Tyler and I are sitting there on the side of a tussock hill face grinning from ear to ear. We were in total amazement of what had just happened. I pull up the spotting scope to check on how Kimmi and Adam are going with their stalk, we could see them from a kilometer away making the final few steps towards a mob of bull tahr that were feeding their way up. Expertise and guidance flowed from Adam while sheer determination and strength radiated from Kimmi. For a photographer who had been a stranger to these three only a few days ago, I was so invested in this moment.
We had arrived: The hum of the chopper faded into the distance as we stood outside a classic old hut, the last of the fading sun leaving the sky tinted a rich magenta. It didn’t take long for Kimmi to comment on the cold, leaving Tyler with no puffer jacket for the rest of the trip, and myself no longer the owner of my new First Lite down mitts. We quickly settled in for the night, making the hut our own, and fell asleep to sound of Kimmi’s iPhone playing static noise.
Having flown into our destination the evening before, we were up early the next morning, boots laced to start our steam up the hill. We were headed for a plateau in the middle of this huge valley. It gave us a great vantage point to get behind the glass. A mob of tahr was spotted far up the valley and slightly out of reach, so we decided to push on towards a low saddle in the east that Adam was eager to check out. Although it wasn’t a big climb into the saddle, the miles were ticking up, as were the wind gusts.
We had spotted another mob of bulls in the bluffs on the other side of the saddle, so we made a plan to get Kimmi her first opportunity by backing out and climbing up and over the peak which held the bluffs to avoid being scented in the wind. Not long into the walk, Kimmi was getting an idea of what the weather can do in these New Zealand alps. The wind gusts picked up dramatically, bringing with them sleet and then heavy snow that came at us sideways. It felt like someone was shooting us with an automatic BB gun. To be honest, it was pretty shit, but I loved it when I could see the others enjoying the misery just as much as me. At that point, I realised Kimmi had some real determination to shoot her first bull tahr. We crossed the scree face and headed into the bluffs to where we had seen the tahr only an hour before but unfortunately, although unsurprisingly, they had moved off. We didn’t have high hopes of seeing them back anytime soon.
The rest of the day didn’t amount to much. We dropped down the valley and into the rain and tussock, spooking a few bulls from the deep tussock. After that, we headed back to camp where we arrived to warm, calm weather and a greeting from the sun.
In the morning, we dragged our tired legs out the door of the cabin to find clear blue skies. We decided to head up the valley to search over some new country, heading up a leading ridge to gain some height. We spent some time behind the glass but couldn’t locate any animals. What I learned pretty quickly on this hunt was that there wasn’t going to be a dull moment with this crew: Adam was always sharing stories of wisdom or a dirty joke – sometimes both; Kimmi shared her wild stories, and Tyler talked about his upset guts. We continued to cover more country, spooking a good bull along the way. We carried on the shit yarns at another hut before heading back to the main one where Adam prepared the hare he had shot the evening before. With the spring sun still high in the early evening, we decided to head down the valley again where we had seen the tahr in the low tussock from the evening before. We followed the track down for an hour before we spotted a mob of bulls. They were still over a kilometre away, but it was going to be easy travelling to them before we would have to slow the pace and take each step carefully. Not far into the first stint of the stalk, we spotted another mob of bulls up a side valley to our left and, with the days running out, we decided to split into pairs to give both Kimmi and Tyler an opportunity to secure their first tahr. Tyler and I carried on with the original plan to stalk into the mob of 14 tahr down the valley only 700 metres away. Kimmi and Adam dropped down, crossed the mainstream and headed up the side valley to try to intercept the bulls as they fed up the hill face. We wished each other luck, gave each other some shit and we were into it.
The biggest problem that Tyler and I faced was the open terrain we had to cover to get into bow range. We had to drop 30 metres down into the creek while the tahr were only a few hundred metres on the opposite side feeding around, their heads facing the other direction but alert. Two mobs were almost grouped up; there were a lot of eyes that we had to watch out for. Some of the tahr fed into a very small gut that gave us the most opportunity to get into bow range but we still had to stay out of sight of the other tahr feeding around them. We dropped into the creek and then followed the bank down on the same side as the tahr – just out of sight. Our scent was being blown down the valley and we were directly below the tahr – about 150 metres away. We crawled along on our hands and knees to try to locate the mob again but they had already spotted us and started to spook up the hill.
Now, when you’re trying to get in on an animal with a bow, you can’t have them spooked. It’s not like when you’re rifle hunting and can send in a shot from 150 metres away. We couldn’t help but feel a little gutted when we watched the mob move further and further up the mountain. Although it’s a well-known fact that I have the maths level of a 10-year-old child, the number of tahr moving up the face just didn’t add up to the amount of tahr we had originally seen an hour before. So Tyler and I started creeping up the face towards where we thought there might still be some tahr. There was a sense of nervousness as we got closer and closer to the brow where we thought the extras were. I was nervous because if they had already moved off then we had just lost another day of hunting, leaving Tyler with only one more day to secure his bull, and we had no clue at this point how Kimmi and Adam were going on their stalk. It just felt like we had to make it happen this evening. Each step we took was careful and quiet: I had the camera drawn and ready, Tyler had an arrow nocked, and our eyes were constantly searching over every new bit of ground as we came up to the brow. That’s when I saw Tyler slowly move his hand behind his back: stop. We come into sight of seven or eight bulls with only one of them trying to work out what we were while the others carried on feeding.
