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A Week to Remember

By S.J. Gillan – First Published Rod&Rifle Jul/Aug 1997.

My trip started with a very early rise and after a five hour drive from Balclutha to the Copland track turn off on the West Coast I was eager to stretch tired limbs. I changed clothes, put on my pack, grabbed my rifle and set off for the hut two hours away. A quick hunt that afternoon saw plenty of old sign but nothing new and the next day I hunted another creek with the same result Decision time, I packed up and shot through to the next hut two hours away. Arriving well before dark I collected my rifle and gear and tramped hard up the valley and was rewarded by seeing five Chamois just before dark making their way up an avalanche chute. Walking back to the hut in the dark I decided to give it everything I had tomorrow.

I arrived back to find three hunters had arrived. It turned out I knew two of them, Freddy and Blid, a Danish couple I’d met in this same valley in August 1989. The other hunter was Steve Craig a North Island goat culler. After yarning and sorting out country to hunt for tomorrow we hit the sack. Up early the next day and breakfast down I took off for the area I first saw the Chamois in. Two hard and fast hours later I reached the chute and started to climb, all the while listening out for a crack from above that thankfully never came. I found where the Chamois had left the chute and climbed the face, I did likewise. Seeing a slip way above me I reckoned they would be feeding on when the sun hit it, I headed there.

An hour later I looked out onto the slip and sure enough a yearling Chamois was watching me. Wasting no time I lined it up and touched off. The Ruger kicked back and I saw the Chamois collapse. Next thing another one, a doe, was tearing across the slip and then another yearling stood up. It fell to the .308 150gn Hornady. I climbed up to the Chamois. One had a good dark winter skin and the other was light coloured. Photographs and skinning done I cut across a ridge and blow me down another Chamois was across the next gut about two hundred metres away. I wound the Leupold to eight power and saw I was looking at a big buck with no horns. I fired and he faltered, I fired again and he fell into the alpine scrub.

I had to climb high to come down onto the Chamois because of the bluffs so up I went. Half an hour later I decided to cut out of the scrub and see how far I had to go to get onto the ridge. A very opportune time it seemed as when I looked up towards the snowline I saw to my disbelief a bull Thar watching me. Ever tried getting a steady rest on a scrub bush perched on the side of a bluff to take an acute uphill angled shot without a lot of real estate below? Once sorted I let drive, the bull was hit in the chest but was still on his feet. He toppled off the bluff at my second shot. Unreal. I scrambled free of the scrub and up a razor backed ridge to where he lay. He was a juvenile bull with 10 1/2 inch horns. I climbed past him to a rock that looked a good place for a photo session and for the second time that day my eyes popped out of my head. Across and on the next ridge 120 metres away a good bull Thar was giving me the evil eye. I quickly sat down and squeezed off a shot. Down the snow chute he came, I waited for him to fall out below me and over the bluffs thus making him hard to retrieve, but luckily he got caught up. I was stoked. I’ve got a 12 3/4 inch bull Thar mounted at home, but I’ve always wanted a full winter bull Thar skin. I crossed the chute to where they lay, took photographs and skinned them out. I had a good load, Chamois and Thar skins and the head. The bulls measured 11 7/8 and 10 ½ inches.

I had a long way to go so I got started. It was a very interesting descent, alpine scrub with snow through it up to my waist as I climbed from bush to bush. I could tell the face was getting steeper so stopping I peered between my feet and found one more step would have sent me over a thirty foot bluff in the scrub. Not a place for the faint hearted. I back-tracked and made the steep ridge running into the bush, seeing another Chamois on the way. I met up with two of the others on the river flats just before dark – we had a long walk back to the hut. They hadn’t done any good, so I told them where I had been hunting hoping they’d have success in the coming days. Next morning with a heavy pack I set out for my car four hours slog away.

Back home on Friday I was getting gear sorted for my hunting block up in the Blue Mountains the coming weekend. A couple of mates of mine, Ben and Rangi, were going to join me. We arrived at the. block about 9am. At 10am I heard a shot from Rangi’s side of the block and I thought ‘Good one’ as he hadn’t shot a deer for a while. I carried on, seeing two hinds. They were safe as I don’t shoot fallow hinds. Carrying on I found some very fresh pig rooting. I had been stalking for around three hours when a deer jumped up from where it was bedded in the fern. It ran up the hill and stopped at my whistle with it’s head and neck behind a tree but the rest of it sticking out. I could see a pizzle hanging down and I was already sitting thirty metres away. I aimed my Ruger .223 and the 55gr Hornady dropped the young male with a lung shot. These young fallow deer make great eating. After taking a photo I gutted the deer and cut the head off and made him into a pack and walked back to the car. I met Rangi, he had shot a young male deer also so he was rapt. Ben arrived back but hadn’t had any luck.

Next morning we were up at the block again. I hunted the same side as yesterday passing the area where I’d shot my deer in and carrying on up to the head of the block hunting hard but failing to see a deer. Heading back to the car in the afternoon I came upon the pig sign again, this time there was some very fresh pig dung and rooting. Only stalking 20 metres I caught a movement uphill bit of black, a deer I thought. I crept forward and peeked out from behind a beech tree and a small black pig walked out and stopped. Settling the scope on his chest the .223 spoke and hit the deck. It turned out to a 40 lb boar. A real bonus.

It’s not often a deerstalker sees pigs. I took photographs and gutted and tied his legs together.

Back at the car Ben had shot a spiker so it was a good weekend for the boys.

As I was walking out my mind wandered back over the last week. A week to remember. I’d shot Chamois, bull Thar, a deer, and a pig – four species in one week on two different sides of the South Island I reckoned I was a very lucky hunter indeed, but come to think of it we are all lucky because we can hunt practically free of charge all year round in this country of ours.

As time goes by I am all too aware that with changes in firearm laws, anti-gun/ hunting lobbies and access problems we need to be united and fight for the right to keep what we have because it’s too late tomorrow when it’s all gone.

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