Bowhunting Bull Tahr in Hobbit Country

 

 

By: Juha Kylmä (Finland)
By: Juha Kylmä (Finland)

Legendary New Zealand is familiar to most of us from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  In addition to breathtaking landscapes, the country has been known as the adventure-loving travelers’ favourite target. The exotic value of the island state on the south-east side of Australia increases when looked at from northern Finland, as it is located nearly exactly on another side of a globe.

 

What New Zealand

The seasons are totally opposite in New Zealand in comparison to Finland. It will be the warmest in January-March when the average temperatures approach 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit).  Also, the sun turns backwards, from right to the left and the eddy in the sink circulates backwards in contrast to ours.

From the hunter’s point of view the best time to travel to New Zealand from the northern equator is our spring and summer, depending on what species one is after.

The original fauna of the islands of New Zealand before the arrival of the human being included birds, reptiles, amphibians, spiders and insects. When the mammals were missing, the birds usually commanded the parts of the ecology which normally belong to the mammals. There were as much as 245 species of birds, 75 % of which were originally only found in New Zealand.

Many of these birds had become large and flightless. Some of the flightless birds still alive are Kakapo, Kiwi and a few shore birds. Of the original flying bird species only Kea and Tui are left.

The first people arrived at the islands about 700 years ago. They were East Polynesians who are known nowadays as Maoris. The first European who arrived at the islands was Abel Tasman in 1642, a Dutch explorer. The British explorer, Captain Cook surveyed nearly the entire coast 120 years later in 1796 and declared that the islands belonged to Britain. After this the introducing of new species began. The favorable conditions and the lack of beasts of prey made the settling and quick growth of the introduced species possible.

Tahr country
Tahr country

Himalayan Thar, a longtime dream

The first time I travelled to New Zealand was 18 years ago “for the expedition trip” of seven weeks. During that long trip, I became familiar with both islands. The kind kiwi people welcomed me, a lonely traveler from a faraway country, warmly and many hunting possibilities were offered through my new friends.

During my four previous hunting trips to New Zealand I have been able to hunt most of the typical New Zealand species such as the red deer, fallow deer, pig, goat, Arapawa ram, turkey, rabbit and possum. But my actual dream had always been the handsome bull tahr, the most challenging species of New Zealand with any weapon. The Tahr live high in the mountains so the hunter must prepare himself for heavy, and at times frightening, climbing. The sharp-eyed tahr knows  threats usually come from below, so the hunter needs to get above them.

After struggling and climbing for hours to get high, it is frustrating to see the tahr had moved and were now sitting on the next mountain top. In spite of a quite large size, the males easily weighing a hundred kilos (approx. 200 lbs) they simply run up and down the extremely steep hill sides with no fear. In a flash the king of the herd is standing with his thick mane fluttering in the wind at the edge of a kilometre deep gorge on a ten square centimeter edge. No wonder  many bowhunters will grab a rifle with a powerful scope, the last day of the hunt hoping to get within 250 –350 meters of the bull.

Ribbonwood Station, splendid lodging

I met NZ Hunt Outfitters Phil and Dani Wilson various times at the Archery Trade Show in the US, and decided to book the hunt with them, the only target of which would be a bull tahr. I knew the risks of the decision quite well: a long expensive trip as far from Finland as one can get with normal commercial flights, a challenging target for a bowhunter and a really physically demanding hunt. But, I have had good luck with my numerous “walkabouts” with my bows, so why always think so reasonably?

The guides Sam and Scott took me from the earthquake damaged Christchurch to the Ribbonwood Station, a 2.5 hour drive to the south toward Geraldine, where the “Hunting lodge” a highly rated hotel awaited.

After unpacking my luggage and changing clothes, Darren, my guide for the first week, directed me to the meadow where I could test my equipment. First arrow from 20 meters hit in the money. Following shots with 10 metre spaces up to 70 metres made sure that at least the equipment had survived the long journey.

After a light lunch, we headed toward the mountains.

The truck-wide path was winding on the slopes above the hanging clouds down below. I was happy that I didn’t need to drive the truck and tried to keep my eyes on the “road” instead of the steep slopes.

