seemed I did see a really good size buck and again we were all very happy with the prospects and opportunity this area had for us.  The group had bought eight tags and it was always a concern about whether we would be able to harvest this many animals.  After the first morning I believed there to be a good number of animals and was upbeat about our chances of success.

We broke for lunch and Jim Alan had planned for Kate and I to go sightseeing on the island.   We had an enjoyable afternoon looking at the museums and places of interest on the island.  It was indeed a fascinating island that had sheltered many a Viking over the years.  It is also home to the Eida Duck which provides Eida down for blankets, clothing and weaving.  It is still being used today.

However, I was just looking forward to the afternoon hunt.  I had had a taste and wanted more.  I once more dropped off all the hunters in their areas and then went back to my mountain side.  I was to work a specific area, with Jim Alan to help me.  Two sets of eyes are better than one.  We hunted together and then split up to cover a greater area of the mountain.  I got up high and wanted to glass down in the evening to see if I could spot and stalk a good Deer, hopefully the one from the morning session.  I got as high as I could up the rock faces and then sat and glassed into the distance.  I could see Jim Alan walking quite a lot lower down than I was.  I was watching him in the binocs when, very close to him, I noticed a deer with her fawn.  I watched Jim Alan, expecting him to have seen the Deer as they were not a hundred meters from him.  As he continued walking I noticed a buck walk out the valley following the doe and fawn.  From far off he looked like a good Deer.  My heart started picking up the pace…  I could not understand how Jim had not seen them.  However, this was also a good thing as perhaps I could get down there before the ram disappeared.  Jim cleared away from the animals seemingly oblivious to them.  I took this as my opportunity, quickly mapped out a route down the rock strewn mountain slope and set a large rocky point above where the buck had been as my reference point. I would head for that as then I would be very sure to be in the right place.  I ran down the slope hopping from rock to rock trying to cover the distance as fast as possible; so as to not allow the buck a chance to disappear.  I covered the ground fast and was soon closing in on my vantage point I had marked.  I slowed down and started to sneak to this raised vantage point.  There was a crack down the side of the rock forming a small crevice.  I used this to hide my approach and came out with a great vantage of the area where the Deer had been.  I saw the doe and fawn moving off to my left and waited for the buck to appear.   As is so often the case he did not!!!  Now where was he?  I combed the area, glassing every bush and hollow he could have bedded down in.  It was a shallow valley and there was limited dense cover.  He had to be in one of the woodlots.  I believed due to where I last saw him that he was close. One of the unfortunate things of hunting on one’s own is that there is no one to watch and see where the animal went while one closes in.  He could be anywhere now.  I, however, believe he was still here and merely well hidden.  I continued searching and hoped that any moment he would appear.  He did not.  Minutes turned to hours and still nothing.  How long was I going to wait?  I still had a lot of ground to cover and search.  I decided to take an aggressive approach but in hindsight this was probably the wrong thing to do.  Waiting the ram out would have been a better option, but with doubt filling my mind as to whether the Deer was still there, I took the aggressive approach.  I collected some small stones and climbed onto the top of the lookout.  Nothing moved and the shrill bark I was expecting never came…

I readied myself and tossed a small stone into the bush where I believed the Deer to be.  Without a hesitation a Deer broke through the under growth and ran directly away from me.  IT WAS HIM!   His yellow antlers were clearly visible.  Man, I threw my rifle up and whistled loudly!  He stopped at about 120m.  I was ready to go…  I fired the 30-06 and it rocked into my shoulder.  As I came back down I saw a large chunk of black mud kick up to the left of the Deer.  OH NO!!!  Had I pulled the shot?  The Deer stood motionless for a fraction of a second, and then took off running over the ridge.  My heart sank; I knew I had missed him.  I had been taken by surprise and had hurried the shot.  I walked over to where he had been standing and disappointment and disbelief took over.  I confirmed the shot was a miss.  To say I was upset and angry was an understatement.  Jim Alan joined me after hearing the shot and he too could not believe I had missed this animal.  Man, you travel halfway across the earth to get an opportunity like this and then when it arrives you mess it up.  I was devastated.  Was that my one and only opportunity for the trip?  I vowed to not let it be.  Come hell or high water I was going to make amends.  We gathered at the vehicle after dark and all I could do was admit my disastrous start to this hunt and hope it would get better.

loasvega3The next morning I arose early and was accompanied by Aun and Kjartan.  We again went in search of Roe Deer.  I went out and examined the same area I had checked the previous morning.   I found a group of does and young animals, but didn’t found one buck.  Halfway through the morning I heard a gunshot.  It was Kjartan; he had harvested a young buck.   A good hunt and well shot.  Now, more than ever, I want to make up for my previous mistake.

The lunch break came and we slaughtered Kjartans animal.  During the break Jim Alan had organized for us to accompany them on a fishing trip.  We were to do some jigging and also put out a long line for Halibut and Cob.  Kate joined us and we hit the ocean.  The fishing was a little slow with only Mackerel coming up on the jig. We put out the long line and hoped for a good result the next day.  One could see clearly on the fish finder there was a very healthy fishery down below and that there was no reason why we should not catch fish.  It was a beautiful trip and a great way to see the islands and their rich marine life.  We frequently saw Fjord Whales and a wide variety of birdlife.

