NZ Chamois Hunting

To many Aussie outdoorsmen hunting in foreign countries may seem an exotic and expensive pursuit and only the preserve of the “well-heeled”. But across the ditch in New Zealand a do-it-yourself hunt can be an economical way to have the experience of a life-time. Not only can top-notch trophies be found on public land, but these can be accessed relatively inexpensively and in landscapes totally unlike anything in Australia. To be sure, a guided hunt on private land will cost thousands of dollars, depending upon the type of game and the level of service expected of the guide. But for hunters who are prepared to put in a decent amount of planning and preparation, the rewards of a DIY hunt on public land are great.

The first part of the planning and preparation is consideration of the logistics of overseas travel with a firearm and ammunition. This may seem challenging for the uninitiated and to be truthful, is rather tiresome. However, with an understanding of the processes required and a certain tolerance for Australian bureaucracy, this can be achieved without too much drama and with little expense.

The State firearm registry needs to issue the prospective traveller with a form known as a B709A, which is needed to bring the firearm and its fodder back into the country. The B709A is issued free of charge, but is only good for six months.

The Commonwealth customs system requires the travelling hunter to have an Export Declaration Number (EDN) as well as a Restricted Goods Permit (RGP). The RGP cross references with the EDN and lists the details of the firearm and the ammunition. Once equipped with the B709A, both the customs forms can be obtained over the counter at the Exports Processing desk a week or two before the intended departure date. The whole procedure is detailed on the customs website, but if you are like me it may take a couple of attempts before the forms are filled out to the exacting standards of the service desk.

With the paperwork in order on the Aussie side you then realise that on the NZ side it is all much simpler. In fact the police at Christchurch usually enquire in a friendly fashion where you are going to hunt, what you are hunting – and might even give you a few tips. They apologise for the NZ$25 fee that goes with the Visitors Licence and Permit to import Firearms, and don’t even check whether you leave the country with the gear you brought in. The Department of Conservation permit to hunt on public land can be downloaded on the web and is immediately granted free of charge. Ahh! It can be that simple!

The second part of the planning and preparation is getting fit enough to walk for days on end carrying a pack and rifle in terrain that is incredibly steep. Unfortunately most of us are the denizens of offices rather than conditioned by healthy outdoor work. For three months prior to the hunt my efforts were directed to jogging in hilly terrain, gym work focussing on legs, and walking with a pack which simulated the intended weight for our alpine foray (15kg inclusive rifle). Occasionally I varied the routine by running up the fire stairs of the 14 storey building where I work. My goal was to exercise three times per week.

The third part of the preparation for the overseas hunt is the meticulous itemising of each and every item to be transported. Weight is all important, not only for avoiding the baggage charges of the rapacious airlines, but also to fit the chopper pilot’s limitations. A trial pack-and-weigh at home is useful to confirm compliance (or not, in my case) with the airline’s policy. This process also helps to winnow down the items which are “must-have” as opposed to “nice-to-have”.

We elected mid-April 2012 as the time for our hunt. It would be cold, but prior to the snow season, planning seven nights in the mountains, with the chopper pilot organised to do the return-leg pick-up at an agreed hour.

To compare with an extended interstate Aussie hunt, the expenses incurred along the way are noted below. A review of the overall cost of the DIY Chamois hunt is also undertaken in the context of some local alternatives.

Virgin flew me from Brisbane to Christchurch return for $402. My 5kg of excess baggage added another $90 exiting Australia, but on the return leg the Kiwis were more forgiving – no added charge. Outbound from Australia I allowed an extra hour at the airport for the customs officer to check my paperwork, and to confirm that the serial number of my Winchester Model 70 .30-06 matched the details on the B709A. The customs processing was done courteously and without much of a wait.

The next expense was the hire car to cart me and Bill over to the West Coast for the chopper pickup. Since the vehicle will mostly sit in the car park at the helicopter pad, you can take the cheapest crate going, but make sure it can make it over Arthur’s Pass – the road is steep and winding. The car-hire added NZ$221 to my running total after splitting it with Bill.

