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New Zealand’s Game Deer Species

New Zealand has a unique range of large game that has been introduced and adapted to the environment

There are two times of the year when hunting is easier.The first is in Spring when during November and December red deer are attracted out of the forest to feed on the flush of grass and shrub growth. If you just want to bag a deer, Spring is the time. The second is the breeding season in April, (known as the roar) when stags become vocal. If you are reading this you probably already know about the roar.

The trophy heads from New Zealand have compared well with those of the rest of the world. However, indiscriminate commercial venison recovery has for decades affected antler quality on public land. A 1998 study showed that in the years of commercial venison recovery the mean age of stags was only five years and consequently animals in the wild were not reaching their full trophy potential. With the recent demise of commercial hunting, stags in the wild are on average growing older and the heads are already improving.
Doing it tough tough deer country

The Douglas Scoring system is used throughout Australasia for scoring trophies shot in the wild.


Red Deer

Red Stag icon
The Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) is one of the largest deer species and are widely distributed throughout New Zealand. In New Zealand the red deer were introduced by acclimatisation societies along with other deer and game species.They originate from some of the most prestigious game parks in the United Kingdom. The characteristics of these herds in New Zealand were preserved for many years by geographical isolation. For example the Otago region had animals sourced from Scotland with typical recognizable features. Similarly the Rakaia, Nelson and Wairarapa herds were derived from English game parks. Over time, however, the purity of these lines has become diluted and therefore the antler structures less clearly distinctive from any given area.

In New Zealand introduced Red Deer have adapted much better and are widely hunted on both islands, many of the 220 introductions used deer originating from Scotland (Invermark) or one of the major deer parks in England, principally Warnham, Woburn Abbey or Windsor Great Park. There is some hybridisation with the closely related Wapiti or American Elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni) introduced in Fiordland in 1921. New Zealand red deer produce very large antlers and are regarded as amongst the best in the world by hunters.

During the mating ritual, called the rut, mature stags compete for the attentions of the hinds and will then try to defend hinds that they attract. Rival stags challenge opponents by walking and belling in parallel. This allows combatants to assess each other’s antlers, body size and fighting prowess. If neither stag backs down, a clash of antlers can occur, and stags sometimes sustain serious injuries.

Hunting red deer is a sport that is still accessible to almost anyone keen to try.


Sika Deer

Sika icon
Sika (Cervus nippon) are deer of Asian origin, but were successfully introduced to New Zealand in 1905 via stock from Woburn Abbey Park in England. Its name comes from shika, the Japanese word for “deer”. Herds of sika have become established in many countries around the world including the UK, USA and New Zealand. While the New Zealand sika are sometimes known as Japanese deer or Jap deer, they have characteristics of several Chinese and Japanese subspecies.

Sika are the second most common deer in New Zealand and are distributed across about 6000-7000 sq km of the central North Island in the Kaimanawa, Ahimanawa and Kaweka ranges. The DOC site Sika Description provides information about these North Island sika herds.

In New Zealand, where the range of sika and red deer overlap, sika have often displaced red deer. The main reason is probably the fact that sika more competitive when it comes to utilising a wider range of plant species. Sika have a greater ability to digest coarse vegetation. Where these two species overlap there is limited interbreeding which means that hybrid sika / red deer can be found is some areas. It is postulated, controversially, that some of the record heads may contain red deer blood.

Smaller and more difficult to hunt than red deer, sika trophies are highly prized. Even though they are the most vocal of deer in New Zealand they are more often heard than seen. The trophy head typically has eight points but the number of points can go to at least twelve.

For Sika, most rut activity drops away in May. However, unlike with red stags, sika can respond to roaring through the winter months up until around August.

The Sika is regarded as a particularly prized and elusive sportsman’s quarry. It has been noted that Sika display very different survival strategies and escape tactics from the other deer species. They have a marked tendency to use concealment in circumstances when Red Deer, for example, would flee; and have been seen to squat and lie belly-flat when danger threatens.

Hunters have estimated that the Sika’s wariness and “cleverness” makes it three or four times more difficult to stalk than a Red or Fallow deer.

Hunting Sika deer can be a challenging sport, they are very clever animals, but with perseverance, they can provide a thrilling chase and beautiful trophys.


Fallow Deer

Fallow deer icon
The Fallow Deer (Dama dama) is a deer species that is native to western Eurasia, but has been introduced widely elsewhere. The Romans may well have introduced fallow deer (Dama dama) to England from Turkey in about 150 AD. Nearly 1900 years later some of these fallow were taken from England to New Zealand. Fallow deer became established in New Zealand following 24 releases between 1860 and 1910.

The male is known as a buck, the female is a doe, and the young a fawn. Adult bucks are 140–160 cm long and 85–95 cm shoulder height, and 50–80 kg in weight; does are 130–150 cm long and 75–85 cm shoulder height, and 25–45 kg in weight. Fawns are born in spring at about 30 cm and weigh around 4.5 kg. The life span is around 12–16 years. All Fallow deer have white spots on their backs, and black tips at the ends of their tails.

The species has great variations in the colour of their coats. The common coat variation has a brown coat with white mottles that are most pronounced in summer with a much darker coat in the winter. The white is the lightest coloured, almost white; common and menil are darker, and melanistic is very dark, sometimes even black (easily confused with the Sika Deer). Most herds consist of the common coat variation, yet it is not rare to see animals of the menil, melanistic and white coat variations as well.

Agile and fast in case of danger, fallow deer can run up to a maximum speed of 45 km/h over short distances. Fallow deer can also make jumps up to 1.75 metres high and up to 5 metres in length.

Fallow deer are agile animals that though not as common as sika or reds, provide excellent trophy with their unique antlers, or meat for the freezer