Expedition NZ – First Lite Performance Hunting
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Expedition NZ

Posted by Ford Van Fossan on
IMG_1697_600_400 A red stag skull in the high country of the Southern Alps. Photo Credit: Josh Kinser

First Lite's Ford Van Fossan travels to New Zealand's South Island to hunt tahr, chamois, and red Stag for the next two weeks. You can follow the adventure on our campfire blog and on instagram with the hashtag #expeditionNZ.

The Stoke

First, the trip was just an idea. It was born after I watched an episode of MeatEater in which Steve hunts tahr and chamois in a painfully picturesque glacial valley in Southern Alps.

Then the idea became possibility. After I talked with a few Kiwis at the 2015 SHOT show, it no longer seemed so outlandish. I heard tales of rugged terrain, vast expanses of public land and plentiful exotic critters.

Finally, the possibility of a trip transformed into an obsession. Scott and Kenton, First Lite’s fearless leaders, traveled to the country to visit Merino sheep ranches (and hunt). They brought back some pretty pictures, a couple good stories and what was apparently and exemplary shoulder mount of a creature that looked like the product of a pronghorn, a mountain goat and a weird night in Jackpot, Nevada.

No tags, no licenses. Just get yourself down there and you can hunt like you drew one of North America’s best mountain units.

It was settled.

NZTripMap The itinerary: Hailey, Idaho to Queenstown, New Zealand. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

The Plan

Good. Now to plan it. International DIY mountain hunts are not known for the logistical simplicity but at least it wasn’t hard to find a willing buddy.

It would have been easier to hire an outfitter for the hunt. It would have been easier but that’s not what we are doing. First, we don’t have the cash. As young guys not far out of school, we aren’t exactly rolling in the dough required to contract a PH. Fortunately, we aren’t much interested in doing so anyway.

I’ve never been on a guided hunt; it's not that I am against the concept. I’d just generally rather shoot a spike on my own than a six by six that someone whom I’ll soon be tipping put me on. However, I also fully realize that it is not always possible to hunt on a strange land without guidance. As far as I know, Tanzania will not be a destination for DIY hunters anytime soon.

But herein lies much of the appeal of New Zealand as a destination. There were several tales on rokslide and others blogs across the Internet of plucky folks heading down to the country and pulling off totally unguided mountain hunts. It seems that maybe, with a bit of beta, we might be able to get after some neat critters in absolute trophy high country.

Fortunately, we haven’t been flying blind on logistics. As I mentioned, Scott and Kenton had hunted down there the previous springs and had some contacts on a sheep station in the center of the South Island. In addition to answering my constant stream of logistical question emails, they very kindly have offered to put us up for a few days and point us towards a few places where we might find some game.

Slowly a plan emerged: fly into Queenstown. Stock up on supplies, see the city and spend our first night there. Then, drive up to our new friends ranch. Check the rifles, head into the mountains and find some tahr and chamois. Come out with heavy packs, regroup and maybe take a shower. Next go look up some red stags, ideally some that are hot on hinds (females) and “roaring” away. Repeat the heavy pack-shower scenario and call it a trip. Along the way we hope to see some gorgeous country, meet some interesting folks and learn about a culture of hunting a bit different from our own.

ski The author at the summit of Vienna Peak in the Sawtooth Range. Backcountry tours provided vertical (and powder skiing). Photo Credit: Avery Shawler.

The Training

Physical preparation was another consideration in planning this expedition. I’ve never quite been a #Mtnstrong type guy but hunting the Southern Alps would not be a roll-out-of-bed-and-go type experience. In March, pounding the hills for game is a memory several months in the past. It seemed a bit of intentional training was in order for a hunt in rugged country during the peak of the North American offseason.

Luckily, I live in a mountain town. The Bald Mountain Ski Area rises 3,400 vertical feet from the valley floor a rifle shot from my front door. Climbing the ski mountain after the lifts shut down is one of my favorite after work activities in the winter. The snow cats groom the runs at night and so generally after getting to the top you get to ski freshly courdoroyed runs as a reward for the hike.

Using climbing skins on touring skis, I tried to get to the top (or as high as my schedule would allow) at least twice a week. As the trip got closer, I began to snowshoe up in my hunting boots with a weighted pack that also held my ski boots and downhill skis to better simulate the impact and motion of warm season hiking.

