The massive bull tahr was just 30 metres away, staring right at us, waiting… for what?

Jimmy lifted the rifle and then an ominous sound. Click. A misfire. The bull remained fixed to the spot.

The West Coast of the South Island is a magnificent place for an adventure, particularly if it involves hunting. Red deer, Himalayan tahr and chamois are all originally imports to New Zealand but now very much at home amongst our towering alps. It was a brilliant clear morning as we lifted off the helicopter pad and headed into the mountains for an adventure of our own. Along for the ride was Josh, a mate from Auckland who was yet to shoot a chamois, and Jimmy, a good friend who was just new to hunting. Neither had been in a helicopter before so were both fizzing by the time we arrived at our basecamp, our home for the next two days. 

We wasted little time once the machine departed, shouldering packs and heading for the tops. It didn’t take long before we started spotting animals with a couple of chamois bedded down high on a ridge. We kept climbing, hoping to loop round them. However, after a couple of hours of hard slog we crested a brow, with the wind now at our backs, only to see them galloping away across the basin. 

The terrain seemed to stretch forever. Every ridge we reached revealed another basin topped with steep bluffs. It was magnificent country – but it all quickly disappeared as an ominous bank of thick fog rolled in from the coast, reducing visibility to less than 50 metres. It all happened within the space of 15 minutes, leaving us no choice but to climb higher.

I left the boys to carry on as I answered the call of one too many coffees earlier in the day. When I finally caught up to them at the very top of the block, they were crouched down looking very excited. “Tahr!” whispered Josh, frantically pointing over the ridge. Sure enough, a group of four females were resting lazily on a bluff a couple hundred meters away. I handed the rifle to Jimmy as he was yet to shoot a tahr. He lined up on the nearest nanny and slowly squeezed the trigger. Click. What a time for a misfire. Jimmy raked another round into the chamber. Boom! A clean miss.

The group bolted into the next gully, and we hurried along the ridge to see if we could catch up to them. Five minutes later, I slowly peered over and almost fell with shock after seeing a big bull tahr looking back at me, just a stone’s throw away. He must have been with the original group but remained out of sight during the first two shots. 

The pressure was on as Jimmy lined up the big bull. Click. Another misfire! By now I suspected some dodgy handloads so hastily swapped out Jimmy’s rifle with Josh’s. All the while the bull remained glued to the spot. Jimmy took aim and finally dispatched the monster with a solid shot to the shoulder. Relief flooded over us, but it quickly faded as the bull tumbled off a steep bluff system below us and out of sight. It was certainly going to be a tricky recovery with a frozen creek now between us and the tahr. 

The next two hours proved gruelling with a tricky descent down to the tahr, a finger-numbing skinning job then a hard slog back up. By the time we reached the top ridge, the light was quickly fading, and we were still three hours from camp. When we finally did reach the tents, we were all exhausted yet buzzing from an amazing first day on the hill.

The next morning dawned as clear as the first and we weren’t wasting any time. Our pick-up was scheduled for 1pm ahead of a weather front due later that afternoon. We started up the face opposite camp with chamois the clear target for the day. By the time we reached the ridge, we’d spotted a couple of flighty nannies but nothing within shooting range. I was getting nervous with time quickly running out to secure Josh his first chamois. We decided to creep along the ridge with the hope of spotting something below us. Well, it turned out the chamois gods were smiling on us, as we soon spotted a male and female feeding 250 metres away. 

Josh and I slowly crept downhill to get into a good shooting position. Josh settled in behind the rifle. By now, both chamois were looking up intently and whistling nervously at us. The nanny was closest while the buck was partly obscured by a patch of scrub. 

“Shoot the nanny!” I hissed, keen to at least get something on the deck before they both bolted. 

Boom! The buck crumpled on the spot. Josh was beaming from ear to ear. We picked our way down to him and were stunned to find an absolute cracker, bigger than any chamois I’d shot. 

“Lucky I didn’t listen to you!” Josh exclaimed. 

The buck would later measure just shy of 10.5 inches – an awesome trophy for any hunter but an extraordinary buck to call your first. We snapped some pictures then stripped off the head, skin and meat before hightailing it back to camp. 

It had been a whirlwind of a hunt – two awesome alpine trophies taken within 36 hours. We were a bit bummed to be leaving so soon but the prospect of getting caught in the approaching storm and Josh missing his flight back to Auckland were enough to convince us to get off the hill. Back at the truck, we waved goodbye to the pilot and started hassling Josh about planning a North Island trip. Damn we’re lucky to live in this paradise.

Article by: Struan Purdie