New Zealand is known for its giant red stags and picturesque mountains, the Southern Alps. It’s a hunt we’ve had on our radar for the last ten years. But it took both getting to know a local hunter and drawing a coveted West Coast Tahr block in the annual ballot process to put the trip in motion.
Watch The Hunt Here.
The giant red stags you see on Instagram are cost-prohibitive to us. They are captive-bred animals that live on private stations fetching big dollars for hunting access. And the odds of finding something like that on public land are slim to non-existent. Instead, we would target a mountain species, the Himalayan tahr, on public land—with a chance of finding a wild-born red deer or chamois in the same wilderness country.
New Zealand doesn’t regulate hunting in any way. There are no seasons, bag limits, or even hunting licenses (a temporary import permit to bring a firearm is required, however). Because there are no fees for hunting public land, it’s more financially accessible to most North American hunters than you might think - especially with a strong currency exchange rate. With a few years of planning and consistently saving small amounts of money, anyone who regularly hunts out of state could easily hunt the mountains in New Zealand. It's roughly equivalent to hunting Coues deer in Sonora.
It will cost you a long international flight, a couple nights hotel stays, a rental truck, and food for the duration. Of course there can, and likely will be more involved than this (a helicopter ride into the mountains, for example), but this is the minimum required expense.
The key in this hunt was our meeting Joe Fluerty in the states last fall. He would be hunting with us. Joe has years of experience hunting the Island’s mountains and was invaluable on this trip.
We did learn a few things on our own. Here are a few of them— four tips if you decide to do this hunt yourself.
Talk To The Helicopter Operators Often and Early
Pulling off a hunt like this starts with a good helicopter operator. This is critical. These guys are in and out of the mountains every day. They know where they see and don’t see animals. Helicopter rates vary, and you pay by the hour. If you split this up amongst a group of hunters, the prices are reasonable - especially if the exchange rate stays favorable.
Our helicopter bill in and out of the mountains was around NZ$6,000 — a little over US$1,000 per person.
We were unable to fly with our original operator because of the bad weather. Luckily, Joe knew a guy and made a phone call. Scott at Helirural Ltd. accommodated us last minute, and put us in a good area on the east side of the mountain range. We can’t say enough good things about Scott and his Hughes 500. The helicopter ride alone was worth the flight down. It was a fantastic experience.
Don’t take freeze-dried meals with chicken or pork
New Zealand has very strict border controls. Meals with chicken and pork will be seized at New Zealand customs. Instead, stop in at the local Hunting & Fishing New Zealand store and buy your meals locally. They weren’t as good as the Chicken Alfredo Pasta we lost, but they took away our hunger in the mountains. And that’s what matters most.
Hire A Local Guide
While pulling off a do-it-yourself hunt is possible, consider hiring a local guide. Time is valuable when you’re 7,000 miles away; weather could be uncooperative. When Plan A doesn’t work out, a local will have backup plans that could save your trip. Further, field judging tahr is not easy. The difference between a mature bull and a juvenile is not much. Not knowing how to determine which bull to shoot could cost you. Also, the Southern Alps are nastier than most mountains you’ve hunted. Knowing where you can and can’t recover a fallen animal is crucial to staying safe. A local can provide what might be life-saving guidance.
Joe provided all of this and more for us. Give Joe a shout on Instagram if you’re interested in hiring a guide for help or arranging logistics. He’s a legend.
Without Joe's experience, we may have wasted a lot of time trying to hunt this young bull.
Take Serious Mountain Gear
Along those same lines… don’t forget to take crampons (even for the alpine tussock, which can be very slippery) and an ice-axe to self-arrest should you fall. Plan for cold, crappy weather. Make sure your clothing layers well, and your tent is durable and roomy enough to stay inside if the weather fogs up and limits visibility.
The following were each of our Marsupial chest packs and accessories of choice for this hunt. We hope it helps on yours.
I wore the original Marsupial Gear chest pack for this hunt—the one I’ve had since 2016. I like to clip my GoPro into the front pocket and keep my phone in the back pocket. On one side, I had the small zippered pouch, which held a few extra rounds of ammo, GoPro batteries, and a big camera battery. On the other side, I used a rangefinder pouch holding my InReach Mini and a few small snacks. I will probably replace this with a second zipper pouch because, on recent hunts, I carry range-finding binoculars. I love that this American-made pack has lasted me many years.
I carried my newest chest harness, a Marsupial Enclosed Binocular Pack. I use a medium to fit the Swarovski NL Pure 12x. I’ve worn a Marsupial for years, but this was the first time I used the Enclosed. And I’m glad I had it. We got rained on a lot, and having the full protection of the enclosed pack kept my optics clean and clear.
For New Zealand, I wanted a minimalist approach to everything. And for that reason, I used the Marsupial No-Mag Binocular Pack. I have no problem with magnets. For most people, the concern about magnets' impact on navigation are overblown. What the No-Mag Pack gave me that the Enclosed or Standard Pack did not was the ability to use a smaller sized pack for my Swarovski EL 12x50 binoculars. The way the pack closes via the shock cord accommodates this larger optic in a small. It won’t fit into a small Enclosed Pack, however.
I also use a handful of Mesh Zipperoo bags to organize various essentials. I prefer the mesh style option to the stretch option so I can easily see what’s inside each bag without opening it. I keep one for camera essentials like lens cleaners, extra batteries, and GoPro attachments. Another keeps hunt essentials like headlamps and a tripod adapter organized. And most importantly, I have an organized kill kit consisting of a contractor bag, nitrile gloves, a knife, and game bags all in one, easily accessible place.