The New Zealand Fishing and Shooting Gazette: “Deer Stalking”

“Deer Stalking”
by Editor
Volume 1, No. 1, November 1, 1927, Wellington, N.Z., pp 9-11

Red deer were first introduced into New Zealand in 1850. A stag and hind were sent from Thorndon Park, Essex, in 1850, by Lord Petre to his brother, who was then resident in Nelson. The hind unfortunately was killed soon after liberation. His Royal Highness the Prince Consort sent another hind from the Royal Park of Richmond, but this hind died on the voyage. In 1860 Lord Petre despatched another stag and two hinds. These deer arrived safely at Nelson in good condition, and both the stags mentioned above were the progenitors of the herds in Nelson and Marlborough.

“The Petre Head” Believed to be the antlers of the first stag imported into New Zealand. Length 37. Spread 30. Span 23 1/2. Coronet 8 1/4. Beam 6. Photo credit: p 7, The Game Animals of New Zealand, T. E. Donne, 1924

In 1862 one stag and two hinds, from the Royal Park of Windsor, were presented to New Zealand by the Prince Consort. They reached here safely and were liberated in the Wairarapa, near Taratahi.

In 1870 Lord Dalhousie presented seventeen red deer to Otago from his forest of Invermark, Forfarshire. Eight of them were released near Lake Hawea, and the balance were released in Bushy Park, near Palmerson South. From these deer the well-known “Otago herd” developed.

In 1908 eight deer were imported from Warnham Court Park, Sussex. These were released near Broken River, Canterbury. These were supplemented by two stags and six hinds in 1909, from Warnham Park.

By transfer from existing herds, red deer have been established in several other districts in both the North and South Islands, and also in Stewart Island.

The area of country covered by red deer in New Zealand is almost equal to the total area of Scotland.

It can be safely claimed that New Zealand possesses the finest deer stalking country in the world, gorgeous scenery, and a bracing climate, especially in the high country in the South Island, where a man can walk and climb from sunrise to sunset without feeling unduly fatigued.

I happened to be in Scotland during the 1920 stalking season, and I enquired what I could get stalking for. I learnt that the cheapest was £500, and what I shot was the property of the estate! I don’t think my informant believed me when I told him better deer stalking was to be had in New Zealand for one hundredth of that amount. Why, a man could come from Great Britain to New Zealand for stalking and fishing for about what it would cost for a few weeks’ stalking in Scotland!

From the foregoing one would conclude that New Zealand’s deer were a valuable asset, but according to some people with a narrow viewpoint, all the deer herds should be eradicated.

That red deer in some districts have become extensively numerous cannot be denied, but their destructiveness to forests is infinitesimal, especially in the beech forests on the high country in the South Island.

The last three or four years I have been stalking near the Huxley Gorge, at the head of Lake Ohau, and I have particularly examined young trees for indications that they have been fed off by deer, but failed to find any.

Some parts of the forest floor were matted with young trees. I also opened the paunches of numbers deer shot by our party, but failed to find any signs that they had been eating young trees. Deer, no doubt, near cultivated land and pastoral land, become a nuisance, but the farmers have the remedy in their own hands, as they have the legal right to kill them on their own lands at any time. However, there is an much chance of eradicating deer from the dense forests of the West Coast and from the fiord country in the South Island, as there is of clearing New Zealand of rabbits.

I have often thought as to whether the red deer in New Zealand, owing to the absence of natural enemies, are as wary and alertful as stalkers in Scotland and Europe declare them to be.

I have walked past within two hundred yards of a mob of deer, and they have simply gazed on me like a mob of curious cattle. On another occasion I was climbing to a position when I saw through the glasses a 12-pointer stag and a mob of hinds. On my was up I suddenly came on to a 10-pointer stag. He stood looking at me, and when I had got about 200 feet above him he recommenced feeding.


Red stag and hinds at Invermark, Scotland.

I have read that stalkers when climbing should be careful not to set stones rolling down hill, as this will certainly alarm deer, and cause them to take cover. I have deliberately sent stones down hill past deer; they look up, but when they see what it is they get on with their feeding. Perhaps this can be accounted for by the fact that in the high country and near shingle slides in the South Island, even on calm days, stones and boulders are more or less always rolling down hill.

I have deliberately got to windward of deer, and have been surprised to find that this action on my part has not caused alarm. But I have noticed that if in a mob of deer there is an old hind not so intent on feeding as the rest and lifting her head very frequently, she wants watching, because if you are stalking the “gentleman” of the party possessing a decent head, and the old lady sees you or gets your wind she will give the “bark,” and your well-laid plans will be upset!

Once I stumbled in the bush, and immediately heard a deer scrambling through the scrub. I then thought I would have a spell, and sat down behind a fallen tree. In about ten minutes I heard a twig snap ahead of me, and carefully looking under a tree I saw a stag coming cautiously towards me with his head down, peering through the trees. Hadn’t that stag seen me and was returning to determine what had disturbed his siesta?

On another occasion, on going through the bush I heard a noise like a deer scampering ahead. Remembering the above incident, I planted myself and waited, and sure enough a stag came my way with his head down, apparently, investigating what all the noise was about. This cost him his life. He was near the camp and we wanted some meat!

