Tahr hunt with Brook JUN 2010

Chopper departs we've got three days

The phone rang and I picked it up. Steve Garnett? Yes I replied. “Deer on my Doorstep” the book by Colin Davey came the voice, yes? I said warily my mind working overtime. The names Glenn, Glenn Soroka and I sent you a copy many years ago. The fog was slowly lifting, but still not quickly enough. “Remember the Kawekas early eighties at Te Pukeohikarua hut” he went on. “Me and my mate Pete…… a huge snowstorm”….”Yes of course” I interrupted.

I was in my second season culling and these two guys descended on my office at Te Puke and we sat out a two to three day snowstorm together. The hut at that time was an open fire affair and the southerly wind would sweep down the chimney with malicious intent. We three would be huddled staring into the embers and in unison would rock to and fro with the coming and going of the downdraft of smoke. They were good company, I remembered.   When it was time for them to leave they asked for help to navigate the tops in the deep snow and slashing wind, and I remember taking them down as far as the Harkness hut.  I recall Glenn promising to post on a book I had been looking for, for some time, and I was amazed and grateful on returning home after that trip to find the book was in my mail box.

We went on reminiscing for sometime and eventually Glenn mentioned that he had a young workmate that was helping him at his work www.sorokarifle.com , and that he was Canadian and was going home shortly. He was wondering if I would like to accompany them for a Chammie or Tahr hunt.

Now this was pretty good timing and apart from a Uk trip I had planned for the end of May, to my daughters wedding, I was available.

I was indeed planning a Tahr trip of my own anyway. We exchanged a few emails and planned on an early June trip, if the weather was kind to us.

Glenn and Brooksie arrived late Saturday afternoon on the 5th June. The forecast for the week ahead was perfect. We were heading for the West Coast and perfect was no mean feat for that neck of the woods, in fact the previous week saw fine weather on the coast albeit very windy, whilst the rest of the country suffered much rain. All in all the gods were indeed benevolent.

We yarned a while over a coffee and biscuits and then set off for the five hour journey south. We arranged en-route to stop a night in a back-packers, it was the White Heron actually in Whataroa.  We made good time.  On arrival we sorted out our gear one more time into manageable loads, and were abed at around midnight.

Jamie Scott was booked to fly us in at 0830hrs on Sunday, and we arrived at the car park at 0820. It was to be my first sojourn into the Southern Alps. I measured them from this distance with a high level of respect, the dark green bush level looked to be a quarter of the overall height of the mountains. The higher levels were steep and precarious looking. They looked far more menacing than most of the country I was used to in the Nelson Lakes and they were cloaked in snow and ice.

 There was a distinct chill in the air whilst we waited for the chopper, but I at least was snug in my gaudy red down jacket.  I must admit I was impervious to Jack’s nip.

The chopper arrived on time and we quickly loaded.  Brooksie got the prime seat at the back with all the food and equipment and for good measure he got Glenn’s dog “Shiva” on his lap, such are the joys of youth.  I was wedged in the middle front and Glenn was up against the door.

Under 10 minutes travel, and we were at the head waters of a creek looking for a camping site. All I could see was rock, rock and more rock. We eventually landed on a small level area and proceeded to empty the chopper we then confirmed our departure date and farewelled the pilot.

The two tents were up in no time. I got a two man to myself and Glenn and Brooksie shared the other. The mountain radio was set up, the food stored in the rock bivvy, and we had a home.  Glenn had nominated himself as “the camp bitch” apart from being out of sorts, he was a veteran of at least four other Tahr escapades and had bagged, amongst others, a 13” and a 13.5” head.  He had his resident pot licker too, to help out in the kitchen.

 The three of us then had our glasses trained on the peaks high above us. Glenn found a bull way up in the distance on a ridge and I found one a lot closer again, on a ridge with a few nannies as company. Although mine was closer, it was in what seemed to be more of a precarious position and the creek that would offer the quickest route to him looked impassable at this early stage. So we opted for the first one and it was an opportunity to stretch the legs and physically cover some country and get a feel for the land. Brooksie and I set off at around 11.30 to see how close we could get to the faraway bull.

