Outfitter Critique: Comments on a Free-Range Tahr and Chamois Hunt in New Zealand
By Brian Gooding
Subscriber Brian Gooding filed a recent Hunt Report (8923) on a free-range hunt in New Zealand for tahr and chamois with Donald Bray of Lilydale Wilderness Hunting. Here are some comments he shares about that hunt:
"Donald Bray owns a vast chunk of land that includes his sheep and cattle ranch AND the mountain range where the tahr and Arapawa sheep live. He has an exclusive lease on another mountainous property for chamois, and other leases for a variety of other game. Both tahr and chamois were in the rut so there was a lot of activity.
"The chamois country was pretty thoroughly covered with low but thick and frequently sharp-pointed vegetation. The tahr range was similar, but rockier, probably because of higher elevation. (Maximum was maybe 6,500 feet.) The tussock grass was so tough that I could grab a handful and trust it to hold while I hauled myself up the steepest sections. I borrowed an old-fashioned wooden hiking staff from Donald - you hold it horizontally, push it against the slope, and lean on it. Telescoping aluminum staffs would bend (permanently) pretty easily.
"I elected to go high in steep country to try to improve my odds of finding a big tahr bull and had a long day of it. I didn't get down until after dark. It was well worth it! I saw a variety of tahr along the way, including bulls in butting contests. The bull I eventually shot was mounting a female while another big bull was using his horns to try to scrape him off.
"I had the unexpected benefit of two guides for most of my hunt. Stu Marr had been guiding a previous client of Donald's, and Donald asked him to stay on as he expected to have to excuse himself for some farm responsibilities. Obviously not a normal circumstance. We were based in an older ski lodge part way up in the mountains. There was a generator for electricity and a big oil stove for heat in the main room (lounge/dining/kitchen area). Individual bunk rooms were unheated once the generator was off, but a sleeping bag worked fine. Hot showers were available across the hall.
"The New Zealand Police website has a form for the firearm import permit that you can fill out and email to them before you leave. They had it waiting for me at the airport and simply checked the rifle's serial number and collected $25 NZ. Because there were two airlines involved (even though they were code-sharing partners) I had to collect my luggage in LA, walk to the international terminal (fortunately nearby) and check my bag and rifle in again at the regular Qantas counter. I had scheduled a layover of about four hours, so I had plenty of time. (Editor Note: See our past coverage about US airlines that will not transfer firearms to a second carrier.) I also had a copy of my email from Qantas approving my ammunition. I recommend contacting a NZ taxidermist before your trip so you know what your options are and what to expect for costs. Donald can give you a few names.
"Overall, this is a great mountain hunt in beautiful but rugged terrain."
Postscript: We have two other hunt reports on file (6179 and 2932) for this outfitter and two past articles (1156, 857) about his services.
In a 2007 hunt report (6179), subscriber Sheldon Cieslak had the following to say about his hunt with Lillydale Wilderness Hunting: "This hunt ranks up there with Namibia, and I am trying to figure out how to get back as soon as possible. The guides were real good and patient with a 49-year-old man born and raised at 3,000 feet on flat land. This is a real hunt. The proper attitude is the main thing to make this successful.
"If we weren't hunting we were traveling somewhere to hunt. I hunted with Donald Bray and Gary Oaks. These two men are great guides and great people. We also had a third guide most of the time, Donald's son Justin Bray, and although his twin brother Rollin could not be with us I am sure he would have done just fine.
"A lot of the meals were prepared by Donald's lovely wife Barbara, and they were excellent. If any one would like more information feel free to contact me. I am not a booking agent nor am I receiving any compensation from these men whatsoever, so I have no reason not to be honest."
And subscriber George Madsen wrote in his 2002 Hunt Report (2932): "In the December 2001 issue you published an article describing tahr hunting in New Zealand with Donald Bray. The last two weeks in May and the first few days in June of this year, I hunted with Mr. Bray (and others as described below), and the experience was just superb.
"At the outset I want to observe that in the prologue of your article you described the hunting as "fair chase . . . for the serious hunter prepared to do lots of climbing on foot." This is an accurate description of the tahr hunt with Donald Bray. This is not a hunt in a "Safari Park", but is a fair chase hunt in the true sense of the term, as were the fallow deer and red stag hunts described below. In the same edition as you described the Bray hunt, one of your subscribers complained that a hunt he purchased for New Zealand was not a fair chase hunt. Your readers should carefully review information furnished by New Zealand outfitters as to the nature of their hunts, because based on conversations I had with several people in New Zealand, many of these hunts are not what the average US hunter would regard as fair chase.
"Because the airfare to New Zealand was about $1,500 (all figures given will be in US dollars), I explained to Donald Bray that I would not want to spend that kind of money and time to hunt only tahr. Donald arranged for me to hunt fallow deer and red stag, both strictly fair chase hunts.
"Bray picked me up at my motel, and we drove to Fairlie where I met Steve and Jenny Crone with whom I would be staying during the tahr hunt. (Jenny was an elegant cook offering far more food than the hungriest hunter could eat.) Later Bray took me out to test fire the rifles, and thereafter we drove to the area where we would be hunting and climbed a goodly distance. Bray spotted a tahr, which he estimated to be one of the better tahr available on the farm, called a "station." Bear in mind Bray's farm consists of about 12,500 acres, of which about 10,500 acres is rugged and high. Because of the altitude at which the bull was spotted, we estimated it would take two hours to get into range, and there would be no chance of taking the bull and descending in daylight. I did not want to descend in the dark, so we passed on that bull.
