The sound shakes the body. It’s not bugling, as done by our magnificent Rocky Mountain elk. Stags roar like lions–powerful sounds volleying from mountain to mountain, like Federer versus Nadal at Wimbledon. The shockwaves get the heart pumping at jackhammer rates. It’s physical. You feel the roar as much as hear it.
I was standing on a slab of rock amid thickets of scrub brush and pines in the Sundiken Mountains. It is about an hour’s drive north of Eskişehir, which is southeast of Istanbul, about halfway between Istanbul and Ankara. This morning I had joined Torben, an experienced hunter from Denmark, and our guide, Serkan Mert, who has hunted many of the most challenging venues in Europe and Asia.
The many roars and their frequency were harbingers of good fortune. It was dark when we arrived but the rosy sunrise was now shoving aside the blue-black night. And the crisp air, which carried the scent of chilled apples, was beginning to warm. A perky enthusiasm pervaded my body and soul, despite having arrived at the Spartan hunting camp just a few strokes before midnight and being awakened less than four hours later. Moreover, I’d had a substantial glass of Raki, a tradition in these parts.
But this morning, in the words of James Brown, I felt good. The hilly terrain and patches of thick scrub demanded slow, attentive steps. You relied on the rifle’s safety. Breathing was slightly labored, even for Torben and Serkan, who had the conditioning of triathletes. We stopped intermittently to glass the mountains. It was early October, the middle of the four- to five-week rutting season.
Stags are nocturnal eaters. The females, to ingest needed sugar, congregate in apple orchards and other locations rich in accessible grass and leaves. During the day, the males roar and rub their horns on trees to get rid of their velvet and to mark their territory. I wonder about the efficacy of their ritual because there are millions of trees and only dozens of stags.
Mideastern stags average 500 to 650 pounds. Significantly larger animals are not uncommon, as I learned two days later. The art is to find the spot where there are lots of females and then stalk through the forest, somewhat the same theory that applies in a singles bar.
A roar that seemed quite close had us focusing on a mountainside about half a mile ahead. We walked quickly uphill, maneuvering through thickets and over sharp glacial rocks that subverted solid footing and threatened to make our boots look like they’d been diced and sliced in a Cuisinart. Another forceful, throaty roar caused us to turn to our left. Torben and Serkan raised their binoculars in unison as if toasting the moment and glassed the mountains. Torben hesitated, and then excitedly yelled, “Stag.”
He and Serkan took off like sprinters out of the blocks. I was outpaced within a hundred steps. I confess, humbly, that I was not in condition to keep up. I thought of the words of Dirty Harry Callahan–“A man’s gotta know his limitations.” I try to know mine.
I walked back to the road to look for the car driven by the game warden assigned to our hunt as is required by law. I found him leisurely smoking a cigarette in his vehicle. We drove up the road in the direction I thought Torben and Serkan had gone. Fifteen minutes later I got out of the car and walked up the road about half a mile. I stopped when I heard a shot. Then I heard another. Thirty minutes later, Torben found us and took us to his trophy. His stag was 9×9 points and weighed about 770 pounds. It was taken at 200 yards with a Sauer 7mm Remington Magnum.
Torben became poetic as he stated the significance of this experience. “You have a video in the mind with auto playback anytime you want. Any time you close your eyes, you have it forever.” He was expressing a sentiment similar to one described by Ortega y Gassett in his classic volume, Meditations on Hunting, “Once absorbed in a pleasurable occupation, we catch a starry glimpse of eternity.”– Michael G. Sabbeth