It took us an hour to top the scree that was adjacent to our camp, a journey I thought would be 20 minutes max. We had picked a route with the binoculars that seemed very feasible with only a few areas that raised question marks.  However the binocular route and the physical route were two different things, and many a time we had to back track and find alternative means to progress. It was 1630 hrs when we topped the ridge that the bull was last seen on, unfortunately we were a lot lower down on that ridge, due to choosing an easier line, and even this line had us hanging on by our fingertips and being very religious.  Looking into the next gully had me experiencing a pang of vertigo. We were hoping for a scree to descend so that we would not have to backtrack the way we had come, but all we got was a vertical plunge of sheer rock wall to the creek bottom.  Above us on the ridgeline were huge broken slabs of rock, which even if we had the time to climb, the physical effort needed was beyond us. We off loaded our daypacks and scoffed our late lunch and wondered what the hell lay in store for us on this trip.  Whilst we relaxed, we took in the immensity of the faces and sheer wildness of it all.

We down climbed with much care and mutual encouragement and arrived at camp slightly chastened by our experience.  Glenn, who in his role of camp bitch and chief observer, was shouting “Hey Brooksie I have found a bull for you, take a look”.  So we three took up the glass and viewed the bull on the somewhat easier face down side of our camp.  It wasn’t long before we spied one or two more as the shadows lengthened.

I was impressed with my first viewing of the shaggy patriarch of the mountains, he looked more to be a grizzly bear at distance, with his long and rangy mane sweeping the ground.  I was slightly disappointed with the country he was in however, seemingly more suited to chamois, and not the heights and crags I was more used to reading about.  I made up my mind there and then that the bull I was to shoot would be in more testing country and I was more than happy to see Brooksie realise his quest.

Brookes and me

The next morning after breakfast we resumed the glassing and again saw the bull of the night before, or at least one similar.  I then started to scan high into the crags further upstream and was rewarded with a magnificent looking bull making his way horizontally towards the bottom of a steep rock shute encrusted with ice and snow. Meanwhile Glenn was shouting to Brooksie to get his arse into gear and stalk the bull on the scrubby face opposite us.
“Are you coming with me?” Brooksie asked, before I could answer Glenn said “go by yourself, you’ll get it, you will learn nothing going with Steve”.  I wasn’t sure how to take that to be honest, but decided that it meant it would mean more to the lad to stalk and shoot it himself rather than be led by the hand so to speak.  So with that we separated and Brooksie aimed for the scrub above our camp and I pointed my nose toward the snow shute.

After a hard climb of about an hour and a half I started to enter the shute. It was about then I heard the first of three or four shots going off.  The third and fourth were spaced out over the next hour, the lad’s into his bull I mused.

The going looked reasonable enough.  I looked high above me and the top of the shute was just out of eyesight, doing a dog leg 7/8ths of the way up. I firstly checked all the nooks and crannies above me for any sighting of the bull, but was not rewarded, so I began to climb.  It was upward ever upward.  About halfway up the shute I started encountering  black ice and more snow, I was thankful I was using my new “Markor 45” litre day pack which enabled me to stow my rifle in it’s scabbard at the back, and use both my hands, for I was now climbing more.  On one precarious pitch I was hanging on by toenails and fingernails, and thinking seriously about using my gums!  One slip would mean a fearful plunge down an icy slope and clattering into a huge rock at the bottom. I then noticed my fingertips on both hands had gone white as snow, and then the pain started. I had been so preoccupied with my predicament that I had had my hands immersed in the snow for far too long at a time and contracted a mild frostbite. I found a thin ledge to balance on and I quickly thrust the offending appendages deep into my fleece shorts, ah the agony and the ecstasy. They took an age to regain their circulation. It was at this point that I knew I was not going to retrace my footsteps, for better of for worse I was going up. I hoped and prayed that when I got there I would find an easy route down.

