Napier Fieldmaster Bob Spain recounts his last Tahr Hunt in New Zealand’s South Island.

Bob Spain

Tahr were first introduced into NZ by their government in 1904,  a gift from the Duke of Bedford of just 13 animals from his herd at Woburn abbey. 

They are now considered a major pest and are actively culled by hunters and

DOC Cullers.     Sounds familiar? remember he gave us the Reeves Muntjac in the UK!!!  

It’s a world away from most UK hunters both in distance and endeavour, a tough animal in a tough terrain hunted by tough hunters.  Fantastic to read, Thanks so much Bob

Steve Rowe   MD   Napier of London

JUNE 2020  Covid Compliant TAHR HUNT

After missing out on our usual Wapiti block in April 2020 due to strict covid 19 lockdowns we finally moved to Level 2 in JUNE.

So a Tahr hunting trip on DOC (Dept. of Conservation ) land was quickly planned and we headed for the South Island . A quick phone call to James Scott from Alpine Helicopters got a fast reply back  and it was all go.

 We had Baker Creek lower block on 13th JUNE for the week, most of the booking had been arranged, including ferries North to South Islands, we only had two days to travel down to the West Coast of the South Island, but at least 4 of us were going!!  

SATURDAY the 13th was a great day, fine and clear.   The chopper could only carry two of us plus gear at a time so two trips were made. Ben and I were in the first trip and encouragingly as we flew in Tahr were seen from Helicopter which was a great sign & after landing at camp and unloading Ben and Myself.  It was immediately in the air again to bring in Pete and Greg.

More animals were sighted on that flight too, and by the time they arrived we had a great camp site almost set up.  Plenty of room under a canopy of trees and all four our four tents, one to be used for cook tent.

After getting all set up it was time for are quick look around.

We took in an inflatable rubber boat to get across the main Landsborough river.  Pete and I went down and blew up the boat & with a long rope stretched from one side of river to the other we were able to pull ourselves back and forth and it worked great.

Over the far side of the river there were a lot of animal signs, so we got out binoculars and had a good glass.  We soon picked up a few Tahr quite a long way off, but was good to see, things looked promising.

We were all back in camp just on dark, while we were checking out the far bank Ben and Greg had gone up stream and had also seen game. So things were looking good for the week ahead.

SUNDAY DAY ONE   Our first full day, Greg and Ben went across the river by boat to hunt down stream for the day while I followed up Baker Creek to the tops, Pete headed downstream on the camp side of the next creek down intending to follow me up to the tops.

 It took me about three hours of hard climbing and hunting, glassing on the way & seeing animals but all too far away.

Reaching the open tops about an hour later & after a bite to eat and drink I was just quietly sitting glassing when a big bull Tahr walked out on a slip.

I looked  at him for a while, checking how good he was, a big long mane and good horns, but getting out the range finder to see just how far away he was, four hundred yds!    My rifle is a 7mm rem mag,  with  Leopold scope it has yd lines calibration so  I knew the second line down was  good for 350 to 400 yds.

 So with a good rest I prepared and as he turned side on I fired, down he went.

Then It took me about a good half hour to get to him , &  yes he was a good old bull, so a few photos followed by the skinning job.   A good bull skin with head on weights about 90 pounds which is a big heavy load over steep and tricky terrain.

Back at the camp, I arrived just on dark, Pete was already there but had no luck, although he did  Video  some Tahr, one of which was good bull.  But it was way too far for a shot and even more difficult to extract it if he had.

Greg and Ben arrived after dark having had a good day & seen Tahr not shot.  So with my Bull we did end the first day with one in the camp.

MONDAY

Weather had turned to heavy rain so it was a camp morning for us all, by lunch time it started to look better so Greg Ben and Pete took off for a hunt while I stayed in camp and salted my skin.

I also cleaned up the head, Pete went over the river from the camp by our ferry boat & hunted up stream to tops.   He ran into a lot of animals and took some photos to see the good bulls, but again way too far for a clean shot.

But he had a good look around the country, & found a good spot for Tahr.

Ben and Greg hunted along the river Camp side but only spotted small animals, so after a couple of hours headed back to camp.

