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Post Covid-Lockdown Campaign on the Godley River Ultra-Goats

14 Aug 2021
@ 08:41 pm (GMT)


In the beginning Brent created the Godley River.

The night was cold and the river froze over, next morning......

Carl picked it up!

If you are like us you are used to reading stories or watching videos of “together” hunters who are experienced, know their shit, plan and do things right and manage to pull a monster out of the bag at the last minute. We don’t belong in that category.
Our story really starts at 11.00 on a Saturday night when four keen lads met in Hamilton East, loaded up the Ford Ranger (should have taken a Hilux) and headed south to Wellie. After a few pie and coffee stops we arrived at the coldest and most miserable place on earth in time to wait a couple of hours for the ferry. With a good sleep and a bit of snoring on the Blue Bridge we hit Picton and were Tekapo bound, along the way introduced to the modern driving technique of throttle surging, apparently it helps keep you awake!
We arrived in Tekapo to find we had booked 2 rooms on Sunday a week in the future and they were chocka because of the school holidays, a bit of googling and we had rooms sorted back at Fairlie at the Gladstone Hotel, it was like stepping back in time, a great place to stay, cheap and cheerful with beer on tap.
Next morning after an obligatory stop at the Fairlie Bakehouse for the best pies in the world (check with James on the Salmon & Bacon experience) we headed up around Lake Tekapo and through Lilybank Station.

The big snowfall from the previous week had largely melted which we thought was a good thing (we thought wrong) and headed up to Red Stag Hut on the true left of the Godley River. Unfortunately there was a vehicle parked and 4 of the 6 bunks were occupied so we tried to get up to the Godley Hut; sadly the Ranger just didn’t have the ground clearance to get it done (more snow cover would have helped, and.... we should have brought a Hilux).
We set up camp in the middle of the valley with the Ranger as a windbreak and got the spotting scopes out. If you haven’t hunted Tahr before these are a complete pain in the butt to lug around but totally worth it. This is my third trip after the woolly ultra-goats so I’m still a relative novice but if you haven’t tried before take this one piece of advice, glass your arse off, binos, spotting scope, riflescope whatever you have glass first, it’s bloody big country and a damn sight easier than leg work.
Nothing was spotted so a good feed and a whiskey (in case of snake bite) and we hit the hay. Later allegations of wriggling on thermarests for extended periods of time and more snoring were totally unfounded.

Carl taking a break from glassing his arse off

Time for a whiskey

The next morning because there were four of us naturally we split into three groups to have a look around, James crossed the river (good call) to have a look around the Eade Memorial Hut, Brent and Carl went north for a look up Separation Creek, while I went further up to check out the Godley Hut and have a quick look at Fitzgerald Stream.
Before we split up Brent, Carl and I did a bit of glassing (did I mention that was important?), the ultra-goats have a nasty habit of being right up on the tops cos they like the view.

Anyway, Brent and Carl continued their search up Separation Creek which allegedly involved Carl lining up on a trophy mountain hare and then sportingly letting it walk...........

Then finding “The One Icicle” to rule them all!

Only to have Brent steal it from him............. and eat it.

Meanwhile James had discovered a group of Tahr up a side valley that had been undisturbed due to the uncomfortable temperature of the river and the even more uncomfortable testicular heights of the river crossing.

Any rumours about a warning shot fired at extended range at a 14 inch + bull tahr are of course totally untrue.

I managed to find the Godley Hut exactly where it was supposed to be. If you are a fan of “Meateater” with Steve Rinella, he and Remi Warren were in here and shot a Chamois and a Tahr about a year previously although the hut was painted green then.

Also Fitzgerald Stream looked promising..........

So we returned to base camp “Ranger” to plan the next few days over a backcountry meal (and a whiskey of course, snakes are a real problem in the Godley)

The cunning plan we devised involved James and Carl crossing over to the Eade Memorial Hut for two nights to see if they could get Carl his first Tahr, while Brent and I were heading up to the Godley Hut for two nights to see if I could find a Bull worth shooting. On previous trips he had got a couple of good representative Bulls, I had also got a couple of animals but nothing much in the horn department, awesome to have a hunting partner who is happy to support you and play second fiddle. Afterwards Brent gave us a brief astronomy/astrology lesson followed by his “Theory of Everything” dissertation with liquorice flavoured treats for intelligent responses!
The next morning started somewhat later than anticipated due to the well known inverse ratio of temperature/exit from sleeping bag equation but another bluebird day combined with three out of four over 40 year old bladders finally got things moving.