Most weekends, I supplemented this scheme with backcountry ski tours, another favorite winter pastime. This allowed me to put in a bit more vertical to prepare for the climbing, climbing and, more likely than not, more climbing that will be involved in the hunt. Finally, I rounded out my training for the Southern Alps with five-mile runs.

I have been fortunate to be able to do all of these activities at relatively high elevation. Our town sits at 5800 feet and is surrounded by mountains up to 12,000 feet tall. All things considered I was feeling physically prepared for the hunt. Would it still kick my ass? Definitely, but hopefully less so than if I hadn’t done anything at all.

pack Warm weather in February allowed for a few training laps on dirt. Photo Credit: Author.

The Boomstick

In addition to physical training I knew I also needed to get in some time at the range. I had decided against the bow early with the argument that I have the distinct pleasure of chasing Idaho’s mountain critters with arrows for a month or two each fall. Up till now this experience has been extremely rewarding but entirely devoid of harvested animal protein. If we were going to fly all the way down to New Zealand I figure it might be nice to bring the artillery and maximize our chances, especially in light of the whole hunting-species-I’d-never-seen-before-in-a-country-I’d-never-stepped-foot-in-without-a-guide, thing.

I’ll admit it freely; my rifle almost always takes a back seat to the Charger. But with the impending boomstick hunt, the Tikka had emerged sooner than usual in 2016. I shot cardboard once or twice a week, focusing on building confidence at somewhat unsettled shooting conditions of mountain hunting.

This was easier said than done. Deep snows limited the standard drive-out-a-canyon routine for longer distance practice. Ultimately, I resorted to using my touring skis to get out to deserted places to shoot over 100 yards. I told the occasional passerby I was training for a biathlon. The extra effort aside, I was feeling quite confident with my .308.

Gear The gear. Photo Credit: Author

The Swag

Gear gathering and preparation was another process. Working for an apparel company, the clothing kit wasn’t too difficult to figure out. It was more or less the same setup I bring along for all my backcountry hunts with a couple of additions from the 2016 line.

Apparel
Core Lower Base Red Desert Boxer
Med Lower Base Allegheny Bottom
Pant Corrugate Guide Pant
Core Top Wilikin Aerowool Crew Top
Med Top Chama Hoody
Med Top Halstead Tech Fleece
Insulation Umcompahgre Puffy Jacket
Hard Shell Jacket Vapor Stormlight Jacket
Hard Shell Bottom Boundary Stormtight Pant
Light Headwear 5 Panel Tech Cap
Warm Headwear Cuff Beanie
Concealment Neck Gaiter
Gaiter Traverse Boot Gaiters
Base Glove Aerowool Glove Liner
Insulating Glove Talus Fingerless Gloves

 

More difficult decisions were made in the equipment department. I viewed this trip as an opportunity/sufficient excuse to upgrade my backcountry setup. I became a regular in our local backcountry gear shop and spent far too much time trolling the likes of rokslide, outdoorgearlab.com and backpacker.com. Ultimately, I bought trekking poles, a new stove, a new pad and new boots. I have also resealed the seams on my aging tent and borrowed a shiny new First Lite Fusion Kifaru pack from the venerable Ryan Callahan.

Gear
Spotting Scope Vortex Razor
Binocular Olympus Trooper 8x40
Tent MSR Hubba Hubba
Bag EMS Boreal 20°
Pad Big Agnes Q Core
GPS Garmin Rhino 610
Headlamp Black Diamond Revolt
Stove MSR WL International
Knife Havalon Piranta
Trekking Poles Black Diamond Distance Z
Scope Vortex Viper
Rifle Tikka T3 Lite in .308
Rangefinder Vortex Ranger
Pack Kifaru Mountain Warrior
Boots Salomon Quest

 

The Trip

Despite some teeth pulling moments, we finally got this expedition sorted out. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be in the Southern Alps in no time. The International Date Line, NZ Customs and 16 hours of flying is all that separatedsus from our long anticipated Kiwi adventure.

Ford Van Fossan is the Consumer Sales and Content Manager at FLHQ. He will not be answering his phone for the next two weeks.

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