Red stag trophy with camera
Red stag trophy with camera

We soon saw some red deer, elk and Arapawa ram. After a couple of hours glassing Darren blurted out “Bull tahr”. And yes, after some detailed instructions I could also see him and a few nannies he was carefully guarding. Darren made a quick plan for the approaching route and the sweaty climbing began. The tahr group or ‘mob’ as the locals called them, easily kept a safe 200–300 meter distance no matter how hard we tried to cover the ground. Evening darkened the sky and the light rain softened the ‘road’ which made our descent even more worrisome.

A ten-hour mountain walk

In the afternoon, an American family of three had arrived in the camp. Lane, the son, was a bowhunter but now pursued the red stag and tahr with a rifle like his father. Both men however, did appreciate my attempt to hunt the bull tahr with a bow and arrow.

The alarm clock rang at half past four. After a quick shower and breakfast we were on our way to an area where, according to Darren, we would see various tahr mobs.

After leaving the truck by a rustic mountain hut we packed the rucksacks and other equipment and headed out. We soon found a group of eight tahr with a few nannies, a couple of young bulls and the big boss. However, they were at a distance of 1300 metres at the highest tops visible and impossible for us to reach.

A few nannies passed us when moving through the valley to a new top after less than a hundred meters. While climbing and glassing, we succeeded in locating a few more small groups. Our plan was to climb above the tahr and hunt them downwards.

When continuing the hunt after the lunch break and a little rest, we noticed a tahr group unexpectedly at a distance of less than a hundred meters. I dropped the rucksack and other extra items to begin a careful approach. The group proceeded conveniently behind a big block. When I peeked from the cover of the block I saw the group already heading to the following slope. There was nothing else to do than sit down in shade and keep glassing, hoping for a time when it would be safe to proceed.

We had climbed in the course of the day, really high on the mountain to the landscapes which would astonish even a dedicated traveler. The tahr kept the distance safe and once again it was time to start descending. At first going down seemed light compared with climbing, but halfway I began to feel my front thighs and couldn´t keep up at the experienced mountains man’s speed. In the steepest parts I had to use my hands and snow grass tufts to keep my balance. Back in the camp we heard that the riflemen were not successful either.

Blood on the knives

The riflemen were able to get blood on their knives when they got two respectable red stags and a fallow deer. The tahr were hard to approach even though it was possible to admire them from far away they never took a shot.

This fallow deer was nice enough to pose for a photo.
This fallow deer was nice enough to pose for a photo.

During the third hunting day, after a hard climb to the top of the ‘Nipple’ mountain, we realized getting to the tahr was not realistic. Things began looking hopeless. The disappointment was not greatly relieved by the fact that the guide had already gone to another hill and motioned from it for me to come after him. I wanted to return to the truck but Darren had distinctly planned another approach. The only route getting to the next hill top was a 40 centimeters wide ‘main road’ made by the tahr herds both sides of which having frightening steep hill sides. “And one has to pay for this?” I thought to myself!

After supper, I talked to Dani Wilson, who is in charge of the outfitting business, about possibly changing the plan. Both Dani and Darren encouraged me to stick to my original plan. In a way, I indeed wanted to have this kind of a stalking even though I began to get used to the thought that my bull tahr dream might not actualize. Darren emphasized that the words ‘tahr’ “and ‘easy’ do not fit together in the same sentence. He himself had had to wait three years before he managed to get his first bull tahr with the bow. Darren and Phil also pointed out that a shooting opportunity may arise maybe once during an entire hunt. Also then the average shooting distance with the bow is much longer than what most bowhunters are used to, typically over 50 meters. This is what I concentrated on when shooting 3D deer from the distances of 50-70 meters.

Toward new mountain tops

The new morning helped get the thoughts of giving up out of my mind. With a better frame of mind we packed all the lunch boxes and were ready for another day of hard walking. The day did not get wasted at all, namely in the evening we could actually admire a great trophy class bull tahr that the father of the American family had bagged. The long, thick mane was petted and we learned how to calculate the age of the tahr from the growth lumps of horns.