Pete finally made it back to camp after dark and we all had good meal, and were ready for early bed.

TUESDAY  We woke to heavy rain and some snow so it looked like another morning in camp, a good decision as it happens  as by mid-morning we were engulfed in fog too.  Quickly though the weather improved.

Ben moved up directly behind the camp to tops & GREG headed off downstream for a bit to move up there too. PETE went up Baker Creek to a waterfall and saw Tahr high up on the tops as the fog cleared.

I crossed the river in our little boat and hiked down to a big flat area, I sat there for couple of hours, glassing to see Thar come down quite low and eventually only about a hundred yards from me, but  they were all small animals , &  I was waiting for a decent beast so I stayed there patiently till  just on dark before heading back to camp.

 GREG was back but had no luck, and he had  got himself very wet and cold, and that’s quite miserable, but good drop of wine soon fixed him up.

But still no sign of BEN  and  by now it was dark,  we always carry two way radios so gave him a call at 19:00  to discover he was ok,  he had shot a good bull and had a good load on board that makes for a slow trip back.

Its a good job he had very good head lamp, and  he makes it out in the snow and rain quite exhausted with a 12inch bull and good skin.

WEDNESDAY woke to a  bright sky  with light frost and it was very cold, we had breakfast and all set off for a day’s hunt, we all went different ways &  I went back up Baker Creek,  Pete & Greg went  across the river again. Greg stayed the  camp side  and he came with me to Baker Creek where we parted and he headed down-stream to some water sheds then up into open bush.

I moved up creek for about hour then cut up into some bush ,it was very open some signs of animals here and there then just as  as I was getting to the tops  I spooked couple of animals, as the  wind  was all over place.

I got to a good look out spot, so had a good glass about and after about an hour picked up a mob of Tahr but way in the distance.

.

Then I got the midday call from all the boys to say they were on to Tahr, but nothing shot yet.

I gave it another hour then headed off back down through the bush, hunting as I went, I got  down about half hour from the Main river and just broke out of the bush to look across Baker Creek .

Standing there looking at me was a big bull Tahr,  we both were face to face looking at each other for a few seconds but by the time I got set for a shot he disappeared!!!   bugger but that’s hunting.

I got out the range finder to  discover  he was only  fifty yards from me, I sat there till dark but he did not show himself again.       SO Back to camp.

Pete and Ben were already there and  Greg came in about half hour later,  he was the only one to score one young bull that day, a good skin, which  he wanted for a floor rug so very happy.

We all had good tea then off to bed.

THURSDAY Yes our last full day hunting, rain and strong winds, bloody cold too with  ice and snow in the air, we were  all  feeling very brave so we stayed in bed.

I eventually got up and served the boys breakfast in bed, the weather looked better about lunch time so all put on wet weather gear and  went for our final jaunt. Ben and I went across river, Pete and Greg up in the bush behind the camp.  I edged down river to a big flat area for glassing & sat in a good spot out of the worst weather, Tahr seemed to be on the move, I saw about fifteen animals but  just one good, big looking one, it was hard to get good look at his horns as  the range was about three hundred yards.

Ben came down to meet me and he checked out the Tahr and it was decided that I should shoot him, but by that time he was getting further away up hill,  time was getting on and  not far off dark so we called it a day and left him to get bigger.   If I had known then that the DOC were going to shoot all the Tahr from  helicopters  only to just leave them, maybe I would have taken that shot,  I  hope he still lives.

Back to boat and across the river, It did a great job transporting us safely so it was deflated and carefully packed up for extraction by the helicopter at 10am in the morning.

FRIDAY all packed up, gear pulled down, tents stowed and had good final clean up, nothing left behind.  Chopper arrived on time and with two trips we were back on our way home.  Looking forward to being reunited with my new Labrador Pup, Judy.   Great Memories and looking forward to the next trip. 

Bob Spain

RABBITS GALORE

Bob Spain

Over the past ten to fifteen years, my brother and I have been very lucky to have two good back country farms to shoot on. The farms boast deer and pigs among their bounty, which is a boost to have venison and pork on the menu.

