While my good mate Luke and I were on a mid-winter Red deer hunt in the Ruahines, we got to talking about a tahr hunt. We were thinking about going to the West Coast, as we had done a few tahr trips over the past years but mostly on the eastern side.

A couple of weeks later we got in touch with Dylan, a mate who lives in Ross on the West Coast and the three of us decided to have a crack at a ballot. In November we found out we were unsuccessful in the first draw but in the second draw later that month we got a third period block in the Adam’s Wilderness area – Speculation Creek for 11th May 2018. Game on!

After a long winter I was not quite as fit as I could be and I knew if I was going to keep up with half-goat man Dylan, I had to do something about it. So I did a few spring hunting trips into the Kawekas and Ruahines to work on my hill fitness and also got the mountain bike out and pumped up its tyres. I even started walking with a pack on from the bottom of our road to the top of the hill on the farm, about 6kms and a 450 metre climb – ideal.

The beauty of the trip starting on the 11th May was that we had the roar to get out of the way first. By the end of all of this I was as fit as a buck rat, much to my wife’s surprise. As I was doing this, Luke was working on finding the best mocha in Havelock North, while also fitting in the odd run up Te Mata Peak. And Dylan? He was doing what he does best – running around the West Coast hills chasing tahr. 

We decided we’d head down a couple of days earlier and catch up with another mate Ash and maybe fit in a bit of hunting with him. Before we were due to head off, there were rams to get out with ewes and cattle to TB test on the farm, along with checks on rifles, tents and other gear.

The time came to head for the ferry and we finally pulled into Ash’s place in North Canterbury after a long day for a couple of lads who don’t get out of the Bay much. 

Ash had a bit of pig hunting planned for us and by 7am the next morning we were on the hill checking out some fresh rooting. Ash and Luke decided they would head around a face with the dogs and I was to pick them up at the bottom of the block, keeping an eye out for any hogs that tried to escape out the bottom. When I got there, I saw a blue boar sneaking his way up a ridge in front of me so I jumped out of the truck and got a rest on the bonnet. By then he was about 180 metres away and climbing. I gave him a bit of hold over and let rip – and to my surprise he came cartwheeling down the face. Funny how you always pull off good shots when no one is watching. Later that day Luke was also able to knock a couple over, so all-in-all this was a great start to the trip.

The next morning we headed over to Hokitika to catch up with Dylan. The following day the long-range forecast didn’t look as good for the week but we were all excited to get to our block. After a short drive down to the Wanganui River to meet the chopper, we met a hive of happy hunters all heading into their blocks. 

We were a little worried when the chopper came back with a party that he couldn’t get in due to wind. Were we going to make it? Without much more time to think about it, we were loaded up and after a relatively short trip up the Wanganui and up onto a high ridge, we were there. A party was there waiting to be flown out and I was able to pick their brains about the block for a bit. They had not had much luck and saw only a few animals. After hearing this we were a little anxious, but to be fair the weather had not been the best for them.

We set up camp and then it was time for a brew. Out came the binos and spotting scope and much to our surprise, we started picking up tahr straight away but they were well up there. That evening we split up to try and cover as much area as possible. I walked out to the end of the ridge to get a look into another valley and saw quite a few bulls, but it was hard to say how good they were through the binos as they were a fair distance away. Getting back to camp on dark, I found Dylan had the same results – bulls far and high. After a feed and a brew, it was time to hit the sack. I was woken in the early hours of the morning by a DC3 landing outside my tent – it turned out to be Luke’s snoring – holy!

When morning finally came, it was a ripper. Camp was all go, the plan was to get up amongst some of the bulls. We headed off toward some animals and sidled around below them, crossing a couple of creeks and filming from a ridge that looked like it would give us a good look into a face that’d had a few bulls on it the night before. The ridge was a razorback so there was no room for error but we did find a flat spot to glass from. We saw quite a few younger bulls and there was a nice-looking older bull on the next ridge at 620 yards. After some umming and ahhing, Luke decided to have a shot with his 300 WSM, which hit the bull and sent him wheeling into a steep gut.

After we had a drink and a bite to eat, Luke and Dylan headed around to get Luke’s bull and I went back up the main valley to check out the head basin. I climbed up a ridge that would give me a good look at some bulls in the head of the valley. By that stage it was blowing my mind how steep some of the country was – one slip and I’d be lucky if I bounced once on the way down – not really my cup of tea.

