Loire Valley, early in the morning in november.
Meat!...Excitement! Adrenalin!... the basic instinct of hunting...
Coincidently along a vineyard plot, the horn is sounded to signal to the 25 hunters who took their planned position all around the wood that the trackers and the dogs are going to enter the woods to flush the animals out. Embedded in a group of 3 trackers (traqueurs in french), I slipped on like them a bright-orange cloth so as not to be shot at, and entered the wood with the dogs. I am confident, and as I often say, I'll be more at risk riding or driving in Paris than receiving a stray bullet in the woods.The head of the group chose this area because there could be what he and his group are looking for : roe deers, does or wild boars.
Gerard, the chief-hunter of the group, gave the instructions earlier in the morning like he does each time before the beginning of the action: respect the rules, listen to the different horn signals, don't shoot if the animal is out of the secure angle, and use bullets only (not lead loads). Other allowed target today will be the fox, but with bullets also.
We drove in about 8 cars to strategic spots near the chosen wooded area, and after the estimated time needed for the shooters to find their spot, the hunt begins. On the picture on left, Damien is standing on the wood's edge, waiting like the other hunters for the opportunity to shoot the animals when they reach the open field.
Walking across the woods with me: Hyacinthe, Didier and Bérangère who is 22 and the only woman of the party[pic on right]. She says that she is often a gunner, but today, she walks with her dog, and those who walk in the woods with the dogs don't shoot.
In the Loire like in many french regions, there is an overpopulation of wild animals, but hunters must follow the strict rules of the game. This group of hunters has a limited number of big animals to shoot this season. As Gerard said, we'd make several wooded plots one after the other, sounding the retreat each time when the hunt is unsuccessful to come back to the cars and drive to another spot. The first wood did not yield anything, but the second one got the dogs yelling and running.
They soon were out of sight and one of them clearly has a lead. The trackers are used to decipher the dog's barks and these are positive ones, so they also yell to encourage the dogs to pursuit the fleeing animal(s). Each of us was walking at a distance from each other to efficiently comb the wooded plot, as some big animals hide by instinct and choose to stay put, even when they hear the incomers. But when the dogs smell them and go after them barking, the poor animals are forced to move and run to their fate...We hear several shots but later learn that the gunners missed their targets, 4 roe deers which could escape unharmed across the net.
This was to be the right one. After a couple of minutes in the woods, the dogs began to run and bark, then we heard several shots, and soon after someone sounded the signal that one roe deers at least had been shot dead. We all walked to the side from which the shots seemed to come from and went to look at the animal : the poor thing was killed almost instantly by a bullet in her chest that also fractured her front-left leg at the articulation. This is a "chèvre" as hunters say, a female roe deer, not a big one, maybe a year old, weighing something like 22 kg. The shooters said that the other animals managed to escape unscathed.
This is a good turn for the group, but not the end of the day, and we all prepare to move to another spot after someone has loaded the animal in his trunk.
We'll not have to wait the end of the day to celebrate: before moving with the cars, we all walk to an isolated farm nearby whose farmer seems to be an acquaintance of several hunters. Michel has a surprise for those of us who are thirsty: He fills glasses of wine for a few hunters, straight from a small cask in the back of his barn [picture on left]. That's a great, refreshing pose in a great setting, and a much welcome one after several hours in the woods, but you'll not have a picture of the drinkers, shooters are'nt supposed to drink...I ask him about the variety, this is a little known type of Gamay, Gamay de Chaudeney. It seems that farmers who still make wine for themselves are indeed the curators of many forgotten varieties.
We'll make a couple more woods that day, but alas without any other catch.
The dogs' owners drove home to drop the dogs and soon join the party. the dogs were also beginning to get tired and you could see in the last walk that they had lost their stamina.
The kir glasses are filled and refilled. As a hand-written note on the wall says, a Kir will be offered at the end of big-animals hunting-outings.
He first cooked it in a frying pan with butter and onions till it gets golden brown, then put the pieces in a big aluminium saucepan, drowned the meat in wine (a light wine, he says, a local Gamay) with carrots, bay leaves and thyme and he cooked it all for 2 hours. Then, he let the thing rest for several hours before heating it up again and serving it.
The result is just...great. Same texture as beef, with stronger, wilder character. The wine he served with that was a Cot, Vin de pays du jardin de la France, also local. No year on it, but I would not be surprised that it's several years old, because it's pretty well drinkable, the usual tannic character of young Cots is not palpable here.
Back in Paris, I looked in the cellar for the ideal bottle for such a dish :
I think this Chateau Eugénie, Cuvée Réservée des Tsars 2001 would have made it. This is a Cahors with a long laying-down-potential. 80% Malbec and 20% Merlot. I'll check soon with some doe meat purchased in a store and will report the results...