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Bull Tahr is a fire that was lit 2 years ago. I was hunting red deer in NZ public land and after only a couple days we had stags down and time up our sleeve. So after a chat with a mate in Queenstown, we had a walk in spot for tahr and were driving the tiny hire car out to Mt Cook. We managed to shoot a couple nannies, but had to leave to get everything cleaned and fly back to Australia. The bull Tahr seed had been planted. That seed grew and I found myself regularly watching YouTube videos, reading books and researching locations to shoot a good bull. After a chamois trip and Sika trip, it was time to do a dedicated Tahr trip over the ditch. John, Tony, Alana and I, did the usual pre trip planning and paperwork and before we knew it, we were touching down in Christchurch having our rifles inspected once more. Bagging up our food, getting the packs ready, eating questionable fish and chips, hopes were high and we were all keen to get boots on the ground.
3am alarm, drive to Mt cook and in the chopper lifting off around 10am. The snow was thick and all the way to the bottom of the valley’s, so we were hopeful the bulls would be pushed down. We managed to see a couple mobs of Tahr running around on the flight in so we were all eager to get camp set up and eyes onto them through the glass. Touched down on top of snow and this was to be home for next 8 days. After camp was set up on what looked like a good spot (Once the snow melted it was a bit ordinary), John headed up a steep gully behind camp, Tony, Alana and I stayed in camp to glass from there. First Tahr was spotted in only a couple minutes and through the spotter I quickly realised how far away they actually were. The realisation of how far some of these shots might need to be was kicking in.
After a couple hours, around 1:30pm, watching a number of mobs of nannies and kids without any bulls amongst them, I decided to head up a ridge to get a different perspective. Everything being covered in snow, it was difficult to pick a good line to walk up ridges and fighting through waist to chest high shrubs and spanyard grass in the snow eventually defeated me and I changed course and dropped into a gully.
It was time for a break and I had a decent view so I set up the spotter and almost immediately got eyes on a couple bulls, still had enough light to walk up to where they were and get a shot off, if I punched it. So up I went, steep and quick. Lungs were feeling it, but every now and then getting eyes on them a bit closer and they were still undisturbed. First spotted around 1.5km and now about 750m I was slowly getting a better look at his horns and saw them hooking downwards quite a bit so I knew he was a shooter. Perched on a spot where they looked close enough for a shot, but the cold had gotten to my rangefinder, couple minutes of warming under the armpit gave me time to catch my breath and the batteries to come good. It would only let me range the bright orange rocks and nothing else, but I managed to figure out he would’ve been around the 290m mark, ranging rocks in front and behind him. I possibly could’ve gotten closer but not without great risk of spooking them so this was my shot, take it or leave it. I thought about setting up the spotter to film, but at this stage with fading light, didn’t want to risk spooking him and just wanted a bull on the ground. Set up the rifle and sent it. Everything was covered in snow and even at 290m I could see an enormous amount of blood on the snow as he was rolling around, reloaded and put the crosshairs back on him. By this stage he had begun a very long tumble down the mountain and I knew it was game over for him…but then he kept rolling…and kept rolling, I could see a line of blood in the snow so knew he shouldn’t be too hard to find. I watched him roll down a slope for at least 800m until he went out of sight. He was going to be easy to find and rolled 3 quarters of the way down the hill for me. I found him quickly in a creek, perched up on top of a small waterfall and he was everything I wanted in a bull. It had all happened very quickly, and the job was done early. Quick photo and GPS mark and got out of there so I wasn’t walking around cliffs in the dark. Previous experience in these mountains had me very cautious with coming down after dark. I got back to camp stoked and the vibe was high from everyone.
We all had our plans and left early, I was going to go and cape my bull, Tony and Alana were going to chase the other one that was with him, who we will refer to as “Shifty” throughout this story, because he was the shiftiest dam Tahr ever, and John was heading downstream to glass country no one had looked at yet. I caped him out in a very difficult spot and by the end my back was on fire, had a slide down the snowy scree and snapped my walking pole, but made it back to camp after a few hours and started to face cape. During this time the wind was picking up immensely. I had my back to camp and head down doing the knitty gritty of a face. A bag of rubbish flying past me caught my eye and I looked back to see Tony and Alana’s tent upside down blowing around, anchored by a couple rocks tied to the guy ropes.
