A Girl and the call of the Tops Kate Aynsley v2


12 July 2023

Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Summer Issue 219

Words By: Kate Aynsley

Tahr have been on my wish list since I first started hunting two years ago.  I got a teaser in May over on the West Coast of the South Island when I jumped in on a cancelled spot for the Landsborough Tahr Ballot. Unfortunately, weather had been against us, with heavy rain and constant fog preventing us from being able to fly into our block for nearly the entire period. With a short weather window finally available, we were flown in and set up camp as light snow fell around us. By dinner time it was a cool -5 as we sat huddled around our fire. We were gifted just over a day and a half of hunting as another front was quickly approaching. Although unsuccessful, I had experienced my first Tahr hunt and now fully appreciated the climate and terrain they live in. They are an astute animal and pick up on any foreign sound, smell or movement. I was eager to get out again.  

My next opportunity was going to be a late spring hunt. They would likely be starting their moult so a cape would be out of the question. Realistically I was just hoping to get on the board and take some meat home for the family. 

I had a little disappointment at the start, as the hunt was balloted, and I had missed out. However, I had a Ladies Club Hunt that was coming up on the following weekend for Tahr, so it was not a complete loss. A week out I got an email that there was a cancellation on the first hunt, and I was back in! 

I was going to be hunting Sunday to Thursday and then again on Saturday in the Mt Cook area. It would be a quick turnaround but did allow me to do some quick washing and catch up with my partner Greg after his own hunt. 

We had a great view of a snow-capped Mt Cook that stood proudly above the others and Lake Pukaki from the campground we were at for the night.  

The next morning, myself and a few others were awake early as we were itching to start our journey onto the blocks. When we finally got to the helipad there were a few worried faces (had they not weighed their gear?) I offered up my spare 40kgs to our group, promptly adding that it would go to the highest bidder and the currency was beer. The pilot was a crack up and informed us once we were buckled in that this chopper hadn’t been used in some time and he was clearing out nests before we arrived…um what!! Once we were in the air, he light heartedly stated that we were still in the air so he must have got them all. 

Once the skids were on the ground we quickly unloaded and got our bearings. We paired up and treated the day as a recce to hopefully identify some potential areas for the following days.  

With packs on and rifles slung, Mike and I headed off upriver. We had been told that we could hunt either side but had to use caution, as though the river was not wide it did carry a lot of water. They were not wrong. Mike offered me his walking pole as he said that he had more (power) to the ground than I did. I was very appreciative as it really did have quite a strong tow to it. It was also deeper than it appeared with the added snow melt. 

It wasn’t long before we spotted our first animals. We moved up into a thicket of matagouri on the valley floor that offered us some much-needed cover and allowed us to assess them without being noticed. We remained there for a few hours as animals came and went. I was in awe as these large animals sprang across seemingly impossible gaps onto the tiniest of ledges with little effort.  

We decided that none were worth stalking in on and it was too early in the piece for a meat animal so headed down river. As we rounded the edge of the hill into a new gut, we spied new animals. Nothing spiked our interest, so we carried on. Further in I spotted a large group heading up the creek. They were mixed in age but still quite young. We resigned ourselves to the fact that this just wasn’t the right area to be in on this day and decided to head back across the river and check out the other side of the valley. It appeared to have some good feed on it with numerous guts to glass into. Again, we stayed fairly low on the ridge as it was a recce for the following days. We settled into a good glassing spot where we could see up a good gut and across to the adjacent face. I decided it was an opportune time to put my worms to rest and cooked up my tea. Right at the end of the evening Mike spied a nice bull heading down an adjacent ridge, he was favouring one leg but coming down at pace. Perhaps an old injury? We made a beeline to where we thought he would go and Mike set up for a shot, the face had a good plateau of feed and had three nannies on it. They fed off up the ridge while we waited, but the bull never showed.  

A stonker of a bull came into view, but in my haste to take the shot, I read my ballistic chart incorrectly and hadn’t wound my elevation turret up enough so the shot went under him. 

By 22:30 we were cracking a beer and catching up on the other team’s day. They had seen a few groups that captured their interest but had nothing on the ground. 

