South Westland Tahr Adventure – by Willis Macbeth

January 13, 2016

Six days in South Westland; it’s always a pleasure. Tahr was the main species of interest with chamois and deer also likely to be encountered.

The weather was not the best but was going to be a good test for my Hunter Element gear. Day two saw us heading upriver with four nights gear on our backs; the goal to fly camp up in the tussock, getting height on our prey. The creeks had a bit of water from the overnight rain which made the going a bit slower than normal. Intermittent rain meant there wasn’t much time spent sitting and glassing, we did see a few animals on our way up though but nothing of note. Above the bushline we found a nice campsite and set up camp in the fog, some bulls whistling around us in the fog. As the evening cooled, my Element Jacket kept me warm around camp as it proved itself as the ideal “camp jacket”.

Back at camp after a hunt
Back at camp after a hunt

The next morning dawned foggy but soon cleared. We packed enough for one night up further in the valley under a dry rock campsite. We had several encounters as we made our way upriver, but nothing stood out as a worthy recipient of a bullet, until we got to the last stretch before camp. Some mature bulls were spotted below us in the scrub belt and a quick glance made it clear that one was worth shooting. Boone got into position as I fluffed around with my camera. I steadied the camera and the 7mm mag broke the silence. A huge leap into the air signalled a hit on the bull, and several others vacated the area with haste. A long search left us with no answers. No blood, nothing. Gutted. We retreated to our rock biv and set up camp, waiting for the evening to come. With quite the view from our rock, we decided against venturing out as the area was stirred up and we wanted to sit back and watch for a while. Nothing of interest stirred as the darkness crept in; bed was calling in the tahr shit den.

Bulls on bluff
Bulls on bluff

Another average morning greeted us, with the fog coming and going. A few animals mooched around, doing their thing. The temperature wasn’t too bad, so my Hyrdapel Shorts and Primer Summer long sleeve shirt made a good combo to keep me at the right temperature. We stopped back at our tent from the night before and had lunch and a brew and carried on to our next campsite. This involved a haul over a snowy, rugged route which was testing. Kicking through the snow, I was pleased that I had my gaiters on to keep out the snow, and my Pinnacle jacket to keep the breeze and showers at bay as we ascended high. Through a snow-filled basin we traversed to the ridge down we were after. Having been this way before was a huge confidence booster as it would have been tricky in these average conditions on a virgin voyage. Descending into a small hanging basin meant we had the drop on the scattering of animals that were feeding away oblivious. Again there was nothing to get excited about, so we dropped down to find camp. More unfavourable weather set in which meant we were forced to stay around camp waiting for the weather to clear which it never did. A starry sky greeted our eager heads as they popped out of the tent door just as the skies were starting to brighten. The basin below us was scoured on first light, chamois and tahr were scattered throughout the basin with one decent bull spotted in the distance; maybe we would get a closer look this evening.

Some more bulls
Some more bulls

The sun was now beaming down and our first sunny day was here. That meant it was time to dry everything out; camp looked like a Chinese laundry. By early afternoon we were packed and heading towards our next camp across from where we were in a place I had camped a couple of times before. A couple of hours saw us bash down and up to camp #5. After grabbing the essentials for an evening hunt we were up the bluff behind camp, negotiating the steep stuff before summiting the ridge and spying some familiar country. It was still too hot and nothing dared brave the heat just yet; we needed to give it some time to cool off. We decided to use this time to get in to position and wait. I knew where they liked to emerge so we went there and waited. Soon a few bulls emerged, as we watched and waited, assessing and turning down each one in turn; time to move on around the face. Below in the scrub about 50m away a bull was spotted but he had moved behind some scrub. After a long wait he emerged; he looked OK through the scope so I let the .270 speak, to which the bull disappeared back out of sight. Hit well, I knew he wouldn’t go far. Another decent bull erupted at the shot and Boone gave him a curry up but unbeknown to him, his rifle had been bumped and the shot missed. Running out to my right, I knew a vantage point was close which would give me a view of some prime country after the disruption. About 15 bulls milled around looking slightly distressed but none stood out.

Mob of bulls
Mob of bulls

We went and found my bull which went 12”, not exactly what I was after but it was nice to get something on our last real evening of hunting.

12" bull
12″ bull

Back over the ridge and down the bluff in the dark made for interesting work; but we got back to camp without any dramas. The next morning was misty and it was time for us to leave. We had had our chances. The familiar route out was navigated, with a few animals seen on the way for good measure.

Chamois hiding
Chamois hiding
Wet chamois
Wet chamois

Not the haul of trophies this time, but an awesome adventure into some epic backcountry which was more than reward for our effort.


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