Bowhunting in the Southern Alps

Few places on the planet hold the sheer beauty and wonder of New Zealand.

Known for its March red stag roaring season, New Zealand lures many bowhunters who travel “down under” for the chance to hunt the rutting reds. Imported to this remote English colony in the early 1900s, the European red deer have thrived in the manuka scrub and mild climate of these South Pacific islands.

But red deer weren’t the only animals the English brought to New Zealand. Wild, free-range sambar and rusa stags are also found here, as are sika deer, wild boar, feral goats, White-Tailed Deer and the mountain species of tahr and chamois.

I recently traveled to the Land of the Kiwi for a 10-day mountain safari with expert bowhunter Simon Bullivant. I met him at the Mathews Inc. archery dealer show in Wisconsin Dells, and after learning of his outfit I immediately booked my chance to bowhunt the tough-to-hunt tahr and chamois. Usually pursued on the steep slopes during the winter months of July and August, these animals move to mountain valleys during late February (late summer in New Zealand) and the bulls form bachelor groups. Bullivant takes only a limited number of spot-and-stalk bowhunters on his special mountain valley safari and operates the hunt much like a sheep adventure in Canada or Alaska.

After I flew into the beautiful hamlet of Queenstown, Bullivant’s crew met me at the airport and we started the 4-hour trip to the remote west coast. The drive is beautiful and winds through rugged mountains and over many cascading rivers. After arriving at the heliport, I stowed my gear in a Ferrari-like Hughes 500 helicopter, where the pilot then whisked me over mountain valleys, sheer cliffs and amazing 300-foot waterfalls.

Unlike most New Zealand heli hunts, my exhilarating chopper ride ended at a tented spike camp with Bullivant cooking lunch on a small propane burner.

“G-day Tom, and welcome to the coolest hunt you’ll ever do,” Bullivant said. “Let’s grab a bit of late breakie and then we can climb just above camp here and glass some chamois bucks I found yesterday.”

Bullivant is a DIY bowhunter. His safaris are conducted in public hunting blocks and organized at a time when conditions are optimum for archery success. His strong kiwi accent is full of bowhunting knowledge. As the 2012 winner of New Zealand’s “Bowhunter of the Year” award, he’s both guided as well bowhunted the island country from top to bottom. When he’s not hunting, Bullivant manages his time between taxidermy and teaching his 10-step “Shoot to Kill” archery class at Kevin and Carol Watson’s Advanced Archery bow shop in Auckland. I visited the small proshop and found it bustling with New Zealand bowhunters eager to tune their bows and pick up newly fletched arrows.

The Southern Alps are magnificent. During late February, chamois bucks sport a reddish coat, making the little goats easy to locate. Because of the coastal mountains, it’s common for low clouds and fog to roll in, which puts hunters above the clouds and adds to the mystery and difficulty of the hunt.

Chamois and tahr are often found in slightly different habitat. Chamois prefer grassy slopes and alpine, and tahr like the dense scrub found lower in the valleys. With both species in bachelor groups, we were scanning the steep slopes below for two or three animals, not the five or six animals that were often nannies and kids. One bonus to chamois hunting is that adult females often sport horns as large as their male counterparts, thus providing more target animals on the mountain (females are legal to harvest in New Zealand).

Only a couple of days into the hunt, we spotted a lone chamois feeding on a ridge about a half-mile from camp. The scenario was perfect because a stalk could be made on the back side of the ridge and the thermals would draft scent up and away.

Hustling the 400 yards up to the ridgeline, we skirted the back side, peeking over to check on the buck. As we waited on the chamois to feed closer, a cloud of fog washed over us, reducing our visibility to zero. Then, after the cloud passed, I spotted movement—a chamois was only 25 yards below us. My Mathews bow quickly sent a calling card in the form of a Gold Tip arrow and 2-blade Rage Xtreme. Chamois down!

Chamois are the tougher of the two New Zealand mountain species to obtain, and tagging out first and early on this trophy took away much of the pressure. Unlike chamois, which can be effectively hunted during most of the day, bull tahr leave the thick scrub only a few hours before dark. This made the final days of my safari a laid-back affair, similar to an afternoon-only black bear bowhunt.

Each afternoon we glassed from above and saw several stalkable bull tahr below us. Pursuing tahr is exciting because the muscular bulls weigh more than 300 pounds. Thankfully, Bullivant and I both shot tahr during the trip, and I left New Zealand feeling blessed.

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