Los Vega: Part 2 – Picture Postcard Memory.

losvega_picturepostcard2

Vega Island – the Los Vegas of Roe Deer hunting in Norway.  What a privilege and amazing opportunity to be able to hunt one of the greatest World Heritage sites in Scandinavia.  As you would have read in ‘part one’ this island network of 6500 islands and islets is one of spectacular beauty and is adorned with an amazing variety of wildlife; from Roe Deer to the mighty Halibut, which can weigh up to 400kgs, and to the majestic Sea Eagles that patrol the islands. This hunt was to be an adventure unparalleled.

We had been hunting for three days and I had harvested a good Atypical Roe Deer buck, however, we still had six tags to fill and a few of our hunters where showing signs of fatigue.  With only 3 hours of darkness the amount of sleep available was not in abundant supply.  I however believed that on a trip like this there is no time to sleep.  There are things to experience and see that I may never get to see again, so I strove to be the first awake and the last to bed; thus making the absolute most of every second of this adventure.  I have a saying on these trips that I use liberally, “YOU CAN SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD!!!

Kate, my girlfriend, had joined me on this trip and was doing her absolute best to also make the most of this trip and our host Jim Alan Stensrud had gone out of his way to make Kate’s trip as a non-hunter just as exciting and amazing as mine: the hunter.  She had gone fishing, horse riding, boating, and done the general tourist thing.  We had both lapped up the Norwegian hospitality, friendship and great times.

However, back to the hunting…

I had now been instructed to fill as many of the tags that we had left as possible. Bjarne and Stig had not been successful and had said I should carry on hunting in case they did not achieve their quote.  Therefore I was up again on the 4th day of our trip.  Kjartan, Aun Egil and I went out again. I dropped the two of them off in the centre of the concession area: an area they now knew well.  Aun had yet to ‘open his account’ but you could feel in ‘Los Vega’ it would not be long.  Kjartan was hunting well and had had numerous close calls.  I once again chose to hunt the outlying areas that lay between the two big mountains at the centre of the concession area. This area was littered with the farmers cultivated lands, thickets of pine, elder and birch trees as well as open wetland-type areas.  This area was full of Roe Deer and had a healthy population of Moose.

On that morning I was up particularly early and the crisp, cold morning air had a layer of fog trapped over the farmer’s fields.  I walked the mountain road and tried to glass down between the gaps in the mist. I would have to wait for the sun to drag its lazy self out of the ocean. This it eventually did and the visibility improved.  I immediately spotted a deer through my Zeiss Binoculars; however, he was a long way away feeding in a cultivated field. I sat down on the hillside and used my knees to get a better and steadier view through the lenses.  I could see it was a deer but it did not seem massive. Nevertheless I had been instructed to shoot regardless of size as we needed to fill the quote so that all the hunters could go home with some meat for their families. Vega was a long way to go for no result.

losvega_picturepostcard1I locked onto this deer and marked his position through the binoculars.  It was in the 3rd field down by a large birch tree, next to the field.  Often in areas like this when you get down in the bush it is extremely difficult to know where exactly the animal was as the terrain looks so different when down at base level. So I in order to save time, and limit the risk of the Deer moving, I jumped in the car and drove half the distance closer to the Deer.  This would save time and limit the chances of him evading me. I left the vehicle and covered the ground quickly. The ever drenched earth sucked my boots in and made walking difficult in places. This whole island seemed to be a huge sponge. The cultivated lands all have drainage ditches carved around them so as to allow tractors and other machines to work the lands; it was this maize of drainage ditches I used to close the distance on this young Deer.  I came out the drainage ditch and with utmost stealth tried to ready myself for a shot on the young Deer. My bipod touched the earth and the Deer’s 6th sense immediately alerted him.  He had not seen me but he got that itchy feeling that someone was watching.  As he started to run off the field I, in desperation, gave a loud whistle. The Deer froze like he had been super-glued to the earth. With that the 30-06 shuddered off a 165gr bullet.  The Deer made the tree line and collapsed.

This young Deer would be a super meat-animal and filled another tag.  Once again, I split and opened the legs of the Deer and created a back pack. Then hoisting the Deer up I headed for the vehicle.  Kjartan too had shot a young buck and had had to call in for the resident tracking dog to help him find it.  In this terrain of marshes and water everywhere; his Deer had managed to fall into a sink hole and lay there totally obscured from sight. With the help of Aun Egil and the tracking dog they had located the Deer. A great law in Norway is that in these hunting areas there have to be trained dogs available to the hunters should they require the service.  I believe this really does make a difference to the success of the hunt and limits the number of animals lost and wounded.

Once again we were at the skinning shed and celebrating great hunts.

That afternoon I took to the mountain slopes again but was unable to locate any male Deer. Another spectacular sunset and breath-taking vistas was absorbed and appreciated to the full.

The next morning was our last full day of hunting and I desperately wanted to shoot a nice typical Roe Deer buck that I could send back to South Africa and have mounted for my show room; to immortalize the memory of the amazing adventure. I knew this was asking a lot, and with my success so far would have been more than happy with what I had achieved already.  However, I knew if I stayed committed and continued to be the first hunter out and the last to return I stood a good opportunity of fulfilling that dream. I was not going to let one minute be wasted of this trip, no matter how tired or worn out I was.

