I’m lucky enough to be able to hunt around the globe. Having said that, if I don’t manage a tahr hunt at least once a year at home in New Zealand I begin to get withdrawal symptoms. It’s ugly.
So, when two friends from Norway got in touch to enquire about hunting tahr and chamois over winter I was quick to encourage them to visit – as long as I could join them, of course. Espen Haugeland and Ronnie Røiseland travelled all the way from Lyngdal to my home town of Levin. The moment they disembarked the plane I threw them in my pick-up and drove to the ferry to begin our journey to the South Island. “You lads can stretch out on the boat, let’s not waste any valuable hunting time,” I said.
June is a prime time to hunt tahr and chamois, so my plan was to head down the west coast to Fox Glacier before flying into the Tai Poutini Mountain Park. But we had a couple of stops to make first. Another hunting buddy had flown into Blenheim, a small town at the tip of South Island, and was awaiting pick-up from the airport. Then it was on to St Arnaud to get hold of the last of our group, Nick King, a Kiwi hunting legend. With five hunters now comfortably ensconced in the truck we turned our noses south and drove through to Fox Glacier.
Acket: Swazi Tahr Ultralite
Hat: Swazi Hasbeanie
Gaiters: Swazi Ali-Gaiter
Gloves: Swazi Fingerprints
All from swazi.co.nz
Our plan was to fly by helicopter into the mountains, then walk down river to the junction of two rivers before bush bashing our way up through thick scrub and dropping into what I fondly refer to as the ‘hidden valley’. It’s where there are more tahr than stars in the sky.
The forecast for the week twisted turmoil on top of horrendous hurricanes. In New Zealand we call it ‘Swazi weather’ and that’s exactly what we received for our six days in the hills. Perfect, we agreed.
We grabbed the first flight we could, enabling us to fly to the head of the river and walk down to the cabin that would be our base for a week. After sorting our camp, a late afternoon stroll seemed in order and we went to check out a mountain stream down from the cabin. At least, that was the plan.
Just 80m from the cabin we ran into a chamois buck and after a quick stalk along the creek Ronnie lay down to take him with a nicely-placed neck shot with his .270WSM. Going over 10.5” it was Ronnie’s first chamois and it’ll be hard for him to beat that. I ranged the distance on my Leica Geovid binoculars from where the buck had fallen back to our camp. It was 162m. Damn. Now the Norwegians were beginning to think all our hunting was going to be easy.
Both Ronnie and Espen were using .270WSM rifles fitted with Hausken suppressors
With the severe weather front approaching we knew we’d have to take whatever opportunities came our way. The following morning saw plenty of rain, so we crossed the river and headed for the alpine tops in the hope that we’d get enough breaks in the rain to glass for animals. Huddled down in the tussock grass, Nick spotted a nice bull 600m above us. Taking off with Espen, they headed through the mist to try and catch up with him while I took Ronnie on a slippery sidle across the face and into the next water catchment.
I was aiming for a big rocky outcrop above what I knew was a productive basin. It is a great place to spot animals from and would get us out of the wind. We’d only just settled into a cosy spot in the lee of the rocks when a bull appeared through the mist. “What do you think Davey?” asked Ronnie. “Well mate, I think you should take him.” Again, my Norwegian friend showed his fine marksmanship and took his first bull tahr.
Ronnie and I hadn’t heard any shots from the next valley – both Ronnie and Espen were using .270WSM rifles fitted with Hausken suppressors – though I was pretty sure the boys would have heard our shot, so I merely surmised they’d not been able to stalk in on their bull. With Ronnie’s tahr in my pack we headed to our agreed rendezvous point just in time to see the boys coming down the hill, Espen with a tahr cape over his shoulders. I turned to Ronnie: “Let’s give these boys some stick. Not a word about your tahr Ronnie – keep it quiet.”
A couple hours after dark we were back at the hut and, with brew in hand, I casually asked Espen if he could pass my camera from out of my pack in the corner of the hut. He opened the top of the pack and looked up with a smile: “You sneaky bastards!”
Being camped up by a river has advantages, but in bad weather we were hamstrung by rapidly-rising water levels for a couple of days until a break in the rain presented an option of heading downstream to explore the next catchment.
The deluge had turned to constant drizzle and the many tributaries we had to cross were suddenly unmanageable. Slips and open areas we may previously have walked by looked inviting and we stopped by many to glass for animals. High above us in the mist a stag ran from side to side of an open face to feed, unaware of the hunters leaning on logs watching his every move.
“He’s a nice 12-pointer, bloody good for these parts,” Nick commented. But the boys had travelled to hunt tahr so we passed him up for another day and continued down the valley in search of the big shaggy devils.
As we stopped for a bite of lunch below a huge fresh slip, the mist disappeared and all of a sudden the gnarly mess of twisted logs and house-sized boulders in the creek turned from looking like a maze into a golden staircase that could take us higher than the scrub and up to the open tops above.
A slog up the creek gut saw us emerge onto a small level patch of ground and with it an opportunity to begin glassing the cliffy overhangs to our left and right. A young bull appeared from behind a scrub bush and, oblivious to the hunters below, began feeding. Then, to his right a mob of females seemed to just materialise as if they’d been beamed down from the USS Enterprise. One moment there had being nothing there and suddenly half a dozen animals stood. It always amazes me and makes me wonder just how many you walk straight past.
A shape slowly turned from being a dark rock into a dark rock with horns and a long mane
Right. It was time to get comfortable and hunker down while we glassed. There had to be a big boy somewhere… From the shadows of a long-running tongue of solid granite, a shape slowly turned from being a dark rock into a dark rock with horns and a long mane. “There’s our bull.”
Espen rested on a couple of daypacks stacked together and asked for a range. “The ballistic binos give a true reading of 203m mate. Aim smack on.”
Not waiting for further instructions, he fired almost immediately and the bull tumbled from sight. A good hit! The climb up got steeper the higher we went and though in reality it was a short distance it seemed to take forever to get up to where we’d seen him last. A perfect shot, a great animal and one hell of a happy Norseman.
In my opinion, tahr numbers are currently too high to be sustainable and as hunters we shouldn’t just be interested in taking trophies. We also need to address the ecological impact high populations have on the bush. Estimates suggest there are around 35,000 to 40,000 tahr in New Zealand’s mountains and that number needs to be at least halved, if not more. If hunters don’t do it, then someone else will.
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We need to ensure two things. That the bush can flourish and that future generations have the opportunity to continue to hunt the majestic Himalayan tahr in one of the most pristine and remote locations on the planet.
It was such a memorable trip. Good mates and good hunting. Over the years I’ve often been asked by other New Zealand hunters how my European hunting friends handle our mountains – the steepness, the fact we camp out in atrocious weather and the sheer physical act of hunting in often thick impenetrable bush. Well, they handle it very well.
Sure, you have to be physically fit and carry only essential gear that will enable you to survive the elements, but to date I have been super impressed with all my friends who have travelled from the opposite side of the world. If you are planning such a trip, don’t be put off by any comments about how our mountains are pure tiger country only suitable for mountaineers. Get fit. Practise your shooting, and enjoy hunting one of the most magnificent animals in the world.
For further information about Swazi, see swazi.co.nz