I was several floors up in a downtown Christchurch, New Zealand, hotel when I felt a mild earthquake shake the building. I had a couple days of work left before I could head out for a thar (also spelled “tahr”) hunt on the South Island. I was hoping that earthquake would rouse the thar!
For a "geography refresher," New Zealand is comprised of two major islands (north and south), Stewart Island, Chatham Island, and numerous smaller specs of land. New Zealand is a very mountainous country with some large coastal plains that is 1,400 miles southeast of Australia and 6,000 miles from the United States.
A “New Zealand ATV,” a helicopter!
Variety Of Game Present
Thar are one of many big game species available to hunt in New Zealand. Thar are a type of mountain goat that is native to the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal and Tibet. They are somewhat prolific in the Southern Alps on New Zealand’s South Island. The government tries to keep their numbers in check through hunting. Besides thar, hunters from around the world come to New Zealand to hunt red stag, fallow deer, chamois, and even the North American elk.
The morning of the hunt was overcast with a little rain, which delayed both the hunt and arrival of our "New Zealand ATV" (actually a helicopter!). We saw many thar nannies and some chamios while scouting the mountains for an hour or so in the chopper before we spotted the first respectable bull thar.
The pilot let my guide and I off to stalk over the ridge and try to get a shot. The guide was concerned that I might be cold up on the mountaintop, as the temperature was near freezing. I assured him that I was used to hunting in cold weather in my home state of Minnesota. He was also concerned that I was hunting with a Ruger No. 1, single shot .270. Again, I assured him that I only needed one shot — trying to convince myself as well!
There is an abundance of game in New Zealand.
As we peeked over the ridge, the thar busted us and was running full bore down a very steep mountainside slope. The guide said, "shoot," so I took aim at the running thar at about 150 yards, and he tumbled downhill another 30 yards or so before piling up. I didn’t admit that I was as surprised at my shooting as was the guide.
Searching For A Bigger Thar
Having never seen a thar before, I was elated with my first bull. He had 9-1/2-inch horns, a lion-like mane, and a dark brown, thick, 6-inch hide. My guide, however, wasn’t satisfied and suggested we try for a bigger one. Naturally, I didn’t argue.
With the first thar hanging from the chopper’s skids, we are again airborne in search of a bigger one. About half-hour later, we spotted the big one we were looking for laying in the shade of a large boulder. Again, the pilot dropped us off on the other side of the ridge and we tried to sneak up on the resting thar.
This time, we couldn’t tell exactly where he was and had trouble finding him. Finally, after sneaking around the mountaintop for several minutes, the big bull thar jumped up from some waist-high vegetation and quartered away in high gear. He was only about 40 yards out, but moving fast, when I put the first round in him, which was enough to put him down. I needed a second round to finish the job.
The author and two bull thar.
With two beautiful bull thar hanging from beneath the helicopter, we flew back to the lowlands to take care of the animals. The meat was given to the local rancher who allowed us access to hunt. The biggest bull went to a local taxidermist, and I took the smallest set of horns home with me. Six months later, a large crate showed up in my driveway. The big New Zealand thar has been proudly displayed on my wall since to remind me of one of the most exciting hunts I’ve been on in the land down under.
Later that week, I also harvested a very nice fallow deer, shot some wallabies and rabbits at night with a 12-gauge using spotlights, took a pair of paradise ducks, and fly fished for trout in a mountain lake. All of this was done for less than $2,500! Of course, that doesn’t include getting to New Zealand from Minnesota or my car rental, but I was there doing some work anyway, so why not go hunting, too?
For a fine selection of hunting gear, click here.