“In country like this, we are just as likely to shoot one off the front porch of the hut as we are up the valley.” I said naively to my newfound Kiwi friends, Campbell and Nigel, as the helicopter took off into the sunset like a cliche spaghetti western.
Before the words left my mouth I wished I could take them back. After all I was a stranger in a strange land hunting something I’ve only seen on Youtube and exotic magazines (not that kind you pervert).
We settled into the five star hut and prepped our gear for the morning. I felt like I was in someone’s home this place was so nice and well kept. I happily kept my camp gear in my duffel as at least for the first few days we would be using the hut as base camp until we could get our feet under us and figure out where the tahr would be making their appearances. Then if we needed to camp up higher, so be it.
“Right, we’ll just sit here and shoot them out of the windows like little kids with a Christmas BB gun..” I hear the reply. I knew that tahr hunting could be considered one of the most brutal hunts there is, but still… The terrain looked the part.
I faded into sleep to the rhythmic snores in the background and told myself to keep my expectations in check. This wasn’t going to be a pronghorn hunt in the plains. These are serious mountains with animals that liked to use them as their jungle gym. This was going to be hard, make no mistakes about it.
The sun hadn’t made its appearance yet and my legs burned from the approach. Climbing ladders would have been more appropriate training than running hills. This terrain was dirt under your fingernails steep.
We dropped our gear on the only flat plateau we could find. I leaned against my bag and let the lactic acid seep from my legs.
Almost instantly tahr were surrounding us, though the only thing that made them a visual reality was the optics to our eyes. Even with the enhanced vision they were mere specs in the distance. It was time for the pros to hold a summit.
I sat there with binoculars to my eyes as Campbell and Nigel started their deliberation. I felt out of place in the way a private might feel in the presence of generals. To open my mouth and give advice was not only out of place, but potentially harmful to the mission.
So far the only advice I had given was a blanket statement of “I don’t know, he looks big to me.” Perhaps I was feeling the pressure of just getting something on the ground. Two weeks in and I was questioning my pickiness. It’s one thing to hold out for a trophy animal, it was another to walk home empty handed.
I know. You have to pass up the good ones to kill the great ones. You also have to have something to show for a three week trip to the opposite end of the world. That’s just the way of it.
My new found Kiwi friends continued to try to come to some type of consensus as to what group of tahr we were going to make a play on. You see, the thing is it’s not just like you charge after the first group you see. Nothing is close. I mean the animals are far away. Like really far. So you better make sure you have a chance at a stalk before you go skipping off and lobbing shots at them.
I could tell the Kiwis were pretty damn serious by how they were analyzing the terrain and using hand motions to simulate how this mission would go down. And believe me there was a mission. Under no uncertain terms, Campbell and Nigel had an objective. A very unselfish one I might add.
“Let’s get this cunt a tahr.” Was the first thing I heard out of Nigel’s mouth that morning. By process of elimination I had deduced that I was that “cunt”. I had also deduced that it was meant in an affectionate way, either that or the guy was going to throw me off the first cliff we came across. You can never tell for certain how the American Empire is seen in other parts of the world.
The deliberation continued behind me as I swept the talus strewn mountain sides for any moving objects.
Chuwbacca on all fours was growing in size in my glass.
“Tahr,” I said, “I got one. And he’s charging us.”
By now I figured I’d worn out my consistently incorrect guesses as to every tahr being a “big one” so I left that out.
“Where?” Campbell asked.
He followed the line of sight from my binoculars and was on him in seconds.
“Oh hell, that’s a good one. I mean a really good one.” he said into his optics.
“And with the line he’s on we don’t have much time to get on him.” Nigel added in.
My education in tahr hunting was about to get accelerated.
“Grab your bow and let’s get after him.” Campbell said without hesitation as he slung his pack and suppressed 7mm Mag over his shoulder.
I stuffed the garage sale I had around me into my pack and threw my bow up on my shoulders.
I looked over at Nigel, “You flagging me in?”
“Yup.” he said, his eyes never leaving his glass.
“He’s cutting down into the valley floor. And he’s in a hurry. Cruising for ladies would be my guess.” Campbell said to me as we left our perch and set a trajectory to intercept the shaggy goat.
“Looks like he’s heading for the hut. Might be a good landmark.” I said in response.
The tahr was about five hundred yards off and obviously had other things on his mind.
God I love hunting the rut.
I sympathize with his distraction as we worked our way through the loose scree.
We slipped into a cut that allowed us to move without being in eyesight of the tahr. While one of us advanced ahead the other would glass back at Nigel for the latest update to our prey’s whereabouts.
“You going to try a shot with your bow?” Campbell asked as we continued our advance.
I could see the concern on his face. He knew I was two weeks into this trip and I had put nothing in the dirt as of yet.
