Redefining Trophy Hunting
New Zealand Tahr Hunt
New Zealand. One of the most visited places by hunters and outdoorsman alike since the introduction of Red Stag in the late 1800’s & Himalayan Tahr in 1906. Since, both species have thrived to say the least. Enjoying no predation from any species other than human beings and the favourable terrain that the country offers. Subsequently, the fact that both estate & free range hunts are available for Stag & on-foot or helicopter options exist for Tahr (making either hunt as challenging or as simple as each hunter selects) and New Zealand has to be one of the most appealing hunting destinations in the world.
My first trip to New Zealand was with another show host and great personal friend of mine, Jeff Coyle, from Canada. Jeff had lined up a Red Stag hunt for himself and another individual. As fate would have it Jeff’s companion was forced to back out at the last minute. Thankfully, I was able to act quickly and head to the land of the Kiwis with short notice. Harvesting my first trophy class Red Stag and meeting Jim Gibson with New Zealand Safaris. I am obviously bias but let me tell you; the experience that Jim offers is world class. He has access to some of the most sought after properties (both free range and estate) and really strives to give each hunter the true New Zealand experience. In saying that, while they do offer helicopter Tahr hunts, Jim much prefers to keep it the “classic” way of on foot mountain style hunting.
Which brings me to my second New Zealand adventure just last summer:
April 2019. My phone rings. Jim had gotten a last minute Tahr cancellation and was curios if I might be able to take him up on the opportunity. As a sweetener I could bring one friend to harvest a free range Red Stag, too. Enter Derek Stone, a mentor and good friend of mine who has dreamt of harvesting a Red Stag his entire life. I floated the idea by Derek and he didn’t hesitate even for a second. Three weeks later we were New Zealand bound.
The flight from North America (literally wherever you leave from) to Auckland or Brisbane Australia (both routes available) is brutally long. Roughly 14 hours, to be exact (depending where it is exactly you depart from, of course). Unlike Africa, where you have the opportunity to stop over in Europe and more less cut the distance in half with a wisely calculated layover in London or Frankfurt, those options do not exist while crossing the Pacific Ocean. My advice rings the same as any other world wide travel adventure; Jack Daniels.
After we had touched down in Brisbane we still had a small four hour trek down to Christchurch on the Southern Island of New Zealand. From there Jim’s camp is located just a short drive down the way in a small town known as Fairlie.
The best part of your arrival is that, after eating an amazingly cooked meal, you have what is probably the best sleep of your life and waste absolutely NO time in hitting the hills upon wakeup. Being Derek’s first abroad hunt I wanted to make sure that he harvested his stag before chasing my Tahr. As such, Derek Jim & myself headed out in pursuit of true wild, free range Red Stag. After about a day and a half of glassing and deciding on our move something that I found really unique unfolded. It turned out that where we had planned to make our move on what would indeed come out to be Dereks' harvest was actually the area where the first Red Stags were introduced way back in the late 1800’s. Furthermore, Dereks stag was actually missing its left side “bey or bez tine” which in whitetail language can be referred to as the “G2”.
This was a characteristic of the original heard of Stag that was introduced to New Zealand and made the trip all the more worthwhile for Derek. Derek made a splendid shot through his Huskemaw Blue Diamond 5-20 and dropped his trophy of a lifetime at 307 yards.
As excited as I was for Derek I was equally thrilled that this left me with a solid 3.5 days of Tahr hunting. Having now been a part of three New Zealand Stag hunts I thought that the Tahr would be slightly more difficult but not crazily. Wow, looking back now, did I EVER underestimate Tahr hunting. In hindsight it is legitimately as difficult as big horn sheep or goat hunting here in North America (which I did not expect) with ONE undeniable added luxury; after climbing the mountain and freezing all day you almost always climb down and return to your 5- star lodge.
After about a day and a half of Tahr hunting my eyes were rapidly opened. Things fell into place on day three. We had spotted an amazing old Bull Tahr with a fantastic cape and what we estimated to be about 13.5 inches of horn length. With respects to Tahr, anything over 12.5 inches of horn length is big. However, with that said, the cape on a Tahr needs to be considered too. Old, mature Bulls dawn a luscious, yellow cape. Almost lion like. Our now target bull had what was probably the best cape we had seen on this entire trip. There was only one “issue”; he only had one horn. Jim asked me if I thought that this was OK. I won’t lie and say that I answered immediately. Instead, I decided that I would like to make the trek up the mountain and have a better look.
Hours later we were exactly where we needed to be. From the ground we could tell that there were more Tahr within this particular herd. Unbeknownst to us, though, was the amount of tahr that there actually was. Picture yourself on the side of a mountain with little to no cover and toss approximately 250 eye balls of a mammal that’s vision is far superior to yours and you start to get an idea of the predicament that we had placed ourselves in. With daylight fading and the Bull we had now dubbed “One Horn” still another ridge over Jim and I knew we had to make a decision fast; Back out and revisit the plan tomorrow or nestle in one peak over, take a range and put the 300 win & Huskemaw 5-20 Blue Diamond to the test. Jim and I think a lot alike so, you can bet your ass we picked option 2 without hesitation.
We managed to get ourselves about 150 yards closer than we had initially anticipated. Multiple members of the Tahr herd were well aware of our presence but not the ones that counted. At this point of the venture I had already made up my mind that I was going to shoot “One Horn”. In fact, with the memories and fun times created on that trek up the mountain that day I was leaving New Zealand with “One Horn” or no horn’s at all. Some may question that decision and I certainly get that. “Why fly across the globe and leave with an animal that only scores half points!?” After all, I am a firm believer that anyone who pays to hunt around the world is a trophy hunter. I am no exception and always look to harvest the biggest & most mature animal which indeed was the case here. But the “trophy”, in my opinion, is within the memories that you create within the field. So, there now was no better trophy in my mind than that specific, mature Bull Tahr.
With distance cut and time running out, we ranged “One Horn” and made some quick calculations. 427 yards and what we figured to be about a 25 degree up hill incline with around a 15MPH cross wind. Having spent some time in the field with the one and only John Porter just months prior, I felt more than ready. I did what calculations I thought to be accurate and let drive. Impact, but slightly high. I had allowed just a few too many clicks for the incline which was obviously not quite as steep as originally anticipated. I quickly jacked another, made a slight correction and fired again. The hunt was over.
“Trophy Hunting” is a term that sometimes gets looked down on or mistaken. In fact, I know a lot of people who are afraid to use it. That doesn’t sit well with me. Whatever it is that keeps you as a hunter out in the fields, that is why you do it and continue to do so. Make no apologies for your reasoning. For myself, it is about the trophy. That is, the trophy that is created from memories and time spent in the field and commemorated by a wall hanger to always remember exactly that.