Red Deer Hunting in New Zealand

For more information e-mail   Steuart   of NZ Hunting Info Ltd

Bruce Dunn & his fabulous head.
Bruce Dunn with record head.
Red deer on public land 2012
red deer on the tops

History: Red deer (Cervus elaphus scoticus) were introduced into New Zealand in the 1800s from some of the prestigious game parks in England (Woburn) and Scotland. Today they are found throughout New Zealand except for some notable exceptions such as north of Auckland and areas of Stewart Island. Because of geographical isolation within New Zealand, different wild herds around the country have long maintained the characteristics of their founder stock. For example, the Otago deer were derived from Scottish imports and their antlers retained the characteristics of Scottish deer. Similarly the Rakaia, Nelson and Wairarapa herds were derived from English game parks and retained the characteristics of the original stock. However, more recently the herds have merged and in addition new blood from deer farm escapees has been introduced. This mixing of blood lines has diluted the purity of the original herds and consequently their antler structures have become less distinctive.

While relatively common throughout New Zealand, our wild red deer are a challenge to hunt by any standards because they are under constant hunting pressure. In New Zealand legislation imposes very few restrictions on hunting. Anyone with a firearms license and an appropriate permit can hunt deer on most public land at any time of the year. A person without a firearms license can also hunt as long as they are under the close supervision of a licensed hunter. In addition New Zealand has a unique industry based on the legal use of helicopters to hunt wild deer for profit. Licensed operators can use aircraft as airborne shooting platforms in order to hunt red deer on public land in competition with recreational hunters

Most of the New Zealand record red deer heads were shot in the late 1880s and early 1900s. At this time feed was plentiful in areas that were being newly colonized by deer. A combination of good genetics and good nutrition resulted in optimal antler growth. But don't despair, because some excellent heads have been shot in recent years. A good example is the beautiful head shot in the Pueroa area in March 2005 by Bruce Dunn (read his story). It is probably the biggest wild red deer head shot in New Zealand. Bruce Banwell, one of New Zealand's wild deer experts, assessed the head and judged that it was not influenced by modern farm stock and should therefore stand as a record.

Red deer on rugged public land Kaikoura
red deer in manuka
This stag on public land 2012 was lucky I shot him with a camera.
Resting red stag

Improving Heads: A trend towards improved red deer heads makes sense when considered in the context of the history of commercial venison recovery. From the late 1960s the commercial hunting of deer increased to a peak of activity in the late 1970s and then continued at a lower intensity virtually unabated until 2003. Over that period wild red deer were hunted relentlessly and the amount of resource put into wild venison recovery business rose and fell in parallel with the rise and fall of venison prices on Europe markets. But in 2003 commercial venison recovery stopped over night after the laws regulating the industry were changed. These law changes imposed new costs and operating guidelines that temporarily rendered commercial venison recovery unprofitable. A 1998 study showed that over the years of commercial venison recovery the mean age of stags was only five years and consequently animals in the wild did not reach their full trophy potential. With the recent reduction in commercial hunting, stags in the wild can grow older which explains the trend towards improved trophy heads.

Today the hunting of red deer on public land in New Zealand remains open and accessible for anyone keen enough to try although the same cannot be said about some of the other deer species. As with any outdoor pursuit, physical fitness and competency in survival skills will contribute to an enjoyment of our high country. In addition some background research into deer habits will lead to the success of any new hunter.

"Monarch of the Glenn"
Landseer Monarch of the Glenn

Antlers: The traditional New Zealand wild deer trophy is epitomized by the stag in the famous painting "The Monarch of the Glen" by Sir Edwin Landseer. This stag is a twelve pointer which is also known as a royal head. A royal head has three lower points (brow, bez and trez) and three points on top in the form of a cup or crown, which according to tradition should be large enough to hold a glass of wine. An imperial head has fourteen points with two royal and two surroyal tines on each side on top.

When to Hunt: The majority of red deer are shot during spring and the roar. In spring (November and December) deer are very hungry because their metabolism undergoes a change from its winter shut down mode. Driven by hunger, they venture out of the forest cover onto clearings and open grasslands to feed on the flush of grass and shrub growth that occurs with increasing day length and rising temperatures. If you want to bag a deer for meat, spring is the time to do it. The greatest proportion of deer shot are yearlings and two year olds such as spiker deer which move out into the open without the caution that comes with age and experience. The roar in April is the other popular time to hunt because the stags become vocal. Under the influence of breeding hormones, stags grunt and roar to exert dominance and to challenge competing stags for hinds. They are more active and noisy than at any other time of the year which makes them easier to locate and shoot. If you are reading this article you probably already know about the roar.

Overseas visitors will find that the hunting culture here is different to the hunting culture that evolved over thousands of years in other parts of the world. Initially, the newly released deer were hunted by British and European stalkers who followed the old customs of deer management and respect for their prey. Today few of the traditional rituals and customs associated with hunting (la chasse) survive except on some private game estates.

Red deer trophy heads from New Zealand have compared well with those from other parts of the world. However, indiscriminate commercial venison recovery has for decades affected antler quality on public land although, as described above, there has been a recent improvement in quality.

The Douglas Scoring system is used throughout Australasia for scoring red deer stag trophies shot in the wild. In contrast, the guided hunting businesses scores trophies using the S.C.I. (Safari Club International) system and the CIC system which are more widely recognized internationally.

Best New Zealand head

Douglas score 39434 taken in 1924

Refer also to the hunting story titled "Fire 1080 & a Traditional New Zealand Deer Hunt".


For more information e-mail   Steuart   of NZ Hunting Info Ltd