In New Zealand, all big game (and a lot of small game) is non-native, which is why you can hunt Canada Geese with a rifle. Before the arrival of Maori 700 years ago, and of Europeans 400 years later, New Zealand was one of the more distinctive ecosystems on earth. The largest mammal was a bat, and the terrestrial megafauna almost exclusively consisted of flightless birds. Maori extirpated many of the birds, while Europeans wreaked far greater havoc when they got around to it. In additional to feral pigs, sheep, and goats, a large number of wild big game species were let loose specifically to create hunting opportunities. These include chamois, native to Europe, tahr, native to the Himalaya, and no fewer than eight species of deer from around the globe. America contributed elk and moose, both of which were (rather oddly in my view) released in the fantastically rugged and wet fiordlands. Elk are doing well, though their continued interbreeding with red deer is lamented by some Kiwi hunters, while most thought the moose had died off until a confirmed hair sample was found in 2002. New Zealand has some the roughest, least penetrable country immaginable, real bigfoot territory where the largest deer species could plausibly go undetected for decades. This fact alone should make New Zealand an intriguing location for a hunting adventure.
Interest will be vastly increased when the implications of a 100% introduced pantheon of hunting species are fully grasped. Aside from harsh weather and lack of food, there are no natural checks on these animal’s spread. Hunting has been and continues to be a vital tool to maintain some equilibrium in the hybrid system which is New Zealand. If the Department of Conservation (DOC) has reason to suppose that too few tahr were shot in the past year (overall population target is 10,000), thus setting up a population boom which might put native alpine plant species at risk, they hire folks to go out and shoot a bunch out of helicopters. If the DOC thinks too few deer were shot, they’ll attempt to aerially cull them or, when the terrain makes such an approach less effective, poison them.
All of this means that, with few exceptions, there are no limits or restrictions on big game hunting in New Zealand. Formulate a hunt plan and get yourself and your gear in country and you can have at it, year-round. What restrictions do exist mostly have to do with keeping hunters away from crowded areas, especially during popular seasons, and in draw blocks for the aforementioned modest populations of elk.
The informative DOC website will be the inevitable first stop on a hunters’ quest for information, as well as where hunting permits should be obtained.
While the free hunting permits are attractive in a world of increasingly expensive hunt tags, the real value of New Zealand hunting is in the unrestricted opportunity in terms of season and terrain. There are few places in North America where you can hunt terrain such as the above, without building points, spending a lot of money on a guide, or being an Alaska or Yukon/NW Territories resident.
There seems to be a low-level, semi-permanent conflict (difference of opinion might be a better phrase) amongst the Kiwi hunting community about conservation, or more specifically the different meanings of conservation. Most people seem to accept that the various big game species are in NZ to stay. Most people also seem to accept that it is in the interest of the integrity of the native ecosystems, all of which are already much diminished by non-native predation and depredation, for big game species to be kept at a manageable/lower level. At the same time, hunters want to see animals when they go hunting, and many hunters want to see trophy animals as well. How all these things can be balances appears to be something New Zealand is still working out. Frankly, for anyone interested in the intimate detailed of ecosystem management it’s a fascinating issue, and I had a lot of really engaging conversations with all kinds of folks about various aspects. The South Island compares favorably to Montana or Wyoming in that a fairly significant portion of the population seems to hunt, fish, and get out regularly and thus be more aware of and engaged with these things.
All of that is to say that a visiting hunter will be put in the unusual position of lacking any formal guidelines on how many animals she/he can or ought to shoot, should fortune prove kind. Good manners behoove guests, so it’s something everyone ought to think about before getting out in the field.
