The Golden Days of Stalking: The Hunting Diaries of Archie Kitto by D. Bruce Banwell

RRP$39.99 | Published 2008

In his book The Golden Days of Stalking: The Hunting Diaries of Archie Kitto, Bruce Banwell continues to add vivid colour to the adventures and successes of sportsmen who have stalked the wild ‘Scottish’ red deer herd of Otago and South Westland.

This book relives the ‘halcyon days’ of the New Zealand red deer herd through the diary of great deerstalkers, Archie and Frank Kitto. It follows their pursuit, often with Ian McLeod, for majestic ‘heads’ with dimensions in excess of the 40 inches in length and 40 inches in spread — the trophy benchmark of the day.

The Publisher’s blurb, set out at the end of this review, provides a full synopsis. So I have opted to provide more details from a couple of chapters, which should leave you in no doubt that this is a must-read book.

The period during which this book is set — 1920s and 1930s — was when the red deer herd produced antlers of world class proportions and attracted many overseas sportsmen to New Zealand in quest of trophies.

Archie Kitto and his hunting party secured many fine trophies, including three regarded as ‘up with the best’ ever shot in the world, at any time.

Kitto’s two best heads are known as ‘Big Chief’ and ‘The Junction Stag’. Kitto’s companion, McLeod, with the assistance of Kitto, shot his ‘Two Stag Flat’ head at the MacFarlane Valley.

Big Chief — featured on the book’s cover — was secured in 1920 at the Albert Burn. Its antlers have 18 points, length of 38 inches, spread of 39 1/2 inches, and a 6 inch beam. It has an extra bez (second) tine on the right antler. Bruce describes this trophy as “of outstanding quality, wonderful form and symmetry, the epitome of an animal of Highland Scottish origins that the mountains of Otago were capable of producing. Its overall strength compensates for what is perhaps a deficiency in both length and spread”. This trophy was rated by Kitto as his favourite.

The Junction Stag was shot in 1922. This head is widely rated as his best by other deerstalkers, but not Kitto. It is a classic royal shaped trophy but, due to a small point off a top tine, is a 13-pointer. Its antlers are 47 1/5 inches in length, 39 inches in spread, with a beam of 5 1/2 inches in circumference. At the time of shooting, Kitto said he “was a little annoyed to find that a small point on the left top tine of his antlers had robbed me of, at that time, a New Zealand record for length for a royal”.

The last great head featured in this book is McLeod’s 18-pointer from the MacFarlane Valley, shot during the roar of 1924. This trophy is very even with 9 points on each antler, and 6 found on each ‘top’. The length is 42 inches, spread 36 inches and a beam of 5 7/8 inches. It has a Douglas score of 394 3/4.

Each head has its own dedicated chapter along with other chapters entitled “The Second 19-Pointer”, “The Year of the Inter-Locked Antlers” and “43 by 41 1/2 by 5 3/4”, to name but a few. It is really hard to overstate the quality of the heads featured in this book.

As with all of Bruce’s books, this one is filled with many photos of magnificent deer heads, the country in which they were stalked and the hunters themselves. By my count there are 40 photos of trophy heads, each worthy of intense study. The images are in black & white owing to the fact that they were taken during the 1920s and 1930s by the Kittos and other contemporaries.

Two interesting colour maps are re-produced from the period: one of the Otago Acclimatisation  Society’s map of the “Red Deer Country showing blocks in the Lindis, Dingle, Hunter and Makarora districts” and another of the “Westland Acclimatisation & Tourist Society’s” map of deer blocks.

It’s no secret that the late author had a passion for red deer, especially for the Otago herd and this book adds to his body of work on the subject.

This book is another classic of New Zealand’s hunting literature, written by New Zealand’s pre-eminent author on red deer and their hunting history.

Bruce has written many hunting books, a complete list of which can be reviewed here.

The Hunter’s recommendation is: buy it

The Hunter’s ratings are:

  • Overall rating: 9 out of 10
  • Photos and illustrations: 4.5 out of 5
  • Trophy quality: 5 out of 5
  • Writing quality and style: 4 out of 5
  • Page-turner status: 4.5 out of 5

Publisher’s blurb

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

Bruce Banwell has compiled and edited the articles and diaries of Archie Kitto and his companions. These tell the story of the stalking experiences of this party of successful sportsmen led by Archie Kitto in the rangeland of the Otago herd of Red deer during its halcyon days of the 1920s. A valuable, historical account of those golden years of deerstalking in Otago and South Westland by a group of men who represented the very epitome of the sportsmen of that era.
Kitto was to become one of the leading lights of New Zealand deerstalking, hunting in those “golden years” of the then internationally famous Otago Red deer herd which eventually occupied much of the Otago mountainous regions as well as that of South Westland. These were the halcyon years of that herd, attracting sportsmen from all over the world, particularly from Britain, the Kitto party securing several of the finest trophies ever taken from this wild herd of British indigenous Red deer gifted to the Otago Province by the Earl of Dalhousie in 1870 from his estate of Invermark.
Three of Kitto’s trophies were displayed in the New Zealand Pavilion, at the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley in 1924, as numbers 8, 9 and 38, but under the name of his father-in-law, John Ross. The “Big Chief” and McLeod’s 18-pointer from the MacFarlane, were both awarded silver medals at the Canadian National Exhibition staged at Toronto in 1926, despite competing with local Wapiti.
The name “Kitto” is synonymous with Red deer stalking in both Otago and New Zealand together with Major R.A. Wilson, John Forbes and guides Jim Muir and Conrad Hodgkinson. Their names are engraved in the annals of New Zealand hunting history forever.
Banwell has continually brought to the attention of the appropriate authorities, the fact that the animals of the Otago Red deer herd are perhaps the only surviving gene pool of pure stock of this subspecies, Cervus elaphus scoticus on this planet and considering the attitude of officialdom in New Zealand, they are in a vulnerable situation. Banwell is a member of the Deer Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union (I.U.C.N.).

Bibliographic information

Title: The Golden Days of Stalking: The Hunting Diaries of Archie Kitto
Author: D. Bruce Banwell (David) (1932–2013)
Editions: 2008
Publisher: Halcyon Press, Auckland, New Zealand
ISBN: 1877256838, 9781877256837
Format: Softcover, 239 pages, black & white illustrations, 24 cm

 Book review of The Golden Days of Stalking by Bruce Banwell book review