Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The History of Deer Culling and Deer Recovery in New Zealand

Text published Heritage Matter Magazine Issue 18 - Autumn 2009. ( Furral Animals )
Additional photos added.

       Deer heads and antlers leaning against a hut.
     Courtesy Palmerston North City Library New Zealand.
    New Zealand have a long history and tradition of deer hunting, and enviable record of pioneer airboure deer recovery of both dead and live animals.
     What character some of these people were; legions in hunting and aviation circles. These hunters often lived in harsh conditions, and some helped lift venison while dangling from chains or strops below helicopters, sometimes in the most abominable weather or in dangerous situations. Pilots and hunters often survived horrific plane and helicopter crashes, or were involved in other accidents and more than 80 people lost their lives on these deer stalking escapades.

    Little did European settles know that the deer, pigs and rabbits they introduced to New Zealand between the 1850s and early 1900s would become “pest animals”. In their homeland these animals were precious and hunting was the sport of the wealthy, but it was thought that if these animals survived in the “new country” then the sport might become more accessible, or might even open doors to tourism opportunities for trophy hunters.

    In hindsight it might be hard to comprehend that some of the animals now considered pests were once seen as valuable gifts. For example, USA President Theodore Roosevelt gifted Wapiti deer (released and confined to Fiordland) and we can thank Emperor Franz Josef of Austria for the Chamois that were released in the Aoraki/Mount Cook region but are now widespread throughout the Southern Alps.

We hunted later in the day, mid 1970s. Fagan collection.

    Feral pigs, often referred to as "Captain Cookers" are
descendants from the pigs Captain Cook presented to Maori in 1770. Every New Zealander knows the devastation caused by rabbits and hare that thrived on our shores well beyond pioneers' wildest expectations.

    Initially, hunting was strictly regulated by licences, bag limits and seasons, but by the 1930s deer, mostly red deer, were deemed a menace and considered contributors to soil and land erosion. Deer were declared "noxious animals" and the war against them was on.

    In 1930 the first deer cullers were commissioned by the New Zealand Government. Hunters shot deer for a basic wage and received a bonus for each skin or tail rectrieved from the hunter as evidence of each successful kill.

    Reduction of deer numbers first took place on pastroral land, then in high country after the principal need of soil and water conservation was identified. Hunters mostly used old army 303 Enfield rofles, after they had cut much of the wood from the butts to make them lighter to carry. They lived in tents or built rough huts and many were admired in the hunting world for their accurate shooting and other amazing bush skills. However, not all lasted long in this tough "game".

     Over time horses, trucks, boats and later mobile frezers were used to help with deer culling or deer recovery to ensure the jobs were done as economically and efficiently as possible.
    By the mid 1960s, tranquilliser darts, electric immobilisers and nets were being shot at the deer to immobilise them. This enabled live deer to be taken away and farmed. Sir Tim Wallis is one of the major businessmen, organisers and pilots who pioneered live deer recovery with his helicopter. Sir Tim's entrepreneurship is also credited with putting the venision processing plant at Mossburn. "Deer Capital of the world", in northern Southland between Lumsden and Te Anau, on the map. Also in the mid sixties. Ivan Wilson helped develop the net-capturing technique.

Stag, courtesy of Craig & Chris Hocking, Colyton deer farm, New Zealand.

    New Zealand's hunting tradition may be the envy of many, yet not everybody is happy as conflict between recreational hunters, the New Zealand Deerstalkers' Association which was formed in 1937, conservationists and commercial interests still make headlines from time to time.

Modern hunter Andrew Tombleson with his dog Wolf. Courtesy, Tombleson collection 2013. 

Clara Tombleson shoots her first deer. Courtesy, Tombleson collection 2016

James Fagan
Palmerston North

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