An Alpine Adventure : Pursuing Mountain Gams
Updated: Jan 17, 2020
I’d first heard about the Gams (Chamois) during the German hunting course offered by the MWR. Something stirred in me when I first heard our instructor speak about the animal and the physical and mental exertion in took to find one. Call me crazy, but there was something in the idea of my legs burning, body bruised and outright challenge of pursuing the chamois that immediately appealed to me. I knew that before I left Germany, I needed to chase the elusive animal that calls the European Alps it’s home. I didn’t have to wait long before I was graciously extended an invitation to hunt in state forest land near Inzell, Germany around the beginning of October. To say I was excited would be putting it mildly!
Larry and Henry, who are fellow club members and passionate hunters, were my hunting partners for this trip. We spent the weeks leading up to the hunting talking strategy, zeroing rifles, making packing lists and pouring over topographical maps of the area. Both Henry and Larry had hunted this area before and knew the landscape quite well; I just shut my mouth and tried to absorb everything that I could before the hunt.
On the departure day, we all met up at Henry’s place and convoyed down to the Alps. The drive was pretty uneventful, though we did see a couple of wild cock pheasants in the fields on the way down which is always a treat. We arrived in Inzell around midafternoon and did a quick brief with the forester before heading out to our hunting cabin or Hutte. I felt my excitement growing as the truck started snaking up the bendy trails leading to the cabin. I saw the mountains near and far and couldn’t help but daydream about the hunt to come. The hutte itself was a beautifully simple affair; a few rooms with cots for sleeping and a kitchen
with an old wood burning stove. Outside the front door was an amazing view of the shale mountain side with the peak seeming to pierce the sky. We quickly shed our gear and grabbed some binoculars to take a peek, only to be rewarded with the sight of two gams grazing bushes on the mountain side around 900 yards away.
Seemingly every hunt of a lifetime is subject to the fickle mood of the weather. The next morning was no exception and we found our cabin being pummeled with heavy winds and rain. We would come to find it was the recurring theme throughout the entire hunt. The first two mornings we would be thwarted by the severe weather and stick to the lowlands for afternoon hunts for roe and red deer. Wednesday morning we finally got our first shot at the mountain. Larry and I decided to hike up several hundred yards and then we split up with the goal to meet back at the vehicle sometime in the evening. The night before we’d spent a considerable amount of time looking over the map and trying to select the best geographical areas to pursue the chamois. After Larry and I split, I began making a long ascent up without much visibility of the terrain to come. It took me perhaps 1.5 hours to finally reach the top, but I was greeted by a rather picturesque view when I crested the peak.
Apparently somewhere along the lines I’d taken a wrong turn and went straight up the mountain instead of walking around the belt on the mid-point. There was another little hutte in which I refilled my water and took a little break. As I started to look around the area, I could see gams droppings and sign everywhere. Not long afterwards two hikers came from the same trail I walked up, unlocked the hutte and started a fire. Great! Now I wasn’t going to see anything. Apparently, I’d walked up a very popular trail and while I wouldn’t see any gams that day, I saw no less than 17 hikers. Every where I seemed to set up, another hiker would walk by. It was a bit too late in the day to change locations by the time I finally pinpointed my location on the map. I began walking down the mountain around 5:00 PM and met Henry at the truck about an hour later. Henry had seen some gams and actually took a shot, but unfortunately didn’t connect. Larry climbed down about 30 mins later with a similar story that he’d seen a gams but a beech tree was the only casualty.
The next two days came with wretched weather again and we ended up meeting with the forester to see if he could show us a few locations on the map that held high seats and consoles. Fortunately, he didn’t just point them out but had us follow him out to all the different seats, as many of them are quite well hidden. Following a forester in their little SUV’s, is a lot like trying to follow a NASCAR driver. I was gripping my seat and stamping my invisible passenger break as we flew around the logging roads in Henry’s F-150. Nonetheless, the forester showed us some great spots that expanded our lowland hunting area substantially.
The weather kept up until Friday and we continued to hunt the lowland in the meantime. The evenings at the hutte were nice. There’s something about cooking on an old wood fired stove that just makes the food taste better and we ate like kings for the entire trip.