Deer stalking is such a man’s holiday that I am surprised more men do not take it up. Here we have right at our doors the finest deer stalking country in the world. Deer stalking takes the busy city man in the midst of mountainous grandeur with ever-changing scenes, colour and moods. He sees no newspaper and does not want any, and be hears no annoying telephones ring. He is participating in the joys of nature, and is doing what is intended of him: hunting for his living! He sleeps the sleep of the just, and returns to the city full of vim and vigour.

Deer stalking is generally looked upon as the recreation for young men only. Inexperienced young stalkers, with their superfluous energy, usually rush through deer country disturbing more deer than they see. They very nature of stalking demands stealthy movements on the part of the stalkers, especially when one is in the neighbourhood of one’s quarry­—and at that time there may be a tax on one’s patience, but not on heart and muscles. An intelligent stalker does a lot of the work with his glasses, and if the stag is located in a position necessitating climbing he does not rush things; he sits down and carefully notes the strategical points. He usually has any amount of time for this because undisturbed deer never move much when feeding. I was climbing once with a medical man who gave me some free medical advice. We were both well on the shady side of fifty, and he told me that if I followed his advice I would have quite another yen years of stalking. This advice was, when climbing breathe through the nose, and when compelled to open the mouth, stop until able to proceed breathing through the nose. He declared such procedure does not unduly tax the heart, even if one is fairly advanced in years. I have tried this and find when carrying out the doctor’s instructions I am able to climb 800 feet an hour over difficult and steep country. Among young surveyors, rising 1,000 feet an hour is considered good work. By the way, a stalker should include an aneroid in his impedimenta. Darkness overtook another stalker and myself when “near the tops,” and the aneroid informed us what progress we were making down to the riverbed. In the morning we know what we had climbed over 1,800 feet above this point. The third member of our party on that occasion became a bit anxious at our non-arrival in camp, and at 9 p.m. he fired a shot, to which we replied. The flash of our shot was seen by him, and he knew we were only half-way out of the bush. We did not get clear of the bush until about 11 p.m. We made better time going up than coming down. Coming down we could not see the deer tracks to follow, and we were afraid of falling over several bluffs, which we had passed in the morning.

In stalking, the hunter goes after the deer, but there is another accepted method of hunting deer, known as “still hunting,” when the hunter practically waits for the deer to come to him. “Still hunting” is practised in Canada, U.S.A., and on the Continent of Europe. It is a method that appeals to the older hunters and to heavy-weights. To practice “still hunting” one must have a knowledge of the habits of deer, and Americans claim that it is the most scientific of all methods pertaining to hunting.

Red deer feed in the night and in the early morning. When the weather is fine they usually saunter into the bush at about 9 or 10 a.m., to lie down. Those who have their feeding grounds about the bush emerge from the bush at about 2 p.m., but those feeding on the riverbed flats usually wait until the sun dips behind the hills before they come out into the open. If after breakfast the hunter leisurely climbs above the bush line and seeks a suitable sheltered position, where he has a decent view of the tussock and snow grass country, he will usually be rewarded by first seeing an old hind come out of the bush. She walks a few yards and carefully scans the surroundings. Presently, one or two lots at hinds will appear. Be patient, “the gentleman” is there all right. He is usually the last to come out of the bush. Here he come in all his glory, announcing his arrival with a challenging roar, and slashes the surrounding shrubs with his antlers.

The deer will now begin feeding in a desultory manner, but after a little time will settle down earnestly to business. Watch the old hind which came out first. She won’t feed so intently as the others. If she looks in your direction, don’t move an eyebrow, keep perfectly still and wait for the stag to get into a position for giving you a “clean kill”.

The bush in gulleys invariably reaches a higher altitude than on the more even hillsides. Go up the gully so as to bring you a bit above the general bush line. Deer rarely look uphill, so that your presence is not so likely to be detected.

The heavy-weight can do his “still hunting” on the riverbed flats, and thus avoid climbing, but as a rule the stags that come out on these flats are usually not so fine as those found about the bush line. “Still hunting” can be practised in wet and windy weather, the deer sheltering in the bush are not so alert as when the weather is fine.

Enter the bush quietly and cautiously, and every now and again listen attentively. If the deer are near, you will hear them breaking dead twigs laying on the forest floor, or a fawn or hind may give a gentle call. Plant yourself now and see if you can locate the stag. If two of you are hunting together, don’t separate. It is dangerous shooting in the bush if your companion is not right alongside you, the bullet may ricochet off a tree.

One of the best stags ever secured in New Zealand was got by a man “still hunting” on the Tararuas.

On the high country in Marlborough, at the head water of the Waiarau River and branches, a sportsman has a varied selection of game. In this country can be found the red deer, wild cattle, wild sheep, and wild pigs. In the rivers and creeks there are large trout.

Wild ducks are also plentiful and occasionally a kea can be secured. Kea stew is a delightful addition to the hunter’s commissariat.

Bibliographic information

Title: “Deer Stalking”, The New Zealand Fishing and Shooting Gazette
Author: Editor, H.W. Tolan
Edition: Pages 9-11, Vol. 1, no. 1 (Nov. 1, 1927)

The New Zealand Fishing and Shooting Gazette