The week rolled by fast and on the eighth day I hunted with another bowhunter, Remi, in a bit craggier mountain area. The terrain looked promising because it offered more cover than the previous areas.

The only opportunity

Soon after the morning shower ended we spotted some tahr nannies. Where nannies are, there are bulls. More appeared, then a couple of young bulls and then, the handsome thick maned bull.

I sat in the shade to glass and watched the females lead the mob to the next peak. As soon as the last one had disappeared from sight, I tried to get across the valley to peep over a next hill top. Fortunately, the valleys were moderately small in this terrain so I managed to ease myself rather quickly to the next vantage point. The same procedure was repeated a few times. The distance separating us from the group, however shortened. We were getting within 100 meters.

Remi motioned me to keep my head low.  I moved behind the sparse thorn bushes and peeked to see that the group had climbed on a small but high top of a big rock at some 70 meters. A small blow of the white Bohning wind told that the wind had remained favorable. The females began to move down as I moved closer into the cover of low thorn bushes. From there I spotted the bull tahr’s head between the blocks of stones. The rest of the body was too well protected. The distance was still somewhat longer than I wanted but the words of Darren came to my mind – probably a single opportunity at bow distance if any during the whole trip. His head disappeared behind the stones, but suddenly his whole big chest appeared between the blocks. I crouched low so the bull would not catch the movement when I pulled the string back and then erected slowly into shooting position. In the painfully exciting situation, I was surprised how calm I was when placing the sight pin on the bull’s chest, right along the front leg line on the long-haired big body. The arrow flew like in slow motion and eventually the white Blazer vanes disappeared in the exact spot where I wanted it to be placed. “Perfect shot!” Remi whispered with a big grin. With shaking hands and shivering voice I answered it looked good to me too.

Dream comes true as the author poses with his bull tahr.
Dream comes true as the author poses with his bull tahr.

After waiting for about twenty minutes, we climbed on top of the high rock where the bull was hit by the arrow. We started glassing the hillsides but soon Remi whispered. “It is lying right below us!”  The bull had fallen or bounded down and stumbled only thirty meters before its life evaporated into the thin foggy mountain air. With thankful and elated mind, I let my fingers run in the gorgeous mane. I had experienced something I had been waiting for nearly two decades.

We prepared the bull for a shoulder mount and packed the meat out in the backpacks. Even though the weight of our backpacks had increased a lot, my steps felt lighter than before.

The bonus hunt

The big goal had been achieved, but the following morning we went out to see wether we could find some billy goats or turkey. We climbed to a good elevation point and found two groups of Merriam turkey. After some unsuccessful stalks I managed to bag a good Tom. While shooting photos of my bird I saw Remi approaching with a big Tom on his shoulder.

A bonus for author was the chance to hunt Merriam Turkey, which he did well.
A bonus for author was the chance to hunt Merriam Turkey, which he did well.

Inspired by the turkey we headed back after the lunch break and some rest. In the rather open terrain it was not too difficult to find the birds. The big mountains surrounded us everywhere, the elk were whistling and red stags roaring, what a wonderful way to hunt the big birds. Before the end of the day, we both shot another gobbler.

Remi was also successful in bagging his bird.
Remi was also successful in bagging his bird.

Remi Warren continued his hunt at Darren’s place to film a new episode to the series, “Solo Hunter”.  Remi travels and hunts solo around the world filming his hunts singlehanded.

The New Zealand Hunt team operates in excellent areas and the guides work hard to provide the opportunity of a life time for the hunter.

For more please go to: Juha Kylmä

Equipment:

 Hoyt Carbon Element 77 # 

Easton FMJ 300, total weight 505 gr

Bohning Blazer vanes and arrow building materials and tools

G5 montec Carbon steel points

Axcel armortech HD sight

Limb Drive Pro V rest

Winn Free Flight release

Swarovski 8,5 x 42 binoculars

Leica and Bushnell rangefinders

Olympus and Nikon cameras

Badlands and SKB bow cases