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I Lost The Bet!

Sara and tahr

After listening to the orientation speaker at the University of Wyoming yarn on about “having your children for six to seven years for their undergraduate degree,” I offered a proposal to Miss Rosey (Sara Brandenburg). 

“Graduate in three-and-a-half years, and I’ll take you to New Zealand.”

Miss Rosey, being a clever negotiator herself, responded: “What all are we hunting?” 

“Tahr, chamois, red stag, fallow bucks, hogs and anything else our hosts Benjamin and Lucy Smith have to offer,” was my reply. 

“Deal!”  Sara said. We shook hands and then we all got busy with life. 

Two-and-a-half years later, it was December 2015, at the end of the fall semester when Sara arrived home from school, placed her hands assertively on her hips and loudly proclaimed: “How ‘bout two and a half years, Pops?” 

“What, are you kidding me?”  I stated. 

My wife, Lori, and I were shocked.  How did she graduate that fast with no A.P. credits?  It was 18-23 credit hours, summer school and the will to go to New Zealand.  That’s how! 

Sara is NOT your typical millennial.  It was June 2017 when things slowed down enough to pay my debt.  Lori was good enough to watch the business and we were off.

This was my fourth trip with Ben Smith.  If you enjoy laughing, pulling pranks on each other, (bring plenty of rubber snakes and mice) hunting hard, and harvesting the biggest FREE-RANGE trophies New Zealand has to offer, then Ben’s your man. 

We don’t use helicopters.  We walk 10-20 miles a day.  It’s hard, it’s honest, it’s free range.  Ben leases huge cattle and sheep ranches on which he is the exclusive outfitter. 

We four-wheeled into a remote sheep herder’s cabin where we glassed a “mob” of tahr from the front porch.  Two bulls were in fierce combat for the ladies. We were hitting the tahr rut, prime time in June.  

“Those are two fine bulls, we know where they are, if we need them later.” Ben quipped.

rocks in the pack

We drove until dark, glassing over 60 tahr and a dozen red stags.  As always, there was plenty of game.  June is wintertime in New Zealand.  We were welcomed to eight inches of snow at the cabin (“hut” in Kiwi). 

Where Ben was taking us, there was 14-16 inches of snow on steep, slippery slopes.  So, the following day, before we took off on our trek, Ben checked his backpack.  Smart move!  Several years before, in an attempt to slow him down and have a great laugh, I gradually added about 25 pounds of slide rock and driftwood to his pack!  He carried the extra weight for several days without noticing.  Now, when the Brandenburgs show up, he takes notice.

Four snowy hours later, we spotted a herd of tahr.  The herd master dwarfed the satellite bulls and nannies.  He possessed a blonde triangle on his broad forehead. 

As we were closing the distance, the wind shifted, causing the herd to erupt over the ridge opposite of our position.  We played “try to catch the tahr” for several more cold, slippery hours before trudging back to camp.  We were soaked, cold, and definitely jet lagged, but we didn’t come to New Zealand to rest. 

We knew there were several tahr above the cabin, so we put on our wet boots and headed up the mountain.  Then, 2,700 vertical feet later, near the top of the mountain, we spotted the herd and the big bull.  On hands and knees, we crept within 260 yards. 

Sara said the shot felt good, but I thought she flat missed.  Up the hill we climbed to where the big bull stood at the shot.  No blood, no hair.  It was dark now.  Ben told us to ease back down the (cliff) mountain, then pick him up on the road down below.  He was going to look some more.

The ice and snow on those vertical rocks provided some nifty horizontal crashes, as Sara and I negotiated our way down the steep mountain.  She really is a trooper and tough as nails. 

Ninety minutes later, we found the cabin.  We startled, then grabbed Lucy, to go find Ben.  It was raining hard, when we found him on the side of the road.  He wasn’t alone.  He’d miraculously found Sara’s tahr in the dark.   Shot through both lungs! 

After we split up, Ben found a couple hairs, then some blood in the mud and snow.  Of course, the entire herd’s tracks were confusing the situation, but Ben followed his instinct, kept tracking in the dark, and found where one set of tracks did veer off down the mountain. 

In good Kiwi fashion, he found Sara’s bull, then packed the 220-pound load off the mountain.  Tahr are part of the goat family; they are beyond tough to kill.  How he got that animal off that mountain without killing himself is a true New Zealand mystery.  Hats off to a job well done, Ben!

