My Red Letter Day

By Gwyn Evans.

As someone who has made their life’s work in the sporting industry, I have been very fortunate to experience more than my fair share of red letter days. This being said, there is one in particular that will stay with me forever.

In 2005 I turned 40, and as a celebration my family and I ventured to the southern hemisphere. We spent one month in New Zealand and in that time managed to tour the whole country, north and south islands! In our third week we made our way out to the western edge of the south island, to a town called Wanaka (careful with the spelling!) around a three hour drive south from Fox Glacier. It was in Wanaka that we were greeted by the Wallis family who showed us how it’s done, New Zealand style!

Every day was a new adventure from shooting feral goats from a helicopter, flying down to Milford Sounds, heli-skiing and scuba diving for Crayfish. Believe it or not, the best was yet to come.

My son, Will and I were collected by the helicopter at first light from our lodge. However, there was something slightly different about departing for this day, as before we left, we had to practice getting in and out of the helicopter whilst it was hovering! I had to ask why this was something we would need to learn. The answer soon became clear!

Our pilot, Spinner, flew us 40 minutes over the most spectacular scenery and out into the middle of nowhere, all that surrounded us was snow-capped mountains. The days sport was to find ourselves a gold medal Chamois, which is no easy task. As we came into land the adrenaline started to kick in, at this point Spinner announced that we had to get ready to disembark the way we practiced that morning as there was nowhere to land! He gave us the thumbs up and off we went, first onto the landing skid of the helicopter and then jumped down onto the mountain side to wait for the helicopter to clear.

We had landed. Two feet on the ground and in the middle of nowhere. It was at this point that I became slightly anxious that I had brought my 11 year old son with me, as it was shaping up to be a tough day.

Off we went with our guide and after two hours there wasn’t a single Chamois to be seen. Eventually we spotted a small group but no good heads amongst them. So we persevered, hiking for what felt like a lifetime over truly difficult terrain. It was all worth it, a few hours later we found our trophy. He was alone which gave us an advantage, only one set of eyes and ears to sense our approach. We managed to get within 500 metres without too much trouble; it was the rest of the distance left to cover that was the hard work. The only way we were going to get ourselves in range was to climb above the beast onto a ridge where we had to tie ourselves together, due to the sheer fall beneath us.

As we got closer my adrenaline was pumping like never before and the pressure was on! We were within 160 meters and I got myself settled in, waiting for the perfect shot to present itself. As he turned broadside, presenting himself beautifully – I took the shot! He tumbled down the mountainside and out of sight.

We quickly set off across the large ravine to find our trophy. After an hours hike we found where the animal had finally come to rest. He was magnificent! Once the adrenaline had worn off, reality struck, I was on top of a mountain with my 11 year old son, two hours from dark and it was starting to snow.

We hiked for a further hour to the peak above where the Guide had enough signal to radio through to Spinner. The ledge was no more than a couple of meters, visibility was terrible but we could hear the helicopter high above. Our guide talked Spinner into position and the helicopter appeared above us out of the clouds. All three of us crouched, so the down draft didn’t blow us off the narrow peak. As his skids touched the ridge we all crawled aboard, I have never felt so relieved as to the moments when we ascended above the clouds into the clear blue skies.

The trophy is now pride of place in our gun room at Bettws Hall for all to see and Will and I will have those memories for the rest of our lives!