"The next morning we climbed a different mountain and spotted a good bull, unfortunately surrounded by several females who acted as watch dogs. We decided to move down the mountain out of the vision of the bull and climb back to a spot where we would be closer with some cover. We climbed within 240 yards of the bull and hoped he would move to where a shot could be taken. The bull moved but unfortunately was screened by females. Finally, he presented himself with a female slightly below him and Bray suggested I take the 240-yard shot, shooting over the female, which I did. The bull traveled 70 to 90 yards after being hit. The bull was excellent, scoring 40.5 (Douglas) with 11.5-inch horns.
"Because I allowed four days for tahr hunting, I had free time to do some sightseeing. Bray, and his wife Barbara, took me to see a rugby game at Timaru where their sons attended boarding school and played on the rugby team. It was a rainy day. Before leaving for Timaru, Steve Crone, took me to watch his dog round up sheep and cattle that were to be marketed. I had never seen dogs herd sheep or cattle, and it was a fascinating experience. The next day the Brays took me to Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand. It rained buckets all day (it would have been impossible to hunt), and we never saw the mountain, which was shrouded in clouds, fog and rain. We went through the small visitor's center at the base of mountain and enjoyed a delightful lunch.
"The following day Bray took me to Fairlie where I met Phil McCabe of Mackenzie County Hunting Guides for the fallow deer hunt. Unfortunately, for the next three days the weather did not cooperate. Winds were extremely strong, gusting at times to 45 knots, and the animals took to cover. We hunted on a farm 10 miles square. The terrain was not mountainous, but consisted of very high hills, cut by streams and gullies. The next to the last day we spotted an excellent buck in the early afternoon, but the range was 320 yards and winds were a gusty 35 to 40 knots. Phil did not want the shot to be taken, explaining that we would return in the early evening and get a closer shot.
"We did return and spotted the buck through the spotting scope at a distance (with a couple of other bucks and females) and proceeded to give pursuit. When we reached the vantage place where we thought we would have a shot, no animals were to be seen. Finally, Phil scouted and found the animals, and we tried to get close for a shot. We set up for the shot, but it was so dark I could not see the buck, but was able to see another which Phil cautioned me was not worth taking. The group soon left, and we tried to follow, but gave up because of darkness. The next day we spotted the same group and climbed to a vantage point, but on arrival saw a buck running at high speed away from us. We pursued and finally were able to spot a buck down in the brush at a range of 220 yards. We waited a couple of hours for the buck to present a shot. The buck took a few steps before falling. Unfortunately, he was not the buck we had spotted, but was a very representative trophy.
"The following day, Bray took me to Christchurch where we met Donald Cameron. Cameron farms about 4,000 acres of very high county near the northerly tip of the South Island. The drive to Kaikoura was scenic, and the town along the sea with its green-blue waters was the stuff postcards are made of. On reaching Cameron's farm home, we transferred my gear to a four-wheeler for a half-hour trip to the mountain cabin that would be our base for hunting red stag. The next day we hunted but saw no stags. After dinner, Cameron set up the spotting scope in the front of the cabin and saw several stags, one of which was worth pursuing. The next day, we climbed down the mountain to reach a point where we could ascend out of the sight of the stag. By the time we reached the spot where we thought we could get a shot, the stag was gone. We traversed the mountain toward the area where we guessed the stag had moved and finally spotted him, but far out of range. We descended the mountain to secure a screen and climbed back up to where we hoped the stag would be. We got to within 180 yards, and Cameron suggested I better shoot even though the stag was moving up the mountain exposing only his hind quarters and a little of his left side. The shot broke the left tibia, entered the body cavity, destroying the right lung, and stopped inside the hide above the right front shoulder. Nosler should be proud of its 150 grain 270 partition - it did an excellent job.
"The next day Cameron took me back to the Commodore Hotel at Christchurch, where I spent several days sightseeing. The Antarctica Center and the Air Force Museum are worth seeing. I also took tours of the city and one to the environs. Anyone taking this trip should secure their own medical insurance, which will cover them in New Zealand. Materials received with the hunting license contains a notice that no medical care is provided by the New Zealand Government.
"The total cost of the trip was about $6,155, plus $1,500 airfare. These prices do not include the price of shipping the trophies to the US, but includes all taxidermy prep in New Zealand. This is a truly reasonable price, particularly when I had the opportunity of hunting with the owners of the land where I hunted tahr and red stag. Air freight from New Zealand and related US charges were $859. It would be worth exploring the cost of having the taxidermy work done in New Zealand and having the mounts shipped directly to the hunter. Last year I had a chamois half-body mount done in France, and the cost delivered to my door was $400. A word of caution - the New Zealand dollar has increased in value against the US dollar, so hunters looking for the same prices will find a slight increase.
"I would recommend hunting with these three men to anybody prepared for the conditioning required. I would compare the conditioning similar to what I needed in hunting Dall sheep in Alaska and mountain goat in Canada. It's not easy hunting. The animals I saw were not "record breakers," but the total experience was of the highest caliber. For those in better physical condition than I, and able to do the necessary climbing, I'm told the big trophies are there. The Hunting Report is to be commended for bringing this opportunity to the attention of its readers."