I had been awake for what seemed like hours when the early alarm finally went off. The drive to the West Coast flew buy as Dan and I talked about what might be in store for us over the next week. We pulled into the Wanganui River car park where we were meeting the chopper to find another few party’s also waiting for a pick up. We got chatting to a couple of guys that had spent a lot of time hunting the West Coast, they’d had our block the previous year and the info they were giving us was extremely helpful.
The chopper arrived back and it was our turn to load up. The flight up the valley was stunning and as we turned around the corner also quite overwhelming with the massive steep faces looming. Camp was set up as quickly as possible so we could get out for an afternoon hunt. A handy creek just across the valley looked very promising, so we set off to explore the area. It didn’t take us long to realise that everything you wanted to do would take three times as long as you thought. If you thought it would take you half an hour to get somewhere you would be there in an hour and a half. Everything was BIG; huge boulders, deep creek guts and the west coast scrub was horrible. Neither of us had hunted the West Coast before and we had been warned about the scrub but man it is tough and slow going through that stuff. We finally pushed through the bush line and came out into a massive open valley, the sun was shining and the evening clam. We parked up and had a good glass around, spotting several hairy bulls high up in the bluff systems but nothing worth chasing. We were both being very picky and the mission was on for wall hanger bulls and nothing less.
The day started to peter out so we thought we better wander back, but it wasn’t too long before it was pitch black. Out came the head torches and we picked our way through the scrub for a very dodgy decent. A few times we found ourselves looking over waterfalls and thinking “where the hell did we go on the way up”?
Once we were safely in the riverbed we came to an agreement that in future if it was a bit tricky getting up we would try to get out before dark, it’s not like Canterbury where you can trot down a shingle slide to the valley floor.
The next morning we woke to an awesome frost and clear blue skies. With lunch in the day packs we hiked off downstream then climbed into another big side valley. A few hours later we were out in the tops again, glassing for tahr. We searched high and low but unfortunately there was nothing much to be seen. By mid-afternoon it started raining, so we headed back to camp a little disappointed with the day.
Day three and the weather wasn’t too bad so we decided to climb up into the head-basin of the main valley. On our way we stopped to glass occasionally spotting some mediocre bulls here and there, then away in the distance I noticed a much bigger bodied animal. He looked like a ripper so we decided to close the gap and see if we could get into a shooting position. As we made our way up another bull spooked off beside us, a quick glance suggested he didn’t look that big, so we carried on towards the big fella. Eventually we got to a good position and peeked around the rocks to confirm that the bull was still there. All was going to plan, the bull stood broadside, Dan ranged the shot and I had a good rest and was good to go. Just as I was about to squeeze the trigger there was a whistle from the rocks above. “Woah” Dan said as he spotted another bull. I raised the bolt and pulled out the binos so we could have a decent look at him. It was actually the same bull we spooked earlier on but we’d underestimated his size and as he stared down from above the curve of his horns looked real nice. Dan reckoned he was going to take a shot at him and started to get into position. I got back behind my rifle and refocused on the big bodied bull. “You go for it Dan, I’ll try and drop this one just after you shoot yours”. I waited patiently for Dan’s shot, it was pretty exciting having both of us lined up on decent bull tahr at the same time. “BOOM”, Dan fired and immediately I let rip as well. Both bulls tipped over while the hills were still echoing the double shot combo.
We were both stoked with what had just happened, it worked perfectly, two bulls at the same time! We made our way up to Dan’s bull which had fallen into an easy spot to recover. Dan pulled out the tape and it came through as a really nice 13 incher. “If this one is 13 then yours will be better as he looked to be twice the body size”, reckoned Dan . I made my way down through the gully and across to the other face to retrieve my bull. Once again what looked to be an easy walk soon become a very difficult and long recovery. After a bit of bashing and boulder climbing, I finally made it up to my fella and I was very disappointed. The big bodied bull only had 11inch horns with a broken tip on one side, but I decided to cape him out anyway as he was my first West Coast bull.