The morning light was pouring into the hut by 05:00. After an early breakfast we headed off. Mike’s plan was to head past where we finished yesterday, to see if there were any richer areas beyond it. I would head to the top of the gut from last night and glass across the ridge.  

I had negotiated up the left of the gut but had come to a point where I really couldn’t go any further. I settled in and had only glassed a short time when I spotted two nice looking bulls. It was an impossible shot from this side. I studied the ridge and felt I could get above them by climbing just off the ridgeline. I traversed back down and started my ascent. I glassed as I went as I have found that each step tends to open up a new view. A stonker of a bull came into view, he had previously been obscured between two rocks and was ringed by a large scree face. I needed to close the gap as he was 460yds from where I was. There was good cover 150yds up from me, so I did a final glass along the ridge and low and behold there were three nannies sitting where I wanted to be. My plan was no longer viable. He suddenly stood up. I took the shot but…in my haste, I read my ballistic chart incorrectly and hadn’t wound my elevation turret up enough. The shot would have been under him. I decided to head across the scree for a look just to be sure. I had made it about halfway across when I lost my footing. I managed to grab onto a small piece of rock that was poking through the loose rock around me. I lay there assessing what I should do next as my feet unsuccessfully toyed with trying to find grip (whilst playing back what Greg had told me about scree…stay on your feet and don’t stop). There was quite a drop below me, but it was a good 15-20 metres away.  It was a little tense for a bit, but I reset myself and managed to get on my feet and get across the scree. Disappointingly there was no animal at the rocks. Oh well, now to get down to the creek. I opted for the quickest way, which was straight down the scree slope. One foot after the other with the sound of rocks coming down behind me with each step. It was such a rush I almost wanted to head back up and do it again.  

Glassing for animals in some great Tahr country.

I had just met up with Mike and happened to gaze down, suddenly catching sight of a mob below us. I quickly set myself up as they grazed across the face, they suddenly turned away and started heading back into the creek. I had the best bull of the group in my crosshairs and was waiting for him to be clear of the others before I took the shot. The shot rang out causing the animals to scatter. I had my first Tahr on the ground. Then a couple darted back to where my bull lay. Mike quickly tried to set up, but he did not find my position as easy to lay into and unfortunately missed his shot. We headed down the ridge and quickly butchered the bull before we lost light.   

It was our last full day, and we woke to fresh snow on the hills around us and a little clag. Mike and I climbed to the top of the opposite ridge from yesterday, as by now, we figured that the big bull Tahr hadn’t got the memo about low-vember. We were right too, at 1800m we saw multiple bachelor herds. I had spotted a very nice granddaddy Tahr tucked in a pocket of rock, giving the appearance of a cave. He was this amazing deep chocolate colour. We spent the next five hours waiting for him to make his move down to the feed below. Every 20 minutes he would stand and check out his domain, but then would just sit back down. He was at 550yds and not retrievable in his current spot. Two nannies nearby did disturb him, and he headed up and over the back ridge. We turned our attention across to another bull that was sunning himself on a ledge no wider than him. As the day was coming to an end, Mike decided that if he placed a shot beside the Tahr he would either run down the face or come over to where we were. Because of the wind direction the shot could only be placed to his left, not ideal but what did we have to lose at this point…right. Mike placed the shot perfectly, rocks shattered beside him and the Tahr did as predicted, he sprinted down the face, but we never saw him again. It was astounding how quickly they can move on this terrain.  

Mike got a good meat animal on the return to camp after two frustrating misfires and one of the other boys Doug also got his first Tahr. We were all full of smiles and tales about our trophies. They may not have been trophies in the sense of the word, but they would always be our first. It was a great finish to the trip. 

We had another smooth ride out and I was now looking forward to getting back to the Mt Cook area the next day for the Ladies Hunt. After a short sleep filled with nothing but Tahr dreams I was back at Mt Cook meeting a group of 14 other woman. Some I knew from our previous trip to Mavora, others were new faces. We had a great range of ages, experience levels and were from all walks of life. The one common factor that drew us together…our passion for hunting. 

