Twinkling stars in the black of the early morning sky met my eyes when my alarm woke me for our third day of the hunt. The large window above my mattress in the loft offered an amazing view of the sky from my pillow. In fact, many nights, I’d drift to sleep looking for constellations and wondering if some of the larger stars were actually planets while I half listened to the banter arising from the table below. But not last night – we were all into bed when darkness filled the hut and out as soon as our heads hit the pillows. Although we celebrated Shannon’s success, we were all pretty knackered from the day’s events and had elected to get an earlier start in the morning. Our hope was to intercept one of the elusive scrub bulls we’d seen glimpses of in the thick matagouri bushes many mornings at first light.
After a quick cuppa, we climbed over the gully next to the hut. With the wind steadily dropping down the valley and faces, we clambered up to where the face plateaued slightly. Here, as we knew, the creek curved leaving an open clearing on the far face. This green patch of grass would be extremely tempting to any scrub bull during these dawning hours.
Two red hinds and a yearling brazenly fed out of the beech onto the ridge above us as we climbed up the gully. Maybe our camo and downwind approach, or simply the hinds’ uncertainness in determining danger with the sparseness of the early light, caused the deer to merely stare at us for what seemed like ages. Studying them through the rifle scope, for fear a shot would alert our potential ‘golly whopper’ across the creek, we watched them trot off, disappearing down the far side of the ridge into the creek. We fervently hoped that their slightly alarmed nature wouldn’t spook any nearby tahr.
A Bull for Kat
Climbing up the ridge a hundred metres below where the deer had stood, we peered over the top and glassed. A lone bull busied himself on the edge of the green grass patch, coming in and out of view as he worked around the matagouri. Two other bulls fed already in the scrub above. Surprisingly, the bull most in the open gave us fewer opportunities for evaluation because he was so busy feeding with his head glued to the ground, horns concealed by the grass and his long mane. The bulls in the scrub browsed often on the new growth on the tops with their heads held high and offered different angles of their horns to view; all sported great gear, but there was no contest once the lower bull lifted his head. Age rings stacked his horns’ tall frames, and though he had worn kid tips, this was the exact sort of bull Kat was after!
Kat set up for a prone shot from the ridge as I watched and recorded it on my phone through the spotter. The bull was almost straight across the little ravine, a couple of hundred metres away. Feeding in the open, we only had to wait for the perfect broadside angle. When it came, she smoked him with a deadly shot, and he fell in the middle of the clearing!
Excitement filled the scene as congrats and hugs were shared! It’s so curious how Shannon and I were almost as exhilarated as if we’d shot the bull ourselves; collaboration to achieve a common goal on a hunt brings people together. The camaraderie was already formed from sharing in Shannon’s hunt and success the previous day and now strengthened in Kat’s achievement!
One of the beauties of this ladies hunt was making these lasting friendships with likeminded women craving the same outdoor experiences. Although I’m always invested and excited for my client’s success, my feelings were intensified on this occasion sharing it with Shannon and Kat.
However, Croc’s and my excitement eventually tapered as we scanned the thick matagouri scrub that surrounded that clearing and continued down the steep face to the creek as we tried to find a route to reach and retrieve the fallen bull.
“We need to climb to those beech trees before we can get down to the creek,” Croc said. “It’s bluff under us until them. Hopefully we’ll see a better route through the scrub there. If not, you girls are in for a treat.”
The week before, in similar scrub, we’d crawled within feet of our client’s fallen bull several times before spotting a leg. Although Kat’s bull rested in a clearing, we weren’t anxious to battle through the tunnels to retrieve it.
Caping and Meat Handling
Thankfully, we made it to the beautiful old bull via a decent route and copied yesterday’s caping lesson. It was almost surreal for me not only to be sharing these spectacular hunts with other females, but also to see their kindred interests for the caping and meat handling. We don’t usually have many females on our hunts, and if we do, they’re normally the hunters’ partners and not hunters themselves. I’d never actually guided a female on a tahr hunt before. Kat and Shannon definitely impressed me. The girls butchered the bull, and we headed back to the hut just in time for breakfast.
“Wow, we’ve already done so much and it’s still only the morning,” Shannon pointed out.
Kat and I chorused her surprise. “Yes, a day full of fun, and it’s only 9am!”
After a leisurely breakfast at the hut, Kat, Shannon and I went down to the river with the spotters for some sun and swimming. The crisp, frosty morning turned into blistering heat when the sun rose to full height in the bluebird sky. Shannon and I swam in a deep, crystal-clear spring while Kat busied herself with finding nannies. Everyone wanted to go home with plentiful meat, and since Croc was going to have the choppers come in a week’s time to do our annual aerial cull, ensuring a healthy population, he wasn’t concerned with the number of nannies or hinds we hunted.