Possibly before the hunt is fully planned, a visiting hunter will need to buy airline tickets. We saved a lot of money buying way in advance. This can be the source of inadvertent trouble, as different airlines and countries have different regulations. Qantas, for example, allows you to check a firearm using the same guidelines any US carrier would (locked hard case, etc), but requires a special internal permit to check ammo. You can get this online very easily, but you need to do so at least a few hours before you check in. Air New Zealand requires a phone call at least the day before you fly with ammo and a firearms to notify them. Australia is another potential problem for the traveling hunter. The way I read the regulations, you need an Australian firearms permit even if you’re just flying through the country and never clearing customs with your checked baggage. We went through Sydney both ways, are were lucky to get away without any Australian permit of any kind. In the future, I’ll give Australia a pass unless things change. Not worth the extra bother, though Sydney has some great pubs. As is usual with such things, the process is rather Kafkaesque and whether you get a severe or lax treatment of the rules comes down to chance.
New Zealand requires a visitors firearms permit for you to bring a rifle into the country. This is actually very easy. The form can be filled out online, ideally a few weeks before you arrive, and will be waiting for you with the police at the airport when you arrive (along with your rifle). You just need to announce yourself to said police officer, present proof of your ability to legally own firearms in the US, 25 New Zealand dollars (get this in advance), and you are on your way. In Queenstown, this was a very quick and easy process. The only potential complication is that we don’t necessarily have a specific firearms license in the US. A concealed carry permit would presumably be ideal here. I brought a 2014 Montana hunting license, 2015 Utah hunting license, and hunter education certificate, which together proved sufficient. The officer was not especially familiar with US firearms laws, but accepted my explanation that some degree of legal check was involved in obtaining a hunting license.
There is a space on the visitors firearms license application for the licensed NZ resident who will be keeping your firearm for you, including address and firearms license number. If you hire a guide the answer in obvious. We used the address of the Queenstown hotel we stayed in the first night, and left the license number space blank. We had also made arrangements, considerably in advance, to store my rifle while doing a backpacking trip and a multiday kayaking trip. In both cases we emailed local police departments asking for assistance. In one case they cheerfully agreed to store the rifle, and in another they referred us to the manager of a local sporting goods store, whom we called, and who cheerfully agreed to do the same. We had hard copies of both emails to present along with the hunting licenses, which seemed to make a favorable impression.
Having clean gear is quite important when coming in to the country. My shoes and tent stakes got a free bath from customs to make sure they had no non-native particles. I had washed both beforehand, just not well enough.
The cheapest way to get skulls, hide, and frozen meat home is in checked and carry-on luggage. Hunting was the first activity we did, so we didn’t pursue freezing all the meat for transport home. In New Zealand there is no legal obligation to take more from a kill than you like. I actually regret this a bit, as the tahr was excellent and we ate it with gusto for consecutive meals. The chamois was less good. We did have two separate cabins booked along the trip, which gave me access to a yard and hose for boiling skulls on the camp stove and cleaning and salting hides. We brought a tahr hide back in checked baggage, and three skulls in carryon. This required a trip to a regional New Zealand DOC office (Christchurch) to obtain an export permit, which cost $40. We gave them details over the phone the day before, and signing, paying for, and picking up the permit took 10 minutes. As was the case pretty much everywhere, the folks at DOC were cheerful, interested, and helpful. You’ll also need to fill out a US Fish and Wildlife form (#3-200-20) to bring this stuff back, and ideally call the port (airport) through which you’ll be returning to give them a heads-up, which vastly expedites the customs process. Virtually all major international airports will have Fish and Wildlife staff qualified to do this, but it’s a good idea to be sure. Obviously, make sure the hides and skulls are very clean and professional looking. We called a few places in Christchurch about cleaning stuff for us, but the rates they quoted seemed obscenely high, so doing it ourselves seemed like an obvious investment.
It will be a while, but I can’t wait to go back and hunt New Zealand again. The long and costly flight is the only disadvantage, and considering the cost of non-resident tags, a well-planned trip to New Zealand is probably not much more expensive than many hunts within North America, if not cheaper overall. With the ability to hunt very different species in very different ecosystems with few restrictions, all on one trip, New Zealand might be the best hunting destination on the planet.