Tahr Hunting in New Zealand

For more information e-mail   Steuart   of NZ Hunting Info Ltd

A pair of bulls in July.
bull tahr in May
An unusual view of a very good trophy.
tahr group in May

If there is any animal that can be truly awe inspiring in the mountains of New Zealand, it is the Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus). To see a bull tahr traversing precipitous rock or snow at speed is the sight of a life time. The first animals arrived here by ship via an English game park (Woburn Abbey) and they have thrived ever since, albeit within a restricted range.

The tahr is considered vulnerable by the IUCN (1996) in its Himalayan home. New Zealand is the only country in the world outside Nepal with a wild population of wild tahr big enough to sustain regular hunting pressure. There are wild tahr in other countries but these tahr survive only in small populations. The tahr of Table Mountain in South Africa have nearly been eliminated and the tahr on Mt Taylor in New Mexico and San Simeons in California struggle to survive. Recently the Nepalese Government has reopened the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve for hunting and Himalayan tahr can be shot in this reserve under the supervision of professional guides. But New Zealand is a very attractive destination compared to Nepal because of the many places tahr can be shot here, the lack of laws controlling what can be shot and also the relatively easy access to tahr hunting areas from Christchurch International Airport.

In the South Island of New Zealand Tahr inhabit the main mountain ranges between the Arthurs Pass and Haast Pass highways. see map This is a vast stretch of country and the rugged nature of the terrain has ensured the long term survival of this magnificent game animal.

They mostly live on vegetated mountainsides between 4500 feet and 7000 feet. If hunted regularly, tahr will retreat to inaccessible bluff systems during the day but if they are not subjected to a lot hunting they will feed on tussock grasslands and can be accessed by reasonably fit hunters. The most popular time to hunt tahr is in the rut between May and July. At this time of the year the bull tahr are with the nannies so are more active and visible. They are also in full winter coat and many hunters consider the coat of a bull tahr to be a top trophy in itself. More often than not, hunters will take the coat of a bull tahr as a trophy, even if the horns are not particularly long. The meat of tahr is very high quality, especially just before the rut when the animals are in peak conditions. While there are plenty of places to find tahr on public land, research and preparation are a must when planning a trip. A high level of fitness is mandatory, as is the proper equipment to survive in an alpine environment.

In New Zealand conservationists have expressed concern about the potential damage that an introduced animal like the tahr might inflict on native alpine vegetation. Consequently Tahr numbers are controlled under a scheme called the Thar Control Plan In adhering to this plan DOC (Department of Conservation) implements restrictions on the geographical range of tahr and keeps their total number under a target of ten thousand. The current range of tahr has been divided into seven management units, plus two exclusion zones. see map The objective is to eliminate tahr from the exclusion zones and to keep tahr populations under the maximum number specified for each managment unit.

Single horned trophy
single horn tahr
Tahr, like this young bull, often rest in a standing position.
Typical tahr country

E.Coast hunting The departure points for tahr hunts are either on the east or the west coast side of the Southern Alps. For the eastern approaches, their habitat is usually accessed by foot or four wheel drive vehicle up the main braided rivers draining the Southern Alps. Here tahr can be sighted from the riverbeds and planned hunts undertaken once they are spotted. Some of these riverbeds do not require access permission , but for many of them hunters need to contact a landowner. The DOC website Canterbury Tahr Blocks provides excellent information on the twelve Canterbury hunting blocks; Cass River, Clyde River, East Hooker, Gamack Range, Lawrence River, Lower Tasman Valley, Macaulay River, North Opuha, South Opuha, Tasman Face, Upper Dobson and Upper Godley. If you go the Doc website you can find access information, hut information and pesticide summaries. There is also a map of each block if you open the "Factsheet" .pdf file.

Four Wheel Drive Access to East Coast Valleys
Rakaia Valley
Rakaia Valley True left Permission Manuka Pt Station
Rakaia Valley True Right Permission L. Heron Station & Glentanner Station.
Rangitata Valley & Tributaries
Clyde & Lawrence Valleys Permission Erewhon Station
Havelock Valley True left. Permission Erewhon Station
Havelock Valley True Right Open access
S.W. Two Thumb Range
Roundhill Skifield Road. Permission Richmond Station
Lake Tekapo
Godley & MacCaulay Valleys Open Access.
Cass River Permission Glenmore Station
Fork & Fraser Streams Permission Glenmore & Braemar Stations
South Opuha Permission Fox's Peak Station & Stoneleigh
Tasman Valley True Left
Black Point Open acess via Tasman Riverbed
Twizel River.
Duncan, Gladstone & McMillan Valleys Permission Pukaki Downs Station
Lake Ohau
Dobson Valley Permission Glen Lyon Station
Huxley & Hopkins Valleys Open Access.