I made my way back to Dan who had now finished capping out his animal and we started the slow walk home. On the way we were chatting about how deceiving the size of some of the bulls were, they really didn’t have to be massive in body size to measure out well in horn length. Half way back to camp we spotted a really nice looking bull at 430 yards. He was in a bad place for a recovery so we sat and waited for him to move onto a big smooth slab of rock, which looked like he would slide down from if shot. Again the plan came together and as he stopped on the slab I took aim and dropped him. My mate Ferg has been reloading my 7mm ammo for me and the Barnes TTSX worked a treat. The bull slid a wee way but unfortunately got hung up on a little ledge, another disappointment for me!
We carried on down to camp and by now the weather had really taken a turn for the worse and really packed it in. The rain was so heavy we could leave our billy outside and it would be fill with water each hour for another brew.
That night, sleep was hard earned as the rain on the tent was so loud, it sounded like there was a fire hose on us all night. At 2am that morning we heard some unusual flapping from our fly. We got up to find it torn to bits, we packed it down as best we could, threw it over our gear and chucked a few rocks on it until the morning. The rain was relentless, luckily the only dry spot on the campsite was where our tent was but even still the damp air was starting to get into our sleeping bags and gear. The next morning we managed to resurrect some of our fly and we need it too as camp is where we stayed for the next two days with clouds hanging low in the valley’s and very poor visibility.
A couple of nights later the temperature really dropped and things went quiet. During the early hours of morning I was woken by a strange slipping sound. It took me a while to work out what it was but I finally realised it was snow sliding down the side of the tent. I got out of bed and found there was 8-10inches of fluffy dry snow packed around our camp. I got the billy brewing and informed Dan on what was happening outside. We had planned to climb out above camp as we’d been seeing good numbers of animals up there, but with a heavy dump of fresh snow that was going to be very difficult. The plan was changed to stay in the valley and walking along the edge of the river in the hope that all the bad weather may have pushed the animals down low. As we were making our way up the river a bull tahr walked out of the scrub and across a slip just above us. He stuck out with his big dark coat contrasting with the snow. We had a quick look at him and realised he was a taker. There was so much bush on the face surrounding the bull so there was a mad rush to get into a shooting position before he disappeared back into the scrub. I quickly leaned on over a rock and Dan gave me a range of 220 yards, this was perfect for me as my rifle was zeroed at 200. I fired, a relatively easy shot and the bull went down into the snow. I was unsure on just how big he was, so the anticipation of seeing what I had got was growing with every step I climbed closer to his body. When I finally got to him he was upside down in the snow and I couldn’t see any horns. I reached under him and lifted the head, it was then I immediately realised that I had scored a ripper. I took the tape from my top pocket and lay it across the top of his horns. The first 10inches of tape seemed to go nowhere finally it measured out at 14.5 inches. I got on the radio and said to Dan “mate he’s a ripper – 14.5 ye ha”.
Dan came up and helped me cape the bull out and we made our way back to camp which was only half an hour away. As we boiled up a brew I couldn’t help but constantly looking over my awesome bull tahr, a trophy of a life time for me. That afternoon we went back out and realised that there were a lot more animals in the scrub than we had thought, but unfortunately they were either too small or in poor positions to recover.
Back at camp that evening we had a few beers and talked about how much of an awesome trip we were having, and how we had both managed to come away with wall mounts. The next day we were due to fly out at 9am but unfortunately the weather didn’t play ball. We had the whole camp packed up and ready to go and sat around most of the day. Once 4:30 rolled around we decided the chopper wasn’t going to make it in today so we reinstalled the sodden tent and settled down for another damp cold night. Early the next morning on our 8th day the chopper turned up to our relief. The helicopter ride back was very scenic with all the snow around and watching those magnificent hills go by was a great way to reflect on how lucky we both had been to be able to have such an awesome experience in the Adams Wilderness Area.