Kat found a small, low group of nannies feeding on a clearing in a gut just above the matagouri-covered river bottom. Small groups of nannies were ideal to limit the education of others – those not shot but spooked – who quickly learned the dangers of living too low. With only three nannies in this group, there was a chance we could shoot all three, or at least only spook a couple of others.
The girls planned this stalk on the nannies themselves. It was Shannon’s turn to harvest meat first, but Kat would also have a rifle and shoot immediately after her. Shannon and Kat executed the stalk excellently, navigating us downwind of the nannies through the matagouri flat along the river’s flood plain and using the ridge, when we began our ascent, to shield us as we climbed.
When we could see part of the clearing and one of the nannies, we were only fifty metres away! However, there was no chance for a prone rest and Shannon’s shot at the only visible nanny was taken off her knees. We heard the THUD of the bullet driving into the nanny and she disappeared below the ridge out of view.
Kat wasted no time, quickly sidling further around the ridge for a better view of the clearing and dropped another nanny with a standing shot.
To our amazement, only one nanny could be found, even though we were all sure Shannon’s shot hit. Luckily, we opted to deal with Kat’s nanny before spending more time looking for Shannon’s and soon discovered that it bore two bullet holes right next to each other! Both girls’ confidence had increased with every stalk and shot. These well-placed bullets gave further testimony to their prowess, especially as the set-ups were imperfect and required quick shooting.
Kat carried out the backpack we made of this nanny by placing her front knees, opened except for the tendons, through the gaps between the Achilles tendon and the cannon bone beneath her hocks on her rear legs – another handy trick to know.
Evening Hunt for Red Hind
Shannon was still keen for some more meat, so after dropping the nanny at the hut, we set out for an evening red hind hunt. In the cooling evening air, hinds fed out of the matagouri scrub into the clearings on a large fan at the base of the mountainside.
Shannon planned the stalk impeccably, leading us downwind of the deer and remaining in cover. However, the hinds were feeding and traveling at such a rate over the open country, we were unable to get into range without spooking them. We patiently waited for our opportunity to close the distance as they gradually fed below the slight curve of the fan. Unfortunately, they were now likely dangerously close to the scrub where we’d lose any chance at them.
When, at last, they were hidden from view, Shannon led the charge at a run. As we approached the pinnacle of the old slip, we slowed and searched for the deer. Finally, a glimpse of brown at the edge of the scrub clued us in to the hinds’ whereabouts. We crawled to a sheltering matagouri clump, and Shannon set up in case of another opportunity.
With the impending threat of losing shooting light, we were immensely thankful when a hind appeared out of the bush. After confirming that she wasn’t a dropped stag, Shannon drilled the tasty hind! We hurriedly quartered and carried her out in the dark, guided by the moonlight across the large fan.
I’m sure dinner was probably reheated at least a few times that night in Croc’s anticipation of an earlier arrival, but goodness … it tasted incredible! I can’t thank Croc enough for all the time and effort he put into not only making the trip a success on the bull front, but also in making it an educational and extremely entertaining experience.
Our days had been action-packed, and we could deal with the meat at our leisure in the morning. Tonight, we were ready to be extremely well behaved and go to bed at a respectable hour … or at least that’s the acceptable version according to our ‘Two Creeks’ rule: what happens after you’ve crossed two creeks stays two creeks in the backcountry. We did not get an early start the next day.
With two bulls successfully harvested, we didn’t need the fourth day of the trip for hunting. Instead, we broke down the whole nanny and deboned the meat from the other two nannies, the hind, and the two bulls. Croc and I helped with anatomy and technique, but the girls did most of the work. It was impressive to see their efficiency improve with each shoulder or hind leg. As Croc had told us on the hill, practice makes perfect, and after eight or so legs each, the girls were pretty damn near perfect!
“You just seem to let them do it,” Shannon said when referring to caping, gutting or quartering game hunted with her husband. I’ve heard similar confessions from several of my lady hunter friends when hunting with guys or partners. The relaxed environment hunting with other girls sets the scene for branching out, trying new things, and gaining confidence. I’m not saying that you can’t learn heaps from hunting with your partner or guy friends; I sure have, but the atmosphere during the girls trip promotes leadership and inclusion in all aspects of the hunt, as well as developing confidence in the skills required and, most importantly, lasting friendships.
Undoubtedly, this trip has helped connect the three of us, and we’re stoked for our next hunting adventure together!
annual ladies tahr trips
Croc and I were so impressed with Shannon and Kat – as well as rewarded with the benefits they reaped from the experience – that we’re continuing annual ladies tahr trips! The 2022 group is full, but planning has started for our 2023 Ladies Tahr Trip. Contact me on Instagram @followingfalls or email email@example.com for more information!