The Little Gal had tagged out on a dream stag, so it was my turn to chase a dream of my own—a bull tahr. Before I share the excitement of the hunt, you need to know the interesting background of the animals in New Zealand.
New Zealand’s Animals
New Zealand is an amazing place, and a relatively new country. Farming and agriculture are its primary industry. This is due, in part, to animal importation years ago. When the country was settled, only one mammal—the bat—inhabited the land, so the settlers began importing animals, primarily for food. The animals took to the lush New Zealand environment with ease. As we explored the South Island we came across red deer, fallow deer, tahr, chamois, sheep and cattle.
There are no predators in New Zealand … which means there are no bears, mountain lions, wolves or coyotes to keep populations in check. The animals quickly outgrew the habitat and began destroying the vegetation, leading to unhealthy animals and terrain.
Saving the Herds and the Habitat
The settlers had to take drastic measures to save both their vegetation and the animals. This led to a movement of reaping; thousands of animals had to be slaughtered.
Groups of men set out, bringing the animals out in droves. The New Zealand government decided that, if the animals were properly harvested in a timely manner, the meat could be sold. Men used helicopters to shoot animals from the air and fly the carcasses to market. The animals were butchered and the meat was packed for sale to European countries.
Over time, the hunts put the animal populations back in check. As this happened, entrepreneurs recognized an opportunity. Today you’ll see many farms with red deer, fallow deer and even tahr. The farmers raise, harvest and export meat and antlers to a number of Asian and European countries.
Maintaining Healthy Herds
Hunting is required to maintain healthy animal populations. Because of the lack of predation on the islands of New Zealand, hunting is another large industry here. If you have the ambition, you can go on a Do-It-Yourself hunt—the general public has the opportunity to hunt for free. I suggest, however, that unless you have months to spend here, you hire a guide.
Hunting guides pay fees for the animals their clients harvest, so in turn, they charge you. Their prices will cover the fees they pay as well as their time and knowledge of the vast terrain.
My Tahr Hunt
Hank, LG and I hunted bull tahr with Jason Kidd of New Zealand Custom Outfitters. I was pleased to have a knowledgeable guide.
Since LG had to attend school (online) we had to be near a cellular signal. A remote camp wasn’t going to work, so we opted to pay an extra expense. A helicopter flew us to the base of the mountains each day. We’d glass up and down the steep mountains, looking for a suitable bull. Then our trek would begin.
Every time we spotted bulls, I’d get excited to see what I thought was “a big’n.” Jason would shake his head: “Let’s let him grow up a bit.” I had nowhere near Jason’s experience in judging the body, horn size or age of these bulls. Thankfully, I could rely on him.
After climbing a comparable 2 Empire State Buildings a day, for multiple days, I finally seized my opportunity. The 4 of us scaled a mountain and then a rock face. We quietly crested the peak to find absolutely nothing. We took a moment to bask in the sun and catch our breath. Then we began walking the cliff ledge, looking to the benches below in hope of finding a bull.
LG spotted him first; then Jason peeked over the ledge and smiled. He whispered, “That’s a good one.” He gestured me forward, and as I peered down the rocks, I saw him. It was a terrific bull. He was just 10 yards away and had no idea we were there. I looked down the side of the barrel, took my time and squeezed off a shot.
LG jumped with excitement and I looked hopefully at my companions. The bull ran out of sight. LG said, “You got him, Mom! You got him!” If you’ve hunted for any length of time, you know the hunt isn’t over until it’s over. I made the rifle safe and we descended the cliffs to find the bull, halfway down. He was lying in the sunlight, at the edge of a scree field. Yes. I got him!
After the Hunt
We ate stag, fallow deer, tahr and sheep while we were in New Zealand. All were delicious. The stag and fallow were similar to venison. The tahr had a taste similar to elk or big horn sheep. Since it is so expensive to ship anything from New Zealand to the United States, most hunters don’t take the meat home. The outfitters and land owners keep the meat to feed to future guests or to cook for their working dogs.
The bull tahr is such a magnificent animal. I could’ve kept the entire hide for a rug, but opted for a shoulder mount instead. He will be a great reminder of our hard work and adventure on the other side of the world.