The New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association
The New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association was formed in Invercargill in 1938, partly as a response by recreational hunters to the government’s deer-culling efforts. Recreational hunters were opposed to large-scale culling, which they felt would reduce their hunting chances. The association provides huts for members, and lobbies the government.
Hunters vs conservationists
Deer are viewed by hunters as a valuable resource, but conservationists see them as pests that destroy native plants. Hunters want higher densities for better sport, while conservationists would like eradication, or, failing this, control at low densities.
Hunters are especially opposed to aerial drops of the poison 1080, which is used to kill possums and also kills some deer. The poison is dropped only on a small area of the conservation estate, so in most areas, deer populations are not affected. In many areas the only control on deer numbers in the 2000s was commercial and recreational hunting.
The Department of Conservation regulates recreational hunting on conservation land, and issues permits. Almost all public conservation lands have open access with few restrictions on the number of species of deer killed. There are ballot systems at popular hunting areas such as Fiordland (wapiti), the Blue Mountains in West Otago (fallow deer) and Stewart Island (white-tailed deer). Hunters must enter a draw to gain access to a hunting block for a specified period.
In autumn, the stags begin to rut, and they roar (a deep throaty grunt) to announce their presence to other males in the area, attracting them for a battle over females. Deer are territorial, and the stag that chases off the others wins mating rights to females (hinds).
The roaring of stags also gives hunters a chance to target trophies – heads with large antlers. Normally very wary, stags become aggressive in the mating season, which gives hunters a chance to locate the ones with the best trophies. Hunters roar back at stags, and even break twigs to fool them into thinking another stag is nearby. Trophies are judged on the number of points and the spread of the antlers, using a system called the Douglas Score. This was developed by Waikato hunter Norman Douglas in the 1940s.
From the 1900s, English gentry began arriving to hunt game. In the 1950s, North American hunters employed guides to hunt chamois and tahr around Mt Cook. More recently, tourists can pay a fee to shoot trophy animals at hunting reserves, where deer are fenced in. Many recreational hunters turn their noses up at this practice, as part of their ethos is that the animal must have a good chance of escape – a concept known as fair chase.