These days, there are three mistakes you cannot afford to make–marrying the wrong person, having children with the wrong person, and booking the wrong hunt.
As the hunting fraternity knows well, the cost of our adventures has been steadily climbing, whether you’re hunting in the South, East, Midwest, the Rocky Mountains or Alaska, or in Africa, Europe or Asia. That’s why it has become essential to use extreme care in selecting our hunting opportunities. Because the real cost of the hunt also includes more intangible expenses, such as the time you are away from your family or your occupation.
My own history in this regard stands as a shining example: I once planned an elk hunt in Idaho’s Selway Wilderness area with “the outfitter of the day,” who had multiple articles to his credit. The only problem was–I didn’t do my homework.
After arriving in camp I learned that the “star” guide only worked with outdoors writers. And all of the “glory elk” noted in the magazine articles had been killed during the rut. But the state game and fish commission had banned hunting during the rut in the outfitter’s area two years before I arrived. The “star” also hunted from a special camp that was miles from the main camp. The largest elk seen by our party of five hunting out of the main camp was a raghorn 5×5 bull. However, I did get something positive out of this debacle. It set the standard against which all future hunts (and professional hunters) would be evaluated and selected.
This yardstick was foremost in my mind when I began my research on a hunt in New Zealand. The country has more than 75 licensed outfitters. To choose one who won’t give you the same result I had in Idaho requires an understanding of how the hunting industry in New Zealand developed, and how it currently functions.
Because New Zealand at its core is a pastoral country whose habitat is best suited to sheep and cattle ranching, the hunting industry has been slow to develop. But it has gained momentum over the past 15 to 20 years as large blocks of privately owned land have been converted into big-game hunting properties commonly referred to as “safari parks.” The parks, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of acres of public land available to the hunting public, have opened up tremendous recreational resources on both the North and South islands of New Zealand.
Before the arrival of European settlers, New Zealand was devoid of big game. The red stag, originally indigenous to Great Britain and the highlands of Scotland, was a gift from the people of the United Kingdom in the late 1800s. A bit later, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt arranged a gift to the country of 200 Rocky Mountain elk. That was followed by donations of Himalayan tahr (similar to the North American mountain goat) from the king of Nepal and chamois from Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria.
With no natural predators to control herd numbers, the populations of those transplants soon exploded. At one point, the government tried to control their numbers by contracting with professional hunters outfitted with automatic weapons.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the hunting and guiding industries in New Zealand were born. Hunting estates throughout New Zealand (but primarily on the South Island) have been developed and aggressively marketed to North American and European sportsmen. As with any enterprise, it has been “survival of the fittest.” The operations with high-quality lodging and trophy-quality game have succeeded, while lesser-equipped outfits have failed.
In my opinion, there are seven essential criteria that hunters should consider when evaluating New Zealand hunting outfits.
- Do they own their land? If not, do they have long-term lease arrangements that allow them to manage game numbers and game quality?
- Do they have dedicated hunting lodges, and not just a house that has been converted into a deer camp?
- Do they employ a dedicated staff of professional hunters, packers and cooks?
- Is the quality of the animals high?
- Do they provide complete trophy handling, from field management to trophy preparation to shipping to the client’s home country?
- Do they have access to state-of-the-art helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft?
- Do they accommodate nonhunters in a party and arrange opportunities for them to experience other types of adventures available in New Zealand.
After checking out websites, check them out through e-mails, phone calls and visits to shows such as Safari International’s annual hunters’ convention. Also, check out actual hunting reports filed by fellow Safari Club International members. They are outstanding resources for today’s traveling sportsmen. But I’ve found that the best reference, which is not always available, is a close friend who has hunted with the outfitter you are considering.
With so much time and money riding on your choice of outfitter, it’s vital that you perform a thorough review of the options. The adage that “only the rich can afford to book cheap hunts (because they can return again and again)” has never been more valid. When you’re planning the adventure of lifetime, be careful, be thorough and be proactive.– Dr. Kyle Ball, M.D.