After stocking-up on supplies, we headed westward over Arthur’s Pass just as evening descended. We elected to drive right through to the helicopter pick-up point at Whataroa, where I tested my new camping kit on a patch of flat ground adjacent the car parking area. For the purposes of my hunt costing I neglected the NZ$200 bill for the buy-up at Pac-n-save, since we all need to eat, and that expense would be incurred regardless of whether the hunter is at home or abroad. Incidentals directly attributable to the hunt were two non-refillable propane cylinders for cooking in camp (NZ $16), and my share of the short wave radio hire (NZ$16). Dividing the NZ$1,000 cost of the chopper for two lifts added another NZ$250 to my expenses tally.

It does cost more if one elects to stay in motels on the way over to the West Coast and back. We camped-out at the chopper pickup point on the inbound journey, but took the luxury option of a motel room in Christchurch on the return leg. This was done so that we could be close to the airport for the early-departing flight we had chosen, but also to make sure we didn’t clear the airport with the stink of four bodies unwashed after a week of heavy exertion. My share of a twin room with Bill (not a double!) added another NZ$63 and juice for the hire car along the way another $120. All-up this put the cost of my NZ alpine hunt at NZ$1,202 exclusive of food and drink. According to the exchange rate I obtained, the bill was equal to A$991.

A couple of years ago I was hunting on a big sheep station out west of Quilpie, in the Aussie outback. The owner told me a lot of the hunters on the property were coming up from Victoria, a round trip of about 3,500km! For a pair of Victorian hunters in a large 4WD I reckoned the fuel cost plus the accommodation charge for the shearer’s quarters on the property (it was listed in the “Western Hunting Guide”) would be setting each hunter back to the tune of some $700. A similar equation would prevail for hunters from my home-base in SE Queensland venturing north to the gulf, or south for Sambar. With an overnight stay (or two) in a motel or caravan park en-route up and back the total cost would then easily be in the $800-$1,000 range.

So, for about the same cost as an interstate hunting trip in Australia, our party enjoyed a week of hunting in the NZ alps. We took three Chamois and we were blown away by our immersion into the wild, spectacular scenery. The DIY element seemed to add to the experience. Rather than having a local guide as nursemaid, we revelled in our freedom and independence. Our hunting experiences were surely richer and more memorable because they were solely the product of our own efforts. In my case, success came early on the morning of the third day in the field.

Bill and I had fly-camped at about 1,600 metres; way above the tree line. Within a short distance from our tents we had a choice of several vantage points from which we had commanding views over large areas. We figured Chamois would likely be traversing this territory while moving from one feeding area to another. As the light of day gradually strengthened to the point when colours began emerging from the pre-dawn grey, a movement attracted my attention. Close to 200 metres downslope from our position, the dark shape of a Chamois buck jolted me into action. In nervous haste I searched out the moving animal through my 3-9X Leupold. Even at that distance, in the still air, the sounds of my movement alerted the wary beast that was something was amiss. It paused and turned-about as if to retrace its steps, and when it paused momentarily, I sent a bullet on its way. The buck dropped instantly and slid back down the slope a few metres before coming to rest. It was still kicking feebly, so I applied a finishing shot rather than risk it leaping up and disappearing. Descending alone to my buck, I spent quite a long time admiring the handsome mountain goat before taking photos to record the event.

Away in a different watershed, Anton and young Jesse also had some luck. Jesse shot his first Chamois, a youngster, but with tender meat just perfect for the pot. In a rocky, steep-sided gully Anton had encountered a decent buck which took flight at the strange intruders into its mountain domain. As it crested a rise at over 300 metres it offered a slender opportunity. For an experienced hunter like Anton that chance was enough – a single shot from his 30-06 Winchester Model 70 put it on the deck. The buck sported horns which were later measured at a decent eight inches, the same as the buck I had taken.

Our results were obtained without the presence of any Kiwi locals in the hunting party. Copious background reading, web research, and conversations with chopper pilots and experienced NZ alpine hunters all helped in preparing for success. Our experiences confirmed that Aussies can make the transition to hunting in the mountains of NZ despite the hugely different environmental conditions and topography. So, when thinking about your future hunting options, be sure to consider “the Land of the Long White Cloud”. Don’t be daunted by issues around travel or expense. Hunting there won’t cost you an arm and a leg, and the memories of the adventures will stay with you for a lifetime.

This article was first published in Sporting Shooter Magazine February 2013




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