So the alarm rang out again at 2.30 am.  I dragged myself out of bed and packed my gear. All the hunters were up this morning as it was the last full day and we were all making plans and discussing areas.  I wanted the guys who had not shot to have first choice of areas so I waited for them all to choose which area they would like. I landed up back in my spot between the two mountains.  I knew it well now and knew I had a really good chance of finding that super trophy Deer.  I started on the road again and thought to myself that this area had now seen a bit of hunting pressure and decided to skip the main fields and central hunting areas.  I would try the outlying area and push into zones and areas I had not yet explored. I made my way straight towards the far left corner of the hunting concession. This would take some time as it was probably a five kilometre walk through field, marshes and thick bush.  My Bergans rain suit and wet weather gear had stood up very well to the conditions and my Wolverine boots from South Africa had also performed remarkable well under these circumstances.  You only realize what good gear is when you are faced with conditions that push your gear to the edge of its capability.  Your comfort is of utmost importance on these hunts as to be wet all day will definitely result in your hunt ending early, either through sickness or general loss of interest due to discomfort. We had however been extremely lucky with the weather:  we had enjoyed temperatures of 8 to 26 degrees and had even been able to swim in the sea, a thing I did not believe possible in the Arctic Circle!

With the sense of knowing that this was the last day of hunting, I tried to really absorb the beauty and magnitude of this area.  I hunted slowly and meticulously and tried to absorb every sighting, every insect, every frog and definitely every Roe Deer.  Females with young were a common sight and where always seen bounding off with their distinct alarm call. I continued hunting and was hungry to see a good buck.  I was however running out of space as I had reached the last set of fields in our hunting concession.  I entered the field and started moving across the rich green cultivated grass, expecting at any minute to hear the bark of a Roe Deer buck.  I reached the other end of the field and decided to climb into the thicket alongside the field and make my way down towards the river. This I did and slowly walked into the wind as I made my way through the conifers and birch trees.

The field dropped away out of sight and there was a woodlot isolated in the dead centre of the field. I glassed this and thought, “What a perfect place for a Deer!” Then to my astonishment I saw a yellow set of antlers walking on the down-slope, these obscured its body, all I saw where the golden yellow antlers.  It looked like he was heading to the woodlot. I waited for the antlers to disappear from sight, then climbed into the field and ran towards where I had seen the antlers. I knew at the pace he was going it would be touch and go if I would catch up with him. The morning sun was coming up and I attempted to keep it behind me hopefully making it more difficult for the Deer to see me. I reached the woodlot and expected to see the Deer on the slope behind it.  He was not there… DAMMIT!  Had I missed him??? I ran along the edge of the woodlot, maybe he had taken the corner and followed the isolated woodlot.  I peered around the corner:   Nothing! Hell where had he gone?

There was a tall stand of pine trees planted along the edge of the field, behind this was natural terrain and thickets of birch trees. Had he got in there? Had his 6th sense warned him of my presence? I walked up the field and searched both the field and woodlot.  Suddenly a movement on the outside of the field behind the tall pines grabbed my eye.  Without a moments’ hesitation I ran to the end of the pine tree lane and there he was…  A picture postcard to behold. He stood there proudly looking over his hip at me; flanked by his lovely lady. The sun was hitting them and the veld around them, they shone like brass statues, their orange and grey coats bold in the morning sun. The greens, reds, and yellows of the marshland and trees around them were breath-taking.  This was something you saw on a postcard or on a TV show of other people’s experiences.  The average hunter from South Africa did not get to see such sights… But here I was with this amazing show in front of me.  However, this was my opportunity; this was that moment.  I slammed out my bipod and hit the deck; the safety-catch flicking off in the same moment.  I got behind my Meopta scope and the crosshairs quickly raced to their mark.  He was quartering away hard, I would have to go in far back.  I saw the dew on the grass erupt as the shot broke.  The smell of gun powder immediately embellished me.  I heard the round meet its mark and hoped the shot was true.  In an instant the hunt was over.  The most amazing picture I will ever have burnt into my head.

I took a moment to savour what had just transpired.  Surely it was the hunt of a life time, the hunt you see Tom Miranda or Jim Shockey do; not a simple professional hunter from Lowlands in Kwa-Zulu Natal.  I was completely blown away.  I gathered myself together and headed over to where the Roe Deer had been standing.  I followed the tracks in the marsh land and soon found the buck dead under some birch trees. An amazing sense of respect, appreciation and compassion went out to this Deer.  He was all I could have ever asked for, an amazing, typical 6 point with awesome gnarly bases and a beautiful colour coat.  I was in total admiration.

With that, I set the Deer up on a raised piece of ground and took photos whilst trying to capture the essence of the moment.  This is definitely one of the great highlights of my hunting career.  To be so privileged to hunt animals such as this, that take me to destinations as wild and magnificent as this, all I can be is forever grateful to the people who made it happen.  To Aun Egil, Kjartan, Bjarne, Stig and Jim Alan my sincere thanks.  This was truly the experience of a lifetime.

The hunt concluded and we began the 15 hour drive back to Ulvik.  We had achieved an almost perfect scorecard.  We had harvested seven deer in total, caught a 12kg Halibut and a number of Cod and other fish.  Kate had had an amazing island adventure and we were all left with a great feeling that this would not be the last time we would see Vega Island: the LOS VEGAS OF ROE DEER HUNTING IN NORWAY!!!