Bull Tahr in the time of the rut
The Hughes 500 dropped me off on the sharks fin of a ridge at 5000 ft. “You a hundred percent sure you wanna be here” Voiced the pilot. I nodded in the affirmative so with a “see ya Friday evening/Saturday morning”, “I am outta here before those Easterlies hit” he was gone. The rest of the morning was spent shoveling snow to form bases for my main and auxiliary tents, and making sure they were held down tight, forming my kitchen and generally making camp. The worst of the winds hit in the late afternoon and did not abate for 48 hours. Not much sleep was had the first night as the tent gyrated, shimmied and flapped wildly, possibly similarly doing a good rendition of a John Travolta protege plugged into the mains power.
The morning’s daylight showed that the windswept snow debris had found its way into both of my vestibules of my main tent, and I had to dig for some time to unearth my cup, stove and billy and various other items. It also covered everything in my spare tent. I had left the .308 outside of its cover and it was a replica snow man and free firing to boot when cocked. Obviously there was moisture in the trigger mechanism, so I propped it up against a rock and let the wind dry it out. Meanwhile I unzipped rifle 2 a Remington 700 in .243 cal and loaded it up.
Despite the wind and because of it I dropped down the westerly side the next morning with said zephyr firmly up my jacksy – Directly the reason why three Chamois got up in front of me some 200 meters ahead and one of which had the good sense to dive straight over the side into scrub, the other two hesitated a while which was their folly as the .243 barked twice and there was fresh meat on the ground for the taking.
The next day I was away early and this time mainly concentrating on seeing a Tahr or two but again found myself more in the terrain of the Cham and was rewarded with some camera footage of two does who again were almost instantly aware of my presence and high tailed it away with my stink filling their nostrils……
Thursday was a cracker day wx wise- one right out of the chocolate box. The snow was firm enough to take a crampon which made a nice change from falling through the snow sometimes to my crotch. The day was spent exploring the northern aspect of the ridge and then awhile later I descended a spur heading in an easterly direction that eventually found me down nearly at the bush edge. Not an animal was sighted all day. I returned to camp in the mid afternoon and sat in the warming sun sipping coffee after coffee and then a plate full of Cham backsteaks. I spotted two Bull Tahr around 3 p.m. way up high among the gods and I watched them negotiate the steep rock and snow filled gullies with consummate ease for some minutes. It was a humbling experience.
Friday was another Cadbury day and I was heading south this time. I was gone by 06.30 the light of my head torch leading the way, followed by the crunch of crampons on the hard and crusty snow covering of the ridge, the stars were twinkling in the sky above.
I had made the best part of an hour of my journey before the first signs of light appeared over the eastern horizon behind me and it signaled it was now time to switch off my light. The landscape was completely white, which gave the impression it was lighter than it actually was, it would be awhile yet though before the currant bun made its entrance on stage.
The surrounding hills were pregnant with heavy snow and much care would be needed to avoid tripping an avalanche or when the sun was higher maybe being the recipient of one…….
The ground was covered in much the same way you would cover any piece of ground you were not totally familiar with. Frequent stops to glass and basically boots on the ground to cover areas that were dead to your glass. The eventual goal was to end up in a steep and badly scarred gully where I hoped some resident bulls lived.
Around 10 a.m. and animal sign is at last seen, fresh too, right on the lip of a vast gully, I spent some time checking out everything I could before moving higher to even fresher sign of Tahr activity, suddenly a nanny flashes between two rocks. I move in slowly and peer still further over the side, there I see a bull facing toward me around 50 meters away but with his head down. In fact he just looks like a ball of fur, so I wait for his head to lift. The instant it does sees a 165 Accubond being planted right between his shoulder blades. He drops like liquid but also like liquid he spills down a snow chute and then hits a rock and does a hard left down a steep rock strewn hillside before eventually coming to rest in a near vertical creek.
I was a ware of movement above and I saw nine or ten nannies being led up a steep snowfield by a bull. Unsure at the time whether this could be the main bull or not and at the distance he was at I could see he had a flowing mane so I shoot and he drops and slides a long way down toward and then past me but this time at least into easier pastures his progress leaving red streaks in the snow.
