Winter Tahr Hunting Tips & InfoBy Hayden Sturgeon
- 11th Nov, 2019 Nov 11, 2019, 12:00 AM
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Tahr hunting strategies from Hayden Sturgeon...
As I’ve said in my previous “Tips for the Roar” article, “...preparation is the key to success”. The mountainous Southern Alps are not to be taken lightly, picturesque one minute and snow-blown the next, however it’s an environment that gets under your skin and keeps you coming back.
The tahr rut starts anytime from mid-May and finishes early July, so this gives you time to plan your weather window and map out your intended hunting spots. For beginners I believe the more settled weather is on the eastern side of the divide, and so is the more accessible terrain where you can learn to hunt the alpine environment with the safety of a hut to base yourself from. On the other side of the divide the misty West Coast greets you with other challenges like monkey scrub with steep rock faces above, the terrain that tahr call home!
In this article I’ll take you through what I’ve learnt while hunting bull tahr in their home environment, along with tips that helped me be successful.
When preparing for a trip into winter tahr country there a few things that need considering. Fitness is a big one, you’re going to be hunting some big country with big climbs along with big return trips back to base each night. Being leg fit allows you to enjoy the experience a lot more, and it can get you out of trouble if the weather happens to close in quickly. Clothing also needs to be considered due to the very cold conditions you will experience.
“It gets dark by 6pm and you will see tahr moving from 3pm onwards – an exciting time because the hills can really come alive...”
Even when the sun is shining, the south side of the valley will still be in the minus temperatures a lot of the time. A good thermal base layer along with outer wet weather gear will help keep you warm and dry while you spend hours behind the binoculars.
Good gloves, mountain socks and a warm hat/balaclava are essentials even if they are not used all the time. Quality boots are also a must. Soft, lightweight stalking boots aren’t going to keep your feet dry or warm. There’s a great range of full leather or Gortex-type boots that will handle the hasher conditions.
RIFLE & SCOPE PACKAGES
This is always one for debate. Most deer calibres will get the job done, but good calibres like 7mm-08, .270 or .308, to name a few, will be common in a lot of NZ gun cabinets and have enough energy to knock down any bull. I personally run magnum calibres with a bit more power like 7mm Rem Mag, .28 Nosler and .300 Win Mag which are great flat-shooting rifles.
“...good calibres like 7mm-08, .270 or .308, to name a few, will be common in a lot of NZ gun cabinets and have enough energy to knock down any bull.”
These give me the ability to shoot at the extended ranges the alpine environment offers. Scope-wise, it pays to have good quality due to the fact the cold conditions will put your gear to the test and there’s nothing worse than having scopes fog up on the first day. NZ Guns & Hunting has reviewed a wide range of scopes in different environments so if you’re in the market for a new scope check out the previous reviews.
Projectile choices can also be debated but I find the hard, bonded types work better than ballistic tipped-type projectiles. Remember bull tahr are big and solid and can really soak up some serious lead. You want to put them down by breaking both front shoulders, taking out the vitals on the way through. Due to the steep terrain a poor shot could most likely end in a lost animal.
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These are essential for assessing tahr on the hill. Generally there’s only about 1-inch in length between the horns of a nice bull and a real trophy, and at distance it can be a challenge to pick out the details that make up a monster bull. I find a 20-60x spotting scope is the ideal size for all hunting applications, but it’s a real game changer in tahr country. Buying quality is also key. Brands like Swarovski, Leica and Zeiss to name a few are not cheap but buy the best quality glass available and it will pay you back.
If you’re spending the money on a quality optic setup then a good tripod goes hand in hand – there’s nothing worse than having a brand-new spotter wobbling around on a poorly designed tripod that won’t lock the scope in place. It can be ultra-annoying!
BE SELECTIVE & ENSURE RETRIEVALS
Be selective if you are truly looking for a trophy bull 13”+ or better. You are going to look over a lot of bulls to find a mature animal that meets these standards. Watch nanny groups to find the bulls, but remember the master bulls will take their time leaving the safety of bluffs or scrub cover. I’ve seen smaller herd bulls being shot only to watch the big boy run off into the distance.
Big mature bulls look squat in the rear and typically have black, shaggy coats – not necessarily a big impressive mane like the 3-5 year old herd bulls.
Counting their growth rings also determines a mature bull, eight years or older. If you can clearly count five stacked rings in the front of the horns before you see them side-on (to count the rest) they will be of mature age. There are also plenty of character bulls out there that have smashed the tips off their horns and damaged the ridging. These old guys make great trophies and look a lot better than a three or four year-old bull.
Being able to retrieve your trophy can be tricky at times so when selecting an animal to take you need to consider where he will fall and whether you can get to him safely. Be patient and be prepared to watch him all day waiting for him to move into a retrievable position. A lot of bulls are lost to the terrain that could have been recovered if only the hunter had taken his time.
Tahr are creatures of habit and a lot of the time it’s easy to map their movements. You can calculate where they will rest up for the day, and where they will feed down to in the evening. In the mornings it can be hard to keep up with them as they climb back to their safe bluff systems or the tight monkey scrub which is near impossible to hunt.
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However, evenings are more productive. It gets dark by 6pm and you will see tahr moving from 3pm onwards – an exciting time because the hills can really come alive with animals moving out to feed. If you see a bull that you can’t get to that night, more than likely he will be there the next night which helps you plan for the following evening.
If you do manage to take a bull on dark don’t put yourself at risk, leave him on the deck and do the retrieve in the morning when you have daylight on your side. The cold night will keep the skin from slipping. This is something I do quite regularly.
HUNT TO YOUR LIMITATIONS
Whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth time hunting in the Alps you need to stay within your comfort zone. Plenty of trophies can be obtained without having to climb into areas that have a potential to kill if you happened to slip. We have all done it and it’s not a nice feeling having to try and retrace your steps back to safer ground knowing the probable outcome if you fall.
If you want to climb high into really rugged snow and ice-covered tops, I recommend doing an alpine course and learning the correct techniques for using ice axes and crampons.
I have completed these courses but I still find I don’t need to venture into these areas to shoot the best bulls. Nonetheless, having these skills and the tools gives you that little more peace of mind should you get into an unexpected situation.
Stay safe and enjoy your tahr rut hunting!
NOTE ON SAFETY:
The alpine environment is a great place to venture into over the winter months, but remember it can also be dangerous. If you’re new to hunting tahr, look at basing yourself at a hut, then you’ll have somewhere safe, warm and dry if the weather changes.
But if you intend to camp out or hunt ballot blocks ensure you buy yourself a quality 4-season tent and the best clothing possible – when it turns rough your life will depend on it.
The advice provided has worked for me and got me into tahr hunting. Hopefully it might help you plan your next trip. Don’t be off-put by the cold, just get out there and enjoy yourself!
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