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Rutting Chamois

With the roar slowly coming to the end and with the opening weekend of Duck shooting done and dusted it doesn’t take long for your mind to shift to alpine hunting. From mid-May the bucks will be with the nanny groups and with one thing on their mind they can sometimes let their guard down which can make for some entertaining hunting. I was catching up with a good mate Steve and we were talking about the roar when he mentioned that he would love to have a go at getting a Chamois for the wall, I don’t need much of an excuse to go hunting so a plan was hatched for a mid-May hunt on the coast for buck Chamois. This trip we decided we would fly to Hokitika then hire a rental car for the 2hr drive to Fox Glacier to save time as it’s a good 13hr drive otherwise from home. Over the next few weeks we kept a close eye on the weather and packed our gear ready for a chilly fly camping trip on the tops.

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With a couple of days to go before we headed south it looked like a cold front was about to washed itself up the South Island and dump the first real snow for the year meaning winter had well and truly arrived. After a quick chat with Steve and some phone calls made to the appropriate people our trip was put back 6 days to let the front push through. With the South Island taking a good dumping of snow over the next few days  it looked like we had made the right decision to wait and before we knew it the weather was on the improve and we on the plane heading south. Arriving in Hokitika in typical west coast rain we grabbed our car and headed for Fox Glacier arriving just before dark. After dropping our gear at the hanger we headed for a cold beer and a wonderful meal of fresh Blue Cod, afterwards we settled in for the night with anticipation of a clear morning the next day.

Waking to clear skies and a big frost on the ground, it was what we wanted to see as we pulled into the hanger to catch our chopper into the tops. With the chopper packed and warm hunting gear on we were off heading on our short but scenic flight to our designated landing spot. Before we knew it we were watching the chopper disappearing into the distance and we were standing in knee deep snow deciding where camp should be. Over the next hour we cleared an area for the tent and set up camp the best we could as the wind started to get up and wash a bitterly cold breeze down to camp. We put the billy on as we surveyed our surrounding as we hatched a plan for an afternoon hunt. It was going to be Steve’s turn first as we headed away from camp to watch a small area of scrub and tussock that I had seen nannies in before and who knows there could be a buck in residents!

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Settling in with the binos it didn’t take long to pick up a buck bedded down on a small rocky outcrop, down in the scrub and with further investigation with the spotter it confirmed he was around 9” with great hooks.  It was decided to close the gap to put Steve within shooting distance. Closing the distance wasn’t that easy with snow covered monkey scrub between him and us as he was facing towards us over the next gully. We carefully closed the gap and got to a small knob 300 odd yards away. As we peered over, the buck was looking straight at us and as he turned to move off the 243 rung out with a good shot to the shoulder. The buck soaked up the first one and Steve sent another one as he disappeared out of sight which also sounded like a good shot. Making our way down through the scrub and snow we could see a clear blood trail and at the edge of the scrub we could see the buck piled up, what a great start to the trip! Arriving at the buck we found a nice Chamois of 9” and with a beautiful winter cape, “this one’s going on the wall!” Steve said as we took photos and began caping him out. The weather began to close in and snow started to fall so it was back to camp, a hot meal and tucked down for the night as the wind really started to blow. There wasn’t much sleep through that night as both tents took a good beating and the temperature dropped well into the minuses.

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The following morning it wasn’t much use getting out of the sleeping bag as the wind was still blowing snow all over the place making it impossible to hunt, so it was around lunch time before we ventured out as the wind dropped off. Hunting all the likely spots nothing was seen as the wind cranked back up so we headed back to camp for a brew and to decide on another plan.  Arriving back at camp we were just in time to see my MSR carbon reflex surrender to the now howling wind and snap the centre pole which in turn sprung up, tore through the roof and laid it to rest. Steve and I looked at each other in complete shock as all of the contents of my tent were now exposed to the elements and we were down to one tent!

