Bull Tahr hunt in the bluffs
Our hunt last week in the NZ Alps was going reasonably smooth. Three of the guys who hadn't shot tahr got it done the first day just before the heavens opened up and it belted down rain complimented by fierce wind gusts. I was stuck up high out on the hill trying to find a big bull we had glassed earlier when it started and i had a hard time just keeping traction and contouring the terrain without getting knocked off balance. It was welcoming when finally i hit the flat stuff a while later and within the next hour we were in the hut drying out with darkness closing and no sign of the rain easing.
The terrible weather continued on all night and into the next morning and shortly before midday it eased up. The rivers were swollen and we had no option but to head up river further into the headwaters of the system and glass for tahr in between the showers that were lingering around. A few animals were spotted, some good bulls included, but a lot were in locations that required a full day and not the handful of hours we had spare for this day. A bit further on a heap of tahr were glassed up high and a couple of bulls ambled into sight and climbed out onto a bluff. They were young animals and we continued glassing. The 15's were working overtime and it was all eyes on the hill looking for a bull in the right location.
Eventually we found a bull in a little grassy gut feed out onto a ricky bluff and bed up. He was in a decent location and a handy chute pretty much from the valley floor to his level gave me an access route. It was also ideally located downwind of the bull. This pic was about the best i could do at 1400 metres through the spotting scope.
I travelled light with only the essentials in my bumbag, a pair of headlamps, 2 muesli bars, bullets, scalpel knife and camera. The geovids would come with me and i wore a pair of merino base layers up top (1 short sleeve and 1 long sleeve) and one of those cabelas fleece hoodies that has been one of those items that is always in my hunting kit. I decided not to take a rain jacket, knowing that whilst it was likely to rain i would be able to tolerate it the few hours i would be on the mountain. Water i would try to find on the way.
Punching out the climb was a typical slog, only resting when really needed and then making sure my rests were short and sharp.
The view as always was enjoyed whenever i caught my breath and just hunting in this terrain has a way of cleansing the soul and putting everything back into perspective no matter the end result of the hunt. Down valley was clear, but the opposite to what was happening just upstream.
My mates underneath me on the valley were keeping in touch on the UHF and let me know that another bull was feeding close to the chute i was climbing up. I kept an eye out and found him when i rounded a bend and he didn't look as mature as the original bull so kept climbing when he fed out of sight.
Eventually i eased out onto the edge, found an elevated position to get set up on and ranged the bull at 290 metres. He was still bedded and i took a while to make a solid shooting platform. The crosshairs were steady on him, but i could only see about 10 inches of his body due to the angle. I would have liked to have got a bit higher and climbed around to be level with him, but the second bull in the chute had come back around, got a look at me and was becoming nervous. Also another rain squall was coming and i didn't know how much more was behind it so i thought i might as well burn a little powder. I know a lot better then to shoot at bedded animals when they offer only a portion of their body to hit but i still went ahead for some stupid reason. The end result of the backline hold was a bullet hit on a rocky ledge just under his line of chest i could see and he tore out of there, around a bluff and over the ridge. Damn, that was a lot of effort for an ordinary result. Contemplating my next move i noticed a bull bounce into view above on a rocky ledge. I thought i might as well try to knock him over and he was also around the 300 metre range. First shot front on was a miss, second and third were hits and i watched him walk out on a flat bench and not reappear in view. I knew he was finished, but disappointed when i discovered there was no way i could climb up to where he fell. Sheer cliffs from the bottom up and steep bluffs on each side meant i was not able to retrieve him.
Shaking my head i made my way over to a shingle slide and kicked over the Scarpas to get me off the mountain.
I got a third of the way down when i thought i better switch on the UHF and check in with the boys, my kiwi mate had told me that 3 bulls were in the next valley and one looked decent and if i wanted to make my way over there they were in a good location. I weighed up the terrain i would have to climb back up, navigate around, the showers that were falling and the fact there was 90 minutes to dark. It was doable, but i would have to hit it hard and began the climb back up and around.
Along the way i encountered some alpine scrub that was incredibly difficult to make my way through and the only way was to climb up top, find the heavy bases of each plant and walk along the top of the scrub, it was dicy in a few places as i was 2 metres up off the ground, but i eventually overcame the worst of it and it got back into the tussock and spaniard plants.
My mate said the bulls were now out of sight, but i punched on eventually found myself on the ridge, within sight of where they were last seen. A bit of relocating on my behalf to change angles and i glassed one of the younger bulls. I then found the older animal in the group bedded on a little ridge and i got set up with my rest. He was side on a little over 230 metres and with steady crosshairs on his chest i touched one off. He got up at the shot and raced out of sight, oh man, how could i have done that twice in a row in the same afternoon! But all was not lost as i waited hoping he would climb and come back in view and luckily for me he did with a very small window of opportunity. Now at 300 and with a couple of steps from safety he paused for a moment. I wasted little time, put the crosshairs on his back and sent one through him. A loud thump drifted back and he collapsed off the bluff to roll down hill eventually coming to rest almost level with my position but out on a shingle scree.
Approaching him i could see he was a nice bull and closer examination showed he was a bit stunted in horn growth the first 18 months of his life. I care little for inches nowadays and sat with him admiring his striking coat, the valley he called home and the opportunity we have to hunt such a spectacular animal self guided on public land.
I decided to take his full skin for a floor rug and by the time pictures and knife work was done it was dark. I scoffed down my meagre food supply, draped the skin over my shoulders, picked a descent and hit it. It was an epic slog out though and i had two big falls on the way with banged up knees and elbows the result of the challenges that the conditions presented.
I was one happy hunter when finally i felt the soft ground of tussocks on the valley floor under the Vibrams and i have to admit i was just about done for the afternoon. The last couple hundred steps to the vehicles gave me time to reflect on the previous few hours and the journey i had travelled, but i couldn't dwell on it too much as i knew all too well that come daylight we would be doing it all over again.