As I lifted the lid on the letter box there it was, a letter with my name on it from the Department Of Conservation. I knew it was the results from the Tahr ballot block allocations and I had high hopes on securing a spot for late May, the peak of the Tahr rut. As I opened it and started to read, disappointment hit home. I was unsuccessful in obtaining a block. Bugger!
Each year from mid-May to July both the Adams & Landsborough wilderness areas are split into 24 landing sites for hunters to utilise helicopter access into parts of the land that would normally take days to walk in to. Tahr numbers can be very high in these sections and bulls, if not disturbed, have a great chance of reaching maturity and offer fantastic trophy hunting opportunities.
As the next few weeks passed by, I was beginning to think I’ll just have to try my luck again next year and shifted my thoughts to the roar. However, out of the blue I received a call from another Wellington hunter, Scott Bilton, who mentioned that himself and his brother in-law Campbell had been successful and drawn the Jacobs block, Period 4, 24th-31st of May and they had room for one more hunter; was I interested?
Without hesitation or consulting my better half, my answer was “Hell yeah I’m in” and that was it. I was hunting tahr in the rut and that’s all that mattered! Once I hung up the phone, a quick phone call to the Misses to see what her opinion was, of course I didn’t let on that I had already accepted. Luckily I got the desired response, “Yes, I don’t want you sitting at home reminding me every 10mins that you could be on the West Coast right now”. So, let the organising begin!
Over the next few weeks I was busy hunting over the roar with mixed success as May drew closer. I was really looking forward to getting back on the West Coast and looking for that big bull tahr for the wall. I caught up with Cam and Scott a few times and we had everything sorted. Anyone that’s ever lucky enough to hunt with Campbell will find that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, he’s a machine at organisation and we had everything covered except one thing, the weather!
One week out and the long range forecast was looking OK at best, 2 days out however it looked horrendous. Severe weather warnings were in place for the West Coast with heavy rain and high winds for the exact week we were meant to be hunting! The night before our flight to Christchurch, Wendy Petrie stopped our plans dead in their tracks; South Island alpine passes to the West Coast are closed due to slips! We were gutted and made the call to abandon the trip, much to all of our disappointment.
Over the next 3 days I was mildly depressed at not making it to the West Coast and had been in touch with Ewan Black, a keen hunter from Wanaka who gave me a few options for some sheltered spots on the east side of the alps. I texted the guys, “Bugger work it can wait, going crazy here, I’m heading down to the East Coast, who’s keen?” Within hours we had loaded the D-Max on the ferry and plan B, the eastern Alps mission, had commenced. We could only make the overnight sailing as it was such short notice but we weren’t too bothered. We left Wellington at 10pm, arrived in Picton at 1.30am and then took turns driving through the night 8hrs non-stop to Tekapo where we would be hunting for the next 4 days. We arrived at the hut late morning and were treated to some fantastic weather although bloody cold at -5 degrees.
After unpacking the gear and putting the jug on, we dug out the spotting scope and began scanning the distance faces for our first animal. The recent weather had been rubbish and the snow level was very low which can be a good thing when hunting bulls in the rut. The nannies still need to feed and the snow helps push them lower in search of tucker. That coupled with the below zero temperatures had seen the snow turn to ice, again working in our favour pushing the tahr lower. With a coffee in one hand Campbell yells out “there’s a bull!” Sure enough about 3km away Cam had spotted what appeared to be a mature bull hassling some nannies on a gentle spur right at the snow line.
A plan was made to walk over and have a better look, cover some ground and allow us to gain some valuable information as to how and where we would hunt over the next few days. As we closed the distance to 500m I could still see the bull giving one particular nanny a really hard time, chasing her up and down the spur. As Cam had spotted this one he was up to shoot first, so we made a decision to split up with Cam and Scott climbing 300m higher to try and get level with the bull in the hope that a shot could be taken.
I watched their progress from below and by the time they reached their vantage point, the bull had chased the nanny into the next gully out of view. The weather was still clear but the wind had built to well beyond gale force making life much less comfortable. I sidled around below Cam and Scott and we all headed onto the next ridge to look into where we thought the animals would be. I peered over to see nothing but rocks and snow. The Tahr obviously hadn’t dropped lower so I thought the boys were still up for a chance. Sheltering behind a rock for protection from the wind I sat and glassed hard hoping to pick up the bull but it was to no avail.
Ten minutes passed and then Boom! A shot rang out. Boom! Another. I took off running up the ridge to catch a glimpse of the action and spotted the bull followed by a nanny departing the scene unscathed. Cam and Scott were disappointed things hadn’t quite worked out but that’s hunting and there’s always tomorrow. We retreated back to the hut, seeing a few more tahr on the way, as the weather started to closed in.
