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Big Game Hunting in New Zealand

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Overview Chamois Thar Red Deer Sika Deer
Rusa Deer Sambar Whitetail Deer Wapiti Fallow Deer
   Wild Goats Wild Pigs Wild Bulls Wild Sheep

If you have anything of interest for this page then please Email me with it. Alan S.

Hunting in New Zealand by Alan Simmons

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.

THAR. Considered a premier trophy. The Himalayan Thar is found high in the mountains of the Central South Island especially around Mount Cook. Be prepared to climb hard and have a good head for heights although guides tend to have a few easier places lined up. The best time to hunt them is May to June when their coats are rich and dense. Trophies are amongst the best available in the world. They are indeed a challenging hunt just from the fitness level. Also require long range flat shooting rifles. They live high on the rocky bluffs and are extremely wary being blessed with exceptional sight. They can just fair motor up cliffs with their specially adapted feet. One of the considerations taken into account before shooting a Thar is if it will be recoverable from where it may fall. Some guides carry ropes etc. (Not for us North Island hunters!!).

A lot of thar are shot by hunters out of helicopters hovering above them. While this is illegal it seems to be the norm with most "tourist hunting". I often ask myself how an obviously unfit hunter photographed at 8,000 feet in heavy snow wearing blue jeans, no balaclava, and new down jacket can claim such a fine trophy. Especially when a super fit, dedicated hunter finds the task one of the most difficult he ever will encounter, requiring mountaineering techniques, 12 hour climbs and sheer physical exhaustion. It makes it hard to compare photos and trophies when looking at magazines!. Regardless of that a number of guides do run good successful wild Thar hunts.

CHAMOIS. The Austrian Chamois has totally colonized the mountains of the South Island and although heavily hunted by sportsman they continue to thrive. They are found from the far south of the island right up into the Northern Marlborough region of the South Island. Again, best hunted in May / June and trophies are world class. Much of what applies to Thar hunting also applies to Chamois although they will and often do inhabit the upper bushline and rough broken creeks and gullies, lying out on steep rocky outcrops where man dare not go. They are real speedsters and while the Thar is a marvel on the sheer cliffs the Chamois is its equal but can also cover flat tussock country almost as "fast as a bullet."

SOUTH PACIFIC GOAT. The New Zealand South pacific Goat were released by the early whalers and sealers to supply food should they become shipwrecked. These gregarious animals spread like wildfire and are now found in huge numbers in many areas. They grow horns up to forty-five inches in spread and make a desirable addition to any trophy collection. Many hunters enjoy a goat hunt as a change to the rigors of deer hunting. For one thing you get to see lot of animals during the course of a day and they can be most difficult to get within shooting range. They are regarded as a pest and many a young hunter has been blooded on wild goats. They don't like wet weather and tend to found lying in the sun high on rocky faces especially after a period of unsettled weather.

There are a lot of farmed goats in New Zealand where they are farmed for angora. Angora goats do grow long sets of horns but tend to be very light in circumference. Unfortunately a number of farmed goats are "dispatched" as trophies making it hard to define a true wild animal. I usually refer to them as Bob Marley goats with their curly dreadlocks type wool. In the wild goats are all colors although white is quite predominant. The wool tends to be coarse and hairy and the horn size is less likely to be wide and maybe a lot darker than farmed animals which are very pale.

Due to the nature of the thick New Zealand bush large trophies tend to get caught in the vines etc. and it is rare for them to exceed 35 inches unless they are living in open country. I have found a number of skeletons caught in vines or have on occasions released them after hearing them constantly bleating loudly. They usually are quite ungrateful and can break a leg with their bunting. A couple of times I have ended up the worse off after a rescue and it is only the fact that you usually have to put your rifle somewhere safe before attempting the rescue that has saved the Billy from a revengeful death before he has ungraciously charged off leaving me bleeding and bruised.

We refer to our wild pig as Captain Cook razor backs. They are a short, lean, black colored pig with an aggressive nature. Tusks are exceptional and to be avoided when at close quarters. Some farmers welcome pig hunters especially during the lambing season as they can kill a lot of lambs in a night, farmers hunt them hard themselves as they are delicious eating and quite different from domestic pork. Serious injury can be inflicted by one of these animals so never get between him and the bush when he's angry.

WILD SHEEP.These are a very popular trophy but are getting harder to find except on game ranches. A lot of their traditional lands have been converted into pine forests by the international forestry giants who shoot everything on sight. Their are some good herds still left on islands in the chatham Island group, also on the north Island around the Mohaka River. They carry impressive horns and are descendants from the early Marino sheep that had gone wild. I personally rate them as a hard hunt due to their extreme wariness. Unfortunately like many of the New Zealand Species it is hard to tell what is a genuine Wild Sheep trophy and what is a genetically bred, huge horned, farmed animal let loose in a safari park.

