Returning to New Zealand to do another Tahr hunt is something I have been wanting to do for the last few years. It had been July 2002 since I had crossed the ditch with a rifle, last time chasing Chamois and Tahr with the late Dave McDonald of Lake Hawea Hunting Safaris. This time I was hoping not to have the same misfortunes as I had then, when my bull Tahr slid down a slope where it was impossible to recover without the use of abseiling gear. However, it was a great hunting trip and I still managed a nice chamois and a small Tahr which I tanned as a nice floor rug that the dogs love to lay on in the winter months.
After much research for a guide and numerous recommendations, the same name kept coming up, Chris McCarthy who took over Lake Hawea Hunting Safaris in 2006. I sent an email to him to get some prices on a wilderness area Tahr hunt and after talking with my brother and getting the green light from my wife to spend the money, we were locking in some dates for mid to late May 2011 which would be a good time of the rut to hunt but also wouldn’t be too cold. So with everything organized, we made several trips to the rifle range to practice our shooting at longer ranges which we might encounter in the New Zealand Southern Alps. The average shooting range of Tahr is between 100-300 meters. For my brother and I most of our hunting shots in Australia rarely get over 40-50 meters as we prefer to stalk up as close as possible to game, but with Tahr this is not the case because the terrain sometimes limits the distance at which you can get to them.
We flew into Christchurch late on Thursday and spent the night there before flying down to Wanaka early Friday morning. On Saturday we were picked up by Chris and taken to his hunter’s accommodation also in Wanaka. Over a cup of coffee we got to know a bit about each other and what would be happening over the next week, then he left us to finish getting things organised after which he would return and take us to check our rifles were still shooting fine, then around to his house for a nice dinner cooked by his wife Bronwyn. It had only felt like I had closed my eyes when the alarm went off and we packed our gear into the car, drove around to Chris’s house, had breakfast and then back in the car for the three hour drive round to the west coast to meet with the chopper at 11am for the flight into the alps.
The West coast not known for its fine weather, was surprisingly nice with blue skies and hardly a breath of air. In the distance we heard the sound of the Hughes 500 coming, so we positioned ourselves over the gear so it wouldn’t fly up into the rotor blades as the chopper landed. After fitting all our gear in, we were off over the snow capped mountains where we saw quite a few groups of Tahr while we were heading towards our camp. Once we were on the ground, we stood back in awe of the area we had been dropped into, with it’s sheer cliffs coming down to scrubby bush and ferns with boulder creeks leading down to the main river near camp. After taking a few photos we set about putting up the tents and then got the binoculars out and starting glassing the surrounds. It wasn’t long before Chris had spotted a good bull way up on top of a cliff, too far up for us but a promising start. Chris suggested we have lunch then climb up behind camp to have a better look of the rock faces. With barrels ends taped up to stop twigs getting jammed up them and bolts closed with nothing up the spout, we started pushing through the scrub behind our camp. It was quite an effort trying different ways of holding our rifles to stop the constant snagging of barrels. We came to a small clearing when a good bull was spotted about 500 meters away feeding on grass with a lone nanny. Watching and taking a few photos we set about making a plan to get a bit closer so I could get a shot. We waited till the pair moved behind the hill before moving and getting a position about 220 meters from where we hoped they would come out, but the fog had other ideas, moving in and making it impossible to see the bull clearly.
The decision was made to wait and see if the fog would clear and hopefully they would still be in shooting range. I was looking through the scope when I could hear Damian and Chris talking of another bull they had spotted across the creek about 125 meters to our right. After evaluation by Chris the decision for Damian to take him was made. I passed my backpack down to him for a rest and started filming on my camera. After a minute or so I heard the bolt of Damian’s Browning .270win close followed shortly by a shot which hit the Tahr’s chest causing him to run down into the gully and up other side where another shot was put into him, sending him tumbling down into the bottom of the creek. We were congratulating Damian when I spotted the bull we had first seen moving back down the rock face, but I was unable to get a shot from where we were. We raced up to a better spot where I caught my breath and followed him in the scope, waiting for him to stop moving. I noticed the nanny go through a small gully then stop. I waited to see if the bull would make the same mistake and sure enough he stopped and I squeezed off a shot dropping him on the spot. Because of the angle of the ground where he stood he soon began to slide down the rock face then over the cliff where he fell for 70 meters breaking a small bit of his horn tip and one of its growth ridges. Very little damage I thought considering his fall. Because of the time, we decided to take a few photos of my bull then climb back over to Damian’s Bull for some photos in the fading light then climb back down in the dark to camp. Back at camp we had some nice venison stew with a few celebratory beers and rums. We couldn’t ask for a better start to the trip.
