As deer manager on Euston Estate in Suffolk, he’s not in the habit of creating heaps of glowing embers around when stalking, but hunting moose is a different story: “The fires are a traditional way to keep warm and are lit at the stands or high seats while the hunters wait for the elkhounds to track and move a moose towards them.
They reckon the moose are used to the smoke and that it masks the hunter’s scent,” explained Chris, when the Leica team caught up with him on his return. “Being so far north, autumn was a lot further on,” he continued, “The trees were well into their change and it was a lot colder, so a fire was very welcome while waiting for the Swedish dogs to do their bit; there was a lot of waiting!”
Chris’s own dogs are also trusted hunting companions, but not fundamental to proceedings in the way that their Swedish counterparts are. They had been left at home, but one familiar in-field companion had made the journey: Chris’s .275 Rigby Highland Stalker bolt-action rifle, topped with a Leica Visus i LW 3-12×50 scope, which boded well for the low-light conditions that favoured capercaillie in particular. This set-up has proved itself perfect for the job at Euston, and, should a moose disturb the fireside peace in the Swedish forest, it would be up to the task here too.
The techniques (and patience) required for the Swedish hunts were also fairly similar to those needed for spying and stalking in the UK, even if there were occasionally some unfamiliar onlookers present: “The main thing is to watch for any sign of movement while you’re waiting: scanning with the binoculars, looking for small disturbances caused by deer or other animals on the move as well as the moose itself. You also need to listen hard for any sound from the dogs,” Chris related. “What was very different was the audience of Siberian jays that I had. They were about the same size as the ones we get in England, but different colours, and much noisier! They flocked all around as I was watching and tweeted at me for hours on end, almost like they were mocking me!”
The birds weren’t the only thing flushed out of the forest: on the very first morning of the trip, the elkhounds came across a moose, enabling a Swedish member of the hunting party to stalk in to it and fire a successful shot. For Chris himself, however, there was no such luck.
Fortunately, moose was only one species on the quarry list for the trip, and some dawn and dusk excursions provided some promising opportunities for a shot at a capercaillie hen. Regrettably, this largest and most majestic of European grouse is no longer present in shootable numbers in the UK. Hunting it in Scandinavia, where it is abundant, is therefore highly attractive to many British shooters, for whom early starts and late finishes are the norm in the field.
“At this time of year, the cock birds aren’t very active, and they’re hard to find,” Chris told us, “That’s why autumn is traditionally the time to go after the hens. You stand the best chance at first or last light, which is when you’re most likely to come across them wandering out from the trees onto the rides. There were a lot of similarities with what I’d do in the UK for deer – creeping slowly along forestry tracks and hoping to see something, and getting the most out of the available light with the Geovids. There’s a lot more reliance on the dogs in Sweden though, which is very interesting to see.”
Fortunately for Chris, the Swedish hunting dogs proved worthy of the faith put in them, and did their job well. As the light was failing on the final evening, he was presented with a shootable hen bird through the Visus. The shot that followed ensured that she was added to the day’s bag, and that Chris got to taste the rich, berry-fed meat, which is, of course, the best way to round off any hunt, whether at home or abroad.
Leica Visus i LW 3-12×50 scope
Leica Geovid 10×42 HD-B binoculars