It was Aug. 15, 1968, and I had been living in Southern California at the time. Now, however, I was half way around the world from my surfboard and the hollow, glassy waves. Instead, I was looking up at the slope in New Zealand of the 12-mile long Tasman Glacier and knew that rising above it for thousands of feet was Mount Cook. For yet another day it was covered in clouds. Down here at the base of the mountains, at the Mount Cook Hotel it was raining hard and the very expensive 17-man film crew and I had been sitting around waiting for it to clear up for the last six days. All of us, including Jean Claude Killy and Leo LaCroix were anxious to get up on the glacier so they could do what they do best, turn their skis both ways. Killy had just won three gold medals in the 1968 Olympics and was starring in a television series that I was producing while traveling all over the world with my crew.
Back in 1968 in New Zealand, deer and all other cloven-hoofed animals had become a real pest because of overpopulation. There was a $3 bounty on them for each tail you turned in. This was all new information to me when our helicopter pilot invited us to go hunting with him, in his helicopter of course.
He suggested that we first try and hunt for some Himalayan thar because they lived closer to the hotel than any other game species and were more plentiful. I didn’t know what or how big a Himalayan thar was, but I was willing to try anything to reduce the boredom of another very expensive day for my crew while they sat around in the rain. So, in our soaked parkas Killy and I climbed into the Bell helicopter and started gaining altitude up the side of a very steep rocky cliff behind the hotel. When we were about 1,500 feet above the hotel we could see dozens of Himalayan thar feeding on the many small ledges on the side of the cliffs.
Mel gave me a 30-caliber automatic rifle even though I had never fired one like it in my life, and said, “take your choice.” I had no idea whether a Himalayan thar was as big as a cow or as small as a dog. When Mel said that they weighed about a 100 pounds or less, I knew how far away the animals were.
As good luck would have it for me – bad luck for the Himalayan thar – I somehow managed to hit the first one I shot at. Then I watched it tumble down the side of the cliff as Mel adjusted a couple of things on the helicopter and we dropped like a safe with the door open. When we got down to the level of the dead Himalayan thar, he said, “It’s way too steep here to try and set the helicopter down, but here’s what we’ll do: There’s a 50-foot rope under the seat with one end attached to the helicopter. Just throw out the other end of it and then slide down the rope. No need to worry mate, you’ll know when you get to the end of it because there’s a big knot there. When you get there I can swing you back and forth and you can get off on that ledge where the Himalayan thar is. Then tie the rope around the Himalayan thar and we’ll pull him up into the helicopter. Then we’ll drop the rope back down to you, you can hang on and we’ll drop down to where it’s not too steep to land so you can get back into the helicopter.”
I replied, “Mel just give me another bullet and let’s try to get another one so the Himalayan thar will roll down to a spot that’s flat enough for you to land.”
I hit the second one and that night we enjoyed roasted Himalayan thar in the hotel dining room along with some great mashed potatoes, asparagus and some homemade mint jelly on the side. The next morning I arranged with the local taxidermist to mount the Himalayan thar head and it still hangs in my office 40 years later. It is in memory of a rainy afternoon in New Zealand with Olympic gold medal winner Jean Claude Killy and Mel Cain – the best helicopter pilot I ever flew with.
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