As the title of the post suggests, wild cattle are one of the many game animals of New Zealand. Before we explore this fascinating subject, a run down of the history of NZ hunting and NZ game is included for those unfamiliar with NZ .
The first humans to arrive in New Zealand were native maritimers who migrated from PNG, through the islands of the south Pacific and on to New Zealand. These new settlers called themselves the Maori and arrived around 1200AD. The only mammals in New Zealand were Bats and Rats (rats brought by Maori). A great source of food did however exist in the form of the Moa, a flightless bird. The smallest Moa was about the size of a Turkey while the largest of the species was up to 14 foot tall. The Maori hunted these creatures for both food and clothing until the Moa became extinct due to hunting pressure during the 1600's.
European settlers arrived in NZ during the 1800's. British Naval explorer Captain Cook, who first mapped NZ (1770's) had already released wild European pigs onto the land as was customary to ensure that any shipwrecked crew would be able to secure meat. By the time the settlers arrived, wild pigs were thriving and highly regarded by the Maori. By the 1860's, the British Empire had either bought or confiscated nearly all of New Zealand from the native Maori. The land was now parceled up into small settlements and farmland while millions of acres of wilderness country was retained by the Empire and designated Crown Land. In a very farsighted move, the New Zeal;and Acclimatisation society made the decision to introduce several game species of the world onto crown land to 1# promote colonisation, 2# so that future generations would have source of hunting for sport and food and3# a source of tourism for the new country which needed to develop trade.
Game animals of New Zealand: Goat, Boar, Fallow Deer, Sika Deer, Red Deer, Rusa Deer, Sambar Deer, Whitetail Deer, Elk, Moose (no moose shot since 1954 but alive and alluding hunters in the deepest bush), Wild cattle, Thar, Chamois, Wild Sheep species, Wallaby, small game, winged game.
In 1914 the First world war took most NZ males away to Europe. Back in NZ, mild winters and abundant browse allowed game to flourish to epidemic proportions. Game animals began to decimate the native forests sparking the Government to emply cullers. The NZ Forest service began employing cullers after the war. Cullers racked up tallies of 1000 plus deer per season per culler. The depression of the 1930's also forced many farmers off their land, the land returning to a wild state.
The Second world war caused a repeat situation, after the war the cullers returned in great numbers. Lee enfield barrels were worn out in one season, aerial drops of case loads of .303 ammo were needed to supply cullers. Cullers begin experimenting with new cartridges/ calibres during the 1950's., about the same time the writings of Jack O'Conner became popular with NZ hunters.
During the 1960's-1970's, wild Deer gained commercial value (skins and meat), NZers returning from Vietnam war used airborne cavallry experience to pioneer Helicopter deer recovery. Combined with culling, game numbers dropped dramatically.
The 1980's was perphaps the most difficult time for NZ hunters. Game animals remained low with the government keen to keep animal numbers near zero to prevent any future threats to the native forests. By the 1990's, the New Zealand hunter had also adapted. Long range snipers using military range finders and 7mm magnums based on the 404 Jefferies case blown out to maximum dimensions were now hunting from hidden vantage points in the mountains. As the 1990's drew to an end, the value of hunting as both a cultural pastime and tourist earner became more openly appreciated by the New Zealand Government. Game animals returned to healthy numbers.
New Zealand hunting lands have always been divided into two types, public and private lands.
Public land: Apart from a few Balloted blocks, the public may access and hunt crown lands at any time of the year. Crown land consists of millions of acres throughout NZ and terrain constists of both forest, open country and mountainous regions. Most NZ wilderness country requires a high level of outdoor skill as many trampers die in the NZ wilderness each year due to inexperience of the NZ environment. Publuic lands are usually accessed by either road end or by helicopter charter. A vast amount of crown land is landlocked by private land which limits access to designated entry routes. Hunting guides can take clients onto public lands although success rates drop dramatically. For foreigners who wish to hunt the deeper NZ wilderness, a mixed hunt involing a hunt on public land followed by a hunt on a privately accessed block can prove very enjoyable. Game fees usually apply on private land but do not apply on public lands. (no tag system)
Private land: Traditionally, private lands in wilderness areas (bordering onto crown land) were a great source of protected hunting for local communities. Today, many of these private blocks have been opened up for the purpose of guided hunting. Some private blocks feature high fences in order for the land owners to be able to better manage game however many blocks simply continue directly into crown land. Most blocks consist of many thousands of acres of natural wilderness country and game can and will allude hunters without difficulty. Some blocks are lands that have been returned to the Maori through reperations, these blocks being immense in size.