After a quick discussion we urgently packed up in the howling wind and headed for a scrubby face which could offer some protection from the now blizzard like conditions, we really needed to take care of the only tent we had for another two days. With a spot found and the tent now securely set up we settled in for the night,  throughout which we could hear the wind whistling over top of us, however we happily awoke the following morning to more placid conditions. Poking our heads out of the tent it was good to see that the wind had dropped off which meant that hunting was back on the cards for the day. First job of the day (as with most winter alpine mornings) was to boil water to melt the ice of our boots and laces so we could get them then on, then it was time for breakfast. While sitting outside the tent in the early morning sun, I happened to look up to my left and there looking in our direction was a nannie with a broken horn trying to figure out what exactly had moved into their territory.

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Steve mentioned he was keen on a skin for the floor, so very slowly I pulled the gun from the tent and took aim at her chest. With the recoil of the shot she disappeared out of view but I was confident of a clean kill. We both shared a laugh over our breakfast at how you wouldn’t get a much easier one then that. With breakfast finished we grabbed our gear and headed around to where the nannie was last standing, however nothing was there? I could see some clear tracks in the snow, so I started to head around the corner while Steve dropped down a bit lower to see if she had dropped of the small knob she was standing on. As I made my way around searching for the nannie, I came out on a big snow covered face. Looking across to the other side at about 400yrds was a buck with is nose to the ground like a dog following the nannie prints, he was heading my way. The bino’s confirmed he was a very good buck that should make the 10” mark and I needed to make something happen ASAP! Throwing the rifle over my day pack and settling in for the shot he was now 200yrds away but still hadn’t seen me. Closing the bolt I squeezed the trigger but nothing! “Shit!” “Was the safety off?” I asked myself, but no problems there? I lifted the bolt, closed it again but still nothing? Then I noticed Ice had formed behind the trigger, grabbing another projectile I quickly chipped out the ice and got back in position repeated the process and boom! The gun went off sending a warning shot clean over the bucks back! Not what I had intended.

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Upon hearing the shot he spun around and ran back out to 300yrds, stopping to look my way but still unsure of where danger exactly was. There was no way I was going to let a ripper like this get away, so I dialled my scope up, settled in for the shot  and with the 3rd time lucky bang of the rifle he hit the deck. I felt a huge sense of relief as I walked up to where he lay and took time to appreciate such a great animal and the environment I was in. Steve turned up; he had found the nannie and come around the corner to let me know and he had witnessed the whole proceedings. The buck was as good as I thought and measured out to 10” on the button so it was handshakes all round followed by photos, capping and butchering. We made our way back around to the nannie which had a fantastic winter coat so Steve set about the task of skinning it for a floor rug. What a morning we had just had! With two winter Chamois in the matter of a couple of hours, we headed back to camp for yet another brew and recollected on what had just happened. Hunting these unique little animals in the alpine environment really makes New Zealand such a special place to hunt. That afternoon we went and checked out a few other areas with nothing further seen, so the decision was made to fly out the next morning as we were more than content with what we had shot. A quick text to a mate was sent for an early pickup and the following morning with gear packed we climbed back up to the landing zone. While we waited for the chopper another buck gave his warning whistle and walked up and over the ridge right in front of us but he could keep for another day. In a timely fashion the Green 500 turned up to whisk us back to civilization and a hot shower, which was most welcome after a couple of freezing days in the wilderness.

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The trip was a short one to the coast but the outcome couldn’t have been much better with two trophies for the wall a fantastic skin for the floor and more fond memories of New Zealand’s outdoors.

Key notes for winter Chamois hunting

Always respect the elements conditions are very changeable in the mountains especially as winter takes hold.

Buy quality gear if you are looking to camp out, a quality tent is a must and a lot of three season’s tents are not up to NZ mountain conditions. Remember crampons and ice axe for the glacial parts.

Find nannies and you can guarantee if not at first present, a buck won’t be too far away, so be patient.

Specsavers might make reading easier but good optics also applies to alpine hunting. A good pair of reputable brand bino’s and spotting scope will make finding and assessing game that much easier.

Chamois are curious characters, ensuring the wind is in your favour is imperative however, if spotted quite often bucks will venture in to check you out.

Don’t forget that camera not just for the game you hunt but you’ll also encounter some truly amazing scenery up high.