NZ is host to eight species of deer, liberated to provide sport for gentlemen in the 1800s.
The major South Island species is red deer which rapidly proliferated, then proceeded to strip the forest understory. By the 1930s there were extensive herds with the bush starting to become devastated. The government, seeing the problem, started to employ blokes as deer cullers.
The extensive backcountry hut network was originally, mostly, set up to provide weatherproof accommodation for these shooters, huts were built willy nilly during the 1950s and 60s. 1956 was the peak year for deer kill, 92,000 were exterminated, by 1960 it was down considerably. But by the early 1970s commercial helicopter shooting was found to be more effective and eventually, the late 1980s, the ground based government deer cullers were required to find an alternative vocation.
Recreational hunting has been a major aspect of your average kiwi bloke’s life, NZ has one of the highest gun ownerships in the world. Despite the continued helicopter shooting, groups of blokes with guns get choppered into huts, both those regularly used by trampers and remote, for a week to tell jokes and stories and even occasionally have a ping at deer, although many might think it was just an opportunity to get away from home.
There’s some good news about encounters between hunters and trampers, ie, hunters are not permitted anywhere near the Great Walk tracks.
Most hunters are well drilled in the mantra “Identify your Target”, and are disciplined in restraining pulling the trigger until they are sure they have something four legged in their sights, not just blasting away at any movement in the shrubbery. They are required to remove the bolt prior to entering any hut. In any case they often spend the daylight hours roaming up trackless tributaries, or along the tops, well away from standard tramping tracks.
Trampers are rarely a target: there’s not so many hunters around these days and there’s been some highly publicised jail time for gun wielding blokes who have shot their mates, that makes people cautious to some degree.
The key possibility of a close encounter is down on the flats. A serious hunter scouts around for signs of recent deer feeding action and trudges back out pre-dawn or late afternoon to set up a viewing point, downwind, to catch the furtive and elusive browsers still out in the open, ie, in the clearings on the valley floor.
There’s a few basic ways to minimize a sad ending encounter:
- avoid tramping pre-dawn or post-dusk
- noise is good, well, non-deer-like noise, clanking of walking sticks, etc
- don’t dress in deer-like colours — brown, red, black. The most distinctive colour is United Nations blue so if you are buying a raincoat, pack, hat etc, at least think about the colour