Helicopter-based hunting in Fiordland

Helicopter-based hunting in Fiordland


Helicopter huntingAs long ago as the 1920s, the Fiordland National Park was plagued with introduced European deer, detrimental to the native New Zealand flora and fauna. The government placed a bounty on the deer, paying local hunters for each animal removed from the park. Combined with the market for venison and deerskin, by the 1960s this had proved a lucrative enough business for several hunters to invest in helicopters, the better to travel through this rugged landscape. Deer populations plummeted as a result, and competition among hunters grew more fierce. Accusations of sabotage and the flouting of rules became common in this unregulated industry. Combined with a growing farm-raised deer industry, and the impact of New Zealand government's efforts to poison the wild deer population with 1080 poison, the helicopter hunting market declined steeply in more recent years. However, its legacy lives on, as former hunting helicopters these days carry tourists and hunters into the New Zealand wilderness.

Methods of capture

One of the methods of capturing feral deer was to fly beside the fleeing deer and cast a capture net over the deer. Immediately afterwards a crew member would jump from the helicopter, tie and place the deer into "'livey bags" for carrying out to the waiting farmers.

The industry today

Red deer were imported into New Zealand and released into the forests starting in the 1860s along with many other introduced animals. The environment was perfect for a population explosion, the result being wide-spread damage both to vegetation and to farmers grazing. The New Zealand government, in order to solve the problem, paid deer cullers a bounty per deer tail in their attempt to control deer numbers, starting in the 1930s. Until the early 1950s, the wildlife culling operations were supposedly self financed by the sale of deer hides that were recovered by the government hunters. This ceased when the market collapsed. Germany began to purchase exported venison and the deer market hunting industry commenced.

Within a few years a good price was paid for the venison by Germany. This brought about an industry of commercial deer hunting in New Zealand.

Horses and jet boats were used to transport deer back to game depots for sale. The typical “kiwi bloke” “do it yourself” identity created and developed this self made industry.

The next stage of development was the introduction of helicopters, which were used for carrying deer back to awaiting trucks positioned at remote road ends, to be couriered to the venison processing factories.

Within one year the technique of shooting deer from helicopters with doors removed became perfected.

One thousand “aerial shot” deer was considered a highly productive month per helicopter. The price of each deer averaged NZ$150.

Methods of 'in air' transport

The crew of the “flying hunter” helicopter consisted of 3 men: pilot, shooter and knife hand. This “flying hunter” helicopter would be supported by a larger helicopter used for carrying the shot deer, suspended by a hook, under that helicopter, and also supplying fuel to the remote based hunter unit.

These men were based in remote wilderness areas, either in huts, or living on moored vessels in the fiordland sounds, used as helicopter pads.

The turn to deer farming

With the strong demand for “organic venison” from a pure environment, and dwindling population of wild deer, some deer hunters reasoned that it would be a good idea to start deer farming.

Initially fawns were captured, hand raised and domesticated, and the dawn of deer farming occurred in New Zealand.

When compared to farming cattle or sheep, deer farming was a more than viable operation - it had tax advantages too.

As the skills of the hunters increased, the deer became more elusive, the wild deer population declined, and the high demand level for breeding stock for deer farms, live deer prices rose to $3,500. This live deer hunting industry, unique to New Zealand, became a way of life and a specialised culture.

Accidents, injuries, helicopter crashes and, sadly, fatalities became common.

Many speculative men became involved in this deer hunting industry resulting in many disasters.

The New Zealand government’s intervention through legislation, policing and administration, was considered by the deer hunters as harassment to their livelihood. This resulted in a difference of what was considered “fair play” between authorities and the deer hunters. Changing tax laws, and deer farms breeding their own stock, bought about the end of this era.

The deer now repopulate the forest.


* Rex Forrester, "True Hunting Adventures"
* Rex Forrester, "The Chopper Boys"
* Rex Forrester, "The Helicopter Hunters"
* Mike Bennett, "The Venison Hunters"
* [http://www.geocities.com/nedu537/helihunt/#the_early_days Helicopter hunters in New Zealand]

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  • Hunting in New Zealand — A memorial erected in 1971 commemorating the release of red deer in Otago in 1871. Hunting is a recreational pursuit and a tourist activity in New Zealand with numerous books and magazines published on the topic. Contents …   Wikipedia

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