Hunting the alpine tops - a summer hunting tale
The helicopter roared away into the distance leaving us surrounded by peace and serenity. The silence was almost deafening as we set about erecting our tent on the beautiful alpine meadow and stashing our food in the shade of some stunted mountain beech trees, before heading off hunting.
Tony Fyfe, now of Noosa, but a veteran of the Asian business world, has been on many fishing trips with me over the years, but we'd never attempted an overnight hunting trip before. Being a couple of old fellas on the wrong side of our mid-40s, flying in by helicopter was the way to go, avoiding big hikes with heavy loads, and maximising hunting time in the bingo-zone.
Camp established, we looked up on to the top ridge as a mob of goats fed over the top. They'd keep for later because we were after bigger game. Climbing a small saddle, we looked over some marvellous mountain terrain. As far as the eye could see there were steep rocky mountains and cascading streams.
As we sidled round further, fresh animal sign was in abundance and it wasn't long before I spied the chamois buck. It was across the creek, in near impenetrable terrain, and a long way away. It was oblivious to our presence and we got as close as we could but it was a long shot across an impressive chasm. Tony had never shot a chamois before and we were here to have a go.
Finding a suitable rock to lie behind, Tony practised his aim, while we discussed distance. Downhill but a long way out, I suggested that Tony aim high. We were in the ballpark, and nine shots later, the chamois rolled down the hill.
The shots hadn't sounded very loud, swallowed up by the vastness of the terrain, but the sound suppressor attached to my 7-millimetre mauser rifle has certainly made a difference for mountain shooting. For a start, the suppressor has taken the sting out of the shots which protects delicate human eardrums, but it also confuses the animals you are shooting at by somehow deflecting the direction the sound comes from, giving you more opportunities at animals unaware of your presence.
Suppressors also increase rifle accuracy, remove recoil and associated flinching, balance the rifle better, but most importantly allow you to easily hear the bullet slap when an animal is hit.
Not having stirred up our hunting country, we continued onwards and upwards, slogging our way to the top of the range across open and barren gravel slopes interspersed with rocky outcrops. Looking across the mountain, we could see that we would have to drop height to encounter animals and we slowly made our way across treacherous eroded country with steep guts, and scrubby gullies.
Out of nowhere, two billy goats appeared and Tony had a few shots with my single shot .223 and a big black billy rolled down the mountainside. Behind us, well out of range, 15 goats climbed through a slot where we had been about half an hour before.
Continuing on, we struggled through rough terrain as the sun beat down and the sweat poured from our bodies. Rewarding ourselves with an orange and a nut bar, we were finally in a decent position to see a deer. Sneaking down the ridge with frequent stops under shady trees to glass for game with my 12x binoculars, we finally started to see some red deer.
Three animals, all hinds, and glowing in the sun, were on a grassy face beyond our striking range for the day, but finally I spied a deer we could approach. Dropping down our ridge, the wind was blowing from every direction, a deerstalker's nightmare, when out of nowhere a red hind bolted past us heading for the safety of the bush edge and not allowing Tony a suitable shot.
While we were sneaking up on the original deer we were stalking, a small black pig appeared in the long grass before us. We debated about whether to shoot, but opted for a chance at the deer instead. In the end the wind beat us and the deer crashed off through the manuka unscathed. It had been great fun hunting wild game in wild places in a fair-chase manner. We'd worked hard and the game was more than capable of escaping the hunters which is why deerstalking is such an awesome sport.
Late in the afternoon, we realised that it was a long way back to camp.
Sidling and climbing back the way we'd come wasn't an option so we elected to climb high on the ridge above.
After an hour or so up we realised that it was going to be a real mission to get back to camp that night.
We climbed and we climbed, unable to sidle across the mountainside of broken rock and steep dangerous rock slides. Panting, dehydrated, with burning thighs, and, in Tony's case, blisters, we discussed the options.
"You've broken me, Mirf," Tony told me, but he is a tough cookie who can mentally propel himself forward when the chips are down.
After more struggle, we finally made the main ridge and could see our camp far below along the crooked and jagged ridge. Now we just had to take it slowly and ease our way home.
It was a long slog, finally riding a scree-slope escalator to the floor of the hanging valley and our camp at 1300 metres above sea level.
We were both knackered and made straight for the stream where we gorged ourselves on fresh, clear, cold pristine water. Walking the last few hundred metres to camp, we surprised a few hares.
Close to our tent, one hare made the fatal mistake of stopping to look back and Tony took it with a fine freehand shot at close range. It was a great finish to a long day. We slugged down some cold fizz, a couple of beers, and an electrolyte drink each, before a quick feed and bed.
Climbing into our sleeping bags was bliss and neither of us contemplated hunting the next day as we thought we'd both seize up overnight.
I can't remember the night but after 7am I staggered out of the tent, had a stretch, and looked up the valley with my binoculars.
"Hey Tony, there's a mob of goats up there" I said.
"Wanna have a go?"
Tony was up and ready in no time. The helicopter was coming at 10am because the weather was packing up as an approaching front moved across the country bringing rain, wind, and cold temperatures.
We marched stiffly upstream, staying in the creek. Two billy goats, one black with white ears, and the other tan, appeared before us over a rise and I thought we'd have to shoot, disturbing the main mob. Fortunately, the two goats were heading upstream too, and we stalked up behind them.
Once we thought we'd been seen, but we sheltered under a big boulder and the goats continued upstream into the wind. Soon we were right behind them as they went up a fork in the creek. Tony lay in a patch of hebe, using my daypack as a rifle rest, and took aim from about 60m.
At the shot, the black billy pitched forward, and the big tan billy leapt up on to a rocky ledge and stood broadside. Boom, down it went, as we ran to the crest of another mound to be in position for the main goat mob.
The animals climbed across the steep rocky face but at between 150m to 200m with an excellent shooting platform they were in big trouble with Tony shooting. When the shooting stopped every animal was down and we relived the highlights of our stalk.
I couldn't remember shooting feral goats at such high altitude but they are an adaptable animal using whatever terrain is available. Keeping their numbers down is good for the environment and they are certainly colourful beasts made up of various hardy strains of animals released by early mariners and miners.
Over the years we must have shot just about every colour goat possible - though I've yet to see a green one.
Our helicopter arrived just before we made it back to camp and we hurriedly packed as the rain began to fall.
"A perfect escape just before the weather totally craps out," Tony said through his headset as the chopper powered forward and upwards.
"Let's do it all again in March."