Rabbits however are in very big numbers, there has been no problem in the past to shoot up to eight hundred in a day. That’s a good days shooting. On an average day however, we would shoot about four to five hundred between us. On a lesser day we would shoot between fifty to two hundred each.

The weather has a big part to play, as rabbits, like all animals, you get a night’s rain turning nice and fine come morning, with no wind, rabbits come out of their burrows to get the sun.

During spring time all the young ones are coming out of their holes five to six in groups and having not been shot at before, they are very easy to shoot. It’s possible to pick off the ones far from the burrow, and work back most times shooting the lot.

The rifle I use is a bolt action Brno model one, fitted with a clamp on suppressor.

I like the Remington subsonic 22 ammunition hollow point and also use three ten shot mags as required. Most rabbits are shot at ranges between thirty to eighty yds. Although it’s a bit of a job to load mags when the shooting gets hot.

Sunday 6th September 2020, just a morning shoot with my brother. He dropped me off at the start of the farm and I was to follow up to him to meet at midday. I was in the area the Sunday before, after deer and saw a lot of rabbits so went back.

The weather was not good, with a very strong north westerly wind, when I could get out of the wind my first twenty shots dropped twenty rabbits which I was pleased with. I followed up, shooting in sheltered places which was good. Some of the rabbits were calm and relaxed, sitting down at spots out of the wind I would pick off ten to fifteen at a time.

Most of the rabbits were fully grown, with the young ones not far off.  As I approached the meet up point, I tried to pick up sheltered spots here and there, upon reaching my brother I had shot one hundred and fifty rabbits in total.  I use a counter clicker for tally.

My brothers tally was one hundred and seventy so three twenty shot for the morning

TO BE CONTINUED. . .

Saturday 19th September 2020, Yes off again!

The weather was good, there were plenty of rabbits around until after lunch when the rain set in. My brother and I both went different ways, I followed the bush line where rabbits were coming out of the bush on to the new grass, mostly big ones with some small ones.

Not yet at my destination, however it didn’t take me long to shoot off one hundred rounds.

I stopped for cup of tea and a sandwich, sitting by a cut down tree which gave me a bit of cover. By the time I had drunk the tea and finished the sandwich I had shot sixty rabbits as they popped out on the grass. Down the rabbits went, some good long shots too!

My mate Steve gave me a primo shooting stick, which works very well. Walking up and down hills you get to be a bit out of puff with old age!

Heard my brother shooting so he was in to them.

Time for lunch, yes, I do stop for lunch I got into a good spot again shooting and loading up the ten shot mags as fast as I could go. The spot was on top of a ridge looking down on rabbit burrows as they came out, down went the rabbits.

The rain started to set in so I made my way back to the truck, shooting as I went. By the time I got to the truck it wasn’t long before my brother was back. The tally for the day was five hundred and fifty-six, good part day

TILL NEXT TIME . . .

Tick Survey

Chris Dalton

One of things I have been involved in for the last 18 months is working with Public Health England on a deer serosurveillance study for tick-borne viruses. Essentially I collect deer serum and tick samples from each deer shot and then send those off along with some general information about deer species, general condition / location etc to the team at Porton Down. Whilst the study has thrown up some interesting results the tested deer serum samples that I have submitted, all have tested negative on the tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) and louping ill virus (LIV) antibody test (ELISA); detecting no presence of antibodies against TBEV or LIV, this indicates no evidence of infection of either of these viruses

Again my Apex predator roe sack has been invaluable in carrying amongst all of my normal stalking gear the test kits and associated tubes and paperwork. This roe was actually shot on a hill estate in Perthshire that I manage and had somehow managed to get the wrong side of a 300 hectare fenced and planted woodland creation scheme and so had to be removed.

Chris Dalton

Field master

UK pro stalker of the year 2019& 2020 

Goat Fail…

Napier

Well strange times indeed for everyone in the world including our staff and Fieldmasters contributors.