That afternoon at about 6pm we all clambered into the vehicles again and headed out to look for Deer.  I had decided to try a new area, one I believed to hold good prospects.  It was on the inland side of the main mountain and was an area with a lot of farmland and interlinking woodlands, rivers and streams.  It was also flanked by a large mountain slope.  There was a farm road halfway up the mountain and this made for a great viewing platform to look down from into the fields. As with all new hunting areas and limited time, it is very important to orientate yourself first and try work out the animal’s routines as quickly as possible so as to make yourself as effective as possible.  I walked along the road and looked at the whole area trying to familiarize myself with the boundaries, food plots and natural terrain.  Pretty much off the bat I was seeing Deer and I knew I was in a good area.  I could hear Deer rutting and barking and saw females moving along the edges of the fields.  I proceeded to the end of the hunting ground and noticed a nice pointed hill – a really good place for an evening look out. I climbed it and began glassing.  It was not long before I saw Deer in the field directly below me; two females.  Then a large animal came into the clear, it was a moose followed by a teenage calf; awesome to see.  This was my first natural sighting of a Moose. I sat on the view point for about another hour and watched these animals move, but no bucks showed up.  I then decided to move and make my way back along the road and check the other fields as evening approached.  I soon saw numerous Deer both above the road on the hill side, and below the road in the fields.  I had seen 18 Deer although no mature buck.   Was I going to find one?  I was now at the end of my area and decided to go down and stalk amongst the fields and go in for close quarter combat.  It was getting late and if I found a buck now I would need to take the opportunity quickly.  I was very upbeat as there were a lot of Deer in this area.  I checked every field and walked slowly down each natural woodlot.  Time was slipping away and I still could not find a buck.  I had covered most of the area and was nearly back at the field from where I had started.  I approached the field and knew to look for the two does I had seen earlier.  I started glassing in the fading light and soon realized that the two Deer had become five.  This could mean a buck had joined them.  I glassed hard and checked each animal; they were females.  My luck and light was fading fast.  I then noticed a form walking down the far fence line above the five animals. I glassed and immediately recognized the big, masculine body and neck of a mature Roe Deer buck.  Yes please! My excitement was running at full throttle.  I had to keep calm and knew I had precious little time to make this work…

It was going to be very tough, if not impossible.  The only approach I could see was to go through the centre of the field… The grass was fairly tall and dense and if I was to leopard crawl it may be possible to close the 350m gap.  However, there were multiple animals and a very unstable wind.  I had seen firsthand how skittish these animals are so I knew my chances were not good.  However, I also live by the saying that “fortune favours the brave!”

I got down into the drainage ditch and moved up it until I could see a slight depression in the fields.  If I used this depression it may just hide me enough in the long grass to cover the distance.  I quickly readied myself and knew that with the damp ground and grass this would be a wet exercise.  I began crawling and tried my best to keep the scope free of moisture.  I cut the metres off 10 by 10, checking the animals were grazing all the while.  The next thing the one of the animals picked up its head sharply and looked in my direction.  Dammit!  Was that it?  I wait for the alarm call; but it never came…  I glassed again and the animal was at rest.  Again I started stealing meters.  Again this animal lifted its head and looked in my direction.  I froze, waited, and this time the alarm call came.  Sherbet!  The animal took off and ran 50m and then looked back.  I was busted for sure.  I looked across at the buck and he still seemed very relaxed.  He was following one doe specifically.  I thought well it is now or never; the evening was turning to night and I had to make a move.  I began moving quickly towards the buck, still leopard crawling, but disregarding the animal that had seen me.  The buck stayed calm.  I moved faster and closer, stealing valuable meters all the way.  I got to the ridge line in the grass field which was a slightly elevated part of the field.  If I lay on this, behind the rifle, I may be able to see the buck.  I set up and could see that this just might work…

I tried to clear the scope as some dew had got on the lens.  Still the buck seemed fairly calm.  I did not dare use the rangefinder as this would waste valuable seconds.  I took aim and could see the buck in the low light.  Man, my heart was now going a thousand miles an hour.  I steadied up the cross-hair but the animal was following the doe towards me; I did not dare take a frontal shot at what I guessed to be 130m in low light.  I settled in and waited for my window of opportunity.

Slowly the buck started feeding and then my ‘window’ opened as he turned to the left; just enough to expose his shoulder.  I saw a cloud of water droplets explode from the grass when I released the 180gr bullet.   As the scope cleared I saw the buck falling to the ground… Was this it?  Was this the moment I had travelled so far to see?

I lifted my binocs up to my eyes and in the dull light I could make out the Deer lying in the grass.  A total sense of relief and calm rushed over me.

It was as though it released all the pressure that I had put upon myself, what with missing opportunities and making bad shots; all that now disappeared.  I walked over to where he lay and was totally blown away when I saw him lying in the bright green grass.  This was a truly unique animal.  He was a typical antlered buck; with gnarled up antlers and a big body.  He was a spectacle to behold.  I was totally blown away…

loasvega2However, nightfall was upon us and I needed to take photos and pack this animal out.  Hunting on your own is an amazing privilege especially in an area as wild and unique as this.  I quickly took photos of this beautiful Deer then made him into a back pack and started the walk out of the hunting area.  I sent a message via phone to Jim Allan and told him the good news.  He was as happy as I was, I think also relieved after yesterday’s poor performance.  We met on the road and took a few more pics; an animal like this can never have enough photographs.

The animal was loaded and we collected the other hunters.  Everyone was happy and we headed for the skinning shed.  The day had been a great success with Kjartan and I both shooting our first Roe Deer.  What a privilege.

Norwegian hunters are super hunters, great marksmen and the best hunting companions; but skinning and caping is not their strong point.  Their carcasses often look like a half-eaten Leopard bait after they have brutalized it with a skinning knife.  This was now my department and as an African I did it gladly and loved every moment.

Vega Island is truly a spectacular destination for any hunter.  It has everything you could ask for:   great terrain, large numbers of Roe Deer, Moose around every corner and amazing people; what more could you possibly ask for.  This area is truly the LOS VEGAS of Roe Deer hunting in Norway.

END OF PART ONE.