I was finding it increasingly difficult the higher I got, the holds were getting smaller and smaller, and I was full of anguish and uncertainty as to the outcome of the day. Eventually With the end in sight I came up against an unsurmountable obstacle. It was a black ice encrusted rock that overhung my position. I tried umpteen times to get around, but could not get in a safe enough position to commit myself for fear of the yawning drop below me. There was a shallow cave to my right and I retreated there to nut this problem out.

Looking up to the roof of the cave I saw daylight, two small openings were apparent. I took off my pack and rifle and wedged myself up a chimney of rock until I was within arm reach of the openings.  I figured if I could remove enough rock I might be able to squeeze through one of the openings and so leapfrog my earlier position.  I braced my legs against one wall with my back to the other and pulled out four huge rocks and let them slip between me and the rock face, they cascaded down the shute breaking into smaller pieces and taking even more rocks with them. I managed to clear quite a wide shelf which I could then clamber up on to. I was overjoyed to see that it was indeed possible for me to squeeze through the openings.  I then shimmied down to my pack and brought that up and pushed it ahead of me through the opening and then followed through myself.

Ok, I am still moving, I tried to convince myself. I still had a couple more hairy moments before finally topping out onto a ridge that was so thin, that it took my breath away. Despite its lack of width, there were fresh Tahr tracks running over it! The other side plunged straight down. I took off my pack to rummage through and found my lunch, two snickers bars!  I had forgotten to load my bread and sardines. Worse my camelback had lost its mouth piece somehow in the climb, and the whole contents of water had soaked through everything. I have a valve as a back up after a similar incident last year, but I had had the valve on open….bugger.

Christ where do I go from here

It was midday and no water and if that was lunch I had had it! I now needed to concentrate on a way down, and there was no way I was going to tread the tracks of the Tahr!  So, treading a path under where he went, I followed in his general direction and that, I found, quickly became non negotiable, so I retraced my steps back to where I had lunch. I took a breather to admire my surroundings, snowy peaks in every direction, a blue sky windless and best of all you could hear a pin drop…my heart was beating though, and loudly too. I slipped carefully in the other direction and spied the same prints descending diagonally into what looked like a deep snow gulley, that in turn descended aggressively toward steep scree and eventually the creek floor…if only I thought.  The Tahr had not gone down the gulley, as I could see his prints ranging ever higher. I carefully followed his tracks, squeezing past overhanging rocks until I made firm contact with the gully. The snow was deep and I sighed with relief. I faced inward and kicked steps using the steps I’d cut in turn for my hands, I gradually descended. I am going to make it I thought!

Oh for a set of wings

I eventually reached the scree and then sat down and glassed the opposite mountain. A nanny was seen standing on the main ridge looking down hill and away from my position. After an hour of further glassing I spied a decent looking bull with a range of nannies.  Decision made I was going to stalk them!  Firstly I glassed a suitable route amongst the sheer rock face.  Most of it I could see was unclimbable but there was one chance.

 It took an age to make my way down the remaining scree, always conscious of where I wanted to start my climb up the other side. I was starting to ascend the other side when I noticed a young bull, high above me, poke his head over a huge rock and look down in my direction.  I froze for some minutes until he lost interest and pulled his head back in. The climb was far from easy but eventually I was nearing the crest of the final spur, the wind was blowing up my arse and I was frustrated after all this effort to be denied at the last hurdle. Then I heard some snorting and whistling and knew my number was up, I reached the top and saw some tail ends scurrying across the rock faces, mostly nannies. I had already taken my rifle out of its scabbard before topping out, but had somehow joined the top strap of my pack through the sling of my rifle, so when the bull fleetingly showed itself I became entangled and by the time I got myself organised he had vanished. Mark that down as a new gear mistake!

