Yesterday was a reminder of what is to come: hunting season. From the end of September until the end of January, we see and hear hunters out in the vineyard every Sunday from 9:00 a.m. until late afternoon. They're a restriction on our walking schedule. But hunting is an important part of the culture of the Sologne and the Loire Valley.
The season hasn't yet opened, but hunting has started. Saturday morning, Walt came in from his walk with the dog and said there was an organized hunt — une battue — under way in the woods along the edge of the vineyard about a kilometer from our house. He said he could hear hunting horns, sporadic gunshots, and the baying, moaning, and howling of a pack of dogs.
Then yesterday, just I was preparing to go out for a walk around 8:00 a.m., we started hearing gunshots again. I threw open a window, and I could hear the dogs and the horns too. The noise seemed to be coming from the same place, half a mile from the house, so Callie and I headed around the other side of the house, to walk through the parcels of grapevines down there instead of going out into the main part of the vineyard.
Soon the hunt moved into our hamlet, La Renaudière. Some of the hunters and a pack of dogs went into the woods down where Callie and I had walked a few minutes earlier. The hunters were blowing their horns and the dogs were raising quite a ruckus. I think the goal was to chase animals out of the woods and up into the vines, where other hunters waited, guns at the ready.
By about 10:00 a.m., a couple of white vans had pulled up and parked just behind our back hedge. Hunters (men and women) got out and let a pack of hounds out too. They opened the fence that encloses the pond out back and let the dogs jump in and swim. They were the kind of dogs you see at the Château de Cheverny. I opened an upstairs window and took the pictures in this post.
Walt went out to the back gate to see what the story was. He talked to the man with the gun that you see in the photo above and found out that the animals being hunted were foxes, not deer. The hunter said they had killed three foxes that morning, and they had seen three or four more. « Il y en a beaucoup », he said — "there are a lot of them." I wonder how many they had bagged the day before, if any.
We've seen foxes out on the vineyard road a few times over the years, along with a lot of deer, many hares or rabbits, and the occasional badger. Over the past few weeks, I've been noticing animal droppings full of grape skins out in the rows of vines. I thought it might be deer eating the grapes, because they weather has been so dry and they might need the moisture. But maybe it's foxes. They eat grapes, don't they? Aesop and La Fontaine said so in their fables.