The following appears in the January issue of California Sportsman:
By Brittany Boddington
My hunting adventures in France started with the Pyrenees chamois that you read about in last month’s column, but they didn’t end there!
I left the high mountains and traveled north to a 13th century castle to continue my hunt in style. My guide and friend Guillaume Roques-Rogery inherited this magnificent castle and, along with it, a big chunk of hunting land. He runs a company called France Safaris (francesafaris.com) with his wife, Lisa.
The area is in the Aveyron department in southern France, between Toulouse, where Airbus is headquartered, and Lyon, and has steep mountains and rolling hills, as well as thick forest. The landscape makes the hunting challenging, but there are plenty of animals and species to choose from.
We went for a drive around the hunting area the evening I arrived and spotted some animals, which got me excited for the next day. One of the most exciting species for me was the sika deer. They are originally from Japan and this was the first time I had ever seen one.
Sika are a dark brown deer with some light spots. Their antlers are similar to those of rusa and axis deer, but smaller and thinner. The area also has red stag, mouflon and fallow deer, and an occasional roe deer moves through. They also have a serious pig problem. Wild boars are in such high numbers that they’re destroying the ground, and it is difficult to make a stalk without bumping into one.
MY FIRST PRIORITY was finding a sika deer. We started early in the morning and walked along the edge of the forest. The light twinkled through the trees as the sun rose, making the area look heavenly. We were hoping to catch some deer moving into the forest as they started to look for places to bed down during the hot part of the day. We spotted some mouflon first, a bunch of females with babies. When they were spooked, they ran off downhill. Unfortunately, in the area we were walking, the leaves were pretty loud under our feet, so the animals heard us coming.
We next spotted a sika deer, but it was a young one and it disappeared in a flash. We continued walking for a few hours and it started to get hot, so we decided to leave the area alone so we wouldn’t spook everything for the afternoon. All the animals start to lay down in the thick forest – it gets hot here – and if pushed, they might disappear into mountainous areas we couldn’t reach by foot.
In the afternoon we set out on a sika mission. I was determined to find a big male sika deer. We walked along the forest edge again, and this time we saw a ton of animals, a sign that things were beginning to happen.
There were mouflon everywhere. We also saw some beautiful fallow deer, and as the afternoon passed, the red stag roar started. The sound filled the woods as the sun twinkled through; it was eerie but beautiful.
Then we spotted a big mature male sika deer bedded on the edge of the forest. We were on a ridge above it and had a great vantage point. I took my time getting set up. I was laying prone with my LAW .300 Win Mag and set up over a pack. I was rock solid.
We watched the sika for an hour while it lay there chewing. The deer was blissfully unaware of our presence, so much so that I started to get stiff from laying there so long. My neck was killing me and I kept shifting and wiggling in an attempt to get comfortable. During one of those wiggles the sika stood up. I panicked and missed the deer completely.
There was no time to regroup and try again once the sika disappeared into the forest. I lay there, dumbfounded at how I could miss such a perfect opportunity, but it happens, so I collected myself and we continued the hunt.
We headed back to the ridgeline we had walked that morning and started moving through the area slowly. The sun was starting to slide down in the sky, making it difficult to see into the woods without looking straight into the sun.
We carefully peeked over every ridge until Guillaume spotted a sika deer. I couldn’t believe that I would get another opportunity after I had blown it so badly earlier, but the hunting gods were smiling on us that day. I wasted no time dropping to one knee and resting my elbow on the other knee. I actually prefer to shoot from this position whenever possible.
Guillaume checked out the deer in a split second and gave me the green light. I knew the sika wouldn’t stand for long. We had been spotted and were in a staring contest. As soon as I got the green light, I fired.
Hit, the deer rolled down the hill. We shuffled down the incredibly steep slope toward where the deer had fallen. I started to feel something stinging on my leg but was too excited to let it slow me down. I slipped and slid, but at last we made it to the deer, which had only stopped rolling because it was caught on a tree.
THE SIKA WAS gorgeous. It had ivory-like antlers and extremely dark brown fur. It was a big male, and Guillaume thought it might have been the biggest they had shot in that area. We tagged it, took some photos and then attempted to make it down the hill to a nearby road.
I had my rifle over my shoulder as I carefully worked my way downhill, but at one particularly difficult point I hesitated. Guillaume took my hand and I took a careful step onto what looked like a secure rock. But the rock rolled and I fell straight down the hill. I smacked down on my back and my rifle, with my feet dangling over an edge. Only Guillaume’s hand held me from falling straight down to the road. I almost took him down with me, but fortunately he caught hold of a tree as I fell. We finally made it down with the deer and called for help, which turned out to be Guillaume’s dad coming to rescue us.
In the car I started to feel the bangs I’d taken from my fall, and then the stinging in my leg again. I decided it was worth asking the question: “Do you guys have stinging nettle here?”
“Yes, we do,” Guillaume answered. “Did you find some?”
Yes, I had found some nettles. A lot, in fact; my shooting position had been right in a patch of it. I had been so excited about the deer that I had not even looked where I was kneeling. That was an itchy lesson I will not forget anytime soon, but at least I got my sika deer. CS
Editor’s note: Brittany Boddington is a Los Angeles-based hunter, adventurer and journalist. For more, go tobrittanyboddington.com or facebook.com/brittanyboddington.