New Zealand is often synonymous with helicopter drop-offs, and massive red stag on estate hunts. Despite this often accurate depiction, there are a handful of dedicated hunters and guides that choose to pursue game in a more traditional fashion, travelling through the rugged mountain ranges under the power of their own feet. NZ’s South Island is the perfect setting for these kinds of hunts, the ones that we are accustomed to as guides and outfitters in Northern British Columbia, and the Yukon, and I was excited to explore what it had to offer.
The weather was forecasting for six days of West Coast downpour, estimating approximately 500mm over the course of our ten-day trip. Despite this, we were still keen to take the 20km hike up to the valley hut in anticipation of a few breaks that were sure to promise phenomenal hunting opportunities.
We were a party of six: my sister Shay, her partner Jake, Jake’s good friend Bill, my brother Tanar, my boyfriend Spencer and myself. Between us we had experiences hunting, guiding and outfitting areas in both Canada and New Zealand. Lack of knowledge or experience was not a problem for us and we were excited to get back into our comfort zone — the backcountry. We passed nearly twenty hikers going out warning of the incoming weather, but we assured them we were well aware and prepared. We made it to camp by 7 pm, thankful that the rain had held off this long first day.
We were grateful for the shelter of our hut when we woke the following morning to pounding rain. This rain was relentless, and soon turned mountain streams into waterfalls and walking paths into small creeks. It poured so hard that wearing rain gear was next to useless and we spent most of our outdoor excursions in bathing suits to avoid soaking our gear. Regardless, the rain did offer us some luxuries as we took daily showers under the gathered water flowing out of the huts trough.
Along with this daily occurrence, we passed the time with long naps and repetitive card games. In desperation for some entertainment, we attempted a few hikes, but in the end, mother nature had her way and we were hut bound. As it turned out, the storm only lasted three days with rain levels reaching 890mm. This was a blessing, as one more day of rain carried the potential for a necessary chopper evacuation. Luckily for us, it cleared off just in time.
Day five of our hunt was calm, clear, and the first day we were able to get out and hunt. We woke up with high hopes and eager bodies, well-rested after the storm. Scarfing down a healthy amount of freeze-dried and instant coffee we were ready for a big day. The warm sun peeking through the last of the clouds was a welcomed sight and by 10 am we were out of our rain gear and had a nice 9.5” chamois buck in our sights.
As luck would have it, it couldn’t be that easy, the chamois left our sights and headed for the safety of the bush before ever offering a good shot. Nevertheless, spotting this beautiful buck was huge encouragement that we were in for a good day. We continued on hiking up the river to the next creek. We jumped the creek where we could and fought West Coast bush up the creek where we couldn’t. Eventually, we came to a spot that was next to impossible to cross, the only way to continue up was too risky. The option offered to us was a jump across the creek right above a small drop. with heavy waters, a slip or misplaced foot threatened fatal results so we opted out and turned back disheartened.
By 5 pm we faced our last creek walk of the day. This third creek was more forgiving. My feet were soaked and my legs were powering out as we neared the top. The top of the creek opened up to a cliffy mountain face full of game where a group of twenty nannies fed at two hundred yards. We kept low and veered off the creek into the bush for cover. Jake was in the lead and upon cresting a small hill he threw off his pack and waved me up. He whispered for me to crawl ahead and line up on the chamois, “it’s just ahead” he said. I snuck low through the bush and stopped on a rock, searching one to two hundred yards out my eyes finally fixed on some moving grass only fifteen yards in front of me! I lined up and waited for the bedded chamois to stand.
The moment he stood the gun cracked and he bounced forward, I reloaded and shot again before he disappeared out of sight. The second shot dropped him, though the first shot would have been all I needed. The excitement was high as my hands shook and the adrenaline raced through me. I couldn’t believe the beauty and elegance of these animals. This buck ended up going 10” on both horns, an absolutely astounding trophy and without question we took the whole skin for a full-body mount. We quickly cut up the quarters and packed up to get down the creek before nightfall. We got back to camp around 10 pm, our once quiet camp (through the rain) was now bustling full of tourists. I sat down and wrung out my socks and insoles, not long after we were dead asleep in bed.
The following morning we cooked up some fresh chamois backstrap and freeze-dried eggs for breakfast, a welcomed treat. Spencer and I headed out for a morning hunt one way while the rest of the crew went different directions. We hiked up a creek after a chamois but ended up sitting seventy yards from some young tahr grazing instead — the chamois never made an appearance. We proceeded in the afternoon with a group hunt up a creek from the first day. It wasn’t long up the creek when Spencer spotted movement in the bush, a big old doe grazed in the bush unaware. With one crack from the rifle, we had the second chamois of the hunt on the ground, a beautiful trophy. We packed up the cape and the meat in our packs and headed home to the hut, calling it an early night. The hut was so filled up with tourists this night that we had to move our stuff outside under a big overhanging rock where we spent the night fighting the mosquitos and sand flies, though luckily I was tired enough that sleep was not hard to come by.
Unfortunately, Jake and Shay had to hike out the following day as Jake was having some major problems with his Achilles’ tendons. Spencer, Tanar, Bill and I continued on the following two days looking for game to hunt with the bow. We passed on a few young chamois and tahr and aimed our focus on one very impressive old bull tahr, but he had his way and sent us home empty-handed in the end.
On the final day, we hiked out the 20km with tired bodies and full packs. Nevertheless, we nearly cut our hike time in half compared to our venture in. Although we looked forward to the hearty meal and warm showers to come, I couldn’t help but think back. This was a hunt of a lifetime. I wish my words could do more justice to the memories I have, but as anyone who has spent time in the mountains knows, they never quite can. All I know is, this will be one of those unforgettable hunts that will be calling me back for years to come. Finally, I wish to thank Southern Summit Hunts & everybody that helped make it happen.