Dunedin Lecture Break

The ice on the windscreen slowly faded away as the heaters began to work their magic. An early wake-up is hard at the best of times but the harsh Dunedin winter makes it even more unpleasant.

Yet again, the tradition of missing my Friday lecture to vanish into the backcountry was fulfilled. On this overnighter, I was accompanied by my good friend Sammy, who, despite not being bitten by the hunting bug, was eager to see what it was all about.

The warm sun slowly crept over the hills and treated us to a spectacular sunrise and in no time the ground was warming up and the snowcapped mountains were in sight.

A steep climb followed by a long walk along the flats gave me plenty of time to illustrate the importance of gun safety, explain the game plan, and answer the plethora of questions every new hunter has.

I had never hunted this area before and behind each corner hid a section of undiscovered and untouched terrain full of potential. The steep mountains descended into expansive river flats, carved through by crystal clear glacial water. Like pieces of a puzzle, patches of dense scrub and tall beach trees scattered the tussock faces, supplying an ideal hideout for any animals in the area.

During the walk I frequently stopped, glassing newly revelled faces and guts, extending the walkin by at least an hour and limited us to only an hour of shooting light left. To conserve our energy for the next day we climbed above the tent to a suitable vantage point, where we sat to watch the sunset and hopefully spot some animals.

Early into our glassing, a WARO helicopter raced passed, not far off the ground. They darted up several side creeks and gullies before quickly determining there were no animals and disappearing over the tops.

The excitement and anticipation from earlier vanished as quickly as the helicopter, I had little hope of seeing anything after all the commotion.

Thankfully, the pilot was kind enough to avoid one of the faces and while scanning a snowy gut high on that side of the valley I noticed a break in the pattern. I quickly identified three chamois bucks unspotted and unfazed by the metal beast that had just flown over them.

They were too far to go after but just seeing them boosted our confidence and gave us motivation to get up early the following morning, abandon the comforting sleeping bag, and put on frozen boots.

The next morning our sights were set on a rocky outcrop a fair way up the hill, we meticulously planned a route up but chose to ignore the contour lines on the map, instead opting for the ‘she’ll be right,’ approach… she was not alright.

Beads of sweat dripped onto my binoculars, my calves and quads strained as we trudged our way up the steeper than expected spur.

I briefly checked to see how Sammy was coping when I saw his hand pointing above me.

“Daniel, chamois!” He exclaimed.

Before he could finish speaking, I spun around and dropped to the ground. The steep terrain coupled with long tussock made it nearly impossible to get a rest. The two chamois pranced along the face across from me, laughing as they went.

The gap was rapidly growing, there was no time to assess the animals, I had already decided the first one that stopped was getting shot.

As the chamois neared the skyline, the trailing one slowed to a walk before stopping, staring back at us. That was my cue.

My shooting position was sub-optimal but as soon as the animal stopped the scope seemed to steady itself.

I calmed my breathing, gently brought the crosshairs down onto its shoulder and squeezed.

Boom! The 30-06 echoed up the valley.

I looked up expecting to see the animal tumbling down the hill. Instead, it had run another 10 metres and stood, frozen.

My throat tightened. I could feel my heart skip a beat. I wasn’t sure how well I had hit it or if I had hit it at all.

There was complete silence as well held our breaths.

The chamois slowly rolled its head back, then explosively leapt in the air and collapsed.

Sammy and I erupted, jumping and yelling with joy.

The chamois was a beautiful four-year-old nanny with a magnificent winter coat, too spectacular to leave on the hill. With sore legs and heavy packs, we made our way home, smiles beaming ear to ear. Safe to say Sammy had gotten a taste of hunting and was now well and truly hooked.

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