A male sport
A 1991 survey found that only 7% of New Zealand men rated hunting and shooting as one of their favourite leisure activities. Still, the estimated 37,000 deer hunters kill about 80,000 deer a year. Rural people were over four times more likely than urban dwellers to be active hunters.
The Lee Enfield .303
For decades, most hunters used ex-army guns. Introduced in 1895, the Lee Enfield .303 (commonly called the ‘three-oh-three’) was the main military service rifle of countries in the British Empire and Commonwealth for over 60 years. This reliable rifle was very popular, and is still used by some hunters.
The guns were relatively cheap, because the army had surplus stock after both world wars. They were rugged and could withstand abuse – many hunters customised them by sawing off part of the stock. Much of the ammunition came from the Colonial Ammunition Company’s Mt Eden factory. Today, all that remains there is the tower where lead shot was made for shotgun cartridges.
In the 1960s, lighter rifles became popular. These new guns shot smaller (lower calibre) bullets, but at higher velocities than the .303. Today’s deer hunters have a huge choice in rifles, and most choose a high-velocity, medium-calibre gun with telescopic sights.
Organised bowhunting in New Zealand dates back to 1945, when a field section was formed within the Auckland Archery Club. Ten years later the New Zealand Bowhunters Society formed. Using compound bows, they target big game such as deer and pigs (and even koi carp in the lower Waikato River). These weapons have a much shorter range than rifles, and hunters must get closer to their targets to ensure a good shot.
Hunting safety campaigns have been running for decades, and safety improvements have reduced the number of accidents in which hunters are shot. But they still happen: one study of accidents between 1979 and 2002 found that 33 deerstalkers died in this way.
There are many contributing factors. One common mistake is failing to accurately identify the target. This is especially a problem when hunting in the bush, where hunters often cannot see the whole of a deer. In some cases, hunters are struck by ‘stag fever’ – they are so expectant of seeing a stag that when something moves they are convinced it must be a deer.
Books and magazines
There is a wealth of New Zealand hunting literature. Barry Crump’s novels A good keen man (1960) and Wild pork and watercress (1986) have mythologised deer and pig hunting. A good keen man is one of New Zealand’s top-selling books, amassing sales of 400,000 by 1992. Although fictional, Crump’s accounts are rooted in experience, as he was a deer culler for a time.
Many non-fiction books by recreational hunters and deer cullers describe hunts and expeditions to remote areas. Among the notable accounts are Joff Thomson’s Deer shooting days (1964) and Newton McConochie’s You’ll learn no harm from the hills (1966). Full of anecdotes and humorous diversions, such books provide insights into both the history of the back country and the psyche of a rugged type of New Zealand male, in the period from the 1930s to the 1960s. There are also specialist magazines such as Rod and Rifle and NZ Outdoor Hunting (first published as New Zealand Outdoor in 1937).