Keen hunter Nick Binks headed to the South Island’s west coast to chase the mighty tahr recently, and the trip did not disappoint.

Every year, I try my luck in the tahr ballot run by DOC. This allows you remote access by helicopter into some of the most fantastic, rugged and untouched country you will ever see. The periods are split up into sevenday blocks and run from late-April until mid-June, with the rut falling roughly in the middle. The lure of hunting these majestic tahr is not only getting a mature bull and some protein but also just being in their realm. They pass over cliffs, bluffs and razor ridgelines, defying gravity with every step – and they do it with ease and grace.

I was lucky enough to secure a block on the second round of the ballot (Teichelmann Creek Block, Period 7) – not the best block or timing, but I certainly wasn’t complaining! My crew consisted of two newbies to the tahr scene: my American friend Travis who had only hunted in the US and the North Island, and my mate Sam who had only been on one other hunt with me. It was going to be interesting!
The chopper was loaded and we were off into the wilderness. Both Sam and Travis had grins from ear to ear as we navigated over the jaw dropping scenery to get to our block. It was a bluebird day and as the chopper noise faded, a surreal feeling sunk in; you are really on your own from here on! Having experienced how hectic the weather can get, we made a solid camp and then put the binos to work.

It didn’t take us long to start picking up animals. After scanning the immediate faces, we headed up to a better lookout to see what the next catchment had on offer. As we made our way up the ridge, I saw two big bulls with their coats all lit up about a kilometre away. All of a sudden, one of the bulls charged, knocking the other one into a spin down the face. Somehow, it gathered itself and raced back over to the nannies to get a more dominant position. For the next hour they jostled for poll position, becoming more aggressive with each blow. As the two bulls jousted, the nannies and juveniles were also intently watching, but what was strange was that an even bigger bull was also overseeing the fight. I knew he was the bull we needed a closer look at.

The day got away on us and the sun started to fade behind the hill side. We had only gone 400m from camp so it was an easy stroll home. On an absolute high and pumped for the next day, we devised a plan to climb higher up the mountainside.

We had fresh legs on day two, and were ready to roll before the sun had greeted us. We got about halfway to our desired altitude before it started to get a bit hairy.

The faces were iced over, and to safely move ahead we were going to have wait for them to thaw. From this vantage point, we still managed to relocate the nanny group and fighting bulls from the previous day, and on closer inspection, my hunch was confirmed: one of the three bulls was worth pursuing.

Eventually, I decided to navigate my way through it anyway and find a safe pass for the others to follow. As I made it around the corner and up onto another ridge, I could see a clear path to get over to the bulls. I went back to the other guys and told them to follow the path I took. After some discussion, they decided their appetite for a bull wasn’t worth the passage I had just taken, so I took off on my own. Relocating the bulls as I made it onto the ridge, I could only see one bull, but it wasn’t the bigger bull so I kept searching the neighbouring faces. An hour passed before I heard a scurry of rocks. I poked my head over a ridge and no more than 150m away, there was a bull tahr making its way up the face. I scurried over the ridge to try and cut him off, and got within range just in time.

I had to make a quick decision, and I decided to take him. He paused about 20m below the ridge and I sent a slightly unorthodox shot down through his spine and out through his chest. He dropped on the spot and slid down the shoot where he had just come from. I could not believe my luck and had my suspicions that this was one of the bulls we’d watched earlier. Turns out it was, and the big one!

I decided to leave my tahr and go back for the other guys. Unfortunately, they weren’t where we had stopped earlier and the path was still yet to thaw, so I headed back to process my tahr and make my way out. After a few tense moments of feeling like I was one wrong foothold away from being rag dolled down the side of the mountain, I finally found some more horizontal ground – it was a massive relief to be walking back to camp with the tahr still on my back! The boys greeted me halfway back, slightly concerned and surprised as they hadn’t seen me since I left them in the morning, and it was now around 6pm.

We spent the next four days trying to find another mature bull but with an amazing spell of weather, it became a race in the morning to get up into a zone to cut them off as they made their way back up onto the ridgeline. After the bulls continued to find ways to evade us, we decided to change tack and search lower. We only had one gun between the three of us and it was Sam’s turn to have a crack. An hour after Sam had held the gun for the first time, the stars aligned, and a bull presented itself in front of us. I got Sam set up and ranged the bull as being just over 200m away and broadside. Sam squeezed the trigger and all fours legs collapsed. The bull then rolled 400m – luckily not 450m otherwise we would have never seen him again! After four days of hard slog, it was definitely well-earned. Sam decided he would mount his bull so we lugged it out through the glacial pass and back to camp.

We hunted from before sunrise until after sunset every day as I said we would get a rest day when we had some bad weather. Turned out we had six bluebird days and our last day was forecast for the same. Travis was yet to get on the board and the chopper was due to pick us up at 3pm, so we decided we would give it one last nudge.
We knew the area well enough now that we could get up super early and make it to our position in the dark, and that’s exactly what we did. A four hour slog later, we were in position and it was bloody freezing!

As the light started to flood into the catchment, we could see a mob around 300m away. By the time we had shuffled into a decent shooting position, they had pushed out to 470m. Bit of a stretch for the old 308 but we were pretty confident in my drop chart, and there wasn’t a breath of wind. Despite his shivering, Travis had complete focus as I dialled to allow for the drop.

“You steady?” I whispered.
“Yep,” he replied with confidence.
“Okay, when you’re ready.”
BOOM! Before I had finished my sentence, the shot went and sailed about a metre over the bull’s back.
“S***, I think I dialled that wrong.”
I redialled and he sent another pill flying.
“Missed again, perfect height just in front,” Travis said.
The bull ran 30m downhill and away from the mob of nannies, but then it fell.
“Oh you hit it!” I exclaimed. The shot went through the neck and out the other side, then hit the rock in front it, which is what we saw. I grabbed the gun to shoot some nannies and do our part as they had run towards us. Looking through the scope, I wondered why they looked so far away. Travis only had the scope power on 4.5 instead of 14. Good shooting Travy!

All in all, it was a great trip with a bunch of mates ticking off their first tahr and in Sam’s case, his first big game animal!