After five days of chamois hunting, it’s time to quest for New Zealand’s grail: the tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus). But the beast with the lion’s mane is not going to make it easy. What’s more, the elements seem to have conspired against us. Back in Christchurch, we receive bad news. A low-pressure weather system is approaching the New Zealand Alps and could bring torrential rain. The mountains – which include the 3,754-meter Aoraki/Mount Cook, also known as Aorangi (“Cloud Piercer”) – form a weather barrier with their numerous 3,000-meter-plus summits. Per, our hunting guide, is unconcerned. After all, we still have 48 hours until the front will arrive. Time enough to get closer to the tahr.

Off we go, into the mountains where The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. We hike up the valley of the Godley Glacier and, after 15 kilometers, reach the Godley Hut, built in 1934. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to climb Mount Everest, once trained here, where the tahr, a native of the Himalayas, is said to live. Seems like a positive omen. The New Zealand Alps offer the tahr an ideal habitat – the males weigh up to 100 kilograms. Whipped by downpours and gusts of wind, we reach the hut. The storm seems to be approaching faster than predicted. We receive radio confirmation that the weather will deteriorate considerably in the coming night. We have no choice. We must retreat.

A year later, we are greeted at the airport by a broadly grinning customs officer who vividly remembers our first visit. This time, we have planned nine days for the hunt, to give us more leeway in case of inclement weather. Per thinks that’s a good idea. It’s May, the beginning of autumn, and the Southern Alps have been shrouded in fog for weeks. But here, deep in the South, that can change quickly.

We set off for the glaciers and the rushing alpine streams. On this trip, a bivouac awaits us because the Godley Hut is not accessible. The access road is blocked by tons of scree, which now covers a large part of the valley after a violent landslide. Then the clouds finally break, and rain showers alternate with clear spells. We experience a majestic landscape that makes us feel tiny. Tahrs are actually common here, but the impish animals don’t give us a single chance.

After three unsuccessful days, Per suggests we return to a valley about three kilometers long, through which an alpine torrent flows. We follow this wild stream in the direction of Mount D’Archiac, which dominates the Godley Valley. This peak owes its name to its European discoverer, Julius von Haast, who once compared the mountain to a colossal pyramid. He chose this name to thank his patron, Viscount d’Archiac, director of the Geological Museum in Paris.

As we continue our ascent upstream, we keep observing the dizzying slopes on both sides of the valley. Several times, we see something moving along the narrow mountain paths, only to disappear again immediately afterwards. There’s nothing we can do. No chance of aligning the scope.

When you’re hunting in a place as magical as the New Zealand Alps, time flies. In the early afternoon we start our descent into camp. The weather is deteriorating again and we have to seek shelter in our tent. Per leads the way, closely followed by his dog, Andy. We bring up the rear, careful not to lose our footing on the scree. Suddenly, Per jumps behind a large rock and holds Andy close. Intuitively, we also get into position and ready our rifle. “Tahr at 360 meters, a male, take aim!” Per need not say more. The bipod is already on the rock, the rangefinder gives us the shot correction, then a long moment of silence follows. The tahr has noticed us and remains motionless on a scree slope.

Now it moves a few metres further. We quickly remeasure the new distance. We make the target correction on the adjustment turret of the riflescope. I am on target and exhale slowly. The shot is fired and the EVO green in caliber 270 Win. hits, the tahr twitches as if struck by lightning and disappears behind a large rock.

Andy sets off, swims through the stream, and makes his way up the scree. After ten long minutes, he reaches the tahr and starts barking. We follow his voice, but it takes us nearly half an hour to climb the scree. Our legs are trembling; our breath is short. But we are delighted to have finally conquered one of the most mythical species of mountain game.

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