After chasing Tahr most of last winter, and only catching the crafty Chamois from afar (usually watching from the tops as we sneak up on a mob of Tahr!), this winter I wanted to focus my hunting on a nice Chamois buck.
Winters in Wanaka provide plenty of good Chamois country to explore, and after a couple of hunts where we saw only nannies and kids, or nothing at all, we were onto the third trip of the season – heading up into the public Department of Conservation (DoC) area. With a tight schedule, and a small weather window, we gained permission from the station owner to access the DoC land via his station, and planned for a day trip. The station is beautiful, set amongst some of the best views I’ve seen. The farm track was pretty boggy after the last storm that had rolled through, so we parked the Ute quite low down and started the trek up the farm track before crossing over to DoC land and walking up the first ridge. The view up towards the Matukituki valley as soon as we were over the first ridge was stunning, and pretty soon we were looking down the valley and over the mighty Matukituki river. After a descent down the side of the ridge, we were then climbing back up the other side!
From here, we were positioned to look up the valley and across to some good Chamois country. We stopped and glassed the bluffs, nooks and crannies before finally seeing a nice buck further up the valley on our side. With the wind in our favour, the only thing to determine was how to get closer! The options were to drop down to the valley floor, and stalk back up from there, or to stay high and try and negotiate the bluff system just up from us. We decided we didn’t want to lose height, and so begun to sidle along, up and over to close the gap between us and the Chamois. It wasn’t easy, the tussock grass was dried and like hay and it was difficult to maintain good foot stability. I kept slipping out and ended up with a few too many bruises on my butt and thighs! We then had to work our way through a small bluff system without causing too much commotion, but made it through all while keeping an eye on the lone buck feeding higher up the valley.
We found a perfect rock to position ourselves behind, and Scotty was able to assess the buck through the scope to see if he was a shooter - which he was! I then set up with the Sako 300WSM and found him through the scope at about 100 yards away. Breath in… Breath out… the cross hairs are perfect – and suddenly he lifts his head and looks towards us, the wind has changed and it is now blowing right up our butts! He starts gently moving away, alert but not alarmed. I follow him in the scope as he moves off and along the ridge until he come to a stop to reassess his situation. Again, breath in… breath out… heart is racing … I watch through the scope as the bullet lands square in his shoulder. He jumped and then bolted for 5 meters before dropping and then falling down the bluff. And then he kept tumbling! Heart still racing, I fully exhale as a big grin encompasses my face – my first chamois!
I packed up the rifle and we started to navigate further along sidling across towards the cham. We crossed the waterfall that was initially between us and the Chamois, and made our way across the other side for a few hundred meters before coming across blood in the snow. We gave Yuki the go ahead to find the Chamois, and she shot off following the blood trail and finding him nestled in the tussock scrub below. She came bounding back to us to guide us to where he had fallen, and after figuring out the best way to get to him, we had soon negotiated the bluffs and tussock to find him resting. He was a beautiful boy, and guessing the length of his horns Scotty put him just under 9 inches. (When we got home and measured his horns, he sat bang on 9 inches on the shortest side – I was stoked!) Our next challenge was moving his body to a less steep area to process as we were still on a fairly steep bluff area. We dragged him to small plateau and after taking some photos with the most stunning back drop, we proceeded to take the back steaks and legs, as well as his head and skin, before settling him down in his final resting place overlooking the valley.
From here, we dropped down to the valley floor and followed the river down stream before we could begin the climb back out, up and over the two ridges towards the farm. My legs were starting to feel like lead, my feet were hurting, and the bruises from falling on the tussock in the walk in were started to ache. But I only had to look up towards the head of the valley and see the snow capped mountains, or down the valley towards the Matukituki river to make each step easier. The feeling of a successful hunt is too hard to describe to anyone who has not experienced it themselves, and along with the physical skills of alpine hunting that I learn and develop with each trip, I also progress and grow my mental skills. Pushing through the boundaries when I’m sore and aching, steadying my patience and breath when taking a shot, practicing restraint when the animal is not ready to shoot to let him grow, strengthening my grit and determination – these are the things that push me to keep climbing, keep walking until we get to home soil and see the ute. These are also the things that I think of when I see my buck sitting on the table next to Scotty’s from a few years ago, or look at the hide that we tanned and now sits in the lounge. I think of all of the trips that we did together to get to this one, and I think of all of the times we have sat and glassed and watched the curious chamois looking back down at us. And another thing that I feel looking at the head of my first Chamois buck… pride.
The Chamois I hike up and over and sidle around The valley opens up, cliffs and mountains surround Glassing the bluffs, every nook every cranny Looking for movement, a rustle, any glimpse of a chamois Suddenly through the binos I spy a beautiful buck He's out of range but the wind is perfect, we're in luck! I move to get closer navigating the bluff system Stopping to look through the binos to check up on him I get within range, settle and set up the gun When suddenly he's alert - The winds changed, it's right up my bum! The buck moves down the ridge but I keep focussed and steady He stops. He's unsettled.... But I'm not. I'm ready. Heart pumping Bolt down Breath in Breath out Squeeze trigger The climb out is tough and steep, my legs are heavy as lead My hearts pumping, lungs burning and my left little toe is dead But I have a smile on my face, I had a perfect shot My aches pains and sore muscles are soon forgot Because these are the things that only a backcountry hunter will know That it's not just about the kill, but how your passion, your grit and determinations can grow So I keep my head down and i climb up and up And when I reach home soil I think... What a bloody good hunt