Hunter fatigue syndrome

With a string of successful hunts over the past few years and my game limited to fallow, reds, the occasional pig and a mixed bag of small game like wallaby, turkey, opossum, rabbit and hare I could feel the onset of “hunter fatigue syndrome” possibly becoming “stale” from stalking my old regular stomping grounds.

The ole girl banging on didn’t help this onset affliction either, “oh no not another one” or “look at the mess you have made of my kitchen bench” to “there’s no more room in the freezer” to “you have already been out on a hunt this week,” but these comments are merely what we hunters have to endure – collateral damage I guess.

The wily hunter knows not to buy into these negatives and  will respond with a less is best response “aah, sorry dear”  and sometimes sail close to the wind with a “Yes dear.”  

I had to arrange immediate therapy; I needed to hunt another species, but what to hunt and where?

I considered Stewart Island for Whitetail deer, or an alpine hunt for thar or maybe chamois – “now there’s a thought, but bugger it there are no Alps in the North Island and for that matter no thar or chamois”

I kept hearing the words in my head “Go south, go south, soouuthhh …”

I decided it was into the West Coast Mountains of the South Island for either a thar or a chamois; doesn’t matter which one – whichever I am lucky enough to see first, and that’s part of any success story I guess – luck.

In the summer months thar and chamois are much lower down off the tops, striking a thar or a chamois up a shingle scree or a high side creek on the west coast of the South Island can be a likely, or rather a lucky bet.

Hari Hari in South Westland is already in good thar and chamois country, so I jotted down some likely looking areas and, “Oh sorry dear, I will be away for a couple of weeks in December,” which was good therapy in itself.

I booked the Bluebridge ferry for 27th December for return 3rd January –  right choice as the propeller fell off the opposition’s Inter Islander ferry soon after my booking and created chaos for any future bookings over this period.

Being a skinflint, I wanted to do this trip on a tight budget, it was a long return trip, so I pulled the front passenger seat out of my little Toyota Echo and built a timber frame with a ply deck to sleep on. I planned a virtual non-stop trip directly down to the hunt area.

I booked a PLB from Tauranga Deerstalkers Association; the plan was to hunt the low riverbed flats, side creeks and shingle screes then strike up a ridge to overnight on the tops for a mighty thar. Unfortunately, cloud and the onset of heavy rain while down there cancelled out hunting the tops.

I had planned this as a solo “therapy expedition” undoubtedly facing considerable walking until my brother in law Geoff in Christchurch expressed an interest to join me.

“I have a 4WD truck and a quad I could bring along”, suggested Geoff, so we hatched an outline for our hunt. Meeting up with Geoff in Hari Hari, aware of a weather front a few days away and possibly limiting our hunt, we planned a backup goat hunt in Hari Hari.

We called in to a Hara Hari farmer contact happy for us to cross his land to hunt feral goats. I had shot the odd chamois at the headwaters of a creek on his land, so now with permission to return, we then continued on to Whataroa.

The river bed at Whataroa had a gate across the side road to the river bed with a contact phone number of the farmer. The farmer on the other end of the phone advised we’d have to continue down to Franz Joseph for a key, but that was too far.

With permission granted we felt we could somehow get the quad past the gate and up the river leaving the truck at a camp site at the gate. A two-wire electric fence strung up to the gate revealed a likely spot where we could get the quad through.

After a “tickle up” off the electric fence I used my car-tube scope cover (Man! What a skinflint – Ed) on a stick to lift the bottom wire high enough for Geoff to get the quad under and we were good to go.

On the first day we hunted up river for about 2km on the flats, side creeks and lower reaches of the river bed. Confidence was buoyed with fresh chamois sign on the flats and the sandy areas of the side creeks – and horrors! Fresh boot marks as well.

We were following reasonably fresh 4X4 tracks up the river bed and no chamois or thar were seen on the first day but they were there alright. The best area to hunt was tomorrow, into the gorge of the river and the steep ridges to the tops.

Some hunters coming out informed us they had done OK on chamois, so that diminished my confidence somewhat as on day two we were also going to be hunting a second freshly hunted area. We needed some good luck, that’s for sure.

Day 2 we were up at 4am for a full day away into the headwaters, we had to leave the quad at a point where we could not get it any further up river or across it and stalked the river bed and flats as far as we could go into the gorge to the headwaters.

Finally, at 11am ranging at 100 metres I spotted a mature summer coat, light fawn chamois doe looking in our direction. She was in an alert stance, nice pair of vertical hooked horns and with the river and mountain backdrop she looked magnificent. She was wary and took flight into a side gulch into heavy bush.

