Christina looked at me like I was some sort of wilderness creature coming to abduct her husband, Jens Kjaer Knudsen, and then asked, “So where in New Zealand are you going to take my hubby to?” “Uhmm, some odd mountain over on the west coast, darling. Don’t worry, he’s with me,” I replied, like if that was ever going to be a comfort for anyone going along with “Hurricane” Jacobsen.
“President of SCI Nordic Safari Club Chapter” is what Jens’ business card states, and our carefully planned get-a-way slowly transformed into a real life happening. We traveled steadily over sunny Arthurs Pass and into a rapid descent down the Otira Gorge. Along the winding road, we spared a thought to the bold engineer whoever had such an insane idea that a road could actually be “cut” into the mountain, let alone hanging off the mountain!
As we spotted our turnoff for our heli pick up to camp. I suggested to Jens, “You may want to put a jersey on or something to cover up.” “But the sun isn’t out, I’ll be fine,” he replied.
I always get a kick out of watching the sudden reaction of all the hunters I take out, to the sandfly biting deep into their skin. These hunters, who are just about ready for a trip of their lifetime, getting ready to get to the chopper with rifle, ammo, knife and all, suddenly drop everything and start walking in circles, frantically swinging their arms around, trying to get rid of the sandfly whilst searching for that Jersey!
“Quick Jens, if you walk faster, you’ll travel faster them,” I yelled. Suddenly, half the bloody parking lot became alive as the other tourist heard my suggestion. Good grief, what a sight!
After a swift operation from the steering stick of a Hughes 500 helicopter, we suddenly found ourselves amidst soft flowing streams, slow melting glaciers, lush green prominent mountains.
The game we were chasing was the gracious Alpine chamois – a species gifted to New Zealand back in 1907 by the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph the First. Two bucks and six does were sent from England down to Lyttelton. Only the two bucks and three nannies survived the long journey. These were carefully freighted down to Mt. Cook region where they were released in the Hooker Valley. By 1914, another buck and nanny were released near the original area, however the buck was shot as it had taken a liking to attacking tourists!
As the sun slowly moved to the other side of the world, we sat from the comforts of our camp, and glassed the faces close to us. A couple of chamois were quickly sidling across one face, clearly in a rush to get to their feeding grounds. By the time they’d settled down, it was all but completely dark throughout the valley. We finished our tea whilst enjoying the view of a starry sky–a rare sight on the west coast!
We awoke to the flapping of wings just outside the tent–the kea. It had got set on making sure we didn’t miss our wakeup call and must have taken it upon itself to act as our alarm clock in the shape of some sort of lousy bass player grinding its beak repeatedly on the guy wires of the tent. A crisp morning greeted us outside, still well and truly dark. We both hoisted our packs and headed for adventure.
We must have ventured a good, challenging 150 meters along the soft flowing river, before a downright beautiful chamois buck displayed one helluva perfect broadside! I couldn’t believe it! The first day of the hunt, and right before us, protruding from the early misty morning hours, was THE specimen we came for–and it was a big bodied animal, too.
Without any form of hesitation, Jens lined up the buck with the shoulder located center in the delicate crosshairs. A 900-gram squeeze on the Cerakoted trigger sent a piece of deadly projectile flying out through the barrel, straight toward its target. The buck slumped back and toppled straight into the alpine grass covering the mountain. This was surreal! The mighty buck had fallen to a perfect heart shot, and would have never known what happened to it–that’s the kind of shooting I like! The buck later proved to be a respectable 9 4/8 inches, and in really good condition. Once we got the animal caped, and the meat secured, I looked at Jens, and said, “Well, we might as well head back to camp and drop off meat and trophy, seeing as how we’re only a good couple of hundred meters away.”
The pressure was off. It’s quite a great feeling being successful, but this early on it’s something I haven’t experienced often. We set off again, more for a sightseeing tour than anything else. The trip up toward the valley’s water feeding glacier saw us climb through a stunning patch of mountain daisies, and introduce Jens to the good old New Zealand Shingle Screes. “Come on Jens, just run down along the shingle, you’ll be fine,” I kept on yelling. It’s always hard to persuade folks who’ve never had previous encounters to run down shingle screes, however once they get the hang of it, they wonder why they’ve never done that before.