Friday morning, I was determined to find the original path I was looking for that hugged the middle of the mountain. Geographically it looked like perfect gams terrain. The forester had told us that I’d originally missed the path because they don’t maintain it very well. At around 5 AM Henry dropped me off a few hundred yards from the trail head and I once again began my ascent up. I took it very slowly as I was walking by red light of my head lamp and I didn’t want to miss the fork I needed to take. Fortunately, I discovered the trail head I needed and realized that I’d likely missed it the first time because it was fairly overgrown. After walking down the new trail for about 15 mins I saw a sparkle ahead from my head lamp. It looked like six green dots around 80 yards away. I immediately shut off my head lamp and stood still. I flipped the lamp on again after 3-4 mins and saw that the green dots had changed position. It had to be gams! I shut off my lamp and sat down in the middle of the path as I didn’t want to spook the animals by approaching and there wasn't enough light to take an ethical shot. I sat for 45 minutes before there was enough light to use my binoculars. I saw a large rock in front of me and took a guess that the gams were actually bedded on the rock during my initial approach. The morning sun revealed that the animals were unfortunately gone. I approached the rock cautiously and lo and behold there was a drive seat built into it.
The drive seat gave me a good view of the path winding around the mountain, and a gulley below me. It was cold and the wind was picking up quite a bit, but I bundled myself up in my “tactically acquired” poncho liner…the best friend of every Marine. I glassed the area for around 2 hours before I glimpsed some movement in the gulley to my right. At first, I thought it was a damn badger by how thick its frame was, but binoculars confirmed a nice gams bock around 120 yards away. I quickly brought my rifle to rest on the rickety frame of the seat. My weapon was a Blaser R8 chambered in 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser, a fitting chamois cartridge if there ever was one. Twisting the scope magnification to 8x, I tracked the gams as he grazed on shrubbery facing me. I needed him to turn broadside for a clean shoulder shot. When he finally turned broadside I settled the crosshairs a touch below his shoulder to account for the downward angle and my rifle zero. I kissed at the animal to bring him to a stop, but the damn winds were too noisy for the sound to cut through. The bock stepped forward another two steps as I brought pressure to the trigger…one more step…breathe out. The rifle roared over the wind and recoiled into my shoulder, sending a 140-grain soft point into the shoulder of the animal. The bock was killed instantly and I tracked him as he tumbled violently down hill another 60 yards. Quickly chambering another round, I watched the body for another moment to ensure that a follow up shot wasn’t needed. I was absolutely elated as I hadn’t actually expected to bring home a gams from this trip.
The hard work had just begun though, as I tried to find a way down to the animal. When I finally found a way to descend, the incline was so steep that I had to sit and slide down to the animal on my rump. There were plenty of bushes and trees to crash into that slowed my decent to a safe speed! Upon reaching the animal I found that if he’d rolled another 10 yards he would have completely fallen off the small gulley into an extremely deep one. It took me another 2 hours to get the animal gutted and carried up to the trail. The week worth of rain combined with the incline made the accent nearly impossible. I must have fallen down 75-100 times and slid down 5 feet for every foot I gained. My legs were absolute jelly by the time I reached the trail. Fortunately, Henry had heard the shot and we got in contact via radio; he met me by the drive seat and had a good laugh when I just collapsed on the ground with the gamsbock. We inspected the rock that the drive seat was on and found lots of gams droppings along with grass that was matted down. Gams had definitely been bedded up there that morning. I took a guess it was a geiss (female) and two kitz (adolescent gams). Henry graciously offered to hike the gamsbock down to the truck while I went back down the gulley to retrieve my rifle and gear…it didn’t take much leg pulling for me to accept!
That night we feasted on gams liver and heart, two of my favorite pieces of wild game meat and criminally underutilized. The liver was extremely mild and went down well with a cold beer. The hunt was over for me and my face hurt from grinning all day!
The next morning Larry and Henry went into the area I’d hunted the day before, while I happily slept in. Fortunately, the pair of hunters dropped a gams each; Henry got an older geiss and Larry brought down a younger geiss. I’ll let the two jaegers tell their own story, but I will say that hunting with these two gentlemen was an absolute pleasure. We hunted the lowlands for the rest of the weekend, until leaving on Monday. Larry ended up bringing down a couple of rehkitz (adolescent roe deer).
It’s hunts like this that remind me of why I fell in love with hunting to begin with. There is a certain intangible freedom that comes with going on an extended hunt, scouting locations on the map, lack of vehicle access, and basic lodgings. It refilled my tank after being drained with college and responsibilities of life. It was extraordinarily refreshing to be disconnected in this increasingly digital world.
In the cabin there was a picture on the wall dated at 1907 that showed four Jaegers who used the very same cabin. We were now a part of the timeless hunting history of the German Alps and we tried our best to mockup our own picture to pay respect to hunters of the past. Without doubt, it was the most gorgeous country I’ve hunted and the hardest I’ve worked for an animal. The gams are amazing animals, it really is incredible what kind of terrain they can traverse and how crafty they can be. The hunt and the company were truly unforgettable and something I’ll forever hold dear. Waidmannsheil! (DG)