Another type of private hunting block is one inwhich the landowner has, in the past, had a fascination with a game species not normally found in the landowners area. This may have caused the landowner to relocate animals from another area to his block. By law, anyone who brings game to an area which is not that animals typical range, must high fence their property boundary. As an example, Elk have a home range in the South Island of NZ and are now indiginous to that area. Those who wish to have Elk in the North Island, must ring fence their property in order to not disturb the natural balance of the wildlife in that area. Although this sounds a bit of a put up, some of these private blocks are immense in size using natural boundaries such as cliff systems and large waterways to landlock game. Again, such blocks are not usually developed, the land and bush being in its natural wilderness state.
With any private block, it pays to ask about the size of the block and habitat before making any decisions on a private hunt.
A last type of block is the smaller private block which caters to the more affluent hunters who are not particularily interested in exploring the NZ wilderness. These small farm type blocks are very few in number but appear to have cropped up in many countries of the world.
WILD CATTLE HUNTING
In a few pockets of New Zealand wilderness country, a rare and highly sought after game animal lurks in the shadows, eyes peering through the trees, nose testing the air, Horns ready for combat, looking for signs of the hunter.
Domestic cattle were first brought into NZ by settlers. Some settlers hoping to break away from the classist system of Britain, marched deep into the NZ wilderness to carve out small clearings in the bush and begin a farming life. Over time, these isolated far away places proved difficult to maintain, access in and out of the blocks through winding bush tracks was unreliable and stock were sometimes impossible to muster. The depression of the 1930's was the end of many of these blocks. Whole communities consisting of a house and clearing linked by bush track to the next house and clearing were suddenly derelict. The land immediately reverted back to its natural state, the bush swallowing the settlements leaving only very small clearings, open river flats and tracks through the bush. The Government (Conservation Department) of the day was now the care taker of these lands and treated these areas as true wilderness conservation areas. For the few people that remained, the reverted wilderness offered food in the form of wild stock. Both sheep and cattle now roamed the bush although the cattle were quick to adapt to their freedom and take refuge away from human sight in the forests.
As hunting pressure continued, the Wild Cattle beast became an incredibly allusive sppecies. At one time, the Department of Conservation attempted to cull the wild cattle however the cunning and persistance of the species ensured their survival. Today, the wild cattle are generally regarded as an important genetic safe guard as wild cattle remain isolated in the wilderness, far away from any domestic cattle and man's attempt to modify the genetics of the domestic species through selective breeding.
Wild cattle are naturally incredibly healthy, robust and large in proportions, up to around 1600lb in weight. Bulls are a highly regarded trophy due to their large and very dangerous horns. Most wild bulls look like ordinary beef cattle until about 12 years of age. After this, the muscle and muscle definition of the body becomes somewhat harder and heavier as the animal takes on a more dominant role within the herd. In Taranaki, a major home range of wild cattle, many hunters have commented that apon peering into a clearing, the backside of a cattle beast can be seen departing while a Deer in the same clearing is only just looking up to respond to danger. This comment is so very true and should give some idea of the cunning of the species. Like deer, cattle come out of the bush to feed in the early mornings and evenings. During the day it can be possible to approach animals along bush tracks. When a beast is spooked in the bush, even the largest animals moving off at high speed make very little noise. The hunter may hear a few crashes followed by silence as the beast makes its escape.
NZ hunters generally hunt wild cattle for meat although the trek in and of of hunting areas usually limits how much the hunter can carry out. Trophy hunters usually try to access these areas privately in order to utilise some form of quad bike track for trophy retrevial.
For visitors to NZ wishing to hunt Wild Cattle, private hunting blocks offer superior access. A private block featuring Wild cattle should not have a fence as cattle behind a fence must surely be regarded as domestic. Visitors who have made contact with a hunting outfitter can easily double check whether the cattle of the area are indeed indiginous to that wilderness area by contacting the Department of Conservation of that area and enquiring about whether Wild cattle have traditionally been idiginous to that area. Although a wild animal, Most private wilderness block owners charge a tag fee due to the fact that hunting is now their only source of income on land which is now fully reverted to its natural state. Healthy cull animals usually fetch a tag fee of around NZ $1200 while large 12 year old plus dominant trophy bulls may be worth up to eight times this figure. These prices have remained fairly well unchanged since the 1990's.
Cartiridges used for wild cattle hunting tend to depend on individual preference. Traditionally, local meat hunters have used cartridges such as the .270Win, .308Win and .30-06 with premium bullets taking neck or head shots only. Trophy hunters or those wishing to obtain both meat and trophies tend not to take head shots incase of damage to trophies. In these cases, typical African cartridges are a must if ordinary chest shots are to be taken. Dominant bulls are very aggressive and have in the past gored hunters and land owners who have approached too close.
Hope you enjoyed this look into NZ hunting.
Cheers, Nathan, NZ hunting Guide.