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Alpine Hunting in New Zealand

April 11, 2022

 

tahr

Introduced species tahr and chamois are a major threat to the South Island’s Alpine ecosystem. Hunters are doing their part to help DOC manage the population.

 

 

Tahr and chamois roam Aotearoa’s alpine regions. Both were introduced to New Zealand in the early 1900s and released near Mt. Cook. They rapidly spread through the Southern Alps, thanks to a lack of competition and an absence of predators.


DOC describes tahr and chamois as “a major threat to the ecosystems in these alpine areas”. Both species graze on snow tussocks, alpine herbs, and sub-alpine shrubland plants. Some of which are marked as threatened or at risk by the New Zealand Threat Classification System. They’re social animals who love to catch up in groups. They gather to eat native plants and incidentally trample large areas of vegetation and compactable soils which provide vital food, nesting, and shelter for native wildlife like birds, lizards, and insects.


Because they have no natural predators in Aotearoa, both the tahr and chamois populations will increase without intervention. That leaves management up to people. Hunting is encouraged by DOC with the department stating that “hunters play a pivtal role in helping to manage tahr numbers and protect our alpine ecosystems”. Both recreational and commercial hunters make a difference toward keeping tahr and chamois numbers in check. And DOC operates large-scale control projects.
DOC has restricted tahr movements to the main spine of the Southern Alps while chamois can be found throughout the high country of the South Island and in some lowland forests from the Marlborough Sounds to Fiordland.


Tahr are particularly attractive to hunters as they make striking trophies. Especially the male bull tahr. They’re stocky and muscular, similar to a mountain goat, and have an impressive mane throughout the colder months. And they live in Alpine environments, making every hunt an adventure.


Most DOC land has unrestricted tahr and chamois hunting year-round. This public land is often accessed by foot. Or helicopter if you feel like dropping in somewhere remote with camping gear in tow. Public land hunting is physically demanding but very rewarding for fit and mobile hunters.
Less mobile hunters can still get a slice of the action with a hunt on private land. Some of New Zealand’s large stations offer 4x4 access and huts that can be used as a home base for stalking missions. There’s usually a cost associated with hunting on private land, but it’s well worth it for those not physically prepared for bushwhacking a long alpine hike. While private land is more accessible to hunters, the tahr are by no means fattened up or laying around waiting for you. You’ll be hunting wild tahr who come and go from private land. The only difference is accessibility.


May to August is the best window of opportunity for finding a prime winter skin. Mating season (the rut) spans late May to June and this is when tahr and chamois are most active during the day. But if you’re hunting tahr in alpine conditions, this time of year means snow, ice, and below-freezing temperatures. Be prepared for the environment and rapid weather changes.


If frostbite isn’t your thing, a spring hunt from September to November also has its benefits. The bulls tend to be hungry after the rut and form bachelor mobs with bleached blonde manes to feed, making it easier for hunters to compare sizes and hand-select a trophy.


So, grab your gear and plan a hunt. Aotearoa’s ecosystem will thank you for it. And if you have space for a tahr or chamois trophy, your interior décor will thank you as well!

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