We celebrated Sara’s good shot and heroics of Ben the Superman.  Ben’s wife Lucy said: “Ah just another day at the office for Ben.” 

The following day, we searched for the 7 x 8 unique red stag we had spotted on the initial drive in.  His antlers weren’t like a stag, an elk or a deer.  He had unusually thick, short, bone white head gear.  We spotted several stags on the steep mountainside, but not the big one we were looking for. 

Then, there in a ravine by himself, we saw the one we were looking for.  The camera man, me, followed Ben and Sara north up the mountain, then we cut to the west.  In our third ravine, we found the stag still alone and completely unaware of us. 

With Sara and Ben in the foreground, I captured another one-shot kill, compliments of Sara Rose.  As the sun was setting, we took pictures, then packed the big 7×8 back to the truck.  As usual, Sara Rose carried the head, which weighed approximately 70 pounds.  The following day, we headed to another location to hunt chamois and fallow bucks.

sara and chamois

Lucy seldom accompanied her husband, Ben, on these adventures.  Their children, Mac and Rosey, were old enough now to stay with Grandma Sue.  So, Lucy and Sara got a New Zealand brain thrust that the two of them wanted to tackle a chamois together without the guys. 

Ben got a big grin, fully knowing that chamois are very difficult to spot, let alone hunt.  There were a lot more tahr in these hills than chamois, but if the girls wanted a “go at it,” let ‘em!

So, Ben and I hunted tahr, the girls pursued chamois.  That afternoon, the girls went their way and we went ours.  Ben got more than even with me.  I wish I’d put a hundred pounds in his pack before we took off.  We saw lots of tahr, but nothing close to Sara’s monster.

Just after dark, we staggered back to camp.  The girls were nonchalant about their day.  They didn’t see anything.  After dinner, they took us behind the outhouse where a skin hung.  It was a beautiful Chamois! 

They’d already caped it out for a full body mount.  Ben and I must have looked gut shot!  I can see it now: “Smith & Smith Guiding Service.”  “Who needs a man?”  was rubbed in our faces the rest of the trip.  The girls had walked up a ravine, stopped to glass and found a herd of chamois.

Lucy stayed put and expertly guided Sara in for the shot.  That’s what Ben and I would have done…. we will never hear the end of that legendary hunt.  The girls got a chamois.  In four days, Sara got a tahr, a red stag and a chamois. 

We were off to another location for fallow deer and hogs.  Sara and I got to meet Steven.  Steven the hog hunting sensation.  He can walk.  When he dons his hog hunting attire, he resembles a thin, misplaced Viking in the wilds of New Zealand.  It was now Ben’s turn for retribution. 

“Sara, here’s a flashlight and a bottle of water, you follow Steven.”  It was still dark when we watched from the pickup a sleep-deprived Sara Rose start following Steven up the mountain. 

Now, Sara can walk, too (she finished her Grand Slam at the age of 15) but she had to run to keep up with Steven.  Then to add competition, Steven’s seven-year-old son, James, joined them.  James walks like his father! 

After six grueling hours in the matagouri and scrub, the hunters chased down a hog with the assistance of Steven’s dogs.  It was a 160-pound golden colored hog.  All three of them were cut, bruised, scratched up and very happy.  A celebration followed at Steven’s house where the saga continued.  He drinks beer like he walks—FAST!  I just adore the Kiwi’s.  They are honest, hardworking people who have a zest for life.  They are just a ton of fun to be around.

Our last day found us looking for more hogs and a fallow buck.  We were startled by a wallaby that Sara quickly dispatched with a 100-yard, difficult off-hand shot.  Wallaby are prolific breeders.  On this part of the island, the ranchers want to keep their numbers down. 

It was a New Zealand adventures.  Tahr, chamois, red stag, wallaby and hogs.  Good job, Sara Rose. You did well!

Many thanks to Ben and Lucy Smith, and to Miss Sara Rose, for graduating so expeditiously.  We’re looking forward to another adventure with “Smith & Smith Guiding Service!” 

Lori and I are so fortunate that our children grew up loving to hunt.  Our passion connects us with likeminded folks on the other side of the world.  If you desire a New Zealand trip of a lifetime, please contact Ben and Lucy Smith at [email protected] .–Rod Brandenburg


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