Article courtesy of SSAA’s Australian Hunter Magazine. Please click on the hyperlink to view the Australian Hunter Magazine’s official homepage.
The view was spectacular as we sat glassing on a rocky ledge. We were totally surrounded by steep mountains of a magnitude I had never seen. The higher peaks were snow packed and they had received a fresh dusting from the recent cold front that had moved through. High above patches of blue broke through the fast moving clouds as the weather was trying to work itself out. Clear up or cloud in, we never really knew and this was to be a pattern repeated many times over the course of my hunt. Spring time weather is variant, but West Coast weather in spring is notorious for being unpredictable, especially down low in the front country and we were to experience all four seasons in a matter of hours.
A cold wind hit hard at any exposed skin but we persisted knowing that we were in a great location with animals in the general area. Behind us a glacier fed stream swiftly pushed itself through the forest down towards the ocean. The slate coloured water followed a path that had been travelled for centuries only interrupted by avalanches and changing dimensions of the glacier. Sheer rock walls rose straight up from the riverbed and the country was some of the most intense habitat I had ever stepped foot in. Dense scrub and damp trees grew in amazing locations and at a certain height the habitat shifted gears. Monkey scrub took over before giving way to golden tussocks interspersed with bluffs that in many places were worn smooth from endless water streaming down them.
This country was tough, not easy to move through, challenging to glass and when animals were located there was no guarantee that they were in a position where we were able to get to them. Add in the very steep gradients, the slippery rocks at every step and the rotten timber that crumbled on weight when you tried to climb all meant that each animal taken was surely earned.
As I strained my eyes behind the binoculars to look for the elusive chamois my mind went back to the last few days. I had climbed some very big hills to get it done on bull tahr and we had bounced our way up riverbeds for many hours to get into our location. The huts we stayed in were very cosy and ideal for the back country hunter and I had even managed to shoot a few hares that always seemed to turn up in places that I never imagined a hare to live in. They certainly breed them tough in the South Island.
We had then glassed our way over the range as we shifted location stopping often to look for chamois in the bluffs or basins. There was plenty of deep snow up high and in places we could see trails left behind by animals but we never put the optics on a chamois. My mates weren’t too concerned, as we knew animal numbers were higher on the West Coast and it would hopefully be a matter of time before we located animals in our chosen river systems.
We had investigated the possibility of getting a chopper up high to drop us off where we would fly camp up on the bush edge but with the terrible forecast for the rest of the week we realised it would be a much safer option to stay down low and work the creeks and river clearings. We knew we were going to get wet every day, but at least we were in the game and generally out of the cloud that seemed to stick around the tops. We would put up with the constant inclement weather if it meant increased chances of finding a chamois.
My kiwi mate was next to me glassing hard, he had shot chamois from the very rock were glassing from and he gave us hope that with this drizzle and rain there might be a few animals wanting to stay up on their feet and move around on the open slips to get out of the wet scrub.
I was trying out the new Lamellar rainwear on this hunt, and this technically advanced outer shell clothing that the company had recently developed was keeping me dry and warm. With excellent ratings for water resistance and breathability these new Lamellar products were certainly much more advanced then any other rain gear I had tried.
Finally the words I had been waiting for were heard from my mate when Malcolm whispered he had glassed a mature chamois nanny feeding across a grassy clearing. It was on an almost vertical face but the chamois had no concerns and was head down grazing. We had to make things happen fast as a few steps either way would have put the animal in thick cover and my mate got a range of 205 metres as I set up the tripod to rest the rifle over. I normally archery hunt and admit I do prefer this style of hunting, but with no chance of an archery stalk on this particular chamois and it being my first chamois I had ever seen I wasn’t about to let an opportunity pass.
The bolt was closed on the Tikka .270 as I waited for the animal to turn completely side on. The rain kept coming down and I was cautious about getting water on the lens as I sat there on the rocks mindful that I didn’t have a lot of time. A change of direction from the feeding chamois soon presented the ideal opportunity and I steadied myself before easing back on the trigger.
With a boom the 130gr projectile raced across the valley and took the chamois in the lungs. She lurched and headed off into the thick scrub. I wasn’t sure how good she was hit and as I reloaded another chamois stepped up in view from the other side of the slip. This was a big male with decent hooks and the boys urged me to put a bullet into this animal as soon as I could.
I again got centred on the animal and let one fly only to see the bullet smash rocks slightly above the bucks back. Wasting no time this chamois bounded out of view and we sat there on the rocks pleased with our efforts to get a good hit on the nanny but a little disappointed the buck got away. Now it was time to get up there and try to locate her. We had extremely wet bush to climb through and this was terrain I had never climbed in my life. We had to be careful with our footholds and the rocks we put pressure on, as everything seemed to be barely clinging on to the shifting soils.
My kiwi mate took the lead before he got bluffed out and we had to split up to find a way around and up through the tricky sections. At times we used clumps of grass or fern as anchor points pulling our way onwards and up to the area we hoped to find the chamois.
Thirty minutes of solid climbing found us at the right altitude and we again split up to search for tracks and blood. We had remembered a couple of logs as her entry point into the bush and here we found hoof marks heading in. No blood was on the ground but after a few minutes a shout from below indicated the animal had tumbled down through the bush and was lifeless in the ferns.
I was elated, a chamois had been a dream to harvest, and now after a few hours of hunting them I had taken the animal that I had spent lots of time thinking about. Congratulations were in order and my mates had worked very hard to see me get some mature animals on this hunt. She still had her dark winter coat, but as we were at the beginning of spring, she was starting to loose the longer hair in preparation for the warmer months. Her horns were long and curly with no indication of horn rot, which is a trait often found on the coastal chamois herd.
We were in no position to obtain the types of photographs we needed to get and the only option was to carry her out whole down to the riverbed below.
This was no easy task as it is often just as hard getting down as it is up and we decided the best option was to stick to the edge of the slip and work down from there. After a few falls and grazes we managed to push through the last piece of bush and out onto the flat country. We were beat, but with a river bed to navigate over and a river to cross we had the best of it beaten.
Back at our shooting position we got a few pictures and field dressed the animal. As we were getting organised for the walk out my mate put the optics up again for another ‘last look’ and found a nice buck on a grassy bench. But he was in a terrible position for a stalk and recovery and too far for a shot so we watched him feed off into the bush with the knowledge we had something else to hunt over the coming days.
That evening back in camp we talked of the adversities and the challenges that are presented to hunters who choose to hunt chamois on foot. There are so many variables to consider and keep in mind and the outcome of a hunt can be determined or changed in seconds with so much on the table in regards to conditions and weather.
My first chamois will always be remembered as a hunt not just for the animal taken, but a complete experience against all elements that mother nature can throw at you. I soon learnt that you must wear the best clothing you can find to stick at it in these conditions and I have to admit the new range of garments from Lamellar certainly helped us get over the line on this hunt. Good gear is a help, but great gear is a game changer and it can literally mean the difference between success and failure. Thankfully I chose wisely and no doubt in time I will be back to challenge myself against the mountains and the game animals that call the West Coast home.