Napier MD Steve Rowe was supposed to be visiting Napier’s offices in  NZ and working there for a few weeks back in March then just a few hours before departure the world and the rules changed, no one is going anywhere. Usually Steve manages to catch up with Jim Jackson and Bob Spain on these trips and was due to meet Gibbo in Australia on the way home too. But as we all know lockdown everywhere has prevented that, it was planned that we would record the outings planned in NZ and Australia for this Fieldmasters post.  But to the rescue Jim has kindly recounted the last visit and although there is no photograph to attach, ( for reasons you will read) he has recalled that moment from his vivid and somewhat strange memory, by pen and paper, I hope you enjoy this read, we are all living off memories of past hunts for the moment.

Steve

So , having St Eve Rowe back over from the UK for another visit , a day goat culling was called for . Being super hot and dry most forestry blocks were out of bounds due to fire risk . After much wheedling , pleading and outright grovelling to the then forestry manager of the pulp mill a permit was gained for the goat infested Waipatiki block on the way to the popular surfing beach . Great ! Guaranteed goats , can’t miss. What could go wrong?

Having followed the sound of bleating through dense pine on steep terrain for quite a while and no clear shot we decided to head for “goat gully”, this is a very deep ravine too steep to plant pine and so full of dense grass and weeds and a favourite grazing spot for the smelly target critters. Getting there means driving the trusty HiLux to the start of about a kilometre of forestry access road and walking quietly to the end before descending through pine forest to the edge of the gully itself with a panoramic view of any goats unfortunate enough to be munching on all the nice green stuff. Halfway down we could hear much bleating coming up from below .Great , can’t miss much slaughter will be done. Steve has the trusty old sport converted Lee Enfield so lines up on a very large nanny and starts shooting .Down goes the nanny, the biggest Billy we’ve seen in years gets two of the last three rounds as we only have the five shot mag, my first oversight -meant to bring the ten . Never mind , still plenty of targets whizzing about all over the place so Steve sticks his hand out for five more. He then sees me standing there wearing a sick grin and patting all my pockets in the manner of the smoker who is about to ask for a match. Second and biggest oversight – ammo box still in HiLux over a kilometre away!

Sent back in disgrace amid much mumbling about useless bloody amateurs etc , etc I trudge all the way back and stuff my pockets full of rounds . Getting to the end of the access road and starting down through the trees , I smell goats .I hear goats ! As I get near the edge of the trees I am treated to the sight of Steve parked on his bum next to a stump right on the lip of the ravine peering through his binoculars trying to spot more goats . He is completely unaware that he is totally surrounded by a herd of about two dozen  curious goats all staring at him with the lead billy looking at him round a stump not more than fifteen feet away. He has the rifle , I have the ammo and all the goats are between the two of us.  I went “Er….Steve” illogically trying to ‘shout quietly’ and got the expected reaction of panic from the goats and frustration from Steve who could only point the gun at point blank range and shout “bang” at them . Despite a frantic reload , no more goats were shot in the gully that day and I had to buy the beer!

One day , possibly, I will hear the end of this .Only wish I’d had the camera with me . It was (ahem) still in the HiLux.

Jum J

Kangaroo Culling

Greg Gibson

I haven’t got the most glamorous job to do though it is essential.

I would love to be one of those hunters you see pictures of with a big stag with huge sets of antlers. But no, my job in the community is much less exciting and somewhat mundane. I am a Profession Roo Shooter.

Roos on a Golf course

Kangaroo (Roo) numbers in my part of Western Australia have boomed since European settlement. This is because we clear the bush, improved the pasture and put in watering points for our stock. The roos loved these improvement to a point where they become so numerous that they eat all the feed for the stock and become inbred. Don’t believe what you read about roos becoming endangered, this is far from the truth.

Generally my culling is done at night under spotlight as roos become more nocturnal with culling pressure. An evening out culling starts at night fall, then we spend a few hours culling an area. Taking anywhere from a dozen to 35 in an evening. They are all tidied up for presentation to a chiller. They are processed for either human consumption, pet food or canine baits. None are wasted.

