A lot of lads know how hard it can be to hunt the coast. But with great difficulty can come great success. Unfortunately, this isn’t that tale. Not for myself anyway.
Jordan and I ventured down the coast for a long weekend in the hopes of finding the elusive scrub bulls on the west coast. Spirits high, we jumped in the 500 with a small patchy weather window but it was good enough for us. We were packed full of luxuries seen as it was a fleeting visit. The potential of spending some time in the scratcher due to the weather was rather apparent, but we weren’t too fussed. We were dropped off right in the thick of it and set to work pitching our small 1-man tents as fast as possible. All we wanted to do was get into it but needed to have some security, as that persistent sea cloud could be seen rolling in at the bottom of the valley. With camp set and our packs full of heavy glassing gear we set off towards some likely country. Then after 2 hours of some serious scrub bashing and a lot of swear words spilt we had gone 1500 metres from camp. What an effort for 1500 metres! Then again that was all we needed.
We had weaselled our way into a thin band of tussock, with towering bluffs above us and thick scrub below us. We figured something would have to happen sooner or later. Jordan signalled below me and in this tiny little clearing was a chamois! Only 100 metres away. He walked 5 paces and was gone again. The coast was trying to skunk us on the first animal we had seen. Typical. But then he popped up 50 metres to the right on top of a boulder! Jordan slipped one in the chamber of his trusty short barrelled .308 and let him have it. The 150-grain hit home and the chamois buckled. Heck of a start to the trip and Jordan’s’ second ever chamois.
We pushed down to the big boulder and found him still on top! The .308 had done the damage alright, he hadn’t moved a metre. We snapped a few photos and dealt with the butchery and then something behind Jordan caught my attention. Far off on the face 700 odd metres away a big blonde grizzly bear had come out of his scrub den. It was feeding time in bull country and we had a ways to go. We kicked on towards the face as more bulls started to appear.
Then just as we thought we were in for a treat of an evening, the cloud came in. Pushing on in hope of it passing we clambered around this maze in front of us. The aim was to get to this big rock sticking out of the hill and use that as our vantage point for the evening. The plan was to also for it to double as a shooting rock. But then the cloud got thicker, and the rain started coming down and just didn’t stop. We ended up having to seek shelter under our damn shooting rock. The kea were perched up above us laughing, they knew the coast was protecting these bulls and there was nothing we could do. We waited for 2 hours in the soup under our little shelter and it teased us for a grand total of 2 minutes in that time. We eventually called it and started our hike back to camp taking even longer getting home, now we were now soaked from head to boot, strip off in the darkness and jumping straight into the tents.
20 hours later the rain eased enough for us to poke our heads out and see a whisper of blue sky.
Certainly, a long enough time in a single man tent to make you jump at the chance of getting a look into tahr country. We hung everything out to dry in the hope the afternoon sun might do us a favour and we punched up the valley in a different direction. We had a couple hours of light and had itchy fingers. After a while we sat down for the last of the light and sunk into some puffer jackets. Spotting scopes were working overtime and only turning up nannies and juvenile bulls. It became pretty apparent to us that the mature bulls were down in the scrub and seemingly everyone else was up high. We didn’t mind, I sat back and watched plenty of family groups feed down towards us. About 20 minutes before dark a group had come way down into very easy retrievable country and I was pretty flared up to pull the trigger on my new rifle. We ranged them at 300 yards TBR and nestled in behind the rigs. The shot was called, and we managed to secure a couple of nannies for dinner and to fly some meat out. My new 300 WSM was a bit of a step up from my last rifle but I was very happy with how it was shooting and felt confident behind it. We picked off 1 each and found them just on dark. Quick session of cutting as much off as we could carry and dragging ourselves back to camp had us back at the tents quite late, but we were ready to attack the next morning.
Alarms sung and we were back on the horse. Our First Lite gear had dried off enough the afternoon prior, so we were ready to hiss back over to where the big blondies were two days prior. The chopper had been called in for an early exit tomorrow morning before a week of terrible weather, so we now had one day to get the job done.