Following some discussion with James who has spent a couple of years in Canada as a hunting guide for Jim Shockey, Brent and I decided that we were doing too much walking and not enough glassing so we concentrated on very reluctantly stopping all physical effort, sitting on bums and just looking (eating snacks is optional but highly recommended).
This ended up paying off as after eliminating all the sensible country with feed and navigable slopes, Brent started searching ridiculously steep country with no feed, totally lacking in redeeming features and of course immediately found an ultra-goat. One became two, then four; all of a sudden we had about ten Tahr, two of which were recognisable Bulls one of which looked promising. An assessment through the spotting scope confirmed that based on size and colouring he was a mature Bull but no monster in the horn department. At this point we were over 1200 yards away but figured by using the rangefinder that if we hugged the creek sides we could get around three more corners in the stream and end up at around 300 yards for another look and a shot if we were happy with him.
Three sneaky corners later and we had two issues, firstly while most of the Tahr were still in view the Bull we were interested in had disappeared, secondly the range wasn’t the carefully calculated 300ish yards it was 610 which is right on the edge of my comfort zone.
There was no more cover to advance, we were in full view so we found a suitable shooting position, set up my daypack on a rock and while Brent continued to glass for the Bull, I got comfortable and started dry fire practice on the nannies that we could see. At this point it was late afternoon, very cold with no visible wind so I made the call that no wind hold would be needed, just elevation dial (potential whoops!). Checking again with the rangefinder I realised it was set to actual range not TBR (ok, it’s official, I’m a total muppet) which I quickly fixed before handing back to Brent. A couple of minutes later the Bull emerged around the side of a depressingly vertical looking bluff system and we ranged him at 543 yards (true ballistic range not terminal ballistics research!)
I quickly checked the range card taped to the butt of the rifle, pre-calibrated for likely altitude and temps and so much better than around with a phone app (THANKS NATHAN) and dialled accordingly, one more dry-fire while I waited for him to turn broadside then load, set up, HOLD THE BLOODY FOREND, safety, breathe.... squeeze. A solid thump and he disappeared from view. Nannies were racing everywhere as I reloaded but Brent was keeping track, they all exited stage left in a line over crazy steep country at a suicidal pace but... no Bull. We kept watching for another 20 minutes but no more movement, no sign of him at all. Assessing the situation we realised that a search and attempted retrieval that night would be dumb and given the temperature also unnecessary so we took a couple of photos of the area marking where he would likely be and then retreated to Godley Hut for a feed and a wee sip of the golden elixr. While I know this was the smart call in the circumstances, as the hunter you inevitably spend the remainder of the night second guessing..... well everything.
The following morning after breaking ice on the bucket of water we had inside the hut (it was a bit nippy), a quick porridge and coffee we returned to the scene of the crime.
Photo taken the following day of where the shot was taken from, it looks so easy to climb from here....

Brent stayed low to direct me and act as backup as I slowly toiled up the face and into the Bluff system we thought the Bull would be on.

The view looking back while climbing through the bluff system the Tahr was on.

If you hunt ultra goats often enough sooner or later you will find yourself on a recovery like this where shit gets real quickly. I had crampons, ice axe and rope and had done an alpine course with an Auckland based climbing club, but ultimately it comes down to whether a recovery is worth your life. Hmmmm.
I mention this because James and Carl had 3 animals down they were unable to recover, a combination of lack of suitable equipment and in Carl’s case, no experience or training in this environment, they absolutely made the right call based on the areas the Tahr fell into, it sucks but is the reality of hunting here.
Anyway after about ninety minutes of sweating bullets on my way up through the bluffs a movement caught my eye, it looked like a bit of tussock swaying in the light breeze but there was no vegetation this high. Inching forward a couple of steps and the “tussock” became recognisable as the Bull’s mane, Yes!!! He was down for the count.

A subsequent CSI scene examination revealed he had lurched/fallen off the rock face he was standing on when I fired the shot, and staggered about 10-15 yards across a rock scree before running out of gas. The entry wound was behind the front shoulder, exiting just in front of the off-side hip, not where my aiming point had been at all which was puzzling but the 162gr ELDX had done it’s job regardless, a result of some great advice from Nathan on this forum a year or 2 back. Thinking about the shot I came up with a couple of theories, firstly that the lack of wind might have been misleading as the thermal would have been heading down hill and down valley at this time of night and may have caused the drift (about 4 inches), secondly as a right hander if I pulled the shot it is likely it would have gone right and high. It wasn’t high but certainly was right. Would thermals cause this much drift? I’m not experienced enough to answer although I suspect not, the shot was taken pointing roughly 60 degrees up valley with no visible wind at all. It suddenly occurred to me at this point that I hadn’t set parallax on the scope before the shot despite having plenty of time. I unslung the rifle and checked... bugger it was on 300 yards and I hadn’t even noticed. So I had screwed up potentially three different areas of the shot preparation, the results were starting to look more like good luck then good management, not such a good feeling even if I had got away with it this time.
Processing the animal became the next priority, the good news being that given the temperature overnight he had essentially been in a freezer, I decided to get him down to the bottom so we could skin and bone him out with a “slightly” more horizontal platform. As easy said as done as with a ten yard drag/carry and one push he fell/rolled the 1000 feet back to the river bed. I arrived 20 minutes later to find Brent entertaining some of the local wildlife.

Somewhat ironically, as a result of my poor shot we were able to retrieve virtually all the meat as well as a beautiful skin which now adorns my floor. Tahr meat, for the uninitiated is pretty damn good even with a Bull of this age while the meat from a yearling I would rate above Sika or Fallow venison, it’s just superb eating.
The remaining day of our trip ended up becoming three days, apparently every time you open the door of a Ford Ranger, the supercomputer turns on and the battery drains like a beer being sculled at Oktoberfest. A highly inventive, if somewhat dubious “borrowing” of the solar battery from the nearby hut unfortunately didn’t have enough juice to turn it over so we were forced to wait and eventually be rescued by the local Landrover Club, which was somewhat embarrassing (should have brought a Hilux) but they were great people despite their crap taste in 4wd’s, much appreciated!
Ultimately it was an awesome trip in stunning country we are privileged to be able to enjoy, lots of mistakes were made, many of them by me but hopefully I have learnt from the experience............




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