An accurate rifle is essential as under the national code of Humane Shooting of Kangaroos all animals must be head shot. As you can see by the numbers of animals taken in an evening, barrels require cleaning regularly. Steve from Napier’s of London put me on the right track in this regard when he visited once and he has a great video on his web page. I use Ultra Clean for patches, these have a rough side and a fluffy side. They are great. Generally I just use Napier Gun Cleaner down the bore but every now and again when giving a good doing over use bore solvent. Just follow Steve’s video and you can’t go wrong. Napier products are top quality. That VP90 stuff is excellent.

Kangaroos are culled under strict Government controlled guide lines and permits. All animals taken are recorded for weight, sex and location. These figures are used to monitor numbers taken and allocate future cull numbers as required.

As I started, not glamorous but essential to keep numbers under control for the benefit of the community and the agricultural sector. One day I might get to hunt a big stag.

Pro Stalker 2019-2020

Napier

Napier are delighted that one of our Field Masters has been awarded UK Pro Stalker of the year for the second year running . UK Pro Stalker of the year is selected from Public nominations and votes with the winner revealed at an awards ceremony at the NEC – the announcements were made on the Saturday night of The British Shooting Show in Birmingham. Chris has worked with Napier for a number of years on Product testing and we are delighted to have him at the ‘ Sharp ‘ end of testing our innovative products in the field.

Rock Lobster

Greg Gibson

The Western Rock Lobster off our Western Australian coast can grow up to 5 kilograms though most harvested would usually only average 750 grams. They are a member of the spiny lobster family and taste fantastic. Though the large portion of the available catch is taken commercially, us amateur fishers have ample opportunity to catch our own. For $50 you can add the rock lobster catch permit to your annual fishing license. Amateurs catch them by either using lobster pots or diving. Divers can only use a snare or catch by hand.

As a young fella I chased these on a regular basis. We would go down the beach and swim out to the inshore reefs only few hundred meters from the shore and free dive to catch our quarry. Using, in them day a simple gidgee to prise the young lobsters from under the reefy ledges. During late spring and again later summer the younger lobster come into these onshore reefs to moult their shells and we would take great advantage of this. This was the christening for me on an annual pursuit of these much sort after delicacies. In these early days my mother, though cautious of me diving, loved me even more with every mouthful.

Western Rock Lobsters are a real delicacy. They are exported worldwide to supply the restaurants from China, USA and Europe. It is Western Australia’s biggest export fishery. Western Australia’s Western Rock Lobster Fishery has received international acknowledgement as one of the best managed and most sustainable in the world.

As time has gone by we have improved our method of catching and invested in diving gear. This has increased our chances of catching our share. On a couple of occasions this year, when the weather gods shine we have had the opportunity to chase a few. These day a lot of our diving is done in the 20 to 35 meters range to increase our chances and sizes of our target. 

I hope you enjoyed this article as much as we enjoyed our feeds.

Christmas Stalking

Chris Dalton

As we are thinking about a few days off in front of the log burner and eating too many mince pies, I find myself working up an appetite on the hills above Aberfeldy in the second week of December chasing hinds about as we work on the cull and at the same time filming for The Shooting Show.  One of my most valued bits of kit here is the Napier Apex predator. Now I accept that its quite tricky fitting a Hind with larder weight of around 65 kilo  into the opened out predator ! However,  neatly  contained inside is  all the kit  that I need – conveniently wrapped around my waist . I do not have to think, have I got this or the other, it’s just there . In and amongst the drag rope, bone saw, tracking harness disposal gloves etc is another essential item in the hill, the apex air glow wind checker. With a red hind able to  smell me at around  2 miles in certain conditions, even more with the old spice or brut ! ( I will likely be getting re supplied on the 25 th)  and now I am really showing my age;  it’s fairly important I know which way I am blowing or else I am wasting my time up here. Zosia is clearly not impressed either with my chosen perfume !

Have a good one !

Chris Dalton

Napier Field Master

Rags, Stags & Bog Tales..

Niall Rowantree

The art and charm of deerstalking has frequently been describe by more able pens than mine and at this time of year as highland glens echo to the call of our largest wild mammals, I thought it may be a worth moment to look at the reasoning behind which stag to take and what drives the selection process.

The deer world has always fallen into two camps with very distinct differences of opinion as to what is required. For one, the whole essence of deer control/stalking pivots around the protection of crops or habitats or they are in pursuit of a vision of a changed Scotland in which the Red stags has a greatly diminished role.