I spent the next hour or so tending to busted tents. Tony and Alana’s I managed to anchor down with rocks and get it secure, then I anchored my Exped and John’s Aldi down for safe measure. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed this little gold thing sticking up through the top of the Aldi, a pole had snapped and gone through the fly so I let Johns tent down, got some gaffa tape and patched the hole to stop it spreading. When John got back a few extra guide ropes and the Aldi didn’t budge for the rest of the trip. My tent poles got a little bent but otherwise fine. Tony and Alana’s basically had to be held completely together with gaffa tape by the end of the night. I returned to caping and glassing that was pretty much my day.
John had a big walk and managed to find a mob with a few good bulls in it, but with very strong winds at long distances it was hard too close to a shootable distance, and they went up and over the ridge never to be seen again. Meanwhile he was glassing down to camp and could see flat tents. So he decided to come back after the bulls disappeared and get his tent secure and pole fixed. Alana came back a bit earlier than Tony and got their tent all fixed up and Tony had his first encounter with “Shifty”.
Tony climbed very high and saw him feeding below with another 2-3 bulls. Tony’s rangefinder however, completely failed in the cold so he had to guess the range and unfortunately the Tahr managed to give him the slip and no bull was secured. The vibe at camp was still high, 1 bull down and many others spotted, the only downer was the weather at the moment.
That night at camp the wind got up over 100 km/hr and was raging all night. The problem tent suffered with 2 out of 3 carbon fibre poles snapping and tearing the fly. Gaffa tape to the rescue again. At one point we were all outside in the snow putting pegs back in, tying guy ropes to rocks and battonning down the hatches. Not much sleep was had by anyone.
We all awoke bleary eyed, but with the daylight the winds subsided and we were all off again. I went with John back up the gully behind camp, Tony went on a big expedition way down river and Alana stayed in camp to glass. John and I glassed from various spots and spotted lots of groups of Nannies and 1 young Bull, but no mature bulls worth pursuing. Tony spotted a large bull early in the day and spent most of the day trying to relocate him, but arriving back to camp well after dark with no success. In the last hour of light, John and I spotted a large bull from camp with a long flowy mane high up in the cliffs and decided to go after him in the morning.
After a couple big days Tony had a cruisy day in camp glassing and John and I started our big walk up to relocate the bull from yesterday. After a few hours we had made it high up to where he was, but a swirling wind spooked a group of nannies and we never saw him again. We spent a bit of time up there glassing and trying to find him but we had no luck so decided to head back to camp.
On our way down we saw Alana punching up the opposite ridge so assumed she was onto a bull. By the time we got to camp Tony told us she was going to do a sit and wait where we had been seeing Shifty the last couple days. After an hour or so we spotted him cliff hopping just above Alana but her perspective obscured him. We tried desperately to reach her on the radio to tell her, but no luck. She started walking down before dark as we watched helplessly from camp as Shifty was running around in the cliffs only 300-400m away from her.
This was a massive day, first light me and Tony went downriver to try and find some bulls he had seen earlier in the week. About 3 hours downstream around 10am we glassed up a mature bull with some nannies but he was at least 2km away. We made a plan to get to some red rocks up in the cliffs to be able to see down into the area the bull was. About 12:30 we were close to the red rocks but came across a gorge that was 20m vertical either side and ran from the river all the way up to the cliffs. So we had to drop way down to cross to 30m gap and then back up. This was pretty demotivating and the other side looked pretty horrible to climb. We eventually found a way to cross and spotted 1 chute up the cliffs that looked like we could climb it. Tony and I in tandem said “Looks like we could probably get up there.” glanced at each other with cheeky grins and started the climb.
It was steep and required hands and feet to climb, but by about 3pm we had managed to sit on top of the chute. We quickly managed to pick up some nannies but the bull wasn’t with them. Eventually we picked up the bull with a different group of nannies. He was rutting pretty hard and chasing them around. The problem was they were moving in a different direction to earlier in the day and were out just under 800m, moving away above a serious cliff line and across 2 ridges. After watching him for a while and assessing every option, it was impossible to reach him in the remaining daylight and still be able to safely get off the mountain.
