Rangitata Tahr Hunt
An Aussie hunting Free Range on Public Land
A Kiwi Wilderness Safari hunt.
The lurching, graunchy riverbed ride came to an end when Alistair swung his door open and stepped out onto the glistening gravel of the riverbed. A grey shroud of mist softened the ragged mountains like the sky of an over exposed photograph. The banter that had ebbed and flowed over the previous forty eight hours quickly dissipated as we contemplated our climb. Alistair was soon a long way ahead, working out a route to get us within shooting distance of the bull tahr. Our priority was to keep out of view of the sharp-eyed tahr that we had spotted from the vehicle. They had been feeding at the head of a slide that streamed down towards us before spreading into a huge shingle fan. We threaded our way between thorny matagouri plants keeping our quarry hidden behind a high knob. It was from this knob that Alistair thought a shot might be possible.
The climb became steeper as we moved off the fan onto some scrubby faces. Iain slung his rifle over his shoulder freeing both hands for the scramble through a band of turpentine scrub. Scattered through the scrub were spear grass plants with their deadly pointed leaves. A slip onto one of these could lead to a painful injury. To add to our challenges, the vegetation was wet and slippery. Iain and I took plenty of breaks, both to steady our breathing, and to view the scenery. The vehicle by now had become a dot, far below at the edge of the main valley floor. Above us Alistair was continually assessing how best to approach the bull. A wisp of condensation drifted in the air when he whispered: 'Hunch down and stay right behind me. We need to keep moving. Have your rest once we get to the top.' Iain, a very fit man in his late fifties was struggling to maintain the pace. He was concerned about his ability to hold a steady rifle after such a protracted climb. Cold gleaming cliffs appeared through the clouds over our heads, but as we crawled onto the knob the slide came into view dropping away to our left. Alistair scanned the slopes with his binos. There was no hint of concern in his voice when he said: 'They are here somewhere'.
And they were. The magnificent silver tipped bull was standing on the shingle slide, his head stretched forward in a classic rutting pose. I focused our spotting scope on the group of animals concentrating on the bull while waiting for a shot... The distance was 284 yards. Moments later the Kimber 7mm-08 cracked the silence and the bull tahr jumped, almost as if he had been frightened by the shot. 'He's to the left and moving onto the ridge. Wait till I say when.' Alistair said. The bull was climbing rapidly, appearing and disappearing amongst the scrub. The spotting scope had misted up but I could see the bull as it topped the ridgeline. The range had already stretched out by the time Iain had relocated the tahr in his scope. Suddenly the bull faltered and fell, its solid body crashing through the scrub until it re-emerged on the slide. Iain held the animal in his sights, but it wasn't necessary. Incredibly this bull had managed to forge its way up onto the ridge before dying, even after a 140 g Nosler Accubond had blown away it lungs.
The whole incident had run perfectly to plan. I gave Iain a 'high five' and the pleasure was evident on his Aussie face. Iain is an experienced hunter who specializes in Australian sambar, but has also hunted Elk and Ibex in Kazakhstan. In spite of this wide experience the mighty bull tahr had sparked the special excitement that comes only when hunting a top game animal. The two days leading up to the shooting of this bull tahr had been action packed. When I was collected from my home in Christchurch Alistair Chamberlain our guide had said in a matter of fact way: 'Rivers are as low as they'll ever get, so we're heading up the Rangitata'. The Toyota Surf of Kiwi Wilderness Safaris set out from Christchurch on May 20th and was soon humming across the flat Canterbury plains. A sealed road lead towards the foothills past neatly ordered fields edged with pine tree wind breaks. The last human outpost, Mt Somers, is a village consisting only of a store accompanied by a sprinkling of houses. While Alistair filled the fuel tank and spare jerry can, we enjoyed a lunch treat of hokey-pokey flavoured ice cream. On a warm autumn day, this Kiwi specialty was a fitting way to mark the transition from civilization to a mountain wilderness. At one point in the journey, we drove over a rise, and spread in front of us was the wide braided Rangitata riverbed. Distant threads of water could be seen, glinting in the sun. These riverbeds are only for the most experienced 4WD driver for even in fine weather the many river crossings can be a trap for the unwary. The lower Rangitata Valley is not only the gateway to some of the world's most exciting alpine hunting'.it was also a filming location for several key scenes in the movie 'Lord of the Rings'. Alistair pointed out the site where the set for Edoras was constructed. Both Edoras and the White Mountains are recognizable in the movie as Rangitata landmarks. Alistair is a big strong man who quietly oozes confidence. His young smiling personality conceals the fact that he has an extraordinary high level of experience in alpine wilderness hunting. Alpine hunting in New Zealand is no place for the green novice and Alistair, still in his early twenties has already nearly fifteen years of experience under his belt. He shot his first tahr on public land at the age of nine years and has been at it ever since.
