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23 Hours: A Red Deer Hunt in the Alps

October 27, 2023

Photo: Paul Kretschmar @k_mar_outdoors

The alarm clock had rung mercilessly at 3:30 am and soon after we were already deep in the heart of the Alps, ascending the steep slopes, ready for red-stag mountain hunt.

The night was still inky black, the air crisp and filled with the promise of the day. We climbed higher and higher on a small trail, guided by our trusty flashlights. As the first glimmers of dawn finally painted the sky with hues of purple and orange, we reached a vantage point that overlooked a sweeping valley.

This was to be our lookout for the morning, the place where we would patiently await the rutting stag, hopefully crossing the valley below us on his way to the mating area.

Yet, as the hours passed, the red deer eluded us. The mountains remained silent, and our patience was put to a test. The warm weather had slowed the rutting activity. We had to remind ourselves that hunting is as much about patiently waiting as it is about the chase, so we descended from our lookout, determined to make the most of our day.

We descended to the cozy mountain hut, cooking up a hearty breakfast of sizzling bacon and eggs.

With the sun beating down, we decided to turn our attention to a different task during the hot midday hours– building a feeder for red deer to help them survive the harsh winter months. The hours passed quickly as we worked on this essential project, grateful for the opportunity to give back to the wildlife that called these mountains home.

In the early afternoon, we set out on our hunt once more. Climbing tirelessly for about three hours, we made our way towards a second peak, where the stag had been seen. The air was thinner up there, and our hearts beat faster with the altitude. But the view that unfolded before us was nothing short of magnificent. The vast expanse of the Alps stretched as far as the eye could see, a testament to the grandeur of Mother Nature.

As the sun already began its descent towards the horizon, with still no sign of the stag, we finally spotted two red deer slowly making their way towards our position. Not the stag we had been looking for, but two hinds, one of them very old.

We just had enough time to swiftly and quietly climb a tree stand, that was towering near the top of a majestic pine above us.

Having two guns at the ready, we took aim, waited for the animals to turn broadside and take them both with a clean shot each. The satisfaction of a successful hunt filled our hearts, but we knew our adventure and strenuous work was far from over…

Now, with night approaching, we faced the arduous task of descending the mountain with not one, but two hinds. A heavy load!

The terrain was steep, the darkness rapidly devouring what was left of the dim daylight. We heaved and pulled, sometimes making only a few inches, when we had to pull the heavy deer over logs and rocks. The sweat was running and our energy was fading. There was no way to rush this, so we took our time and after long hours in the dark, we returned to the hut.

Having been up on our feet for nearly 23 hours, we finally returned to our mountain refuge, utterly exhausted but deeply content. Our hunt might not have yielded the red stag we had initially sought, but the experiences we'd gained in the heart of the Alps were more precious than any trophy. The mountains had tested our endurance, rewarded our perseverance, and shared their unparalleled beauty. It was a journey I'll never forget, a testament to the relentless spirit of the outdoors and the bond between a hunter and the wild.