Alpine Hunting: Get out there, and get home with the goods
Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Issue 217 Winter
Words by: Mountain Safety Council
Hunting New Zealand’s alpine country is an awesome experience but the weather can change very quickly and is very unforgiving on those who are not prepared.
Any chance to get up into New Zealand’s high country is going to be a fairly good one. When the ruts full on, it is time to get up into the Alps and see the majestic bull Tahr. Alpine Hunting is awesome, it can certainly be one of the best experiences of a walk with a rifle. However, the extreme conditions require even more planning than usual. You are often quite isolated and getting stuck at altitude is a possibility, so planning every step is our mantra here.
We say it over and over, but the weather is a key determinant in outdoor adventures and particularly the alpine. Check the forecasts and know that they are just an estimate, and that mountains “make their own weather.” Talk to your helicopter operator for local info on what is going on as well. Keep an eye on the horizon and check the weather updates by phone (if in service), mountain radio or SMS. Have a plan on how to bail out or where to hunker down if the weather packs in. Make sure the whole team is in on this.
There will be a lot of climbing even if you get a ride in. Also, most of that climbing can be quite high, over 1000m is the normal lower limit of this type of hunting. You should be climbing hills with a pack at a reasonable clip for training beforehand. Fatigue is often cited as a precursor to injury. Work smart, take breaks and refuel.
Remember every 100m drops the temperature nearly a whole degree so we are quickly into the single digits even on a good day. Keep those layers handy and change or vent as often as you need to avoid getting too sweaty. Don’t forget that you should be spending quite a bit of time sitting around glassing so bring appropriate clothing for that as well.
It should be obvious that you need to be well practiced and your rifle needs to be all sorted out. The rifle must be zeroed with the ammunition that you are bringing, and you should know the drops for that ammo and rifle combo. Keep recovery in mind when you are thinking about taking the shot. To reduce pack weight, you might consider bringing a single rifle and having everyone up to speed on it.
WHAT SKILLS DO YOU NEED?
You might think climbing, but the most useful is more like route finding and knowing what to work around and what to go up and down. This takes a lot of experience to get right and is a terrific opportunity to teach each other. Be extremely cautious of descending a route you did not climb up; it is easy to get bluffed out. Remember that in the evening things may well start freezing before you head down. That means scree, snow, creeks, and a lot of other terrain may be harder or impossible to traverse or descend. If you need crampons, you probably shouldn’t be there. Falls are the cause of 100% of fatalities in Alpine Hunting since 2007.
We do not want people buying some instep crampons and thinking they are good to go. If you are going on snow and ice you are mountaineering, that requires training as well as equipment. Consider a course. On other mountainous terrain you still need good stiff full shanked boots. Many hunters find a hill stick or walking poles useful. Always carry an emergency shelter and a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). Check out the NZ Avalanche Advisory, especially as we head deeper into winter.