“You’re three meters high!” exclaimed Stacey Thorburn, my Kiwi guide, as shards flew from a rock sitting above the bull tahr.
“What the &$%#’s a meter?”
Any sense of metric conversion was thrown completely out the window in my frustration. I threw the bolt back and loaded another round into the chamber.
The bull hadn’t spooked, but he climbed a few feet before turning broadside to stare in our direction. I took a deep breath. The tahr’s dark wooly coat filled my scope. A gentle squeeze, and again the rock exploded directly above him.
The King of the Mountain
The jig was up. We watched as the bull followed his spooked harem over the mountain, never to be seen again.
We were situated against a rock face, high above the cloud line. My elbows dug into a sharp boulder I had used as a shooting rest, and we burrowed our boots into the loose shale to keep from rolling down the mountainside. Our adventure had started at the base of the mountain, in the grey predawn hours. As the sun peeked above the horizon, the black round figures of a group of tahr appeared in our binos, moving slowly along the mountains above us.
Tahr, even-toed ungulates known for their thick woolly coats, impressive manes, and curved horns, thrive in rocky alpine areas. They roam the highest peaks and dwell on the rugged bluffs of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, overseeing the terrain far below them with keen eyes. For a chance at a bull tahr, hunters must undertake a journey that tests their mental and physical capabilities.
And this is where I found myself, standing on a mountain in New Zealand, mentally and physically discouraged. After climbing close to 4,000 vertical feet before lunch, I wobbled on weary legs. The base of the mountain was no longer visible—we had breached a thick layer of white clouds that had hidden blue skies as far as the eye could see. The sun now blazed against the back of our necks. I stared dumbfounded at where the bull had stood. What had happened?
After multiple missed shots at a lone rock 100 yards away, we determined the trek up the mountain had gotten the best of my riflescope.
“We’ll hike back down and get another rifle,” Stacey suggested.
Defeat crept into my mind. Hours of effort had been in vain. Hiking down and back up in one day would be physically impossible.
And that’s when I noticed it.
The top turret of my scope no longer sat in the zeroed position. While I crawled over loose scree and fractured buttes, the turret had accidentally been turned. In my haste to take the bull, I had failed to double-check my equipment.
As I turned the dial counter clockwise, the locking mechanism clicked back to zero. My confidence returned, and I shouldered my pack and started the trek for a tahr again.
We found ourselves pinned against a rock wall with little to no handholds as we slowly inched our way around. Each step was treacherous, and I was sweating, both from exertion and fear.
As I reached for a hold, a dark figure caught my eye as he appeared at the mountain peak a thousand feet above us. His massive body was silhouetted against the blue sky, and he stared down the mountain, as if challenging us to climb to him.
He had our full attention as we labored past the rock wall, discussing a plan of attack. Instead of heading straight for him, we would hike our way deep into a shadowed crevice and hope to close the distance without being noticed.
Moving quickly, we made our way around a rock face, only to be stopped by the sight of several bulls grazing on snowy tussocks on an adjacent mountainside. No more than 300 yards from us, their shaggy manes glowed in the afternoon sun. We had stumbled into a bachelor group of tahr.
Miraculously, they hadn’t noticed us. Using the mountain to our advantage, we hopped between large boulders to make our way closer to a tahr that stood apart from the group. A tall rock formation, just 200 yards below the bull, was our final opportunity for concealment.
My heart was racing as I wrapped the rifle’s sling around my elbow and balanced the forend on a boulder. My shot placement had to be perfect to quickly bring down this bull. Stacey had warned me to prepare for a quick follow-up as adrenaline enables tahr to run long distances even after they’ve been shot through the vitals.
Keeping the magnification down in anticipation of him running after the shot, I found the bull in my scope. Slowly exhaling, I squeezed the trigger.
The sound of bullet hitting hide reverberated across the mountain. The bull absorbed its full impact, and I watched through my scope as it rolled a few hundred feet down the mountainside before coming to rest.
Now adrenaline masked my exhaustion as I climbed to the tahr. Its striking mane and massive curved horns were even more impressive up close. But the bull was more than just a notched tag. I had climbed close to 6,000 feet in one day and had overcome adversity to take my first tahr. And now I had a mountain to climb down with this king strapped to my pack.