The retrieval of the first Bull was made by a long steep down climb using the front points of my crampons and with the much use of my trusty axe. The rifle is slung around my back and out of the way. He was not of record book dimensions but he was the mature bull I was after combined with all the powerful rutting odours you would expect and which I soon became familiar with once I stood along side him. He would have gone a modest 12″ in length.
A Chamois buck in steep country
With a toe hold in June, and therefore in the middle of the Cham rut, I was again making my way in total blackness, save for the diluted light from my head torch.
05.15 is an ungodly hour of the day not only to be awake but also to be punishing the body to boot!
Full daylight is around 07.20 in winter time , there will be plenty of steps taken by that time if I am to break out onto the tops at first light. The going is steep and tortured with plenty of second growth ready and willing to poke my eyes out and/or ensnare my pack and impede my progress. To make matters worse there is soft snow everywhere and the higher I go the deeper it gets, at times I find myself breaking through to waist depth. It is now very slow going and extremely frustrating. My axe and crampons are just extra weight in my pack and of no use in these conditions, also I didn’t fix my gaiters with new wires or any wires for that matter and so the bloody things are riding up and letting snow into my boots which of course is melting and causing my feet to get extremely wet and cold.
The bush edge is so close but snow drifts slow me to a tortoise type of progress…progress?
I finally break out a good twenty minutes after first light, no matter the hard work is now behind me. I am still in the bush but at the last line of trees so am able to sight the surrounding country without giving too much away in movement etc. I am rewarded instantly with a sighting of a Chammy moving and feeding on the ridge opposite me but a fair bit higher up, she is just right of a large rock and now I see a couple more of her kin bedded down along side. I range her at 267 meters. I check the large rock again and find it to be not a rock at all, but another Chamois, that is face onto me and giving me the hard once over. I drop down behind my pack and bring Sako to bear. He…for I pick him to be the buck, presents a very small target when viewed through my 5x scope, so I settle into the snow in the hope he turns broadside. The buggers are good at this game and the time drags on along with the chilling cold that is seeping into every core of my body.
Eventually after much time passing I am forced into taking the shot before I get the dreaded shakes. The last pressure of the trigger taken, but even under recoil I realise I have missed. Both animals race down the ridge and then disappear over the blind side, now directly opposite my position. suddenly an animal appears broadside and I send a 165 grain Accubond its way, at the same time realising it is a Doe and not the prized Buck I am after. She drops like liquid. I have barely enough time to reload when the buck appears and swiftly descends through scrub on my side of the adjacent ridge. I have fleeting glimpses of him as he maneuvers down and across opposite.
It is perhaps a good ten minutes before he materialises on a small piece of open ground 160 ,meters away, he is moving quickly and my cross hairs just find his fore quarters, at the same time the Bix n Andy trigger is released, the animal disappears again into the trees.
Time is of no importance now, which gives me the space I need to ponder the possible retrieval of at least one of the animals. The drop into the gut is “on end”, with a steep climb out and then a long stretch of mixed rubbish which could be loosely described as bush.
The down climb was mentally uncomfortable, I only had my axe, knife and rifle as company preferring to leave my heavy pack on the ridge. There were patches of ice but mostly soft snow which gave way with every step.
I normally hunt with a day pack which houses everything I could possibly need in any given circumstance and it is customised over the years to a certain perfection. However this trip I decided to minimise weight and bring only my main back pack and so half way across the ravine my mind registered the fact I did not have my camera with me. Bugger…never mind.
I found the buck hanging by his hooks over a fearsome drop in some scrub two guts over. Normally I would extricate a small length of rope I always carry and secure the beast before Butchering. This time however without the rope all I could do was to wedge myself between two trees and reach down to try to sever his head. The animal finally dropped into space before landing hard at the edge of another huge drop. I had my head but my nerves were taking a beating.
In all it took 90 minutes to traverse there and back, a distance of a mere 160 meters.
That is alpine hunting for you.