Heading back to uni meant a freezer full of meat was again a top priority. One of life’s most tradeable necessities is meat, especially when you have broke flatmates who are good cooks!
The earthquake held up processions of both my university course commencing and filling up the freezer with a bit of game, but I can’t complain as my life and family got through quite unscathed compared to many others. Unsurprisingly Christchurch was a depressing place to be, so after volunteering in some of the worst hit suburbs, my mate Tom and I decided to get away from the gloomy reality our home city was facing and head west to find a chamois for the freezer. Anytime before March I wouldn’t shoot a doe (the best eating!), as the young aren’t big enough to fend for themselves, but from March onwards they are, much like a red deer.
Arriving in South Westland is always special, but this time was much more so. No earthquakes, no stress and a great forecast to look forward to! We set up camp in one of my usual haunts, keen for the morning to arrive. For Tom the prospect of his first chamois was an exciting one. On our first hunt together Tom had shot his first tahr and had a good but failed crack at getting a chamois. This time he was keen to settle the score a bit more.
Morning dawned with a frost. Though it was only a light one, we reckoned it was supposed to still be summer and with the prospect of a creek crossing only minutes walk from the car we were both a little grumpy. Just over the other side of the creek, we were met with plenty of animal sign. A deer was on the cards and the locals we’d spoken to said there’d been a few floating about. Sneaking around a bush with his eyes up the clearing ahead, keen to spot a freezer filler, Tom got the fright of his life when a chamois leapt out from the other side of the same bush, less than a metre away. There was no opportunity for a shot, but the signs were all there that the day was going to be a producer!
The next shingle clearing in the creek, where I have seen Chamois numerous times before, didn’t let us down. A young chamois looked down the creek at us; a yearling. We were only a kilometre from the car, so over it went with a boom from my 30.06.
As we walked over, I mentioned to Tom to keep his eyes peeled for more, but nothing presented itself until we were standing over the body of my “young’un”. Only 20 yards away a doe with no horns stepped out of the scrub. With a quick work of the action of his .270, Tom was lined up on what was about to become his first chamois.
After the shot, a whole mob of chamois erupted out of the bush the doe had stepped from, but we had a couple so left the near on impossible to hit darting animals for next time. Upon inspection, Tom’s cham was an old girl who’d suffered horn rot and also had problems with her eye; all the same Tom, was pretty happy he’d downed his first.
We sorted the animals, and hid them from the sun and flies before heading further upstream.
Not much further up the creek we came face to face with an old buck. He was obviously an older animal, big in body size and looked well matured. Only problem was he didn’t have any horns; West Coast horn rot had claimed them! The decision was left to let him be, as a mature buck isn’t as good to eat as does or younger animals, so we settled to watch it for about twenty minutes across the narrow creek as it fed.
Leaving the buck, we continued up to a slip I know well, where we sat and had lunch with a good view in case a chamois presented itself for our dinner. Nothing showed until we’d finished lunch and walked another 10 metres, where upon a lone yearling jumped out of the creek only 30 yards ahead of us. Quick, smart Tom had himself another chamois to take home. We figured we had enough meat to carry, so decided to head back down to our other animals, then back to the car. We dissected the two yearlings and put the meat in my pack, and Tom carried his doe out whole which a great way to make sure no meat is wasted! I reckoned that now the wind had changed to an anabatic upstream draft, we could hunt the last kilometre to the car inside the bush, in the hope of picking up a deer.
Sneaking down through the forest and its clearings, I was carrying my 30.06 on half bolt, Tom behind me carrying his chamois and an unloaded rifle. We carefully checked each piece of bush, as well as the clearings beneath, hopeful-but not expectant (as we’d walked not far from this route on the way up only a few hours beforehand). Sneaking around a fern tree, I stopped in my tracks. Ahead of me stood an animal slightly obscured from view but not alarmed. As we silently watched from about 20 yards it fed its way into a better view; a young chamois. More and more movement came into view as a mob of at least five animals fed oblivious to our presence. We were now only fifteen minutes walk from the car, so a nice fat doe looked very tempting. Furthermore, a past memory came to mind. When I first went to the coast a few years ago, I got talking to a local hunter. He was a keen man, and knew a lot about the area and the animals that lived in it, he pointed my friend Kurt and I into an area full of animals, but he did say, I’d never bush stalk a chamois.
“They’re far too alert and smart to bush hunt, not like a dumb deer.” He’d said. As this rang through my mind, I lifted my 30.06 and took my first bush stalked chamois, a nice plump doe with horns slightly over 8 inch; a personal trophy and memoir of the trip.
I gutted the animal before shouldering it and carrying it entire out to the car. A great day was then topped off with a visit to a friendly local farmer, before a trip to the pub. We met some more keen hunting locals who happily shared stories and also some interesting tourists who came back to our camp site to share their yarns and hear ours around a campfire before heading back to their backpackers. Morning dawned clear and fine as we packed the car and headed homeward, back to the earthquake reality. We had what we’d come for; plenty of meat for our student flats. The next day once we were back in Canterbury, a nice fat hind and her fawn got in the way of a couple of bullets just to finish our meat hunting trip off nicely. With the food supply sorted for now, I can concentrate…firstly on my new studies, but also a good stag for the roar followed by a buck for the rut!
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