Each year, Kilimanjaro puts its rifles to the test in the field in our continuing efforts to craft not merely beautiful rifles, but rifles tough and durable enough to handle the most extreme conditions. In 2010, it was twenty-eight days in Africa and the dust & ash after burning of the long grass in the Selous. In 2011, it was the extreme wet conditions of the Alaskan Peninsula in the Fall in pursuit of monster Brown Bear. For 2012, we headed to New Zealand’s South Island to tackle the extreme mountain and glacier conditions of the Southern Alps.
Our Master Gunsmith, Gene Gordner, headed out with Gus Bisset of New Zealand Trophy Hunting for field testing of the Kilimanjaro Jaeger 10-Bore Historical Rifle. They set out to break the world record for free-range Red Stag taken with a muzzle loading rifle. They came close… but the magnificent Stag which Gene took with one shot places 2d in the SCI record books (Correction: The official measurement is in and Gene’s Stag is No. 1 at 319 4/8, easily eclipsing the prior record holder of 308!). Full video of this remarkable hunt can be seen in the video link on You Tube). If you want to understand what hunting in an earlier era is like, this is a must see.
My son William and I headed out instead with Stu Marr, Ben Smith and John Totty of
New Zealand Safaris. We were delighted that Diana Rupp, Editor In Chief of Sports Afield magazine, was also able to join us. Diana was testing our new Artemis-Tigercat Rifle in 30-06 for an upcoming article. William picked our lightweight Leopard rifle in 6.5×55 Swede with a stunning Quilted Maple stock. I carried the full size Kilimanjaro African rifle in 7mm Rem. Mag. which is Stu’s recommended cartridge for the distances and the toughness of the Tahr. William’s 6.5×55 Swede, and Diana’s 30-06, also both performed exceptionally well (and were considerably lighter to carry).
We were tackling the steep mountains in pursuit of the high-climbing Tahr, Chamois and Arapawa Ram. We did it the hard way, completely on foot, starting at the lowest elevation and ascending 2,500 to 3,500 vertical feet each day, and then descending (the hardest part) into the evening. The climbing was difficult, not just because of the ice and snow at the higher elevations, but due to the loose shale covering so much of the mountain sides. You could never be sure of your footing. My son and the younger guides just danced over it with the energy and quick reflexes of youth. For my older legs, and slower reflexes when footing gave way, each step required careful consideration.
Bull Tahr, with their magnificent blonde mane against the dark fur of the body, has long been on my wish list, and I eagerly awaited this hunt. After arriving, and being confronted with the reality of the New Zealand Southern Alps, I didn’t think I could do it. I did, however, and am quite proud of myself. With a week of this type of climbing, my legs haven’t been this strong since I was 20 years old. My success is in large part due to what we jokingly called guide Stu Marr’s studied lack of candor in projecting how much farther we had to go. I quickly learned that Stu’s favorite phrases like “we will just pop up there”, or its just over that out-cropping, translated into two or more hours of fiery agony in the thighs, only to learn that now we needed to “pop up” someplace higher, and again, and again. By the end of the hunt, one truism emerged: “There is always more mountain to climb.” Stu, however, knew from experience what it takes to motivate and encourage hunters like me facing a greater than expected challenge, and my thanks go out to him.
We also were accompanied by professional photographer and painter Craig Smith. Aside from his talented photography, and ability to create original oil paintings of scenes from the hunt, Craig was just a great hunting companion with contagious good cheer and optimism. If you head down to New Zealand to hunt, we heartily recommend Craig’s services to create a beautiful and professional visual record of your hunt. Be forewarned, however; he turned my son into an avid New Zealand rugby fan, and “All Blacks” (the NZ national team) supporter.
The key to a good hunt is always the outfitter/guide escorting you, and New Zealand Safaris (Stu, Ben and John) are about the best we have seen. With hunting areas all over the South Island for all of New Zealand’s available game, they have the ability to choose the best location for your desired hunt. They displayed keen knowledge not only of the game and its habits, but of all the different terrains in which we hunted. Like Craig, they are enjoyable hunting companions: friendly, personable, and fun to be with.
Between William, Diana and myself, we successfully took five Tahr, 2 Chamois and 3 Arapawa Rams. More of the trophy photos can be seen on our Gallery page. With the 30-06 Artemis-Tigercat rifle, Diana took a magnificent Bull Tahr and superb Arapawa Ram, both with one shot. William took two Tahr, two Rams and the largest, most impressive Chamois I have ever seen with the Leopard 6.5×55 Swede. His shooting continues to excel. My own shooting was off to a less than impressive start. While I successfully took both my first Tahr and Chamois, it took three shots on each to get on target. We had just sighted in the scopes the night before the hunt, so I was perplexed. After that shooting performance, I sighted in again, and the scope was way off. Somewhere during the climb, it had been knocked out of alignment.
My second Tahr was taken with one shot from a free-handed sitting position, shooting up slope, into the setting sun at 220 yards. With the sun behind him, and standing on the ridge line, this Bull Tahr was visible only as a black silhouette, impossible to judge quality of the mane. He had, however, amassed and kept close the largest group of nannies (female Tahr) of any Tahr we had seen on the mountains. I figured this was the dominant Bull on the mountain, and I was right. He was glorious. Because I will not take skyline shots for safety reasons, I had to wait patiently with the cross-hairs on him until he finally stepped down with his shoulder below the ridge line, and I squeezed the trigger. It was a good hit, and he took off just over a nearby outcropping where we found him. At this point, it was last light and trophy photos were taken in the twilight. We were all the way at the top of this mountain, and it was a long descent in the dark with the headlamps. As treacherous as the footing is in daylight, navigating down in darkness with only a small circle of illumination in front of you is an entirely different experience. The beer, left in the truck to cool naturally in the below freezing temperatures, never tasted so good.
This was a tough hunt, but don’t let that deter you. The beauty and stunning vistas of the South Island of New Zealand are beyond compare. Despite the difficult climbs, I found the majestic Tahr to be every bit as addictive as Cape Buffalo, and I am already planning the next hunt.
– Erik D. Eike