They come in two colours either black or white. The blacks tend to have a white blaze on their forehead and the same on the top of the tail. Obviously as wild sheep they should not have been shorn (if they have, they are not wild!). Luckily they tend to have a short break in the wool and shed it quite readily. The belly is often clean of wool. I have seen some dragging long wool but suspect they are crossed with Dorset horned sheep and doubt they are true wild sheep.

Guided hunting in New Zealand
If you intend to hunt New Zealand at some stage, then plan plenty of time for sightseeing and bring plenty of film. There are no problems bringing a rifle in. Just tell customs when you arrive and they will have a police officer issue you a licence for a small fee. It is most advisable to bring your current firearms permit or licence with you. Firearms themselves are not registered, the owner is.

It pays to employ a guide for obvious reasons and there are a number of full time professional hunting guides available. It is wise to employ a member of the New Zealand Professional Hunting Guides Association, but many good and competent guides choose not to be involved in such a body. However, from your point of view, Association members act under a strict code of ethics and safety plans. You also have a national body to which you can refer any complaints or problems and the Professional Hunting Guides Association has a disciplinary committee with wide powers.

Guides are required to have First Aid certificates, passenger service licensed vehicles, medical checks, police vetting, proper authority to hunt on the lands on which they guide and extensive knowledge of head skinning and trophy preparation. It is quite legal for anyone to set up as a guide in New Zealand, and I am afraid there are some out there who fall well short of the mark. So do yourself a favor and use a Member Guide. A number of guides make reference to "Member of NZ Guides Assn." and the like in their advertisements. It pays to check.

To hunt by yourself in the wilderness regions, you only require a permit to carry a firearm in State Forests. These are usually available at no charge from the Department of Conservation. The New Zealand bush is almost a dense rainforest; the hills are steep and subject to sudden weather changes and silent bush stalking techniques are required. As stated before, guides tend to hunt private land where access can he gained by four wheel drive vehicle and the country is less difficult.

Charges for a guide vary depending on the services and species being hunted, but generally averages out at NZ$450.00 per day (UKú200.00) (US$300.00) (AUS$385.00) which includes food, equipment, accommodation on the hunt, etc., plus a trophy fee when an animal is shot. These trophy fees usually go to the landowner for use of the land and for keeping it exclusive to the guide. Trophy fees also vary depending on where and what may have been done to improve bloodlines or what the farmer has done or sacrificed to improve the animal numbers. If you wish to stay in luxury accommodation and travel by aircraft or helicopter to quickly hunt several species in a short time, then the costs will reflect that. So do make your requirements clear to the guide when making the initial plans. Most of the guides and lodges advertising on this site have their charges listed

Many of the major airlines fly direct into Auckland and Christchurch and some are now flying to provincial centers.

New Zealand is an exciting place to both visit and hunt and as many hunters have discovered it grows on you to the extent you just can't stop coming back.

RED STAG. A fine example of a red stag. Trophies of this quality are normally taken from safari parks.

RED STAG. Lawrie Hunt from England with a fine WILD bush stag. This would be rated as a trophy of a lifetime by most NZ hunters. Most seek a 10 or 12 pointer and to get an old mature stag such as this takes a fair bit of work and luck. Unfortunately, so many stags are taken in safari parks or after being released from deer farms into hunting areas that it is very hard to tell what is wild and what is "manipulated."

Unfortunately, Lawrie fell ill a year after his trip to NZ and passed away. Lawrie loved his hunting and his bird dogs and was fine example of a traditional hunter. He proberly has the hunting sussed out already in the "happy hunting ground."

WAPITI BULLS. A fine example of safari park trophies. This one taken with a bow. Photo by courtesy of Lilybank Hunting Lodge.

One morning I caught this sow out on the grass with her piglets and managed to get this photo. A lot of work went into waiting this boar out. He continued to feed right up to me. I was a little disappointed that the grass got in the way of his tusks. But then I would not have got so close if I was fully exposed. He just stood there and looked at me for a second or two and turned and trotted away quite casually. I must admit to being a little apprehensive as to his next move.....

FALLOW DEER. Alaskan Hunter Barry Stratton shows a well palmated Fallow stag from the West Coast of the South Island. This would be considered an above-average trophy.

WILD SHEEP. Texas hunter John Holland shows off a genuine wild sheep. This is a top trophy from the North Island. They come in either white or black.

SIKA STAG. Keith Wollard from New Zealand is pretty proud of his world class sika stag. At the time shot, it was the largest wild sika shot by an SCI member but was never entered in the record book.

WILD GOAT. Leo Swank from the USA with a bow hunt wild goat. A goat of this size would generally be regarded as good one.

WILD GOAT. USA hunter John Holland from Texas with a good Wild Goat shot right on dark. This proved to be a difficult goat to find in the darkening bush where it fell off a high cliff. Trying to get it out with mini mag torches was no fun.