I decided I had climbed quite enough for the day, it was now 3pm and high time I started hunting instead of climbing. The plan was to hunt my way back to camp, mostly down hill which suited me fine. I was glassing a creek way down on the opposite side of the mountain I had climbed when I spied three or four nannies.  That will do me I thought, the route to the creek was easy and fully out of sight, I quickly made up the ground. After some minutes I edged slowly over the lip on my stomach and there were five nannies and a bull in full view gorging themselves in the short scrub and grasses.  Now this was only a young bull and not really what I had come all this way for, I had come a long way however and one in the hand is worth ……..I placed the .308 on my pack and dropped the animal, all hell broke lose unseen nannies erupted from everywhere but best of all a huge mature bull stood up on my side of the creek. In an instant I saw his long shaggy dark brown pelage and decent bone, I cross haired him and sent Barnes on its way. He collapsed in a heap and didn’t even twitch. The shot had hardly stopped reverberating, around the mountains when a huge thunderous roar assaulted my ears that more than matched my rifles feeble croak. Looking across the valley in alarm I noticed a huge fissure appear in the snow behind the glacial front I thought for one second that I had started an avalanche, but no other movements were detected.

My bull

I quickly moved over to the fallen one and hurriedly took the usual snap, too hurriedly I found out later. Time was getting on already well after 4pm. I started to cape the animal, but due to the impending darkness, I had to leave him half done. The gloom was upon me, I had no torch and it was a long way back to camp. I picked my way off the steep face and by the time I was in the scrub it was totally black. There was much hilarity making my way through the monkey scrub etc……not!

The lads had left on a flashing head torch for me to reference in the creek bed and it made a huge difference. I called out when I was a couple of hundred yards from camp and out of the darkness came a light carried by Brooksie who escorted me in. I was totally knackered. I learnt Brooksie had been unsuccessful with his day having missed his target.  Bed was a great place that night.

Mission the next day was to finish the job of last night. Brooksie was heading in the direction of his misfortune of yesterday. We teamed together until we came to the bottom of the first scree then he angled across the face and I began the long climb to the tops. I topped out after an hour and a half climb then dropped down the other side for the short walk to the bull. I made blade cuts on the stiff one and managed to cape him and sever his head.  I stowed the head and cape in the Markor and beat an early retreat for the camp.  Just as I was starting the climb around twenty nannies and young bulls appeared way down where Brooksie was hunting.  They ran across me around 150 yards below.  I stopped and retrieved my camera and snapped off some shots. They weren’t stopping that’s for sure.  Just as I was thinking Brooksie must have nailed the bull, he appeared herding another few nannies in front of him, stopping below me to pose for pictures.  I eventually tired of him and carried out the slog upwards.

With camp in sight, I heard a curse and looked over my shoulder and was surprised to see Brooksie on my heels. ”What ya know”, I greeted.  Frigging Remingtons’ he spat out (he was not overly fond of the breed). “What happened? “ ”I took a shot and then could not eject the case, it is jammed in the chamber” he moaned.

We later found out that the rounds reloaded for the trip were only neck sized and too big for the chamber.  Brooksie ran the rest of the rounds through the rifle and found 50% were to be discarded due to being too tight. We ejected the problem case with a tent peg propelled by a rock at the barrel end.

The rest of the day was spent fleshing and capeing my bull, before salting and folding away. We measured the bone and it went 12 and 1/8th”.

The last day started with Glenn pushing the lad out of the tent in the dark and making him a feed that would keep an army on the march for days.  He badly wanted him to get a bull. Daylight broke and the glasses were trained on the hill.  A suitable bull was found and Brooksie was away with instructions ringing in his ears. I had decided to have the day off and watch the lad’s performance.  I had killed one too many bulls anyway.

We watched Brooksie make the scree and were frustrated that he could not see the bull which was 200 yds away and slightly above him.  We saw him lie down and point his rifle, but not at the bull we could see.  It finally dawned on us after we gave him loads of abuse, that he must have spied one himself. Two shots, rang out the second of which sounded solid, and we watched Brooksie traverse the face to the further ridge.  When he reached there he gave the thumbs up and we could relax.  The Canuck had his bull.

 He was home shortly after midday and a couple of hours was spent knocking his head and cape into shape the head went 11 ½.  It was 1500 hrs and with a quick consensus it was decided we would call up and see if we could hitch a ride out a little earlier than expected. We were told to be ready in 30 minutes…….. Man we flew around camp.

Team photo

We enjoyed a beer that night and the boys were on the ferry next day back to the lesser island.

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