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October 2019
Story by Mark Gabriel
State: New Zealand
Species: Himalayan Tahr

The entire experience felt like an odd dream. My dear friend and hunting buddy, Joe Fowles, and I were sitting aboard a helicopter with our wives at first light flying toward New Zealand’s highest peak, Mt. Cook, when our outfitter barked into the headsets, "Change of plans, Joe. Get ready. There’s your tahr."


In a few seconds, the helicopter was near the ground and Joe, along with Gary Herbert of New Zealand Hunting, jumped out as we headed skyward and away from the pair. Over the next few minutes, we watched as the reddish-brown blur dashed down the mountain. Joe raised his rifle, and we watched the free-range tahr hit the ground.


Joe and I had not even thought about going for tahr. We were in New Zealand hunting with Gary for a long-anticipated red stag hunt. Joe and I tagged out on magnificent stags on day one of our five-day hunt. After returning to the lodge the first afternoon, another couple was awaiting a helicopter for their tahr hunt when Gary said, “If you are thinking about a tahr, you have until we get back to decide. The weather looks like it will be closing in after tomorrow.”


An hour later, while Joe and I (along with our wives, Mary and Debbie) were discussing the idea, the helicopter appeared on the horizon. Dangling 20 feet below on a rope was a tahr silhouetted with the majestic Southern Alps as a backdrop. We were hooked. The fact that Debbie and Mary could join us and the excited story from the previous hunters made us even more pumped for the action.


Getting up at first light the next morning, we had our safety briefing and made a plan. Since there were four of us plus Gary and our pilot, Harvey Hutton, after getting to the hunting area, Joe and Mary would be dropped off to make the helicopter more maneuverable in the mountainous terrain. I was to be up first, after which time, Debbie and I would be dropped off and the process would be reversed. All of that changed when we what became Joe’s tahr was spotted and it was game on. After hoisting Joe’s tahr to a nearby mountain ledge and dropping off Joe and Mary, we were off to find my animal.


A few minutes of flying later, we spotted another, darker-colored tahr. Suddenly, Harvey banked the chopper, and the next thing I knew, Gary and I were on the ground. At first, I could not make out the dark, wooly beast charging down the hillside in the scope of the borrowed .300 Win Mag at around 150 yards. I had brought down my stag with a bow and had not even a chance to sight in with a strange rifle. I missed three times as the tahr bounded down the steep terrain when suddenly it went in a gully only to reappear 25 yards away. As the tahr crested the hillock near me, Gary yelled not to shoot. In the turmoil, an even bigger tahr was just behind. When he came over the rise at under 20 yards, a single shot brought him down. What I had not realized was that the pilot who was on a radio with Gary and my wife, Debbie, saw the second tahr long before I did. Debbie had been shouting to wait, which of course I could not hear being several hundred feet below the helicopter.


As we posed the two tahr on a ledge for photos, the sun was just coming up and a pair of rainbows appeared in the distance, a fitting tribute to the two magnificent animals we had be lucky enough to get on our spur of the moment tahr adventure.


Our red stag hunts were also tremendous experiences. Hunting with my Mathews Halon my first morning, we were into stags from first light. Within 20 minutes of hiking, my guide, Sandy Heard, and I spotted a huge stag with gleaming antlers sunning himself on a hillside. We watched him for about an hour and decided to attempt a stalk with the wind in our favor. Creeping along a river bottom, we got within 60 yards when we saw a second stag just in front of the first one. Sandy and I were trying to gain another 10 yards when the wind suddenly switched. In a flash, the first animal was up and away from us. The second stood there at 50 yards, blocked by brush. In an instant, he was gone too.


We continued up the mountain. In New Zealand, the mountains are straight up and down, no foothills or easy hikes. After a couple of hours with a bad wind, we decided to try another spot. Sandy hoofed it over the mountain to get the “buggy,” what we call a side-by-side, and returned to pick me up. I had offered to go along, but as he said, “This is why you have a 20-year-old guide.”


On the ride to the new location, we spotted Joe. He had just tagged a beautiful red stag with a 175-yard shot from the .300 Win Mag. Joe and his guide had been walking to meet us from lunch when they spotted his animal. After handling Joe’s stag, Sandy and I were dropped off on a high ridge where we glassed for another opportunity for me. Spotting a nice stag a quarter mile away, we started a hike over the top of the ridge. The plan was to come down from the top with the wind in our faces. As fate would have it, the stag was lying halfway down a very steep hillside that was covered in brush and sticker bushes. For nearly an hour, we crawled and slid closer and closer with the stag not realizing we were even there. We had overshot his position and had to work our way back along the hillside. There were times I had to slide my bow down to Sandy as the holes in the brush were not big enough for me to get through without lying on my back. We closed the distance to 19 yards. As I stood to shoot, the stag rose and ran straight away from me. So ended stalk number two.


Continuing down the same ridge and half a mile or so, we spotted a large group of stags and some hinds bedded down. There were too many eyes on us, so we sat and waited. Finally, several stood and started wandering. We took that as our moment to sneak closer. Three stags were just below us on a ledge. I rose quickly and took a shot at the biggest one. The Montec G5 hit much further back than I would have liked, and the trio ran off, joining a larger group of stags. However, from the blood shooting out of my stag, it was obviously a lethal, if not perfect, hit. Soon, my stag was lagging behind the rest and could not keep up. He was down 200 yards from where I had shot him.


My stag ended up scoring 377 5/8" SCI, besting Joe by just one inch!


My wife, Debbie, an accomplished hunter in her own right, had not planned on hunting on this trip. For two days, she had been seeing the amazing Arapawa rams up on a mountainside near the lodge. Originally brought to New Zealand in the 1800s by Captain Cook, these fascinating creatures have large curled horns. Debbie watched them through the spotting scope for hours. Finally, while she was out having a spa day with other women at the lodge, I arranged for her to have a go the next morning. More than excited at the prospect, Debbie led the entourage of guide Sandy, a videographer, another guide, and me as we drove up the switchbacks in search of the animals. The prior two days, the rams could be spotted from the lodge, but that morning, none were in sight. After scouring the mountainside, a group of four suddenly appeared. Even though she had never shot a rifle from a prone position, Debbie made a great 190-yard shot with the suppressed 30-06. The ram tumbled down the steep hillside more than 400 yards within a short hike of the switchback road.


New Zealand is a place of wonder with great people, great food, and great hunting.