The chamois rut comes around once a year – a time when the bucks only have one thing on their mind. It makes it a great time to hunt them as invariably you’ll find them parked up by female groups with very little inhibitions.

This year, we had two awesome trips chasing these spectacular alpine critters. The first saw us make the five-hour drive over to South Westland for a two-day fly-in trip. Along for the ride was a good friend Christian who got the last-minute call up after our other mate got COVID. The fizz factor at the helicopter pad was at an all-time high.

Christian had never been in a chopper before and this was also his first time chamois hunting. The flight in was stunning as always – massive peaks punctuated by deep glacial guts. It all looked deceivingly achievable from high above.

The plan was to set up a plush base camp and then hunt a different corner of the block each day. We climbed high the first afternoon to get the lay of the land, spotting a bunch of tahr with at least two respectable bulls. However, they were over a kilometre away high on the opposite bluffs. As we kept climbing, we came across a memorial to a young Danish hunter who had fallen to his death on the same ridge in 2016. A good friend of mine had been flatting with him at the time so it certainly hit close to home how careful you had to be in these mountains. As we snapped a couple of pictures of the memorial, we suddenly spotted some tahr a few hundred metres away.

Although tahr wasn’t the first on the hit list for the trip, Christian had yet to shoot one so he got the call-up. Settling in behind the rifle, we lined up and waited for the perfect shot. Boom! Nothing. A clean miss. He tried a couple more times as the startled bull made his escape but no luck. For anyone who has hunted before, you’ll know the perplexing frustration of missing a shot for no apparent reason. It sticks with you as you replay it over and over. Lucky for Christian he had two good friends to keep reminding him of his misfortune well into that evening over multiple crafty beverages.

The next morning dawned fine and clear, but the forecast wasn’t looking good – cloud and rain from lunchtime so time was tight. We dropped down below camp to the scrub line to search for a chamois for Kyle to poke an arrow into. No bucks were spotted but we did come across a promising-looking nanny that Kyle managed to stalk to within 30 yards. However, the curse of the night before persisted with a second miss for the trip. With the cloud building, we decided to bail out and called for a pickup before it clagged in completely. Despite our disappointment everyone was still stoked on an awesome trip into the hills, catching up and enjoying some downtime. I did, however, have some unfinished business securing a chamois buck.

Fast forward a month or so and we were on the road again. This time heading for some promising-looking country on the East Coast. The plan was to head up the main river valley on a couple of e-bikes with a mate Jon (whom some readers will recognise as the quintessential Kiwi from the Tradie Profile in Issue 27 of Offsite). Once we’d depleted our batteries as much as we dared, we stashed the bikes and started to climb. It was a relief to get away from the valley floor which was frozen solid with no fresh animal sign. At this time of the year, most animals spend most of their time in the bush or up high where the sun reaches.

It took us the best part of three hours to smash out the 1,000m climb. Once we reached the top, our phones started dinging with some unexpected coverage. We mucked around half an hour video calling the whanau back home before setting off again for the summit. We’d been walking all of 30 seconds when Jon looked back to spot seven chamois feeding a mere 200m from where we had just been noisily yarning. Through the binos, none of them were anything worthy of a bullet but I decided to drop down and see how close I could get for some photos. As I crept closer, I noticed a couple of the chamois kept peering downhill intently.

I scanned the hillside and eventually found what they were looking at. A lone buck was trotting intently up towards us, and he was completely unaware of my presence. A quick glass confirmed he was clearly a shooter with thick bases and solid tips. He was also clearly in full rut mode with his dorsal stripe along his spine puffed up to the max in the hope of getting some high-country action. I waited until he was a mere 80m away then quickly drilled him just behind the shoulder. I heard Jon holler from a couple of hundred metres above. He’d watched the whole thing through his binoculars. The enormity of it all sunk in as we got down to the buck. He was a ripper – just over 9.5 inches with an awesome winter cape.

During my time photographing and guiding hunts I’ve seen some solid bucks shot, however, this was by far the biggest that I’d pulled the trigger on personally. We snapped a couple of pictures and spent the rest of the evening exploring the catchment before dropping back down to the valley floor in the dark. It had been an awesome adventure into some new country – made all the sweeter with an epic trophy for the wall. At the end of the day though, most hunters will tell you the real trophies are the memories of beautiful landscapes and great friendships that you come away with. These are what keep us coming back time and time again.