I flip the riflescope all the way down to the bottom energy, modify the bipod, and attempt to settle right into a secure capturing place on the steep rock face.
“He’s heading proper for us,” says my 21-year-old information Ben Knudsen. “If he pops over our ridge, he’ll be 50 yards away. Take the primary good shot you get.”
We’ve been mountaineering and climbing since eight:30 this morning to get inside rifle vary of the bull tahr we’re after, and now it’s about 2:30 p.m. By means of sure stretches of our strategy we needed to scramble throughout rock faces and drag ourselves, vertically, by way of thick, prickly vegetation. Knudsen, a motocross racer and new searching information, had fastidiously navigated his method across the steepest bluffs to get us the place we are actually—about a couple of hundred yards beneath the height of a no-name mountain in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.
On the very finish of our stalk, we caught a fast glimpse of the bull earlier than he disappeared right into a gulley, strolling in our course. The wind is in our favor now and sundown remains to be three hours away. So I’m blissful to attend for the bull to reappear, if just for the prospect to relaxation my drained legs.
King of the Mountain
Crimson stags (or crimson deer, because the Kiwis name them) seize essentially the most consideration with regards to big-game searching in New Zealand with their regal racks and well-known roar. However for outdoorsmen in search of a test-your-limits hunt within the mountains, it doesn’t get a lot better than tahr within the Southern Alps. (Learn extra about mountain hunting in New Zealand right here).
Himalayan tahr are native to Tibet, Nepal, and India, however have been launched on New Zealand’s South Island within the early 1900s. With no pure predators, tahr shortly populated the area and now their vary stretches throughout 1.7 million hectares of the central South Island. Tahr and different launched sport species have thrived so properly that New Zealand requires hunters to have a license, however doesn’t require tags for particular person animals. So, legally, a licensed hunter can shoot as many tahr as his legs will carry him to. (You’ll find the NZ Parks and Recreation tahr hunting page here.)
Actually, in some locations the tahr inhabitants has grown so dense that the federal government culls them with helicopter sharpshooters in an effort to maintain them from destroying habitat. My clothes shop, Sam Radovonich of Southern Peaks Safaris stated that 80 nannies had lately been culled by helicopter from the drainage subsequent to the one we have been searching.
Within the U.S., nuisance species like wild pigs, coyotes, or resident geese are likely to garner disdain from the general public and a kill’em-all angle from hunters. That’s not the case with tahr in New Zealand. Kiwi hunters love tahr: their native sporting magazines have been coated up with bull tahr tales and photographs simply as our magazines function trophy whitetails. New Zealand tahr are managed as a nuisance species, however on the identical time, they’re revered as a trophy big-game animal.
That could be as a result of tahr are such cool critters. Bulls sport luxurious manes and are a lot bulkier than you would possibly count on: a giant bull can weigh 300 kilos. Their horns don’t appear spectacular (a trophy will measure 13 inches) till you stand up shut and run your finger over every darkish ring that represents a hard-earned 12 months in one of the crucial ruggedly stunning landscapes on the planet.
In mid-Could—which is fall in New Zealand—bull tahr go into rut and battle for dominance. Bulls combat by locking horns and spinning wildly in a circle. The winner tosses the loser down the mountain.
Calling the Shot … and the Chopper
Our bull lastly does present himself, however not at close-range like we anticipated. As I watch our ridge, Knudsen scans the bluffs above us and finds the bull once more. As a substitute of crossing the gulley, he had side-hilled the slope. The tahr is now wanting down at us from 334 yards.
We look forward to a couple of minutes for him to show broadside after which I settle the crosshairs sq. on the blond mane masking his shoulder. However I pull the shot to the precise, and the bullet misses the shoulder blade however finds the vitals behind it.
It is a drawback. The purpose is to drop a tahr the place it stands so he can not run off right into a bluff system that we are able to’t climb. Even a mortally wounded bull can skip throughout a rock face human would wish climbing gear to traverse.
And that’s simply what this bull does. He runs solely 100 yards or so earlier than dropping in a matagouri thicket. By means of the scope I watch him go down and provides one ultimate kick. However once I draw back from the optic I can see that he crossed an impassable (for any mortal human) rock bluff. The one option to attain the bull by foot is to climb down a gulley that drops 300 toes straight down and shoots straight again up the opposite aspect.
Knudsen is fairly positive he can safely cross the gulley (he’s received a climbing rope in his pack) and get the bull caped and quartered by dusk. However neither of us are so positive about my odds of surviving the climb. And even when I did, we’d nonetheless should make it off the mountain within the pitch darkish.
So, we fall again to Plan B: calling in a helicopter. Kiwi hunters use helicopters the way in which U.S. hunters use their pickup vans or ATVs. The South Island’s mountains are so rugged that a lot of the area is inaccessible besides by helicopter. It’s frequent apply for pilots to fly hunters to a summit or basin after which decide them up after a day (or week) of searching. You may hire a helicopter simply as you would possibly constitution a float aircraft for a backcountry journey in Canada or Alaska. Nevertheless it’s not low cost. And for mountain searching purists, it feels slightly like dishonest.
However by the point we climb excessive sufficient to search out cell reception, name Radovonich, determine the main points of the pickup, after which discover a considerably secure place for the pilot to land, I’m anxious simply to get better the bull by any means obligatory.
The pilot arrives and units the helicopter down on a stage piece of floor that’s about twice as massive as my eating room desk. We pile in and he drops Knudsen and Radovonich (who got here together with the pilot to assist with the restoration) on the opposite aspect of the bluff to the place they’ll attain the lifeless bull. They drag the bull all the way down to a flat spot, we land once more, they usually stuff the tahr into the helicopter’s search-and-rescue stretcher container. And similar to that we’re airborne and cruising over the bluffs, brush, and riverbed that Knudsen and I had spent all day battling.
After we land, I lastly get to see the bull up shut. We snap some photographs and cargo the bull into Radovonich’s truck as vacationers from Japan line up close by—they’re taking a sightseeing tour from the identical helicopter that simply flew us off the mountain. I hope they get to see a giant bull tahr watching over his nannies on some distant peak.
After we land, I lastly get to see the bull up shut. We snap some photographs and cargo him into Radovonich’s truck as vacationers from Japan line up close by—they’re taking a sightseeing tour from the identical helicopter that simply flew us off the mountain. I can’t inform what they consider the lifeless tahr, however I’m sure that there are scores extra, tucked away within the vary we simply left behind. I hope they get an opportunity to see a giant bull tahr too, nonetheless on the hoof and watching over his nannies on some distant peak.