A misty grey light over the forest, a new day dawning. In Sweden in early July, there is no night. The sun never sets, so it never gets dark. You know it is night-time during the hours when the birds keep quiet. Now they sang again, so our short rest was over due. I felt like I hadn’t slept, just closed my eyes for a moment. But it was time to get up and see if we could spot any game on the move.
This hunting report is from an earlier expedition we did in July last year, one of our first visits at the field where we tried the Bell-rope tick I wrote about earlier. We had planned to stay out over night as we wanted to try to watch the game on the move at dawn, drinking or grazing. Johan, Frida and me got our gear together and walked out in the woods in the evening. Boudica, their Irish wolfhound was tagging happily along our trail.
Frida is a tough one, she walked all the way to our camp site with nothing but thin leather soled hoses on her feet. Her only pair of medieval turnshoes gave up during her pilgrimage on Gotland a few weeks earlier. But when we look on contemporary pictures of 14th century hunters on foot, it is not uncommon to see hunters without shoes.
Why is this? Did the hunters want to spare their shoes or is it easier to sneak about without ’em? To me it seems that at the least in Livre de la Chasse it is often the doghandlers that go for the shoeless look. I have no idea why. Our doghandler decided to try for himself.
Johan claims that he could sneak twice as good without shoes as with ‘em. But I also heard him swearing occasionally when hurting his feet. In short, I’m not entirely convinced about the success of the barefeet-concept. I think I’d rather keep my pretty boots on.
In medieval times hunters, poachers and maybe occasional swine herders or coaler’s were the only ones moving about in the forest. The woods was unfamiliar, road-less, wild and dangerous ground for most people. The deep forest was believed to be inhabited by criminals, outlaws and dangerous creatures – and it was. Our folk lore from the time tells us about a rife fear for werewolves, but the fear for predators like wolf and bear must also have been very real.
Today it is quite the opposite. Many of us enjoy outdoor life just for fun and are used to it since childhood. I like the idea of reenacting the medieval hunt because it is so easy to do for leisure. Where we live it is never far to the forest. Most of the year you’ll need no tent or other heavy gear if you want to stay out over night wich gives you a great freedom of movability. In Sweden all flowing water in the forest is drinkable so you can easily refill your water bottle. Clothes of wool, a single blanket and good company is enough for warmth at night if you have shelter from the wind.
When arriving at our destined camp site late in the evening, it was about as dark as it would get. We gathered some firewood and then had our dinner; marinated grilled meat, wine and a nice piece of cheese. By midnight we called it a day, rolled out our blankets by the glow of the fire and tried to get an hour or two of sleep before dawn. I tucked myself in beside Johan and the dog rolled herself up against my back, sharing her warmth. Within short everyone was snoring lightly.
It was not long before the birds began to sing and we woke up to a new day, only hours later. Dawning and birdsong. A misty grey light over the forest. As Frida was’nt interested in our scouting business, Johan, the dog and I left her sleeping in camp. Soon we found our way to a small pond where we hoped some animals would come and drink. We sat in hiding and waited for a long time, watching and listening at the sound of a forest waking up from the short Scandinavian summer night.
We waited and waited. Then we walked and walked, as quiet as we possibly could. Waiting and walking are the essentials of every hunt. We changed our hiding place a few times, trying to sit by the edge of a lovely green field and on a place where we had seen plenty of tracks of roe deer.
We were out for about 1,5 hour and saw the sun rise over the fields and the forest. But even though we were very quiet we saw nothing but a few birds. Yet the woods was magically beautiful and it was all worth it anyway. When returning to camp, we were surprised to be met by a burning camp fire. Frida had prepared breakfast for us!
After eating we rolled up our blankets and headed home. We were tired but pleased with our efforts and the experience of a hunters night in the woods. I’m not sure of the exact phrasing but as Edward Norwich states in his Master of Game from early 15th century:
“The hunter is more joyful than other men and he is never idle. He returns tired and pleased with himself after hunting. Every man that has good sense, knows well that this is the truth.”