After the announcement by DOC to reduce the Himalayan tahr population, I decided that 2019 was going to be my year to hopefully secure myself a 13 inch or better trophy bull. I had shot tahr in the mid-1990s when I took a respectable 12½ inch bull from the Landsborough region.
From that time forward I continued with many adventures chasing tahr, carrying not a rifle but a video camera along with good mates in the hope that they too would eventually secure a trophy bull each.
For many years since the 2000s we’ve applied for a Wilderness tahr ballot, mostly for the Landsborough area, as over that time we’d developed a deep fondness for this great valley. We were successful in 2018 with a 5th period ballot block, again in the Landsborough. On that trip my mates Peter and Grant secured a respectable 13 inch bull each.
In November 2018, the tahr ballot results were released but I was not successful in getting any blocks. I felt a bit gutted but then heard my mate Peter got his second choice block, Hinds Tarn for the 4th period. We then found out that another mate Dion was also successful with his 6th period ballot in the Landsborough.
None of us had been to Hinds Tarn before but we knew the surrounding blocks very well. Peter knew a mate who had hunted it in the past so he was able to get some inside knowledge on the area.
On May 16th Grant and Pete arrived late in the evening from Whangarei to pick me up for the long drive south. After a day and a half of travel we finally arrived at Franz Joseph in the rain and met up with another mate Blair who was also coming on this trip. He gave us the news that our Saturday flight could be delayed due to bad weather. Sure enough, it was not until Sunday morning that we arrived at James Scott’s helicopter pad, along with about 12 other parties waiting to be flown in.
After being whisked in, we quickly set up camp and by 2pm we headed off for our first evening mission. Pete had been given some details on a spot worth looking at not far from camp so we all followed him. Within half an hour, we were perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking a steep bluff system. It didn’t take long before we began to see tahr. Directly opposite our location, a bull walked out of the scrub with two nannies. We quickly set up the spotting scope to evaluate the bull and I set up my video camera and tripod and began to film. We all took turns at estimating his horn length through the spotter and the general consensus was around the 13 inch mark.
He was a little over 400 yards away and well within shooting range but because it was our first day we decided that this evening was a scouting mission and we’d only fire a shot if something outstanding presented itself.
Back at camp that night, the main topic of discussion was the area where we’d seen the animals that afternoon. From where we’d been sitting above the vertical bluff system it appeared there may have been very few places – if any – to get down for an animal recovery. We had seen animals in this bluff system before but from the camp side and even then we’d questioned whether an animal recovery was possible.
Next morning dawned fine so Grant and I headed up the valley into the Zora for a look. Pete and Blair headed slightly above camp and then parallel with the Landsborough River in the opposite direction to our travel.
Not long after leaving camp, we could see a bull standing high up on a ridge. A look through the spotting scope revealed that one of his horns was missing. We continued further up the valley for the rest of the day, seeing only the occasional young bull and half a dozen nannies on our side of the valley. However we did see a good number of tahr over on the Upper Zora camp side.
We caught up with Peter and Blair while on our way back to camp. They hadn’t seen many tahr, however Blair did take a shot at one respectable-sized bull – but he missed!
On day three Grant and I made the decision to head back to where we’d sat on the first evening. Peter and Blair returned to where Blair had shot at the bull the day before.
Since all four of us would be looking at the same faces, ridges and guts, with Pete and Blair high above and Grant and I lower down, we decided to stay in radio contact throughout the day.
After reaching the rocky outcrop from our first evening hunt, Grant and I settled in for a day of glassing. Around 1pm we spotted a nice-looking bull and some nannies two ridges over at 600 yards. A radio conversation with Peter revealed that they too could see the same bull but he was a long way down from them and at a steep angle.
At almost 2pm on the dot a nanny walked out of the scrub followed by a respectable bull directly opposite our position on the next spur over. The range was 410 yards and after a quick look through the spotting scope we figured he was around the 12-13 inch mark. Still not what we were looking for.
Then from out of nowhere, a bull with a larger body size walked up the same spur below the first animal. The larger bull stopped about 50 metres from the first bull and began to thrash his horns on a shrub. Then he walked directly up towards the smaller bull and as they got closer, both animals puffed out their manes to make themselves look bigger. Suddenly the smaller bull hightailed it out of there, leaving the big boy with the nanny.
The bull stood beside the nanny for less than five minutes, then lost interest (she was probably not quite in season) and began to walk towards our location. He disappeared into a steep gut and reappeared on a small flat knob looking in our direction. He stood motionless for ten minutes, still looking our way, and then he gave a couple of snorts and sat down. The range was 310 yards.
Grant was still on the spotter assessing the bull’s horn length and I was on the video camera. I heard him say “Yah, yah, nah – not big enough.”
Personally, I’ve never seen a bull tahr with such wide-looking horns as this beast had.