We had our evening block briefing; buddies were allocated after some hilarity. I was allocated the steepest of blocks which I relished. 

I was to be a leader on this trip…frightening I know. My team were great. I had two who were new to hunting and a helper on the binos and radio.  

After a morning going over the differences in shot placement when firing uphill, we had a quick lunch and set off in our groups. It was going to be an extremely warm walk to our block in the heat of the day. With only one creek crossing, we refilled our water supplies and headed up Easy Ridge to find a good glassing position for the day. We found a great spot that afforded some shade and it offered 270-degree views of plateaus and cliff faces as far as the eye could see. It was not long before I had our first animals in the binos. I also worked out it was quicker to take a picture of where the animals were and show the girls rather than try to explain it. It didn’t take long for the girls to get their eye in from there. 

We watched two bulls feeding for a bit, until a group moving across the plateau caught my attention, but none were trophy material, so we shifted our attention back to the original two. One seemed like quite a reasonable bull. The only issues were, they ranged in at over 900yds from us and there was no cover for a stalk as it was all open ground with small tussocks and speargrass. I discussed with Elise the option that if they started to move up the face, we could make a bolt for it while their attention was away from us.  

My bull admiring his domain. 

During this time, Pam spotted a bachelor group starting to come over the ridge directly across from us. I knew it wouldn’t take long for them to wind us as it was carrying our scent, directly to them. Wow did they react when they got a whiff of us. Strangely they didn’t go far and settled down in some tussock. One bull particularly had my interest as he stood, front feet on a rock looking over his domain. The group were gradually feeding across the face and if they kept going, they would come directly across to a plateau only 500yds from us. We again focused our attention back to the original two. They were now feeding up the face but were nervous as they went. I hoped that they would cross the gut between us and them. It had a waterfall in it at which one bull paused at for a moment. I spent a lot of time toying with the idea of making a move but kept being met with all the open ground, so disregarded it. Unfortunately, as I watched, both animals faded away over the tops. 

I put it to Elise that we should go for the bachelor herd. It would be a good climb as we had to drop down onto a creek bed and then scale up and over the ridge to close the gap. I’m still not sure how keen she was at the time, but she was in. We got Pam and Sara to sit tight and radio us any updates on the mobs’ movements. The climb down was steeper than I had anticipated but we covered the ground quickly. Once we were halfway up the face we radioed back for an update. We were surprised to hear that they were on the move, not across but heading away from us up to the scree slope. We needed to boot it, or we would lose them and any chance of getting our bull. They had certainly covered some ground by the time we got an eye on them again. I downed my pack and got out the range finder to see what we were looking at. They were 450yds from us and fairly settled so we snuck in a bit closer which also allowed me time to lower my heart rate. We got to within 380yds, I now had a good rock to lean on so set up my rifle, rechecked my ballistic chart and adjusted my turret. The shot was good, a real thud as it hit him. The bull stood for a bit wavering. Elise was yelling ‘take another shot, Katie said always take a second shot’. With adrenaline flowing I reloaded and took another shot. He just seemed to absorb it and took a few steps. Then he sat down. Yes, I had a nice bull for all our hard work. Then the bugger stood up again, I couldn’t believe it. One more shot and he was down. Elise and I high fived and then started the climb up to assess him. He was magnificent, still in his winter coat but had begun to moult. We counted his rings and aged him at 7 years, and he measured 11 ½”. Not bad for my second Tahr.

The bull I took on the NZDA women’s hunt went 11 ½’’ and was aged at 7 years.

We set to work gutting him as Elise wanted to have a go at carrying him whole, bar the head which I had along with her pack. Kudos to her as she did this for over three hours. We arrived back at the shearers quarters with the other girls all surrounding the door to see our prize. Turns out they had been listening to it all unfold through the radios. I certainly grew as a hunter over these two trips and appreciate just how outstanding these ungulates are. Like so much of hunting, they are addictive, you get to test yourself at every level.  As I left Mt Cook for the second time that week, I was already planning my next stint in the hills in search of that 12… 


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