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Our Backyard – A Day out Meeting the Neighbours

A two-day hunt was planned, days off booked, bags packed, and all was prepped and ready to go. We’d decided a week before that Adam was going to take me to ‘Spot X’ to try and get my first chamois. All was looking good until the 3-day weather forecast showed the snow warnings down to 600m.

Moving from England to New Zealand 8 years ago was a big change, but it didn’t take long for me to get the ‘Kiwi lifestyle’ bug – it started with fishing down the rivers for that elusive monster trout and going offshore for a blue cod or grouper. After my partner taught me how to scuba-dive, I added diving for crays to my hobbies; eventually the boys convinced me to go for the furry animals and start filling the freezer with venison.

Hunting was not a passion of mine in the UK; in fact, I’d never even considered that I might enjoy it until moving to NZ. I’m lucky to live in an area where everything’s on my doorstep and to have a great group of mates who’ve shared their love of hunting, taught me a lot and are now joining me on some great missions.

It took me a year after I got my hunting licence before I secured my first deer; we’d been out on many hunts and I had many sightings, but it never seemed to come together. Eventually, a friend of mine Aaron Loader took me out for an overnight hunt and it finally happened! From then on, I was hooked. The entire experience of hunting from the effort of moving through the bush to the amazing scenery, the camaraderie of missions with mates, the new skills learned and the adrenaline from a good hunt and clean kill all made it a great experience every time.

Aaron had taken me on many hunts, and it was through him I secured my first stag, along with other animals – stories for another time!

The other guys have been shooting chamois in the winter for a while and I didn’t really get into it; after seeing a few of the amazing coats and the pictures of the spectacular scenery, I began to realise I was missing out.  When my mate Adam shot another chamois, I finally decided this was the year to give it a go. Adam offered to be our guide for the day and man the camera while I carried the gun; Dave Barraclough, another veteran hunter, and Aaron came along as well to see what the day had to offer.

A two-day hunt was planned, days off booked, bags packed, and all was prepped and ready to go. We’d decided a week before that Adam was going to take me to ‘Spot X’ to try and get my first chamois. All was looking good until the 3-day weather forecast showed the snow warnings down to 600m.

Day 1 was a bust with a storm battering the area, and the forecast for Day 2 wasn’t looking much better; however, it dawned clear and cold, so we decided to give it a go.

“Come on boys! You can’t shoot chamois from the sofa … though it’d be a lot warmer if you could!” I was soon to find out how true this statement was.

It was 6am … the jug was on the boil, eggs were in the pan and we were keen to get going – just waiting for the pickup from Adam; we were also going to collect Dave and meet up with Aaron who were both keen to try out a new spot and not waste the day.

The Trek in

After an icy drive, we arrived at the meeting point to greet Aaron who was already there waiting for us; with no time to spare, off we went by head torch up the hill with Dave leading the way and breaking the trail.

I’d done a lot of walking for the Roar but not much since then, so my winter coat was getting bigger and my fitness wasn’t at its best; it wasn’t long before I had a sweat on and, being the shortest in the group, each stride for Dave was two for me. However, being at the back of the pack was a bonus as the boys had already made tracks in the snow for me – cheers, boys!

A little over an hour in, Aaron stopped and pointed as a nice healthy spiker crashed to the left of us and ran down the hill. Normally, guns would have been up and meat on the deck, but this time we stood and watched; it was nice to see a deer, as they tend to disappear in the winter, but our minds were on chamois, so we let it go and pushed onwards.

Two hours later, we arrived at the split-off point, where Adam and I would head off to Spot X. Dave and Aaron were continuing on to the site they’d picked; we wished them luck and off we went. Adam and I had picked a small creek to follow, figuring it’d be a bit easier than pushing through thick Fiordland bush the whole way; but the snow was now knee-deep, so it wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped. We saw a few deer tracks but not much chamois sign yet, so we carried on, glassing all the way, hoping to spot something moving in the crisp white snow.

I found out pretty quick that I missed Dave in the front; making tracks through deep snow is hard going. We’d been glassing for a while with no luck, and with the sun on the other side of the ridge, we had to make a decision: turn around and try a different spot, or push on for a while longer and if there was still no sign of chamois, we’d have lunch, head towards the split point, wait for the boys and head back together.

We decided to push on, and as there was still nothing seen, we went to find a sunny spot for lunch. As we sat there, warming up and wondering what the others were up to, we were telling ourselves that even though we’d seen nothing, it was good training and still a good day … but we were both thinking the same thing: “Seeing something’s always better though, eh?”

My First Chamois

We were finishing up our dehydrated fruit – which turns out gives you mad gas – when Adam decided to pop over the next ridge to see what was there. Not even 10 minutes later, as I sat there deciding if my legs were going to recover enough to let me follow, I heard Adam crashing through the trees as he came back towards me at pace.

“Bro! CHAMOIS! Three of them … let’s go!”

There was no question about whether my legs were up to the challenge; this is what we were there for, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Off we went up the ridge, moving as quickly as we could; when we reached the top, there they were … two chamois sitting chilling on the rocks in the sun; but there was no sign of the third.

It was still too long a shot for me, so we sat and watched as two became three, three went to five and then, five to seven. A few were decent and, to be honest, all were a trophy size for me … but the distance was still too great. Ever aware of the watchful eye of the matriarch, we pushed closer and closed the gap.

It started to get interesting when we saw we hadn’t spooked them and two had even started heading down closer to us to eat the  tussock
that wasn’t covered in snow. Twenty metres further, we came to good vantage point with a nice rock that’d make a good rest.

They still seemed a bit far away … but my gun was out, bipod on and crosshairs on the animal full power. As I was new to chamois hunting, I wasn’t as confident about my long-range shooting – normally, I’m a bush stalker; we sat watching for a bit, trying to decide what to do.

We’ve had many conversations over the years, and I’ve learnt a lot from all these guys; I didn’t want to be that hunter who shoots at an animal they can’t get or wounds one, then watches it run off.

It took the snow dropping off the cliff faces surrounding us in the mid-afternoon sun to remind us the day was getting on and we still had a three-hour walk back to the truck; I knew it was time to make a call. Two of the chamois had split up and one was coming lower, still grazing on its way. Decision made … I was going to take the shot!

Adam got the camera ready; I put two in the magazine, one in the chamber … safety off and we were good to go. With the angle and distance in mind, I aimed for just above the head to account for the drop. Breathe … focus … squeeze … CRACK! … THUD!

I watched as chamois went everywhere; the one I’d gone for had kicked itself off the edge leaving a blood trail behind it. The seven had turned into ten as they came from all over the place, not knowing what was going on. They quickly turned and scarpered all in a line across and up the face to safety; they had nothing more to fear from us though. I had a clean kill and was stoked – high fives
all round! The day was a success, and everything had come together.

We headed up to retrieve the animal – Adam charged up before me to start bringing it down. It was a clean shot straight in the neck; the coat will look awesome on the couch … and a 9-inch trophy for the wall – what a result! After the traditional pictures had been taken and the animal dealt with, it was time to make our way back to catch up with the others and share stories.

We made it to the truck just after dark; there was no sign of Dave and Aaron, so we put the water on the boil for a well-deserved cuppa and waited for them to turn up. Forty minutes later the boys arrived, and their faces said it all: a big day in the bush with animals seen but none on the ground – a good recon mission for future hunts.

Result: 28kms hiked in snow and cold, 1 chamois down, 3 sets of sore legs (screw you, Adam), and 1 great story to tell …
it was well worth the wait for my first chamois.

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