W.Coast hunting Another area to hunt tahr is on the western side of the Southern Alps.
Unfortunately because the West Coast mountains are typically very rugged, and the valleys narrow, access to tahr hunting areas is not possible anywhere by vehicles. The only options are to walk or to fly in by helicopter. Walking will usually take a minimum of one day each way which for a retun trip adds at least two days to the length of a hunt. This is why helicopters are commonly used today to access tahr hunting areas. Several helicopter companies on the West Coast regularly carry hunters and have the expertise to land safely in the mountains above timberline if necessary. DOC huts are somteimes used as hunting bases but often tent camps are established above timber line close to tahr habitat.
If hunters plant to camp above timberline they must have good gear because the West Coast is famous for its bad weather. Storms frequently blow in off the Tasman Sea bringing gale force winds accompanied by heavy rain. These days hunters always take mountain radios or cell phones so they can call up helicopter transport if a storm is on its way. West coast storms can last for days.

trip planning

When planning a tahr hunt it is advisable to contact the local DOC office for updates on animal numbers. Check as to whether there have been any control operations in the area you wish to hunt. Culling of tahr, under the Tahr Control Plan is contracted to certain helicopter companies with suitable expertise. The New Zealand Deer Stalkers Association NZDA is also involved in some culling operations. (The NZDA is a non-profit organisation that lobbies for hunter rights and game management.)

recent control operations

In the winter of 2007 DOC contracted a helicopter, which with the help of DOC staff, carried out an official tahr cull. The objective of the operation was to survey the tahr population for compliance with the Tahr Control Plan and where necessary eradicate all mobs of ten or more tahr. Mature bull tahr were not shot. The cull area extended from the true right of the Rakaia south to the border of Mt Cook National Park. An agreement was made with the NZDA to exclude several watersheds from this helicopter cull so that these areas could be culled separately by foot hunters. Since that time DOC has carried out several tahr culls, particularly in areas inaccessible to hunters where numbers were building up and also on the edge of the tahr feral zone to prevent the spread of tahr. From 2011 DOC tahr culls have focused on nannies with the intention of controlling tahr numbers while at the same time allowing the number of trophy bull tahr to increase.

Line up of tahr horns of increasing length.
Trophy tahr above braided riverbed
Tahr in summer coat
Tahr in summer coat


Tahr are a much sought after trophy especially by Americans. In a 1994 study (D.Forsyth "NZ Hunting & Wildlife no. 157") the majority of trophies presented to taxidermists were shot by Americans. The median age of tahr heads was five years. 10% of the four year old males had one horn greater than 12 inches (305mm) but none had achieved 13 inches (330 mm). With each year over four, the likelihood of horns greater than 12 or 13 inches increased. In the 11-13 year bracket, 50% of the horns exceeded both 12 and 13 inches.
While the above data was mostly from tahr shot by American hunters, a similar study today would indicate that the tahr has become much sought after as a top trophy by hunters from all around the world. Recognition of a trophy in the field is not easy because the horns of a tahr are relatively small compared to its body size. But there are some basic priniciples to follow. For example, studies have shown a correlation between the body size of bulls and the length of their horns. More mature bulls tend to have bigger bodies and longer horns. So if hunters come across several bulls, the biggest is likely to carry the best trophy. Other features of horns to look for include inward curvature of the tip section of the horn. If the tip is growing towards the centreline of the animals back then this is almost certainly a trophy animal. If the animal can be viewed from the side the hunter can look at the back of the horn at the base. If it rises vertically for several inches then this is a good trophy.

Best New Zealand Tahr head. Douglas Score 49.

World record. 51 38 SCI from a hunting ranch in New Mexico.

Scoring Tahr Horns - Douglas v SCI
R Horn L Horn Douglas SCI
Length 13 ½ in 13 ¾ in 27 27 ½
Girth 7 ½ in 7 ¾ in 15 15 ¼
Total 4242 ¾

Refer to my book "Tahr: A New Zealand Hunter's Handbook"

or to the article titled "Rangitata tahr hunt"


map tahr distribution

"Himalayan Thar Control Plan" Map 4 p.26 Department of Conservation 1993.

map thar control plan

For more information e-mail   Steuart   of NZ Hunting Info Ltd