Along our patch we even managed to spot a beautiful korikori. The endemic plant named by the Maori also has the English translation that, just like North Island and South Island naming, boasts of simple thinking, Kiwi ingenuity, and no BS thinking—“hairy Alpine buttercup.”
A daunting morning greeted us in the Southern Alps of New Zealand as we slowly but steadily made our way toward the tops. We decided to make a camp farther up the mountain and then hunt from there, as we had seen numerous mobs of chamois farther up on the tops.
Less than 10 minutes after leaving our fly camp, we spotted a mob in a shingle about 500 yards away. Slowly we stalked closer. The wind was in our favour, offering little knowledge to the chamois that we were there. Our only disadvantage, though, was the fact that we came from down low, as chamois always expect danger to arrive from below them, and very rarely are they concerned about what is approaching from above them.
Along the contours of the mountain we edged our way closer until we came to within 254 yards, with the chamois still unaware of our presence. Jens got ready. However, as he was lining up the shot, a cluster of fog came down and embedded the valley, making it impossible to pull off any sort of shot across the valley. The only thing we could do, really, was hunker down and wait for the opportune moment. Half an hour went by, and only a couple of brief glimpses did we get through the fog.
We decided to climb to the summit for a wee look-see, and hopefully view the majestic Aoraki Mt. Cook from a bit higher than when we were driving down along South Highway 6. However, a rather large mountain obscured the view to Aoraki but still left us with a spectacular view of the entire area. As we mustered along the tops and saddles, we started seeing tracks in front of us and Andy the dog became more and more restless. It was time to slow down. We sat and glanced down into a little oasis we were certain would hold chamois, but alas, it held only keas.
As we were sitting there enjoying the surroundings and tranquillity, a little bird hopped into our little circle of happiness. It was the rare South Island wren, or rock wren. A rather rare bird nowadays, due to introduced stoats and mice. The conversations on these tiny birds were changed in 2013 from Nationally Vulnerable to Nationally Endangered. Our little fellow, however, didn’t seem too phased about we humans. He most probably picked we were not the kind of humans leaving deadly traces of green pellets behind us as we went.
Being very occupied with this little critter made me lose interest for hunting at least for a while. Suddenly Jens broke out, “There’s chamois right down here!” Andy sensed Jens’ excitement and leapt from his curled-up position and started twitching and shaking, looking whichever way Jens was frantically pointing. There was one good chamois amongst the mob. The stalk down to them proved a very tricky one–one that involved traversing across a steep mountainside, descending into a gorge-like insert, and making our way down through that. It proved a bit tricky, especially as we were left exposed in the view from the chamois in certain places. In the end, saturated, not from water, but from sweat, we managed to get to within 56 yards of the chamois.
We crawled over a little top to get a view of the chamois with my dog right next to me, shaking like mad, but right down low crawling to our pace. As we got set up, the chamois started walking away from us. They got out to about 89 yards before offering a clean shot.
I could hear Jens’ hands tightening around the stock of the rifle, his breathing becoming more intense. The safety on the rifle was quietly pushed forward; only a small 900-gram squeeze on the trigger was all that was missing.
“Whumpff!” The rifle sounded and the chamois slumped to the ground. The summer coat on this chamois was absolutely stunning. Jens caped the whole animal out, and once again our packs were jam packed with tasty chamois meat! The chamois measured an impressive 10 inches on both horns, and we estimated it to be about 8 to 9 years of age.
We arrived back at base camp in darkness, but that didn’t matter one bit. Grinning from ear to ear, we threw our packs in front of the tent and laid down, enjoying the effort we put in to get all the meat and our paraphernalia down to base camp. Another night in Paradise unfolded and we sat outside ’till just about midnight, talking about the adventure we were on.
All too quick do these adventures seem to be a thing of the past and, as we hopped into the cabin of the chopper and saw the charcoaled toilet seat from high above, we realized we, too, had become victims to “an event of the past.” Suddenly, civilization was in our sights with flocks of tourists taking photos like we were movie stars touching down on the mortal Earth. Little did they know that if they smelt us up close, they would be running to save their lives! Then again, they would do that anyway, trying to get away from that bloody sandfly, whilst Jens was actually wearing a jersey this time and grinning like there was no tomorrow.–Agerlund Jacobsen