Alternatively, the second camp see them as an iconic resources that can be harvested on an annual basis to secure employment and bring much needed revenue to often remote and rural parts of the country.

When looking at the two selection ideologies it’s important to know which angle you’re coming from and who is influencing the population.

Undoubtedly, the land is the finite resource and getting all pernickety about what deer to take or leave is pointless if the land and animals aren’t in good heart.

No matter what impact protection methods are used or planned for the future, they will fail if the number of deer are not controlled and maintained at a density level which the ground can carry.  This density level depends on the feeding potential of the locality not in absolute terms but related to the acceptable levels of impact which can be economically or in some cases emotionally sustained.

However, deer densities not only influence the level of impact, numbers also influence the condition of the deer themselves.  In areas where habitats are poor, the damage potential is high and numbers need to be lower whereas when habitats are rich, they can sustain significantly higher densities and this can vary across individual land or estates.

The dangers of overpopulation are manifold from the loss of habitat and high mortality to poor performance, loss of mature males to marauding. However, a well-managed population is an asset and a significant income generator to rural communities which can be credibly demonstrated.

We frequently hear arguments and discussions about how to age deer.  At the same time, it is rare that you hear questions such as ‘why?’ and ‘when?’ An accurate estimation of age is important.  I feel that it is necessary to put age estimation into it proper perspective particularly in relation to wild deer and their stalking.  Undoubtedly, for scientific reasons, be it the investigation of sexual maturity and other characteristics and for those farming deer, this is easily overcome by applying deer tags.  However, when talking about wild deer, the consideration is usually which deer to take and which to leave.  To achieve this, the stalker needs to be able to determine a shootable beast from a non-shootable beast.  They need to be able to age the animal on the hoof at distance using its body and antler recognition for guidance.  It is after the stag has been taken that there is a need to confirm the visual estimate of age and whether the decision to cull was correct or not.  In this practice, absolute accuracy is not essential.  To arrive at a decision the stalker simply needs to establish the age group of the animal whether it is young, mature or old and the quality of the animal whether it is shootable or non-shootable.  In essence, it is not unlike activities such as farming cattle or other livestock that land has a carrying capacity and it is essential to remove surplus stock. 

The rules of a traditional highland deer forests, stags are seldom taken below 3 years of age unless there are immediate welfare issues.  Stags can be considered moving into the mature class from age 4 and onward.  Eight points or better with a fair length of antler are spared and watched for signs of better development.  Shootable stags from this age group are stags with bare tops, stags with fewer than 8 points and heads that fit comfortable into a triangular profile side on.  However, it should be balanced with what is considered the norm for the area for example on Ardnamurchan, 10 pointers is fairly common place but in some parts of the Highlands, 8 pointers are more common.  Once stags have passed through this filtering, they make the core group of mature stags and the population moving back into the category of shootable once beyond 8 years of age.  At which point, poor development, antler irregularity and loss of condition become a consideration as are good quality heads showing signs of ‘going back’ for at least 2 consecutive years.  All stags once they have reached a critical point in their age are better removed than left to die. 

A good deer manager will have a detailed knowledge of the deer in his area, he may not have access to the records like his farming colleagues have and to each individual animal’s parentage but he should be able to collect data regarding calving percentages and physical condition scoring.  He has to rely on his experience and decide on the quality and value of each animal by the ability to evaluate the animal on the hoof.  The more information you gather from observing each beast and herd, the better you will become on making decisions regarding what you cull and what you leave.  In essence, even the best animals will reach a point when they will become ‘shootable’ and animals of poor quality are shootable as soon as their inadequacies are spotted. 

Classically, the old hands at this game would refer to poor stags with bare tops in the younger age groups as being ‘just a rag’ although anything with tops was seen to be a stags and allowed to go forward.  Many highland estates had the tradition that at the end of the season, heads were displayed and neighbouring estates were invited to observed heads taken from the season past which lead to healthy discussion and steadied many a hand when lying in a peat bog from acting in haste and squeezing the trigger on something better left.