With some subtle movements Tyler ranged the tahr: we were kneeling 96 metres from them. I got some images of the tahr and thought that’s all we’d be getting for the evening because I didn’t think there was a shot opportunity from that distance, and we had no cover left to move in closer. Tyler had one quote running through his head, from the movie 300: “This is why no one will remember your name”. Not intending to be forgotten, he adjusted his bottom pin, hooked his release aid onto the D loop and drew back his bow. Tyler wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass him by. I’ve quickly learned through the bow hunts I’ve photographed that you have to make the most of any opportunity you’re given. which is why a bow hunter has to spend the time back home to become an accurate shot. He let the arrow fly, and from this distance, we could watch the arrow arch its way through the air and hit its mark through the vitals. Blood spilled out from the hole in its chest left by the Ozcut Hurricane Broadhead. The animal stumbled and took his last step only 80 metres from where the arrow had hit him. The silence was slowly broken up with little chuckles of amazement: Tyler had just secured his first bull tahr with an incredible shot.
We erupted into cheers, hugs and handshakes and enjoyed the moment, sitting there talking about the whole stalk over and over. Although I didn’t think that evening could get any better, it was about to. I pulled out the spotting scope to check in on Kimmi and Adam, after finally locating them I could see Kimmi, with Adam by her side, and the mob of bulls that were feeding towards them only 80 metres away. My favourite part of any hunt is when you’re closing in on the final 100 metres – when you’re truly being tested by the senses that these incredible animals have been given. Although Tyler and I were a kilometre away, we were also very invested in Kimmi securing this bull.
We were with her from the lead up to the hunt, constantly talking up how awesome tahr are to hunt, there when she was battling against the weather and terrain from the day before, and there when she had fallen and hurt her leg from the walk earlier this morning. At that moment, there was nothing more exciting than watching those two close the gap. There was a very shallow gut that the bulls were feeding into as the sun dropped behind the mountains. For Kimmi to get a shot off, they had to move towards and above the bulls while their heads were down with just the top of their backs showing. That’s exactly where Adam was leading Kimmi. With every minute that passed, Kimmi got closer and closer to the bulls, and from our perspective, we could only guess when there was going to be a shooting opportunity. My palms were sweaty; I can only imagine how it felt for Kimmi. She had used her hiking pole and Quivalizer attached to her bow to crutch her way up to the final few metres before they would be in sight of the bulls, which at this point were only 15-20 metres away. They could hear the bulls taking each bite. While still watching through the spotting scope, I saw Kimmi stand up and come to full draw. The bull moved forward another metre and Kim let her arrow fly. The bull dropped dead only 20 metres from where it was shot. While there was silence from them for a few minutes, Tyler and I were cheering and squealing like little girls. We sorted out Tyler’s bull and headed back to meet Kimmi and Adam, exchanging stories. The banter carried on all the way back to the hut where we finished the day with hare stew.
My birthday. I woke up to Tyler and the crew singing me a beautiful happy birthday melody, serving me pancakes and gifting a birthday card with a little present. This was from three people I had only just met a few days earlier. I have a feeling that the gift and card might have been Kimmi’s idea. We had a relaxing start to the day with the morning spent skinning the tahr from the previous day’s hunt. Adam took a back leg from Kimmi’s bull and prepared dinner for the evening in the camp oven – a cast iron pot. With the weather being so good, we couldn’t simply relax at the hut all day. So, Tyler, Adam and myself headed off to look for a bull for Adam – because with the amount of animals around, I couldn’t help but want some more meat for the freezer back home.
We cruised back down the valley and split back off into the same valley where Kimmi had got her bull. Adam had called it ‘100 Bull Valley’. We walked, glassed, snacked, and napped under the heat of the sun, waiting for the tahr to start feeding down.
We had found ourselves a few kilometres up the side valley when we saw a mob of bulls feeding in the side creek flats only 100 metres away. With the bull’s position, Adam’s stalking path, and my angle on it all, I knew an opportunity to get some wicked images was going to unfold, but nothing could have prepared me for how epic this stalk was going to be. Adam stuck to the base of the hill where he was out of sight of the bulls, and then sidled up onto the small spur that lead directly on top of them.
He slowly inched closer and closer to the mob but was interrupted by one of the bulls spotting him. They didn’t hang around and spooked off up the other side of the creek and then back into shooting range, where one of the bulls stopped at 70 metres – long enough for Adam to take a shot. From my angle, Tyler and I couldn’t tell if the shot connected with the bull, so we moved up to check in with Adam. He had walked off to where he had last seen the bull before it dropped back into the small creek. We were all on the other side of the creek now looking for the bull: Adam standing on a rocky outcrop and me only 60 metres behind him when I spotted the bull on his feet tucked under a rock directly below Adam. With a few hand signals, Tyler and I managed to get Adam’s attention to let him know the bull was below him. Adam had to creep towards the bull even though he couldn’t see it, and the bull had his eyes fixed on me. I don’t know how Adam was feeling at that point, but my heart was pumping. I could never have imagined a stalk unfolding like this. Adam moved another metre and found his target, placed his pin, and let the last arrow fly.
This had been one hell of a hunt. We finished our last evening off with a slow-cooked tahr leg and, after 11 hours of cooking, the meat was falling off the bone. The night was full of laughs, wine, stories and plans for our next adventure together. I had got what I had come for: an epic story for the Journal, and the discovery that people I had followed on social media for a long time really were the genuine good bastards we all imagine them to be.