Tony and I were pretty gutted to have worked so hard all day only to be so close and not be able to do anything to get him. We begrudgingly decided to pack up and glass on our way back upstream. The second we stood up a bull broke underneath us and started running uphill on the opposite face. Tony quickly set up the rifle but his rangefinder wasn’t working again! I managed to quickly get mine out of my hip pocket and yelled he’s at 450m. The bull was poleaxed. We could see him on the ground and we were both ecstatic, after such an emotional rollercoaster of a day where we had accepted defeat, it all happened within seconds. We went over and after 20-30 mins managed to locate him and hi 5’s all round. Quickest caping job ever and we started our climb down to make it to the bottom on dark, then a 3 hour walk along the river under headlight.
After a 13 hour walk yesterday, Tony and I decided to rest our feet and glass from camp. We spotted Shifty again in the morning and sent Alana up to try her luck again. She powered up the hill faster than I’ve ever seen anyone gain vertical meters, but he had disappeared, so she sat and waited below the cliffs he was in. And kept waiting. After about 6 hours of trying to relocate Shifty I managed to spot another bull with a group of nannies and got the message to Alana. She couldn’t see him so got up and moved and kept climbing. Watching through the spotter I could see her behaviour change and knew she had located him. After closing the gap she dropped her pack and started setting up the rifle. Quickly got the camera on the spotter and onto the bull, she was far enough away that the bull started running downhill well before we heard the shot, Tony and I thought he spooked for a second. Then we heard the shot and saw him lay down after a couple seconds of running. 420m shot from Alana and we saw where he laid down, so he would be easy to find in the morning. There wasn’t much light left in the day so Alana decided to come back to camp and go get him in the morning.
While all this was happening John was on his own epic adventure, he left early in the morning and didn’t come back until a few hours after dark. John went up the same gully where he spotted some bulls earlier in the week and spotted the group of bulls again, started a climb late in the afternoon. While he was watching them he spotted “The bull of a lifetime” higher up and decided to leave these bulls and go after him. High up in the mountain right on last light, with a swirling wind the bull gave John the slip and left him with a long walk back to camp in the dark. We managed to get onto him through the radio after dark, and he couldn’t hear us so all we heard through the radio “All good, all good. Will be back in 2 hours”
Our last full day of hunting, Tony and Alana were going to cape Alana’s bull and John and I were on 1 last mission to find a bull. We spotted Shifty again early in the morning, but he was higher than we had seen him before. Determined to finally get him and after a massive day yesterday John was keen to go after him so we both went straight up. After about 4-5 hours of climbing we glassed down and could see a heap of fur on Tony’s pack walking down the hill so we knew they had recovered Alana’s bull and we’re stoked that they found him. Turned out he rolled down the hill a bit and into a river, making the cape out pretty difficult but they got it done.
After such a big day yesterday, punching up scree was starting to get the better of John, 5 steps to climb 1 foot was getting very frustrating. But he was determined to finally get this tahr that had been taunting us all week so we kept going. We eventually started getting higher up in the cliffs and with ice on the rocks it was getting pretty dicey. Razor sharp edges, ice, snow and vertical cliffs, we decided to pull the pin and that a stupid goat wasn’t worth our life. We contoured around to an area that was holding a big mob of nannies all week, hoping a bull might show some interest in them. But after a few hours it was the time of day to drop down back to camp. We checked out Alana’s bull and had our last night sleeping on the rocks, ate all the remaining backstraps and polished it off with a hot chocolate and crunchies.
In the morning we packed up, admired the weeks efforts with 3 bulls in camp and before long we heard the chopper buzzing up the valley. The pilot was an awesome bloke and flew us around looking for tahr, we got to watch a few running on the tops around away from the chopper. Couldn’t have asked for a better trip, apart from 1 day we had awesome weather, 3 great bulls went down, we all got pushed to our limit, no one got hurt and we all had an awesome time. Everything you want in a hunting trip.