I was on this trip for me. There were no outside pressures that would require me to come home with a trophy in hand. But to say that I was OK with coming home empty handed would be an outright lie. We can lie to others about what hunting means to us so we can act like we are on a moral high-ground, but there was no lying to ourselves.
“Something is going to die today and I don’t care what weapon is sending the lethal shot.” I respond without hesitation.
I saw the relief wash over Campbell.
By Nigel’s reckoning and relayed hand gestures the tahr was headed to the valley floor. And by the birdlike pace that his arms were flapping, we needed to kick our asses into high gear.
We picked up the pace as I tried to steady my heart rate, knowing that there wasn’t going to be a whole lot of time to get set up and throw some lead his way.
“There he is.” came a hushed whisper, “Three hundred yards out. You ok with that distance?”
My head swiveled while I checked my surroundings.
“I think we can get closer.” I said with as much confidence as I could muster.
There had been a lot of time at the range over the past years, but that time was spent flinging carbon, not lead.
We shuffled off, hoping that in his testosterone infused state he wouldn’t take notice of us.
As we move I noted that we are on almost the exact path we took from the hut a few hours prior on our way up to our glassing spot.
“He’s headed directly at the hut.” came the puzzled statement from Campbell.
We pushed on, ducking behind a slight rise in hopes of obscuring ourselves until absolutely necessary.
“She shoots straight,” said Cam as he unslung his rifle.
One arm reached out with the cheat stick while the other was open, waiting to receive my bow.
The feeling of selling out washed over me. It had been a long time since I had downed an animal with a gun. For whatever reason I had felt the need to kill the animals I hunted with what was obviously a much more primitive and self inflicted handicap over the years. I liked the challenge, I liked the brotherhood, but right now I was liking the idea of exotic meat and a trophy better.
“Being a sellout means you have to have strict standards,” I mumbled to myself as I laid down prone and flipped the bipod into position.
“You see him?” Campbell asked while he kept close watch of him through his binos.
“Yea I got him.” I called back through the sound of rushing blood in my ears.
Squeeze man. This might be your only shot on the trip. Blow it now and you know how that anger will rise.
I felt that internal battle rising in me. The darker side of my inner voice calling out. The one where I attack myself for failure. An ugly side that once unleashed can only be resolved by extreme physical exertion or time.
Stop thinking and start acting.
“Take your time,” I heard from behind.
I felt like I had had the crosshairs on his shoulders for hours. That he was a stone statue waiting to be cracked open.
The shot is not going to get better than this, the conditions can’t get better than this… Squeeze that trig….
“Boom!” the gun yells as I try to get my eyes back on the target.
Is he running or is he laying down? I wonder to myself.
He isn’t anything. He isn’t there.
“Where’d he go?” I asked Campbell as I racked another load into the chamber.
“I dunno.” Came his response, clearly as lost as to what happened as I was.
“Let’s wait a few minutes as see if he goes tearing off somewhere.”
A laid behind the scope scanning the valley floor. Looking for a furry shag carpet limping along. I was surprised when my cross-hairs panned across the symmetrical shape of the hut.
“I think he’s down for the count somewhere over that little hill that leads to the hut.” Campbell said as I started to rise up.
“Let’s go have a look, shall we?” I responded as we made slowly made our way toward the last sight of impact. My upland hunting roots instinctively sprung up in me as I carried the rifle like a break-barrel, waiting for a flush.
“He should be right here”, came Campbell’s puzzled statement.
We inched our way forward, getting ever closer to the hut.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…” I mumbled.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in all my life…” came Campbell’s response.
There not thirty yards from the hut laid 7,698 miles of travel, two weeks of sweat equity and months and months of dreaming about this moment.
“Could he have died closer to the hut?” Campbell asked in disbelief.
I looked around at the towering mountains that hovered over the valley. I looked at the peaks where these animals reside, to avoid the uncommitted. I looked inward at my false expectations of this hunt, how physical effort doesn’t always equate to success. How sometimes we have this equation in our head that goes something like this: The more effort I put forth, the more I deserve the reward and the universe works on this effort=reward system.
“Well this is going to make for an easy pack out!” Exclaimed Nigel, still huffing and puffing from the long descent from his lookout.
His huge hand patted my back in congradulations as we all stood there in shock.
“Well… Yes, a rational person would think that.” I said with a sheepish grin as I pulled my camera out of my backpack. “But you see, I need a picture with a mountainous backdrop, not a cozy little hut.”
I then proceeded to give them a lesson on why to never invite a photographer on a hunting trip as we hauled the tahr back up the hill.
“Bloody Americans”, came the playful grumble out of Nigel as he pulled the massive creature onto his shoulders and made his way up the hill.
// Fred Bohm
Next Up | Don’t let this hunt fool you. It ain’t easy in the Southern Alps and the next tahr hunt would prove that to me. It also proved to wipe out two weeks of photographs. More up on the next post...