Monday, 11 February 2013

Right Out in a Whiteout

Since my last post, I've been stalking hinds every day. And every day I've been attempting to get within shot of herds of 2-3-or 400. It's difficult at the best of times but when there is snow on the ground there is even less cover. I reckon I've crawled the equivalent of Lands End to John O' Groats.

So today was a welcome break from the norm. We had quite a lot of snow fall yesterday and we reckoned it would be dense enough to carry the weight of our machinery. So we went looking for foxes.

Two teams went out- one pair in the tracked argocat, the other pair (myself included) on the snowbike.

As we suspected, the going was heavy until we got a good bit of height, after which the machines were going well. It didn't take long to cut the first set of foxprints.

We tracked the prints for miles then, inexplicably, came across two lonely figures walking the empty wastes. It turned out to be two keepers from the neighbouring estate. They had followed another set of prints for even more miles from their estate. We met where the two foxes had.

After a chat, we left them to hitch a ride home with the argocat while we continued tracking. All the time, the day got greyer and any rises and falls in the ground became more and more difficult to read. Skiers call this 'flat light'- maybe because that's how they invariably end up. For me driving, it meant maximum concentration every yard of the way.

The prints eventually climbed up the steep face of the second-largest hill on the place. The bike wouldn't look at it. Gus reluctantly gave up his pillion seat and started tracking on foot. I made my way round the foot of the hill to see if I might find the fox/ foxes lying up on the lee slope.

It didn't take long to get round there but by then the poor visibility had become no visibility. I sat and had my piece (lunch) huddled behind the bike in a feeble attempt to escape the bitter wind and stinging flakes of snow.

Eventually the radio crackled to life. Gus exclaimed that he was suffering no such problems. Plunging up to his fetlocks in snow was keeping him warm enough apparently. However the foxprints were barely discernable and what remained of them up on top of the hill were drifting in quickly. It was time to pull the plug.

By this time the visibility  had deteriorated so much it was like being inside a giant lightbulb. Albeit a very well ventilated lightbulb. I wondered how we were going to find each other again. Even the sounds of fired shots wouldn't carry far in this wind.

As it was, Gus came down off the hill in roughly the right direction. And fortunately he was on the ball enough to spot when he intersected the snowbike tracks (which were also starting to get obscured). All I had to do was backtrack until I found him. It was quite a relief when I eventually picked up his figure looming out of the gloom.

He clambered back onboard with great enthusiasm and I was most pleased to be heading for home. Within twenty minutes we had dropped out of the mist but the journey back was still long and slow. And the more height we dropped, the heavier the going got and the more I had to wrestle the bike.

We got home with a couple of hours of light to spare and I was feeling well and truly knackered. Maybe not as knackered as I would have been if I had been out on my skis (as has so often been the case). And certainly not as knackered as our two neighbours, I would guess.