“Always be prepared." This simple saying that all good hunters claim to live by couldn’t have been truer on a mission that myself and my good mate Aaron found ourselves on.
Looking back on it, I made a fair few rookie mistakes, but in the process gained some valuable knowledge.
A day trip was planned into Fiordland in search of a chamois buck, or even a meat animal if one presented itself as our freezers were getting low.
Our day didn’t start the best, with the dreaded flashing red engine light appearing on the dash halfway up the road.
Luckily, we had another vehicle back in town, so after a u-turn and changing vehicles, we fill up, grab a coffee and pie (as it would be rude not to after the start we’ve had) and we hit the road... again.
Making it to our chosen spot it’s not long before we start glassing and come across three stags out feeding, high on the open scree face.
This was surprising as it’s not the kind of area we expected to see deer around, but no complaints here. As the three stags start to slowly feed their way down towards the bush edge our excitement is high.
The decision was made to pack a bit lighter and leave some gear behind as we had a river to cross and a hill to climb, but it didn’t seem all that far of a mission.
With the thought that our bulk food was not needed we leave it behind, along with some rain layers as the forecast had been for sun. That was rookie move number one for the day.
Through the River, Up the Hill
Over the river we go, Aaron wades in and mid-river the water is up to his knees. No problem, right?
Picture this: I’m 5ft 3” and Aaron, who is taller, is up to his knees. Needless to say, even tucked up and on tip toes, mid-river is higher than my knees.
With wet feet and shorts, up the hill we go (which seemed a lot smaller a minute ago). As we head up and finally over the brow where the stags last were, there’s nothing to be seen...
While we scan every square meter with the binoculars the wind swirls up behind us, which as we all know is never a good thing. We’ve either been scented out or time was not on our side and the stags reached the bush edge before we crested the brow.
Sweaty from the speed of getting up the hill, we sat on the cold rocks with a feeling of disappointment and think about what could have been done better or differently.
We chat and glass at the same time just in case an animal emerges on the ridge or from below, it doesn’t take long to realise what amazing country we are surrounded by and our spirts are once again lifted.
The sun is out but the wind is picking up. Down valley seems to have some solid clouds forming, so with that in mind we get ready to move as nothing is seen high or low.
One last look through the binoculars before we go reveals a rather good-looking chamois buck! There he his! Looking down at us from across a snow chute, perched in a basin on what looks like the only bit of open green around up there in the snow.
From a high to a low then back up again like a roller coaster, we decide it's worth getting closer as we want to evaluate him and decide if it’s worth the shot and the climb up to get him. As we move closer the cloud is coming in thick and heavy along with some drizzle mixed with light snow, making it hard to spot the chamois through the passing clag.
In the packing and unpacking earlier, I put my light rain jacket down as it wasn’t meant to rain (rookie move number 2!). Luckily, Aaron was not so silly and carried his jacket along with another, so I was able to borrow one and not get too wet.
Time to Shine
We sat for a while evaluating and eventually the decision was made that it was a reasonable sized animal and definitely worth a try.
We have the time and a route planned that looks doable to retrieve the animal if we are successful. We have a rifle capable of the long shot and a semi-confident person behind it... I haven’t done much long-range shooting and only ever shot one chamois before, so it was my time to shine.
The clag and cloud has cleared a bit so we set up and take aim The chamois is 340 yards (310 metres) away and on a steep angle uphill. No pressure then.
My rest is good and despite the angle on my neck, I squeeze the trigger... Slightly high but a clean shot! The chamois leaps up the hill and then falls backwards into the snow filled tussock. I was very proud with the shot, as was Aaron, who I think was also a little shocked I pulled it off.
“That’s the easy bit, the hard work starts now,” he says. Note: Watch the video above to catch all the action.
Off we go, over the snow chute and up the other side. As we approach the base of the basin, we stop to regroup and get a picture of the view before the big scramble up to the chamois.
Sometimes we forget just how lucky we are, to be here in New Zealand and able to do what we do. This is where we decide to offload some more gear as I want to take meat as well as the skin if I can.
We make sure to take an EPIRB, torches (as by now the day had got the better of us), knives and other safety gear. We put all of it into one bag and off we went.
This was rookie move number three. We should both have kept a personal locator beacon with us. It's surprising how easily you can overlook the most basic safety measures in the excitement of a hunt and retrieval mission.
A successful retrieval of the animal was made, a cracking 9 3/4-inch chamois buck! I was on a high and also relieved as I’m not a massive fan of heights. Through supporting each other and talking about the intended route/approach, we had made it.
After a few photos, taking all we could from the animal and with big smiles, we start walking down to the other bag we'd left behind. Happy that we had been successful, our concentration eased off slightly. With tired legs and low energy, it can be easy to lose focus and mistakes can happen (rookie move number four).
Misplacing his step and with a loose rock underfoot, Aaron took a tumble, cartwheeling a couple of times down the scree then off a small ledge, his head barley missing a rock on the way down. Fortunately, he landed on his rear end!
We stand there shocked and thankful that he is not badly hurt, other than a cut hand, bruised pride and numb ass. Shaky, slowly, with extra caution and attention, we make it back to the bags.
We soak in the views one last time before heading across and down to the river for the last crossing, pushed along by thoughts of the food in the car and some dry undies for the drive home.
All in all, a great day out! What did we learn and want to share so others could learn from this epic day of highs and lows? BE PREPARED.
We may think we know the country we walk in, the time things should take, and the weather that is coming but things can change, and it doesn’t always go to plan.
For the sake of a bit of extra weight and a little more time taken, expect the unexpected, be prepared for anything, and enjoy the awesome opportunity’s this country has to offer.