Its May, the Chamois coats have thickened and darkened, the bucks scent glands are bulging up behind the base of their horns and the does are coming into season.
The bucks become very active and wander around searching for ladies and this makes May a great month to try and secure a good trophy Chamois. Ryan Carr (The Ferret) and I picked a weekend of fine weather and set off on a two night fly camping mission to see if we could join in on the rutting action. Well not so much “join in”, just watching the show would be enough for us. Both of us had shot 10 inch plus chamois bucks in the past so we were not planning to pull the trigger on anything less than double figures.
The area we had chosen in Canterbury was a plan B spot as swollen rivers hindered access to plan A. I had seen some chamois in the region while pig hunting with the dogs a month earlier so hopes were high that there might be a few about.
In mid-afternoon we parked the ute, stuffed our packs with the bare essentials and hit the slopes. Initially we had to bust through a band of thick manuka which then opened up to grassy faces dotted with scrub, wild pig country! Both Ferret and I had left our pig dogs at home to focus solely on Chamois so the fresh pig digging we were walking past left a fairly bitter taste. “Pig poo on the brain” they call it, a terrible affliction really. At the first saddle we stopped for a glass with the bino’s and soon spotted a silvery blue pig on a nearby grassy clearing. And what a pig he was, a ripper of a boar with tusks protruding from his face as he rubbed up a manuka tree and dug a hole in the soil. Being purist dog hunters there were no thoughts of taking a shot at this boar, we just watched him for a while, shouldered our packs and resumed our massive hill climb.
We pushed up through the hebe scrub belt into the gravel scree and tussock before sidling around just off the main ridge. This is a good way to see down into the steep faces below you as you tend to miss a lot of good spots when you stay high on the crest of the ridge. The next wild beast we spotted was a not a chamois either it was a red deer hind, she had seen us but wasn’t particularly upset with our presence. We noticed that the hind kept looking down into a gut below her so we focused the binos on this area and there he was. The first Chamois of the trip was found, it was a buck too and he was sitting down mostly obscured by tussock grasses and scrub. Once he stood up it became obvious this was a mature buck so we focused in on the quality of his horns. Fortunately for the buck he wasn’t quiet there, lacking in hook curve which would pull him up on length. We estimated about 9 ½ inches. More movement above the buck caught our attention as a group of chamois doe’s and yearlings made their way up the face and eventually out of view, they must have picked up a whiff of our scent, but the buck stayed behind and didn’t panic at all. We filmed him as he slowly sidled around through the rocks and out of view.
We climbed higher onto the ridge before sidling back into the same valley system a bit further up. By now the shadows were rising up the gully and it was time to start looking for a suitable spot to camp the night. Finding flat ground is easier said than done when you are in the steep mountain terrain and the main ridge was not appealing as it was very exposed to the wind. We spotted a tiny shingle saddle between two creek guts down below, a supply of water, sheltered and enough flat ground for a couple of bivies so that would be us. The only con was that we would have to lose a bit of hard won altitude, but it would be a fairly dry cup of tea without water so descending was the only option. I zoomed the camera in on the spot and didn’t realize until after the hunt that there was actually a chamois buck standing right on the little saddle we intended to camp. It seemed obvious on the footage so it just shows how little you really see with the binoculars.
We wandered down casually and suddenly this buck popped out from right under our feet. The rifles were quickly readied and a quick assessment was made, not a shooter. We then figured it was actually the same buck we’d seen a couple of hours before, or perhaps his identical twin? Either way the buck wasn’t very alarmed by us at all. It is a pretty cool sensation to be in a spot where the animals don’t seem too disturbed, it makes for a relaxing hunt, if you can call climbing mountains relaxing.
The bivvy camps were soon set up and the jet boil hissing away. The calm evening promised a fine day for us tomorrow and sleep came easy, even with a rock digging into your ribs.
So much for promises, the morning was dead calm but we were blanketed in thick fog. We couldn’t see 20 meters and we didn’t want to just walk blind right through the head basin as we would spook out all the creatures and ruin the hunting. The plan was to sit it out knowing the sun would eventually burn it off, it was a boring plan but we knew we were in a good spot. The fog cleared below us briefly and we soon spotted our old mate the chamois buck again. There was no way he was going to leave on account of these humans that had moved in.
We climbed a bit further around to see into a new gut and bumped into another chamois buck as we went. This fella came running right in to get a look at us and then hung around snorting and posturing from 30 meters away. He was very young and keen but we didn’t want to know about him and passed by. The fog thickened again so we sat down for another couple of hours, boring! A few brief views showed up a couple of deer mooching about but otherwise it was just sit and wait.
