I saw my first chamois in 1973. I was 17, it was April and I was on my first independent big game hunt armed with my father’s open sighted .303. The location was the West Branch of the Matukituki River in the Wanaka region of Otago. In the middle of a snowstorm, just above the bushline I plundered on to four surprised black and white animals which disappeared unscathed in a hail of poorly aimed bullets. That first up big game experience has meant chamois are a species I always think of fondly.
Introduced in 1907 near Mount Cook chamois established themselves quickly and today inhabit a large chunk of East and West Coast alpine terrain, though only in the South Island. Numbers have traditionally been highest on the West Coast but the intimidating weather and challenging bluffs, gorges, rivers and mountains have many choosing the East Coast for their hunt. The regions west of and north of Christchurch get particular attention and some big bucks are being shot inland from towns such as Cheviot, Kaikoura, Ward and Blenheim and close to Hanmer Springs, Arthurs Pass and Lewis Pass. The fact there are no tahr in these areas is a major reason for moderate chamois numbers as tahr will bully chamois out of their territories and take them over. Many once great southern chamois areas now only have tahr.
The trophy challenge is to shoot a mature buck with horns approaching 10 inches in length and 4 inches in base circumference. It will be an old animal. I was lucky enough to shoot such a buck near Molesworth and he has 11 growth rings on his 10.5 inch horns. The bull tahr may be the king of the peaks, but a chamois buck is the prince of the bluffs and scrub-line. I once read him described as the pretty boy of New Zealand game animals and it is a good metaphor. Slim, strikingly coloured in winter and summer, inquisitive, sure-footed and hardy, he is a trophy to admire. He is no softie however and many hunters have lost hard hit animals.
Some of the chamois hunting tips I picked up along the way were the following. Chamois have favourite spots and in the off-season you should try and found where the chamois in your target region hang out. Once you know where the different mobs live you can stop going to all the dud places and put your energy into productive hunting. Chamois does are very territorial and only excessive hunting pressure or bullying tahr will move a mob. A property like Glazebrook Station falls into this category. A lot of perfect looking chamois territory but the mobs that live there occupy just a few hotspot areas and traditionally have always done so. Good guides are worth their weight in gold here by putting you straight on to the money.
Secondly May is rut time and if you know where a group of nannies and offspring live then that is where you should be in May, as that is where those nomad bucks will be heading as well. No bomb ups on the girls if you want the top buck. Done right, you could shoot this spot year after year, big buck after big buck, if you leave the girls alone. They are your bait and the dominant buck wants them all to himself. If he sees a perceived rival he will chase him vigorously and even approach a hidden hunter in an aggressive way. Wave that plastic bag if nothing else is working. May is also the time to score that magnificent black cape with the white facial markings.
Thirdly chamois like cool, dark faces and contrary to belief will not be up real high or feeding out on the sunny slopes. Steep guts, exposed scree slides, dirty waterfall gulches and bluffy creeks are popular with chamois. Fourthly, where possible hunt down from above, either by gaining the height by walking up a barren valley and sidling over to the hotspot or using a helicopter to drop you up high and hunt down.
Lastly, January is also a good time to hunt the wily buck. He is on his own, full of good tucker, often on the move, likes sitting on ridge lookouts, and his bright yellow/tan coat is often easy to pick up with the binoculars. At this time of the year he is also quite goofy and does strange things. Maybe bucks are just kids at heart. One afternoon a big buck I was watching moved into a gully, chased out the resident red hind and fawn and followed them making a strange bleating sound as he herded them along. When they fled at speed he turned around and sprinted four hundred metres at full gallop in the opposite direction. Go figure. The photographs are of winter and summer chamois. The summer buck is a top trophy and was the one that chased the deer.
Greg Morton 2012