3 hours later and we were parked up for the morning getting ready to settle in. The bulls had seemed to be fairly active here for some reason early in the afternoon, so we were hopeful.
Right on cue however the cloud could be seen building down in the valley. But the bulls had started moving early, maybe they knew the weather was coming. We’d hoped it wasn’t coming earlier then expected! Putting the spotter on a few likely looking models and one in particular was a beauty. Thick mane and big bases, he was a tank. We ranged him at 500 and thought we could cut the distance to 400 safely into a shooting position. We snuck around and soon realised what was in front of us. We guessed it was at least a 3 - 4 hour retrieval through a gorge at best but we still had time. I set up and got ready but unfortunately it seemed like the bull was onto us. I wound the new rig up and found myself behind the scope with 420 yards on the button. The bull knew something was up however and had jumped out of the scrub onto a snow shoot beside it. I closed the bolt, checked Jordan was watching and squeezed off, a clean miss. The mountain erupted, there were tahr flying every which way and then just like that they were all gone, I’d blown it.
There’s nothing quite like that feeling after pushing through scrub and working your arse off for 3 hours to pull the trigger and miss. But then again, that’s why it’s called hunting. Not killing and retrieving.
It was silent for a little bit and Jordan knew I would be guttered. It appeared all the tahr we had seen were gone but sometimes you get thrown a curve ball and Jordan laid eyes on a brute about 335 yards below us. Another grizzly had just stood up out of the scrub and was right there. It was as if the shot had woken the poor bugger from his sleep. This was Jordan’s hunt now and he was keen on this bull. He looked like an absolute beast, just stood there looking around as if almost to say he wasn’t scared. Jordan set up the ever-faithful short barrel and laid down.
The bull hadn’t moved, and Jordan took his shot with the bull instantly folding and hitting the deck. He wriggled around for a short second and with one last kick, forced himself off the ledge and down into the creek below, what a relief to see. It’s just as satisfying seeing a good mate take a nice bull and id totally forgotten about the bull I just botched.
We hatched a plan after a quick handshake and headed over to find Jordan’s bull. West coast creeks really don’t have the best reputation for being accessible, but we had fluked it this time and it was only a quick half hour dash down to find him in the creek. By then the cloud had fully engulfed us and visibility was cut to around 50 yards, sometimes you just get lucky.
Jordan’s bull up close was awesome and had a crazy looking coat and was at least 10 years old. His feet were extremely chewed out, and I’d have to guess a hard life dodging rocks, bluffs and helicopters had kept him on his toes. Winter appeared to have been pretty hard on him, and I guess he was just getting ready for a big summer of feeding ahead. This was Jordan’s first good bull and he was a beauty to kick it off. We managed to take plenty of photos since he was down in the creek and ‘it felt like we did him justice. Loaded up to the roof again, we donned our packs and headed for home.
We talked about future endeavours on the way back to camp in high spirit. The bull tahr had been a real bougie animal for me on the coast, which I’m sure a lot of people can relate to, with a lot of time spent chasing and seldom being rewarded. We decided we would come back to this very catchment and have another crack again.
Camp was reached just as darkness was falling but with the cloud still engulfing us, we packed as much as we could into our bins ready for an early morning exit. We felt unsure if this cloud would clear during the night, but we couldn’t do much now anyway. Sleep came easy that night after finishing off a few well-earned blocks of Whittakers and some cold Tri-Star’s.
Thankfully that night the weather lifted, and we woke early to blue skies. We biffed our damp camps into backpacks and waited for that ever-awesome thump of the 500. It echoed up the gully and in what seemed like a flash we were dropped back at the Hilux. Quick handshake, couple nods from the pilot, fuelling the bird back up and he was out of there. Again, it was silent, but at the same time, satisfying.
Another spectacular trip to the Wild West coast in the books and one Jordan probably won’t let me forget for a while.