When the first settlers arrived from the British isles, they looked to New Zealand as the promised land, hoping for a new life in a new and fertile country. Of great importance to them was to do away with the British system of private ownership of game and fish. They wanted to make sure that the right to hunt and fish was the birth right of every person.
So our great-great-grandfathers formed organisations such as the Acclimatisation Society and set about importing much of the wildlife that was common to them in their homeland. Some species they acclimatised turned out to be most undesirable and, to this day, plague New Zealand, such as the humble rabbit. To be fair, they had no idea that wildlife, released into a virgin, sub tropical environment would adapt and expand at such an alarming rate. As a consequence we have gorse, rabbits, stoats and blackberry and they cost us dearly every year in tying to keep them under control. Apart from that, they did do us some great favors which, to this day, we sportsmen are forever grateful, such as releasing many different deer and game species.
As with the rabbit, they expanded into the virgin country at will, multiplying at an alarming rate. The Acclimatisation Societies finally lost control of these species when it was decided something had to be done about them. By the early 1900's, vast herds of deer were stripping the mountains of their vegetation and causing erosion on a grand scale.
The environment, to which they had been released, had only been subjected to light browsing by animals (the then extinct Moa bird had been a browser) and palatable plant species just collapsed under the intense pressure.
By the 1930's, a number of men were employed to hunt and kill deer by the government and some of these early deer cullers killed huge numbers every year.
I was fortunate to be selected as a deer culler in 1965 until 1967. This gave me the opportunity to partake in an adventuresome lifestyle, which now has become a bit of New Zealand's past history. Deer numbers were still high and it was not until helicopter gunships came along that a means of controlling them was found.
Eventually, with the advent of live capture for the fledgling deer farming industry, the deer populations were brought under control and deer are now much harder to find, although they still exist in reasonable numbers within the bush.
The original liberations were of good bloodlines and mostly came from famous English parks such as Windsor Park, Stoke and Warnham. Within a decade, the herds were well established, and the stags carried impressive antlers.
Such was the food resource and environment that the trophy potential was soon recognized by great early English stalkers such as Lord Jellico, Cpt. A. Heber-Percy, Colonel G. Strutt and Lord Belper. Of course, there were many others too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say, they all took trophies far exceeding anything to be obtained in Scotland and England. Trophies were not uncommon to have a length of 45-50 inches and a spread of equal size.
Today, stags are still taken (maybe of not such great length but of equal trophy value) and each year several trophies taken by overseas hunters vie for the record books and international awards.
New Zealand Big Game Species
There are 12 species of big game available to the hunter in New Zealand and they are: Wapiti, Red Deer, Sika deer, Rusa Deer, Sambar Deer, Whitetail Deer, Fallow Deer, Himalayan Thar, Austrian Chamois, South Pacific Goat, Wild Pig, and Wild Bulls. All provide good trophies and many have exceeded the trophy potential of their county of origin.
RED DEER. Reds are common over most of the country except for some isolated areas and occur almost wherever any land is in bush and on scrub areas of large farms. They are still in large numbers and can be hunted at any time of the year without licences or permits, although a hunting permit is required to hunt on Department of Conservation land.
Average trophies in the wild are nowadays 8-10 points, with a number of 12 pointers about 35 inches long shot each year. They are very vocal during the roar and are usually stalked by following the roar or brought to the hunter by emulating the roar. They inhabit dense bush country and in many cases the shot is taken at 25 yards or so. Every year, hundreds are shot that exceed the average. This year, I was shown one trophy that was 16 points and 46 inches long taken from the wild.
Guides generally hunt safari parks or protected herds on private land. It is usual to find visiting hunters free range wild trophies of 10 and 12 points plus but with few guarantees of success. An example is the stag shown on the right. This was true wild bush stag. However, these animals usually stay well hidden until the roar when they are at the most vulnerable. The safari park hunts tend to obtain much larger trophy heads with a guarantee of success.
WAPITI. The wapiti live in the most inhospitable place you could ever wish to travel. Their range is an area known as Fiordland, an isolated area of steep mountains and incessant rain, hordes of sandflies and dripping mosses hang from the bush. Unless you are a super fit person and a bit of a masochist to boot you should forget hunting a wapiti within Fiordland. Wapiti are available on game reserves and grow impressive trophies.
SIKA DEER. Once released to the wilds of the Central North Island they colonized in a record time. Within thirty years they had taken over an area of several million acres and driven out the resident red deer. Today, sika inhabit all of Kaimanawa and Kaweka Mountain ranges and much of the fringe country. They have a distinct liking for dense scrub and become most difficult to hunt. This herd of sika would be the largest and most important herd available to hunters worldwide. Like the other deer, their antlers exceed anything grown in their home country. They are a most sought after trophy and exist in large numbers. Antlers grow to eight points (with some exceptions) and anything twenty-five inches long or over is considered a good trophy. Sika are a pretty deer, being slightly smaller than red, and have a small petite face. They are also considered to be one of the most cunning of all deer species.
RUSA DEER. This species inhabit a small area within the Urawera National park and every year several good trophies are taken. They are best hunted during the roar which for these deer is August.
SAMBAR. Similar to the Rusa they are better hunted during August to October but because this herd was nearly hunted to extinction in New Zealand by spotlighters and dog teams they are now under protection and subject to a ballot permit system. I will add some more on sambar as time permits.
WHITETAIL. Stewart island at the bottom of the South Island is the home of the Whitetail although some other herds do exist and produce good trophies around Oueenstown. They live within dense bush coming out to feed at night on the seaweed etc., along the beaches but do not grow trophies to equal those of the USA, however, as a South Pacific species they are important. Hunts to Stewart Island are very popular with Kiwi hunters. They often provide good fishing at the same time as Stewart island is still an untouched southern ocean fishery. Huge blue cod can be caught straight off the beach, let alone the crayfish and paua(abalone). Again I will add some further information as time permits about the hunting block system and so on.
FALLOW. Again these deer had their origin on English parks and from those bloodline releases some exceptional trophies are to be had. They inhabit several areas of both the North and South islands and in fairly substantial numbers. Most good trophies are shot from Safari parks. The wild stags vary a lot in quality and the herd best known for palmation are in the Blue Mountains of the south island. Theer is also a large herd in the North Island at Wanganui which produce some good trophies however a lot of these stags tend to have split palms. A number of smaller herds occur all over both island.