Now, I think I should mention that both Grant and I weren’t that great at assessing horn size/length. On several occasions in the past we had seen respectable bulls and decided they weren’t worth shooting, only to have other members of our party ask “Why aren’t you shooting anything?!” Then they’d join us the following day and shoot the same bulls, which went 13+ inches!
Anyway, back to this current animal. At around 4.30pm he stood up and then disappeared into a steep gut out of sight, but still walking towards our location.
It was maybe 15 minutes later when we suddenly saw the bull less than 100 yards below us, sneezing his alarm! It was then that I noticed the nice curl back on his horns which we hadn’t seen through the spotter when he was standing in the clearing at 310 yards. This would have been an easy downhill shot but the problem was how to recover the bull. We already knew there was no way down the steep bluff system for a retrieval. The bull finally disappeared and we never saw him again. We’d missed a golden opportunity because of the steep nature of the terrain. It is worth mentioning that no animal is worth risking life or limb for if you’re trying to attempt a recovery in such dangerous terrain.
Back at camp that night Peter and Blair said they also saw the large bull standing below us in the bluff system and they too could not see a way down. Things could have been different if we’d had a climbing rope!
The next few days proved uneventful with no animals taken and then our Saturday pickup arrived for the flight back to civilization.
While heading for home on the Sunday, Peter asked me if I’d be interested in joining him and Dion if they had room on the next trip that coming weekend.
The next day at home, I loaded the video footage into my editing system and quickly forwarded to the larger bull. He looked even more impressive on the big screen than when we’d seen him on the hill. What a missed opportunity for the trophy of a lifetime!
On 30th May Pete and I drove down to Palmerston North and met up with Dion and his son Kohin (14 yrs). Peter’s nephew Ben (15 yrs) was also on the trip. Since Dion and Pete had shot nice bulls in the past, this trip was mainly to give Ben and Kohin the experience of tahr hunting for the first time. We transferred all the gear for five guys into one vehicle, hopped in and continued south.
At Fox Glacier, James Scott said the wind level up high was not looking good for the next day. We woke to clear skies but a howling easterly, as James had predicted. We hung around for a couple of hours but the wind didn’t abate.
On the Sunday, the strong easterly continued but James said it was expected to drop by the afternoon, and it did. Again, we arrived at the chopper pad with another 15 or so parties and around 1.30pm it was our turn to head for our block.
After making camp we set off for a short walk to a good vantage point that gives a commanding view both up and down the main Landsborough River. We spotted a couple of nannies but no bulls.
With an early start on the Monday, we all crossed the main river and headed downstream to a large terrace where we sat down to glass the faces, valleys and guts. Around 10.15am I could see a bull up on some steep faces below Hinds Tarn where we’d been just over a week earlier. After a quick chat to Pete, I decided to take young Ben with me and go up a ridge for a closer inspection.
By lunchtime Ben and I were sitting on a narrow ridge that gave us a commanding view of the steep faces and bluffs that lay before us. With no animals in sight, the waiting game began, as it is with much of tahr hunting.
Around 3pm we spotted two nannies and juveniles above us on a scrubby face. A short time later, a small bull joined them. We continued to sit and watch the area until just after 5pm when I said to Ben that it was time to pack up and head back downhill as darkness was fast approaching.
I finished stuffing all the gear into my pack and took one last look to my right just in time to see a bull walk out of the tall native. He paused on the bush edge before crossing a rocky chute and making a beeline for the steep bluff system. I turned to Ben and said “There’s a nice bull – would you like to shoot him?”
What happened next took me by surprise – Ben said no! “If we see him tomorrow Allan – I’ll shoot him then.” Wow, I didn’t expect that! By now the bull was halfway across the chute. I had another look at him through the binoculars just as he turned and looked in our direction. It was then that I recognised him by the wide horn spread from a few weeks earlier at Hinds Tarn. I whispered to Ben “Sorry, but I’m going to take him.”
I put my day pack on the ground and laid my 7mm WSM rifle on the pack and checked the distance. It was only 140 yards. The bull had started his climb up a narrow crack in the rocks heading towards the bluffs. He stopped to nibble some vegetation on a small terrace, slightly quartering away. I placed the crosshairs about 8 inches back from his shoulder and gently squeezed the trigger. The rifle kicked and the bull dropped on the spot, slid back a metre or two and didn’t move again. I breathed a sigh of relief because if he’d slid another few metres, he would have fallen over the vertical rock face.
After congratulations from Ben I got on the radio to Pete. He said to hold on a minute as Kohin was about to fire a shot. Thirty seconds later we heard the shot from down below, and then a short time later there was a second shot. Pete came back to say that Kohin has just shot his first bull tahr!
