First Time Tahr by Andy Kidner
One thing Andy KIdner learned from hunting in NZ is that despite your best made plans the weather is always going to do exactly what it wants.
My good mate Ned and I started planning our first NZ hunting trip around nine months before we left and after scouring forums, Google earth and DOC maps had come up with several options on likely places we wanted to hunt.
Our goal for the trip was to get our first NZ tahr; an animal that while not only having excellent vision, hearing and sense of smell, also lived in some of the most daunting terrain NZ has to offer. Inaccessible cliffs, scree slopes, flooded rivers and native flora that loves to poke holes in you among other hazards, has brought many a prospective tahr hunter unstuck over the years, so we were looking forward to the challenge.
After completing the lengthy process of flying out of Australia with firearms, applying for a NZ visitors firearm license and several other hurdles one has to jump to make the trip a reality, the day had arrived for us to leave.
I’d been monitoring the weather forecast in the weeks leading up to us leaving and of course the day we were arriving, the weather man announced a week of rain with over 600mm expected for the seven days. I was quickly learning that when it rains in NZ it doesn’t do things by half.
After arriving in Christchurch, getting through customs and checking in with NZ police we hit the local hunting shops for supplies. We had originally planned to be helicoptered into the West Coast and base ourselves out of a back country hut while doing spike camps further afield. With the weather not cooperating and most of the South Island copping torrential rain, we hastily rethought our plans and settled on heading north to Kaikoura to try and find a chamois while we waited for the weather to improve.
The following day we drove up to Kaikoura and met our chopper pilot who dropped us into the mountains that afternoon and would pick us up three days later. After several hours hiking to the tops from the valley floor, we glassed for any sign of movement with very little spotted. The next three days were filled with long hours glassing for chamois. Unfortunately, they weren’t there in the numbers we were hoping for. Red deer on the other hand were plentiful,but the stags were in velvet, so we left them alone and were happy to just experience the mountains which are so vastly different to what we had at home. A few days later, we were picked up by our pilot and back into phone reception, so we checked the weather forecast again for further south and thankfully it had improved.
The following day we made the four-hour drive south to Mt Cook ensuring our packs were filled with rations for the next five days. Later that afternoon we began our journey walking upriver to where we would hopefully encounter our first tahr.
The next few days were spent glassing from our first camping spot and to our amazement we located a mob of tahr high in the mountains. Soon after, we planned to hike up almost 1000m in elevation to try and make a move on a hopefully suitable bull. We both agreed that we were happy to go home empty-handed unless a mature bull presented an opportunity - off we trudged. The terrain was difficult and the tahr were in some very hard to get to country, but we were happy to hunt on.
After several close encounters with tahr over the next few days we were starting to worry that the area might only hold young bulls and groups of nannies as that was all we had seen despite spending countless hours on the hill each day. However, at this time of the year and well after the rut, the mature bulls tend to batch up and it would be only a matter of time before we run into them provided we kept putting in the effort.
That evening the plan was made for the following day to split up in an effort to cover more ground with Ned pushing into new country up river from camp and myself once again heading high to a vantage point to glass for mature bulls.
Later that day I received an Inreach message from Ned at around 4.30pm saying “bull down”. After making his way up river, Ned had spotted a bull bedded high in the bluffs and spent a good portion of the day getting into a suitable position for when it started to feed down the face to the river flats. One shot from the 300 win mag at 280m and Ned had finally secured his first tahr featurning very respectable 12-inch horns.
Morale was high that night as we celebrated Ned’s success and after a restless nights sleep I set out early up river to the same area that Ned had hunted the day before.
It was going to be the last day for me to get an animal as we had a long walk out to the car the following morning, with 80mm of rain forecast, so the pressure was on.
After spotting a group of eight tahr feeding high up on a scree slope I decided to make a move on them by closing the distance on two bulls which could be worth a shot. After two hours making my way through matagouri bush and thick undergrowth while it snowed, rained and was then blazing hot, I had got within 100 metres of the herd as they slowly moved downhill.
Unfortunately the mob turned out to be six nannies and two juvenile bulls - certainly not what I was looking for. After taking a few photos at close range I let them be and moved across the steep slope about a kilometre to a tussock ridge where I could glass to see what the next deep gully might reveal. Checking my watch, it was 6.30pm and starting to look like I'd run out of time for my first bull tahr.
As I approached the ridge I crawled the final few metres through the tussock so as not to skyline myself. Lucky I did, as not 60 metres away, feeding on a slip upwind of me were four nannies and a younger bull. It was great to see them so close and after sitting for 15 minutes observing them I noticed a big dark tan shape moving down a rock face around 500m away. Quickly raising my binoculars, I couldn't believe my eyes when a big bodied mature bull was revealed. Moving rather fast, he quickly dropped into another slip out of sight behind some rocks before I could set up for a shot.
My heart was racing as I'd finally found what we’d spent so much time and effort seeking. The only problem was that now the group of nannies and the young bull were between me and the mature bull with no way around them. Thankfully, after 10 minutes they started feeding over the next hill towards where the mature bull had disappeared.
I quickly threw my camera back in my bag and proceeded to cross the steep shingle slip towards the next ridge. Each time a rock would slide my heart would miss a beat, expecting to hear the herd running off, but thankfully, after a tense couple of minutes, I’d made it safely across without too much fuss.
Once again I crawled up to the ridge edge and was relieved to find the two bulls and the nanny group had linked up and were feeding on a tussock face opposite me. I loaded my .308 and, after ranging the bull at 220 metres, sent a 165g Sierra Game King projectile straight through its vitals ensuring a quick humane kill.
The big bull dropped on the spot and the remainder of the herd headed for the safety of the rocky bluffs higher up the mountain. I couldn’t believe it, after five days of pushing myself to my physical limit with huge days on the mountain, thousands of metres climbed, rain, snow and sunburn, I’d finally achieved what we set out to do by taking my first DIY public land bull tahr. I was thrilled at my luck and grateful I'd taken such a beautifull bull.
After caping him out and butchering the meat, I started the long walk down the mountain and along the river bed back to camp. When I arrived at 10.30pm we decided we’d pack up completely and make the trip out to the hut considering the forecast weather for the following day. With fully loaded packs pushing 40+ kgs it was a brutal trudge out that night with several creek crossings to keep things interesting. We arrived at the hut at 1.30am and collapsed for the night.
The next morning we made the final push back out to the car before driving back to Christchurch to drop the skins off at the taxidermist and clean our gear for the flight home the following day.
It’s an achievement I’ll never forget and one I’m extremely proud of. There’s something about being in the mountains that truly humbles you and makes you realise exactly how powerful and unpredictable Mother Nature is. I think it’s only when you push yourself out of your comfort zone that you discover what you’re made of. With these type of back country trips, even if you don’t manage to shoot anything, you come away richer for the experience.
Massive thanks to Ned and all the people who helped us out for a great trip and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year.