Where is the best place to hunt tahr on foot in New Zealand? That's the question often discussed by Kiwi hunters over a backcountry cup of tea. There are a number of excellent properties, all with unique features that make them top hunting destinations. All have sizeable animal populations and quality trophy bulls. All are subject to relatively stable weather patterns and offer magnificent scenery. And all have terrain that a fit hunter can climb. The one extra point that would put one property a notch ahead of the rest would be accessibility.
On the East Coast of the South Island, one property in particular meets that criteria. It's located in the heart of tahr country, where a number of large sheep and cattle ranches operate in the high country mountain ranges inland of the small rural towns of Geraldine, Fairlie, Tekapo and Twizel. It's called Dry Creek Station. This property encompasses 33,000 acres of mountain/valley terrain and consistently produces high-scoring bull tahr trophies. What sets it apart, however, is the incredible, internal access created by 155 miles of 4wd tracks. These tracks allow guided hunters to drive up a mountain and hunt downward for bull tahr trophies rather than slogging up to them from the valley floor. The tracks also mean that all parts of the property can be accessed.
Dry Creek Station is a three-hour drive from Christchurch and 3½ hours from the tourist town of Queenstown. Located in the Two Thumb mountain range, the terrain is alpine and consists of moderate to steep hill country, clothed in hardy shrubs and tussock. The winter months of June to August can experience heavy snow, but this cold provides the conditions that make bull tahr grow their magnificent dark pelt and long black or grey mane.
A dominant bull tahr is the undisputed, alpine king of New Zealand's mountains. The first sight most visiting hunters have of one is that of a grizzly-bear-like animal peering down upon them from a lofty crag. An alpine breeze ripples his mane, and his short, sturdy horns sweep back into his ruff. A big bull rolls as he walks, with the heavy shoulder muscles creating a definite boxer's strut. Dry Creek is renowned for holding large numbers of bulls, and a visiting hunter can be confident in taking a trophy bull with a horn length between 12 and 13½ inches, which is a very good trophy. For most of the year, the bulls are in small bachelor groups, but at the onset of the rut in early May, they join the female groups. A mature bull can weigh up to 300 pounds and be tough to kill, so heavier calibre rifles are needed. The best time for the capes is from May through October, and it is possible on Dry Creek, to see in excess of 100 tahr a day, with many trophy bulls among them.
I joined two 60-plus-year-old North American hunters for a hunt there this past July. Over three days, they both stalked and shot two big bull tahr each, on foot and without a helicopter. All were better than 12½ inches in length, and all had magnificent capes. The fact that these hunters were able to hunt tahr over a number of days (rather than a one-shot helicopter affair) was due to the quality and quantity of the tracks. Their hunting started as soon as they exited the vehicle with superfluous hiking kept to a minimum. On Dry Creek walking is stalking.
During the winter, the tracks can become impassable with snow and ice, but there is always some spot on the property that is accessible because of the sheer number of roads. As always, visiting hunters should invest time in improving their fitness, but this is one place that the odds are tilted a little in the hunter's direction. Bring good binoculars, have a rifle that is accurate at ranges out to 300 yards, wear wind-proof warm clothing, and have sturdy mountain boots.
Mark Harrison of Lochinvar Safaris is the operator guiding on Dry Creek Station. He has been a professional hunting guide for over 14 years, and an outfitter for nine years. The emphasis of his company is on the free-range hunting of Himalayan bull tahr, which he considers the best big game hunt available in New Zealand. He has always been an alpine hunter himself and prides himself on the fact that all bull tahr taken on Dry Creek Station are hunted on foot, without the use of a helicopter.
Harrison picks up clients at Christchurch International Airport and houses them at Sherwood Lodge, which is located at the foot of the hunting area. From lodge to hunting area is just 20 minutes. The 2008 hunting season was over at the time of this writing and prices were still being updated for next season, so you will need to contact him for 2009 rates. You can reach Harrison .
(Postscript: For more details on the various tahr hunting operators and areas in New Zealand, order a copy of our newly released New Zealand Country Report. It provides a detailed breakdown on hunting in every area of New Zealand and for each big game species. There's also a list of all the major outfitters, where they operate and their specialities. The book costs $40. To order your copy, call 305-670-1361 or visit our web site at www.huntingreport.com.)