Wapiti in New Zealand by D. Bruce Banwell

Published 1966 | Value $50 – $160

Wapiti in New Zealand is the book that launched the late Bruce Banwell’s long and distinguished career as New Zealand’s foremost wild deer expert and big game hunting writer.

In total Bruce went on to author 17 books on hunting but it all started with this book about New Zealand’s most coveted trophy animal: wapiti (otherwise known as North American elk) and it is one of the greats of New Zealand’s hunting literature — if you own a copy, or manage to find one, treasure it.

I am grateful that Bruce took the time to thoroughly research and compile this book because it is now of immense historical importance as there are very few (if any) other books that cover the subject in such depth.

It is the quality and sheer number of photos of the trophy deer heads and the famous stalkers that elevate the appeal, desirability and collectability of this book. Images are presented as compilations of black & white photo plates, many of them from the deerstalkers’ private albums.

At the time of its release, Wapiti in New Zealand was reviewed by Ian R. Culpitt for Issue 15 of the NZDA’s magazine, New Zealand Wild Life, 1966. I thought it would be interesting to extract that review here in full.

“For most of us, a trip to Fiordland in order to stalk that Wapiti Bull of our imagination comes very rarely. For some, it is the high point of their New Zealand stalking experience. For a few who either by occupation or proximity can stalk the Wapiti regularly, Bruce Banwell’s book, “Wapiti in New Zealand”, provides the background and history to the Fiordland herd which they know well.

“For those of us who have never been to Fiordland, experienced stalkers or newcomer, Mr. Banwell’s book captures the excitement and hardship in Fiordland. The extremes of weather and terrain are made clear, as are the accounts of endless days and nights spent waiting in waterlogged sleeping bags for an end to the relentless driving rain. Fiordland is no place for the inexperienced or the man who treats the physical difficulties of such country with disdain. The very difficulty of Fiordland has so far deterred the inexperienced or foolish stalker.

“After a description of the nature of the Wapiti country and the establishment of the herd, Mr. Banwell’s book traces through the history of annual stalks into Fiordland. The early experience of such well-known names as Murrell, Dalyrymple, Herrick, Hodgkinson, Sutherland, Wilson, Muir and Nitz are well recorded. The later years, especially the post war boom and subsequent years, are equally well told though it is obvious that the greater amount of material, both written experience and verbal accounts, has been more difficult to organise into a flowing narrative.

“The first part of the book concludes with some fascinating and humorous accounts of travel on Lake Te Anau and trips to the stalking grounds by sea from Dunedin. In the final chapter, Mr. Banwell discusses the future of the Wapiti herd and poses some awkward questions for those who would want to destroy the Wapiti herd altogether.

“The second part of Mr. Banwell’s book contains eleven appendices which deal with the Wapiti as an object of ecological and zoological research. It is a pity that Mr. Banwell ignored the Research Report of the N.Z.D.A. on the Wapiti area, a report based on the actual autopsy of over 1000 animals and included  a Report by K. H. Meirs, which amounted to random sightings of some 500 Wapiti over a period of years. From a research point of view, the N.Z.D.A  report cannot be ignored and must be preferred.

“Despite this, Mr. Banwell’s book is a vital and important contribution to the study of the Wapiti herd and to the history of stalking in Fiordland. This book captures the deep thrill and experience of stalking in this area and is a must for all serious students of deer in New Zealand.”

The Hunter’s recommendation is: buy it

The Hunter’s ratings are:

  • Overall rating: 9.5 out of 10
  • Photos and illustrations: 5 out of 5
  • Trophy quality: 5 out of 5
  • Writing quality and style: 4.5 out of 5
  • Page-turner status: 4.5 out of 5

Publisher’s blurb

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

WAPITI were introduced into New Zealand’s wild Fiordland country in 1905, and by 1923 were so well established that the first shooting licences were issued.
Since then, these noble animals have continued to increase and have attracted shooters from all over the world as well as from all parts of New Zealand. Only those who are fit and keen enough to face the remote and rugged terrain and the rigours of a high rainfall climate are likely to secure great trophies; but even those who come out empty-handed will have had a sight of some of the most beautiful, most unspoiled, lake, forest, and mountain country in the world.
D. Bruce Banwell, who lives on the edge of Fiordland and has made many expeditions in to the wapiti country over the last fourteen years, has compiled this historical survey of the herd and of the sport it has afforded.
He traces the history of the first importation of North American stock; the early build-up of the herd; and the fortunes, season by season, of those who have packed tents and rifles into the vastness of Fiordland with great trophies as their goal.
His narrative abounds with humour and adventure, with stories of the great guides of the early days, and with surveys of the seasons up to and including 1965. He provides clear maps, and tabulated records of the major trophies; and he expresses sound and forceful views on the much-debated question of herd control. The range and excellence of his illustrations can be seen at a glance. 
This book is the first complete and definitive study of the most magnificent of the wild creatures introduced to New Zealand, and will find a place on every shooter’s bookshelf.
D. Bruce Banwell was born in Dunedin in 1932, and educated at Gore High School.
His father was a keen deerstalker, and encouraged his son to take the sport seriously; but this was hardly necessary, for Bruce Banwell is, by instinct a hunter and a sportsman. He registered his first rifle when he was sixteen, and has since spent every available moment of his spare time in the mountains. 
In his earlier shooting years he traveled to almost any place in the South Island where he could shoot thar, chamois, fallow deer, red deer, whitetail; but the wapiti have claimed his sustained attention and from 1952, when he first went into their area, he has made them his main study. Latterly, he has been into the wapiti country at least once every year.
During this long period of loyalty to the sport he has met, and corresponded with, leading shooters, young and old, including many international sportsmen such as Kenneth Whitehead (whom he accompanied on shooting expedition in South Westland and South Canterbury); and his friends include distinguished scientists who have studied the ecology and development of the wapiti in New Zealand. 
Mr Banwell has been a member of the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association since 1950, has served on the executive of the Southland Branch for several years, and has been the president of its Western Southland Branch. He is a great believer in the preservation of all forms of New Zealand wildlife in numbers compatible with their rangeland, and is strongly opposed to those who hold that introduced species should be exterminated. 
He is employed as a bank officer in Tuatapere, Southland, and is married with a family of two girls and one boy.

Bibliographic information

Title: Wapiti in New Zealand: A History of the  Fiordland Herd
Author: D. Bruce Banwell (David) (1932–2013)
Editions: 1966, 1985
Publisher: A. H. & A. W. Reed, Wellington, New Zealand
Format: Hardcover, 183 pages, black & white illustrations, 24 cm

Book review of Wapiti in New Zealand by Bruce Banwell book review