On reaching a good vantage point, I was able to glass a lot of prime country but it wasn’t until late afternoon that I started seeing animals moving about. There were a few tahr and even a chamois buck bouncing along the valley below. Most of the bigger bulls seemed to be coming through a saddle in the head basin and crossing into a bluff system to the right.After I’d watched them for an hour or so, it was time to start heading back to camp, trying to catch up with Luke and Dylan on the way. When I got to our meeting point, I could see them way down in a side creek with a nasty looking climb ahead of them. About an hour and a half later they turned up with Luke’s bull, which had nice-looking horns just on 13 inches but quite broomed off. 

After a good night’s sleep with toilet paper in my ears, I joined the others and we made a plan to head up to the saddle where I’d seen the bulls coming through. On our way up the valley, we watched a young bull trek all the way over from the opposite face to check us out. He came to within a few metres of us before thinking better of it…cool to see. Once we were near the saddle, I stayed and watched the bluffs that the bulls fed into and Luke and Dylan climbed up above and were to watch the saddle itself. Already there were quite a few nannies in the bluffs I was looking at.

After an hour or so I looked down the valley and spotted what looked like a bigger bull with a few nannies up in a steep side gut. I decided he was worth a closer look so I headed off but by the time I got down there, he had climbed a lot higher. There was no way to get a shot so I got the camera out and filmed him for a fair bit before I heard a shot from Luke and Dylan way up the valley. A while later I headed back up onto a ridge but there was no sign of them so I thought I’d sit there and wait for them to come back down. 

After about half an hour something caught my eye on a ridge on the opposite side of the valley. Looking through the binos, I could see it was a decent bull. I got my camera out and zoomed in on him; he was something else, almost too good to be true. What should I do? He was a long way away and it would be dark in two hours. Stuff it, I thought and I went after him, knowing that if I didn’t I may never see him again.

By now, he had sat down in a saddle and was surveying the valley below him. I worked out that if I could get up the side gut I might be in with a chance. This was where all the fitness work leading up to the trip was going to pay off. Making my way down across the valley, keeping out of sight, I made it to the gut I needed to climb up. It had a little rocky outcrop only a few metres away where I thought I would be able to take a shot from. I sneaked a bullet up the spout, put the safety on and crawled up to the outcrop. I peered over to where I last seen the bull an hour ago but he was gone – bugger!

I started frantically eyeing all the surrounding country. Where the hell had he gone? Maybe he’d ducked into the next gut on the other side of the saddle. Then I happened to glance up the ridge that I lay on – and he was looking straight at me from just 50 metres away. Not wanting to make any sudden movements, I lined up on his chest slowly and took the shot. He dropped instantly, tumbling over a 20 metre drop and into a steep gut. All sorts of thoughts were going through my mind at this point: the main one being whether I was going to be able to recover him.

I climbed up to where he had gone down…way down! The best way was back down the ridge and up the gut he was in. Much to my relief the gut was good going, with only a couple of small waterfalls to negotiate. As I climbed one last waterfall, I found him lying in the creek. As I walked up to him, I could see that this was no average bull, he was ‘next level’. I had never seen a bull like him – he was huge! His horns and his sheer size were amazing.

Given the time of day, I knew I didn’t have much time before dark and I didn’t fancy trying to get out of there in the dark on my own. After taking a few quick photos, I put my head lamp on – and to my horror – it wouldn’t go. What the heck?! Luckily I had a pathetic little torch in my bumbag that was good for a couple of metres. After a very fast caping job, I was out of there. There was no way I was going back to camp without him and with the weather that was coming, I may not have been able to get back to him. After a slow trip down the gut to the main valley in the dark, it was good to be back in firmer country and to be able to reflect on what had just happened. Back at camp that night, spirits were high. The shot I’d heard up the valley was Dylan who secured a nice 12½ inch bull.

One thing that did stand out was just how much bigger my bull was compared to anything else we’d shot, and yet I would have been happy with one of the others. 

The next morning we woke to a whiteout and it stayed like that for the next couple of days with showers on and off. We did get out for a hunt lower down in the valley, seeing a few deer and chamois but nothing of real interest.

The way the weather turned so suddenly made me realise how lucky I was. Fortunately it cleared just long enough for the chopper to get in to pick us up, ending the trip of a lifetime.