Finally the sun bust through at about 11:30 am just in time for the animals to start bedding down for the heat of the day, so now we had all the view and nothing to look at! We managed to spot a few deer lying down and a large pig digging in the gravel at about 1800 meters above sea level, way above the bush line.
By mid-afternoon we decided to cross over a saddle at the head of the basin and look into new country. It didn’t take long to find a mob of chamois on the colder face down the other side. They were a long way down so we dumped our packs and made a mark on the GPS in case the fog rolled back in. With a knife, rifle and camera down we went, with hopes of a good mature buck hanging about the group. Once within rifle range we settled in to some glassing, but sadly the two bucks we saw in the mob were also too small.
It was great to get amongst plenty of animals but now it was getting late and we had a decent climb back out. We grabbed the packs and crossed back over the top ridge to make camp in the same valley as the previous night but on the opposite face in fresh territory. Nothing much was seen as the evening closed in and we were set for another 12 hours lying on the stones waiting for day break.
We were packed up before dawn with plans for a big day of hunting in the next catchment before trekking out to the ute. It was clear and calm with no fog, you couldn’t ask for a better day to be on a mountain in late autumn. Ferret left his pack and took his binoculars over the rise to catch a good view as the day light broke through. I was finishing off my packing when I noticed a couple of chamois in a gut only a hundred meters from our camp site. I got a bit excited thinking there might be a buck about and raced over the rocky outcrop to let the Ferret know. Big mistake, there he was squatted down releasing a brown trout! I quickly departed the scene and got back to chamois spotting, there was a buck nearby but again he was too small for us to have a go at. We moved on towards some very steep bluffy country and soon found 3 more chamois; again the buck was not what we were after.
Crossing into the next catchment opened up a view into some magnificent basins, we spotted some wild pigs in the distance but not much else. We decided to focus around the big bluffs and weaved our way through the rocky out crops passing by the occasional young chamois along the way. We walked right in to a doe who had twin calves at foot. All of them looked in healthy condition but there was something strange about the way they walked. They seemed to be constantly sniffing the ground and moving very cautiously and I initially wondered if the doe was following the scent trail of a buck. Looking through the camera LCD screen you could see a blue tinge to their eyes and a lot of weeping down the face. They were infected with a fungal disease commonly referred to as pink eye, so they were mostly blind. You could be tempted to shoot such animals to put them out of their misery, however they can recover from pink eye and because they were otherwise very healthy we left them alone. Great to see Chamois does raising twins to so it was a neat encounter.
The sun was now beating down and it was time for us to cover a few miles as we had a long way to hike back out and some mean looking bluffs to negotiate along the way. By around 2 pm we had made it to a nice patch of beech forest just below the last big saddle we had to cross before dropping down into the main valley. The shadows were forming on the cold faces and we spotted some more chamois starting to move about and graze. The wind was perfect coming across from the chamois towards an easy ridge for us to access so we quickly closed the gap and found a vantage point to look over the area.
There seemed to be about a dozen chamois poking about, we saw them crossing through small slips between the beech forest cover. Then things really started to stir up! A buck popped out onto the slip only a hundred meters away, his tongue was poking out and long dark hair was standing erect along his spine. He was panting and looked to be in a grumpy mood. Another buck appeared lower down, he was also panting, had some blood around his mouth and was looking up towards the fella on the slip. He gave out a low guttural grunt and powered off up the hill ready for a scrap. Another smaller buck showed up looking pretty knackered and beaten.
This one was playing complete avoidance and tried to hide himself on a steep scrubby face.
The two larger bucks closed in on each other but took to the cover of the beech trees so we could only imagine the scene with all the grunting and cracking of branches going on. They kept popping back out separately and running back in it was a very strange display to witness. Eventually the smaller buck was found in his hiding place and chased out, he was doing his best to stay well clear of the bullies. One of the bullies looked up and noticed us watching, he decided we needed to be chased off as well and came racing around the shingle towards us.
He went out of view in the rocks below but then popped up just above us only 7 meters away, gave his best menacing look and then raced back towards his main rival again.
I had never seen Chamois acting like this in a group before, usually just solo bucks, so this experience made the entire trip worth-while.
Sadly we had to keep moving as our time was up. The walk out was uneventful but the bones were starting to wear a bit so I was pleased to finally dump the pack beside the ute. And that big heavy bang stick I had dragged around the mountains for two days was no use what so ever, but there is always a chance of bumping into the monster buck and it’s pretty hard to get one of them with a big rock.