Alistair's client on this occasion was Iain, an Australian in his late fifties. Iain turned out to be very fit and agile, so much so that he would have out climbed many mountain men his junior. Of greatest value was the discovery that he was an uncommonly reasonable Australian with great team spirit. Iain had arrived from Aussie the previous day and was fired up and ready to get into the mountains. He'd been over to New Zealand before and had been on a tahr hunt thirty years previously. Fascinated by the rugged country, Iain was after his dream trophy, a bull tahr. The shooting of the first silver-maned tahr was only a paragraph in an adventure packed day. Alistair had spotted a big black bull on these same bluff systems on an earlier expedition. So when the adrenalin rush of the first success had died down Alistair calmly said: 'Iain, we can keep climbing if you're interested in a better bull.' The terrain was getting rough and we had already climbed a long way so I was impressed with Iain's instant enthusiasm to continue. Our next contact with game came quickly when we heard the whistle of a nanny in the craggy bluffs. Alistair was first to spot a line of tahr on the move above us. I dropped back behind Iain to avoid muzzle blast should he decide to fire. He awkwardly raised his rifle to try and locate the animals. 'It's a good bull. It's a good bull' said Alistair.
The cartridge clicked into the chamber and Iain tried to steady himself for a shot. The tahr were traversing sheer rock presumably along a fissure that we couldn't see. Soon they would move around the ridge and gone. Alistair wanted Iain to hold his fire: 'Wait, wait, wait and then finally came the word Iain was waiting for, 'shoot'.' I clearly heard a thunk as the projectile hit the bull. Fascinated we watched it fall. The gleaming slabs of rock were nearly vertical and we could here each thud as the bull bounced off the smooth surfaces. It came down, fighting like a cat trying to re-orient itself against the force of gravity. We could see its head twisting, attempting the impossible before it finally crashed into the ground less than twenty meters away. The deadly, nearly vertical fall of over one hundred meters should surely have killed it. Incredulous we watched as the black bull regained its footing and leapt away across a bluff. Afterwards Iain recalled how the scope had been left on eight power magnification from the first encounter. When the black bull had landed it had filled the field of view of his Swarovski AV 3-9 scope. Iain fired at the moving target, reloaded, and on the second attempt I saw a spray of moisture at its neck. The bull collapsed before starting on another long roll that took it out of sight down a gut. The display of hardiness we had just witnessed in these rugged mountains left us awestruck. The bull had survived the impossible... a near vertical one hundred meter fall after being hit. And then, as if nothing had happened, it had tried to run away. When we reached the bull we expected the trophy to be smashed to pieces but only a fraction of the tips had been knocked off. We guessed that, if it had died before the spectacular fall, it may have landed on its head and the outcome would have been different. Alistair quickly removed the head skins and meat and we began the long descent.
That night in camp we celebrated over a superb multi-course meal. Entree consisted of tahr slivers and mushrooms seared in butter. This dish was tasty, with the meat a tad firm as was to be expected of meat still warm off the beast. This course was followed by kidney a la Kazakh thanks to sous chef Iain, and accompanied by a fine mug of New Zealand chardonnay. Iain, with his nose for novelty had tasted sliced kidney on a hunting trip to Kazakhstan. So when Alistair had been working on the head skins Iain removed a fatty kidney from the smaller bull. This kidney was cut into slices that looked like fried eggs which were then gently cooked in the pan. Superb. The meal just got better, thanks to some fine cooking by chef de cuisine Alistair. The main course was a pasta creation that would equal any haute cuisine dish. And the finale' custard and fruit. The lightly built Iain, probably inspired by a fantastic day, ate a substantial meal. When this was pointed out to him he responded with what could be best described as an 'Iainism' 'When has repletion been an excuse for avoiding excess?' On the bumpy drive out from the Rangitata Iain booked his next wilderness trophy hunt. That, I thought, was a pretty strong endorsement for Kiwi Wilderness Safaris.
© Copyright Steuart Laing 2009
For more information e-mail Steuart of NZ Hunting Info Ltd