With the morning came heavy rain and sleet so staying in the comfort of our warm hut and sleeping bags was the best option and allowed us to catch up on lost sleep from the all night driving mission. As the day went on the weather slowly improved and by afternoon it was good enough for a wander up another creek for some glassing. It took us around an hour to reach our pre-determined lookout spot and after glassing for 2hrs we saw nothing which dropped the spirits a little. Walking back in the dark I had decided tomorrow was the day. Rain, hail or shine I was going on a big day mission to really cover some ground in the hope of finding a mature bull.
Waking at 5am to -10 degrees it wasn’t so easy getting out of the sleeping bag but it had to be done. Breakfast down the hatch, pack loaded with food and gear and we were off.
We picked a different creek to hunt which involved a 5km tramp to the valley entrance after a river crossing only 200m from camp. Wet feet at 5:30am in -10 degrees, not nice! We pushed on as the sun started to rise promising a cracker day. The plan was to split up with Cam and Scott climbing high above where they had spotted 2 different tahr mobs on day one. I was going to attempt to get to the head of the creek and glass some bluffs that looked like great bull country. At the entrance to the creek I split from the guys and with my GWP dog in tow, made my way upstream. To say it was cold would be a massive understatement. My feet were frozen solid and the sun had only just hit the tops on the mountains. I still had another hour at least before I could attempt to warm up. I kept moving and after half an hour something caught my eye on the skyline, a bull in fact 2! I quickly dropped my pack and set the spotter up to get a better look.
The first one looked young with a nice coat but really lacked body size, but the second one was a real brute, big solid body, with a huge mane. This was the bull I’d been looking for. The bull slowly sidled around the face 500 vertical meters above me and at least 800 yards distant so he was fairly safe for now. It was bitterly cold sitting in the shaded side of the gully as I watched the bull cover the last 500 meters into the bluffs where he seemed to bed down. I could not stay still in the cold any longer so had to push on and try to close the distance to the bull. Unfortunately in the position he was bedded I couldn’t get a shot away and I needed the hairy beast to move out of the bluffs otherwise I would never recover him due to the ice and steep terrain. It was still only early, around 8.30 am, but my feet were beginning to really hurt. I’ve been cold many times but never to the point where it hurt. The dog didn’t look too worried. After waiting a while longer and trying to make a plan I decided that the bull had probably bedded for the day and he wouldn’t get up and started feeding again until later that afternoon.
Decision made, I raced back down to the valley floor and climbed up the other face into the sun to try and warm up as I was worried about getting mild frost bite in my toes.
Once in the glorious sunshine I parked up, removed my socks and let my feet thaw out which was happening very slowly. I had to start up my jetboil and hold my toes in the steam to really kick them back into life. Meanwhile that big bull was still bedded high up on the opposite side of the valley in the coldest nastiest looking place in the whole bluff system.
By 1pm I was becoming quite impatient and decided bugger it I’m going to try and get into the bluffs. I was still feeling far too cold and thought that by climbing it would get the blood pumping and warm me up.
Down into the creek for the second time and up the other side I went with my GWP not far behind. I closed the distance to 400m and settled behind a rock. The closer I got the more I my initial thought was backed up, if I shot him there I would never recover him. I had no option but to wait him out. After another hour in the snow shivering my backside off the bull finally stood up and walked 50m to the right, coming out of the bluffs to feed on some ice covered snow grass. “Right” I thought, finally my opportunity and as I was getting the rifle set up he started walking straight towards me! The bull dropped 150m in evaluation and closed the distance to around 250yards. I was comfortable that he was in a recoverable spot but he keep coming so I sat tight until he eventually stopped at 180yards.
My rifle rest was very average as the Harris bipod legs were frozen shut and wouldn’t extend so I had to lean on my dry bag which had a down jacket in it. Setting the camera up on zoom gave me a good look at him and confirmed that he was a good bull, the horns had solid bases with a distinct up and back sweep. I was swiftly back behind the rifle and as the bull creased the spur I sent a 140gr accoubond crashing into the base of his neck collapsing him on the spot. Finally a trophy bull tahr was down and with all that excitement I almost forgot how cold it was.
As I made my way over I started having doubtful thoughts on whether he’d surpass my bull from the previous year. I lifted the head out of the snow and all reservations were quickly forgotten when eyes were laid on that great set of horns. I was stoked! Big bases and good length, just 2mm shy of 13inches. I took the mandatory photos, caped him out and made my way back to the valley floor a very happy man. Although I was still freezing cold I was very content in what had been a great hunt. The other guys met me on the way out, they had both shot a tahr each for meat and seen a couple more. By the time we hit the hut it was well after dark and we enjoyed a few beers and whiskeys while relaxing in-front of a warm fire. We were three very happy North Island Tahr hunters and stoked that the Plan B had delivered
Check out our video of this hunt