At first light we had a quick breakfast before climbing back up behind camp for some better photos of our bulls and to remove the capes off both for mounting when we were back in Australia. While Chris was busy caping out my bull, we managed some great photos of the surrounding valley in the morning sun and some curious Kea birds interested in what we were doing. Two good bulls were spotted across the valley up pretty high around the same area as the one we spotted the day before. By the time we got back to camp it was lunch time and toasted salami and cheese bread was on the menu. I was looking at the scrub across the creek as I ate when I noticed something a different colour to everything else and a look through the binoculars revealed a nice bull at 398 meters facing away from us. All I could see was the black behind of him until he turned and stared at us with his mane fluffed out for about 30 minutes giving us plenty of time to take photos. The rest of the afternoon was spent by Chris removing the skin off the skulls of our bulls for salting and boiling out the horns, while Damian and I glassed about another 20 Tahr from camp, most only nanny’s but a few bulls worth a look the next day.
Early in the morning I was woken by the sound of light rain hitting the roof of the tent and it was still raining at breakfast. The rain and low cloud made for a miserable day with visibility only about 300 meters. Most of the day was spent in the tent reading mags except for when we saw a very young bull come down and watch us from about 200 meters from camp then wander off into the scrub. We went for a quick walk late afternoon but with visibility poor decided to go back, have some dinner and a rum and go to bed where it rained all night.
I was pleased when I woke up the next morning to no rain and skies starting to clear up down the valley, so after breakfast the binoculars came out and bulls were spotted everywhere all drying off in the sun. We went for a walk up the boulders across the creek, where we spotted a nice bull earlier, only to get there too late as he was up high already, not unshootable but there wouldn’t have been much left of him after he fell back down. We moved back down the boulders and we saw a nanny and kid. While we were taking photos of them a bull 15 meters from where we stood started to whistle at us although visible to us by his horns in the scrub. This must have got the attention of the bull laying out of sight to us near the nanny and kid.
Standing up to look around revealed a good 12 inch bull less than 30 meters from were we stood. We decided to shoot him with the camera which gave us some once in a life time photos of a live wilderness Tahr, till he was joined by another one of equal size. This very rare opportunity to be this close to wild tahr, was something special. All we could talk about over lunch was what we had just seen and how special this place was. After lunch we made our way up another rocky stream leading up to the high cliffs where we spotted a better bull, for Damian’s second tahr, feeding on a bush on a ledge about 10 meters up and 220 meters away. Not having much cover to get any closer Damian chose to take him from where we were. Setting up our backpacks as a rest, Damian waited until the bull lifted his head up and sent the 130gr core lokt on its way knocking him off his ledge and down the face where he stopped. Damian went to load another, but the cartridge wouldn’t feed. (Later we found a broken screw behind the trigger guard, causing the hinge plate and magazine to drop just enough that bolt face missed loading the next round). Putting a cartridge in by hand and firing another shot to his chest had him tumbling into the gully. We took some photos in the fading light and started moving down the hill before it got too dark.
It was decided over dinner that if I could get myself a bull tomorrow we might be able to fly out in the afternoon. Still in darkness we moved up to the bull Damian had shot the day before to cape it out. Once the cape was removed we made our way round to another rocky stream and noticed some tahr coming down to the head of it. Unable to get a shot from where I was, we moved across to the other side and up a steep face where I only had time to get a rest with my elbow on a rock. Being only 130 meters away and a steep angle upwards, I held right on his shoulder. I sent the core-lokt on its way bowling him over backwards and causing the rifle scope to come back and hit me in the eye. A steep climb from the other stream through ferns and scrub revealed my bull lying only a few meters from where he was shot. Not bad I had two good bulls from only two bullets. We caped him out and climbed back down to where Chris called the chopper. We lifted out after packing up a few hours later. Truly a great trip with two bulls taken each and probably 60-70 Tahr seen.
If you are looking for a trip of a lifetime in an amazing place, look up Chris from Lake Hawea Hunting Safaris. www.hawea-hunting.co.nz or Email firstname.lastname@example.org