History: Red deer (Cervus elaphus scoticus) were introduced into New Zealand in the 1800s from some of the prestigious game parks in England (Woburn) and Scotland. Today they are found throughout New Zealand except for some notable exceptions such as north of Auckland and areas of Stewart Island. Because of geographical isolation within New Zealand, different wild herds around the country have long maintained the characteristics of their founder stock. For example, the Otago deer were derived from Scottish imports and their antlers retained the characteristics of Scottish deer. Similarly the Rakaia, Nelson and Wairarapa herds were derived from English game parks and retained the characteristics of the original stock. However, more recently the herds have merged and in addition new blood from deer farm escapees has been introduced. This mixing of blood lines has diluted the purity of the original herds and consequently their antler structures have become less distinctive.
While relatively common throughout New Zealand, our wild red deer are a challenge to hunt by any standards because they are under constant hunting pressure. In New Zealand legislation imposes very few restrictions on hunting. Anyone with a firearms license and an appropriate permit can hunt deer on most public land at any time of the year. A person without a firearms license can also hunt as long as they are under the close supervision of a licensed hunter. In addition New Zealand has a unique industry based on the legal use of helicopters to hunt wild deer for profit. Licensed operators can use aircraft as airborne shooting platforms in order to hunt red deer on public land in competition with recreational hunters
Most of the New Zealand record red deer heads were shot in the late 1880s and early 1900s. At this time feed was plentiful in areas that were being newly colonized by deer. A combination of good genetics and good nutrition resulted in optimal antler growth. But don’t despair, because some excellent heads have been shot in recent years. A good example is the beautiful head shot in the Pueroa area in March 2005 by Bruce Dunn (read his story). It is probably the biggest wild red deer head shot in New Zealand. Bruce Banwell, one of New Zealand’s wild deer experts, assessed the head and judged that it was not influenced by modern farm stock and should therefore stand as a record.