Hunting: A New Zealand History by Kate Hunter

Published 2009 | RRP$49.99

This book, in the context of New Zealand hunting books, has a unique author in Kate Hunter, a historian at the University of Victoria, Wellington. Kate is not a hunter, but her interest in tramping and the outdoors means she has often been exposed to hunters and hunting.

Kate identified that although historians have covered many elements of New Zealand’s history there was a gap about hunting, noting that “social historians, those of us interested in people, families, communities and the everyday life of the past, had not tried to understand this important facet of New Zealand culture.”

In the book’s Preface, Kate states that she “began this project to show that hunters have a place in the history of New Zealanders at work and play in the outdoors. While researching this book it seemed as if everywhere I looked I found hunting and hunters. Old cookery books instructed cooks how to stew kereru [wood pigeon]; children’s books made heroes of hunters as well as naturalists and frontiersmen; popular magazines from the 1870s to the 1940s carried stories, debates and opinions about hunting and the relative merits of hunting tourism and conservation, along with advertisements for fur coats. Old catalogues from sports shops were full of firearms and ads for taxidermy services; cigarette cards celebrated the ‘outdoors’ with pictures of bird-hunting parties; glamorous chamois and tahr hunters, and bushmen with pigs; entries by trampers in hut books recorded numbers of deer shot and venison stews eaten; the walls of clubs, hotels and pubs were adorned with mounted heads.”

Hunting: A New Zealand History has 5 chapters and a comprehensive bibliography, as each fact and quote is footnoted (as you would expect from an academic writer).

Chapter 1 (Swarming with game) describes nineteenth century New Zealand, when hunting native birds and introduced wild pig was essential for settlers’ survival, and the introduction of game animals and birds by acclimisation societies in the late 1800s to early 1900s, which was accompanied by hunting seasons, restrictions and licences. Chapter 2 (Hunting for the pot), Chapter 3 (Bring home the bacon) and Chapter 4 (Sportsman’s paradise) cover the reasons New Zealanders hunt, namely, for food, earning an income and leisure. Lastly, Chapter 5 (Collecting and conserving) follows the evolution of hunting from naturalists collecting specimens, to the modern ideas of conservation and habitat protection, through culling introduced species and the creation of national parks.

Comprising 320 pages, with generous colour and black and white illustrations, this book offers a reasonably thorough chronological overview of hunting in New Zealand. It is the first book that touches on the full gambit of motivations, politics and rationales around hunting in New Zealand, in contrast to typical hunting literature which is characterised by personal memoirs and biographies.

Although well written and organised, and on the whole captivating reading, it fits squarely into the history book genre, so it’s not a book recommended for light reading or entertainment. However, it is recommended to those wanting a sense of the evolution of New Zealand’s hunting culture and history.

Notably absent, and acknowledged by the author, are interviews of New Zealand’s prominent hunters and I dare say they were sought but not forthcoming, as hunters are always reticent to part with their knowledge. The importance and prominence of trophy hunting was also lightly touched on however this is most likely due to the breadth and depth of other books on that subject. Another aspect not noted or explored is the recent resurgence in popularity of hunting for recreation. It seems in recent years that New Zealand is again returning to a ‘Sportsman’s Paradise’, with interest in wapiti, red deer, tahr and chamois renewed because trophy class animals are now within reach of keen hunters.

Stating the obvious, this is a book for those wanting to understand the history of hunting in New Zealand.

As someone once said, study the past if you would define the future

The Hunter’s recommendation is: borrow it

The Hunter’s ratings are:

  • Overall rating: 6 out of 10
  • Photos and illustrations: 4 out of 5
  • Trophy quality: 1 out of 5
  • Writing quality and style: 4 out of 5
  • Page-turner status: 3.5 out of 5

Publisher’s blurb

For your information the following is the book’s blurb:

This rich and vivid, highly illustrated social history gives an insight into the world of the New Zealand hunter. Hunting is central to many New Zealanders’ lives – whether it’s to feed their families, earn a living or to explore the country’s amazing wilderness.
Hunting: A New Zealand history describes how hunting was essential to the successful colonization of this country. It has helped to build communities and families, and hunting knowledge has been handed down from generation to generation.
Cutting across racial and class differences, hunting is intrinsic to the way New Zealanders view the natural world and the way we’ve experienced, closely observed and understood the bush. Hunting ties New Zealand to the world, yet the particular shape of hunting here makes it remarkably distinctive. If there is a ‘national culture’ in New Zealand, then hunting and hunters are at its core.

Bibliographic information

Title: Hunting: A New Zealand History
Author: Kathryn M. Hunter
Editions: 2009
Publisher: Random House, Auckland, New Zealand
ISBN: 9781869791544
Format: Paperback, 320 pages, illustrations (some colour), colour maps, 24 cm

Book review of Hunting a New Zealand History by Kate Hunter book review