I said that was great news and then explained that I’d just shot a nice bull but we’d recover him in the morning. Ben and I walked back downhill to meet up with Dion, Pete and Kohin who were standing on the river terrace directly below where Kohin had shot his bull. Kohin had a big smile from ear to ear, he was as proud as punch and rightly so.
Pete reckoned the bull would be close to 12 inches but it was caught up in some scrub on a steep rock face. He thought a climbing rope may be required so we decided to perform this recovery also in the morning. The guys asked how big I thought my bull would go and I replied that I hoped he’d be around the 13 inch mark.
Back at camp, we had just finished eating dinner when it started to snow. All night the snow continued to fall and then just after daylight the rain started. The forecast on the Garmin inReach said that by late morning the rain should stop – and it did. By 11am we were back across the river with climbing rope in hand, ready for the recovery of Kohin’s bull. We could see it caught up in some scrub so the plan was to get up above it and because Ben was the lightest, we would lower him down.
Dion and Kohin stayed down below while Pete, Ben and I headed up the hill. Finally we walked out onto a narrow ridge and could see the bull not 15 metres away. We lowered Ben down without much fuss and he tied the rope around the bull’s horns. With two of us hanging onto the rope, we lowered the animal down to Dion and Kohin.
We pulled the rope back up, put on our packs and the three of us headed back up the ridge to recover my bull. Part way up the ridge was an opening that gave us a good vantage point for viewing the scrub and bluffs higher up. We looked up from there to see a nice dark bull standing on a clearing in the scrub with a nanny. The clearing was less than 100 metres above where Ben and I had sat the day before and I’d shot my bull from.
We continued up towards that spot even though only a small portion of the bull with the nanny was still visible. We got Ben set up ready for a shot but the animals eventually disappeared out of sight. I pointed out to Pete where my bull was perched on a tiny ledge. We decided on a new plan – we’d wait there until evening in case these animals fed back downhill and Ben might get a shot. The recovery of my bull would have to wait.
Over the next several hours we saw a few more nannies and juveniles plus a smaller bull but not the bigger, dark bull from earlier on. At 5pm with darkness approaching, we packed up and headed back to camp, planning to return in the morning.
Back in camp, we took a look at Kohin’s animal and Dion measured him at 12 inches – not bad for a 14 year old’s first bull tahr!
During the night the temperature dropped and we woke to a heavy frost with icy conditions underfoot. Again, Pete, Ben and I were off to recover my bull, while Dion and Kohin hunted closer to camp.
Before our climb back up the ridge, we stood on the flats just above the Landsborough River, looking up to where we’d been the day before. Sure enough, standing on the same clearing up high, was the big dark bull.
We started the climb with a little more haste, hoping to get into a shooting position sooner rather than later. We arrived at yesterday’s spot but there was no sign of the bull. Frustrating – but that’s tahr hunting! We sat for a bite to eat and then decided to finally go and recover my bull.
We began our descent down a steep shingle face to the dry boulder chute below. Due to the overnight freeze the shingle face was frozen solid, making the descent precarious and slow.
After reaching the bottom of the chute, we headed back up the opposite side until we reached the area where my bull had entered the bluff system. The path he’d taken was just a narrow crack on the side of the rocks.
The plan was to take the climbing rope, tie it around his horns and lower him down the 25 metre rock face to Pete and Ben below. Pete wasn’t keen to join me so I went alone. I climbed up to where the bull lay and was overwhelmed by the sheer body mass of the beast. The distance between the horns was wider than anything I’d ever seen on a tahr before. I grabbed the tape from the pack and ran it along the horns. Wow, I thought, surely that’s not right. I remeasured, thinking I’d done something wrong. The second measurement was the same – a tad over 15 inches! What lay before me was indeed the trophy of a lifetime.
I could see Pete waiting for me to tell him the results so I gave him some hand signals. I tied the rope around the bull’s horns and went to move him but very quickly realized there was no way that I was going to be able to lower this animal down the face on my own. I climbed back down to Pete who congratulated me. I explained that I needed a hand and we both went back up. We took some photos and then slowly lowered the bull over the edge, which was no easy task.
Once we’d got him to the bottom of the rock face, we climbed back down for some more photos. This bull was definitely going on the wall as a shoulder mount so we proceeded with the skinning, taking plenty of hide. After that we packed up and headed back to camp. Over the next few days we continued to look for a respectable bull for young Ben. We got him lined up on a couple but just didn’t connect with any of them.
Both Ben and Kohin thoroughly enjoyed their first tahr hunting experience and declared they would return one day to hunt the majestic Himalayan bull tahr again. As for me, I think I’m done with tahr hunting and now I’m keen to focus with my hunting mates on the next Southern Alps mountain species – the chamois.
A big thanks must go to Peter and Dion for allowing me to join them on their Wilderness tahr ballot hunts.
Footnote: for those who may be interested, my bull tahr scored 47 3/4 DS and was 12½ years old.