I suggested to Geoff there could be others with her and, just as we started to stalk through the little grassed flat again, we spotted a second chamois standing on the rocks of the riverbed, a bit bigger and darker in colour – a buck and from a prone rest on a bump on the ground at 200 metres through the Kahles 3-9×42 he looked absolutely superb, he was quartering away and heading upriver.

I held my nerve and, LUCKILY, he slowly presented a broadside shot by stopping and looking across the river. The suppressed Weatherby 7mm-08 140gr SP dropped him into the river –  “Yeeha mission accomplished, hallelujah,
for I have been healed.”

After 40 years since getting my last chamois it felt so good seeing another trophy at my feet; he was a beautiful big rangy buck in excellent summer condition. He taped out to 9 ¾ inches.

After a few photos we strung him up into a tree and continued the hunt for a chamois for Geoff; unfortunately despite fresh sign further upriver and right into the gorge we saw no more chamois or thar.

Returning to the buck I took the head skin for a shoulder mount and stripped off the back steaks, after considering we could not preserve any more meat off the buck and get it back home we reluctantly left those wonderful hindquarters behind.

Now, with menacing big black clouds rolling down the headwaters and gulches, we headed back to camp. On the way down river there were three over passes at 20 minute intervals where hunters were probably being helicoptered out due the weather front closing in, I had a cheesy grin on my face and wondered if they had got their trophy after spending big bucks on a chopper flight.

Next morning in pouring rain we returned to HariHari. We splashed out and booked into the pub for $25 Bed and Breakfast with single rooms, showers, use of kitchen facilities including a fridge and freezer and as usual the renowned Kiwi West Coast hospitality.

Geoff gave the chamois back steaks to an American couple who had been in the Wanganui River high country since before Xmas, so they enjoyed the luxury of red wine and NZ chamois steaks for their tea.

The objective now was to blood Geoff’s new Tikka .308, so we turned our attention to the goats on the farmer’s land where we had stopped for permission.

We had only walked 25 metres from parking the truck when we spotted four goats on the edge of the scrub. “Aar to hell with it, Geoff  – go get ‘em.” Geoff bowled three of them and left a kid for another day.

Continuing up the creek, the goat sign petered out  – disappointing, as years ago this area used to regularly present 15-20 goats, including nice big Angora-cross billies to shoot. Apparently there had been a 1080 poison drop in this area in 2011-2012.  

The alarm was set for 4am but heavy rain had set in, spoiling a second attempt for an early morning deer for Geoff, so we decided to decamp for home.

Despite the 2155km return by car and other expenses, it was still cheaper than a fly in to the tops for a chamois, and as for the West Coast weather, “Well hell, that’s hunting Aotearoa.”

“Am I going to do it again next year? Too right! It’s the best tonic around for “hunter fatigue”.

Oh and incidentally, “You’re not going to hang that bloody thing on the wall- it can go out in the garage!” Isn’t it great to be home and hunting the old stomping grounds. 


Chamois in New Zealand
Alpine chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) arrived in New Zealand from Europe in 1907 as a gift from the Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef 1. The first surviving releases were made in the Mount Cook region and these animals gradually spread over much of the South Island.

In New Zealand, hunting of chamois is unrestricted and even encouraged by the Department of Conservation to limit the animals’ impact on New Zealand’s native alpine flora. New Zealand chamois tend to weigh about 20% less than European individuals of the same age, suggesting that food supplies may be limited.

Biology and behaviour
Female chamois and their young live in herds of up to 100 individuals; adult males tend to live alone for most of the year. During the rut (May in NZ), males engage in fierce battles for the attention of unmated females. The gestation period is 170 days, after which a single kid is born in November, although rarely twins may be born. If a mother is killed, other females in the herd may try to raise them.

The kid is weaned at 6 months and is fully grown by 1 year. However, the kids do not reach sexual maturity until they are 3 to 4 years old, although some females may mate at as early 2 years old.  At sexual maturity, young males are forced out of their mother’s herds by dominant males (who sometimes kill them), and then wander  until they can establish themselves as mature breeding specimens at 8 to 9 years of age.

Chamois eat various types of vegetation, including highland grasses. Primarily diurnal in activity, they often rest around mid-day and may actively forage during moonlit nights.

Maximum recorded age in the wild is 17 years of age. The main predator of chamois now are humans. Chamois usually use speed and stealthy evasion to escape predators and can run at 50 kmph (31mph) and can jump 2m (6.6ft) vertically into the air or over a distance of 6m (20ft). Ref: Wikipedia

Chamois in NZ are gradually dying out due to 1080 poisoning, disease and hunting pressure they will one day become a managed game species where only the wealthy will enjoy chamois hunts by chopper or in private game parks.  

On a recent televised hunting program in NZ (The Outdoors with Geoff) a chopper pilot spoke about current live capture of chamois with their transfer to private high country stations.

– K.J.

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Sporting Shooter magazine.





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