Since 1995, the excellence of Gary Herbert’s New Zealand Hunting operation has been defined by a constantly expanding reputation for delivering the finest big game hunting with the finest 5 Star accommodations available. Herbert initially entered the professional hunting business in the mid 1990s as a packer to more established safari operators and then as a professional hunter in locales as diverse as the Russian Republics to Alaska before branching off on his own to start his own company, initially known as New Zealand Mountain Hunting Limited. Continue reading The Finest New Zealand Has To Offer
Fifteen years ago, PH John Scurr established Cardrona Safaris as a family owned and operated business. He explains its beginning, “The company was started in conjunction with our high country farming business located in one of New Zealand’s premier hunting locations, the Queenstown/Wanaka region on the South Island.”
Commenting on his PH work, John says, “Being in the safari business has been a special time of my life. Guiding clients from around the world, I have developed lasting friendships. This involvement broadened my interest in international hunting. I have bagged nearly a hundred different species of animals on all huntable continents. I do not yet have all of the Big Five, but am intimately familiar with an elephant charge and mixing it with the big cat.”
When afield John carries rifles chambered from .270 to .300 caliber. “We do not require anything bigger than .300 because we do not have dangerous game to contend with and the shots are rarely over 300 yards except when hunting tahr and chamois. Every year we harvest good quality animals for our clients across all the species available in New Zealand.”
2009 stands out as a highlight when Scurr guided a client on a red stag that scored 655—an SCI world record at the time. “It was a privilege to guide Prince Dimitrie Sturdza of Romania on that stag,” says Scurr. “The animal was high in the valley and the climb was quite a challenge for the Prince, who is in his seventies, to make it into a comfortable shooting position. The hunt was special because of his connections with hunters in Europe, his standing in society and the great respect he has for the history of hunting. He has a wonderful hunting culture, with gratitude and passionate respect for the species he pursues. We have become good friends and I have hunted with him in Romania as his guest. Developing these relationships makes the outfitter/guide business so rewarding and gives us a perspective on international experience.”
John described his own hunting experiences. “Along with fantastic African safaris, I have great respect for the big mountain ranges of the world. Hunting for ibex and rams in the Tian Shans, chamois in the Carpathians, tahr in the Southern Alps, mountain goat in the Alaskan mountains, tur in the Caucasian Mountains and mountain nyala in the Bale Mountains are memories of burning energy and personal satisfaction. Not all of my hunting ventures have been successful, so I have something to look forward to in coming years.”
Scurr provides hunts on foot, and can get you to hunting locations by four-wheel drive vehicles or helicopter. Small game, duck and quail are offered at their hunting preserve. Trout fishing is available in nearby Lake Wanaka and surrounding rivers.
An SCI member, John Scurr has invested in SCI knowing those funds are carefully and strategically used in programs educating young hunters, who are the foundation of the industry, about ethical hunting and conservation. John and his wife Anne have enjoyed hosting many families and take great pride in seeing those parents, girls and boys enjoying New Zealand’s wildlife and environment.
The pair of paradise ducks cautiously circle our decoys giving the spread a good once over before banking left just out of range. This was the second flight of ducks that flared from our decoys. My guide Jonathan Christian shook his head and began rummaging through his decoy pack and pull out a paradise duck robo decoy. He assembled it, attached the spinning wings and stuck it in the ground in the middle of our decoy spread.
“Get ready, they can’t resist the wing motion,” he said.
The next flight of five paradise ducks zeroed-in on the robo duck and came in with their wings set. I picked out a gaudy colored female and a big dark colored male and dropped them with three shots. Their splashes shattered the reflection of snow-capped mountains on the pond. Towering behind the marsh loom the 10,000-foot snow covered mountains of New Zealand’s North Island. The setting was magnificent and, best of all, the ducks just kept coming.
I was drawn to this New Zealand bird hunt at the SCI Sacramento Chapter Auction. The description of native ducks, goose, swan and turkey hunting on New Zealand’s South Island sounded great. I was already headed to the South Island for a red stag hunt, and a waterfowl hunt would round out the trip. It offered the opportunity to take black swan, paradise ducks, mallards, Canada geese, pukeko and turkey with Wilderness Quest Outfitters.
At Wilderness Quest Ranch I was immediately impressed. Located on South Island’s remote west side, you could look up at the peaks of the New Zealand Alps towering above the landscape from anywhere on the ranch. A small river, two lakes and a marsh on a wide flat made up the rest of the valley. During the trip in, I saw turkeys feeding in the foothills above the pasturelands.
The first day was set aside for seeing the area and hunting pukeko, a native gallinule that looks like an American coot. Since pukekos are slow flying, I figured to get my lead down on the less challenging of the waterfowl.
To my delight, pukekos were harder to hunt than expected. We hunted them along a series of tree-lined sloughs where they fed. The pukekos sensed where our blind was, and stayed out of shotgun range. Being out-smarted by a bird with a brain the size of pea was aggravating so we decided to try jump shooting.
We spotted five pukekos roosting in a low hanging tree on the edge of the marsh and planned a stalk. Each time one flushed, they flew between trees and back into the woods. I had a quick shot as they flew between trees heading for denser cover. We spent the next several hours flushing birds and waiting for open shots. It was a lot like trying to hit grouse dodging through the trees. Several hits and lots of misses later, we headed in for a late breakfast. As we drove in, pukeko seemed to materialize out of every little ditch, inlet and waterway, just standing there looking at us. Some were close enough to hit with a dirt clod.
That afternoon, we visited a local farmer who was carving black swan decoys out of styrofoam and using a wooden base to stabilize them. The decoys were not works of art, but he guaranteed they would lure black swans into shooting range the next morning.
Heavy morning rains put a damper on the swan hunt. The skies cleared around noon and we launched a jet boat in the nearby lake and headed out to the floating blind to set out our two new decoys. Decoying swans was new to my guide, and he set the decoys out at 50 yards just out of shotgun range. Normally, they pass-shoot black swans as they fly from the feeding area in the marsh to the lake.
The first two flocks of swan veered out of their way to fly over the decoys but out of range. We moved the decoys in closer and got back into the blind as the next flight of swans came over. They looked like B-52 bombers. I stared up in wonder. The next flight of swans landed 75 yards out and swam into the decoys. As they were swimming toward us, three big black males glided in over us, their wings whooshing not 10 yards over our heads.
Jonathan was beside himself, “Are you going to shoot or not?” he asked. “You know you can shoot six today. We are hunting swans!”
All I wanted was one big male to mount and some good pictures of these giant birds. I didn’t have to wait long. Ten minutes later, a giant male flew between us and the decoys less than 30 yards away. My magnum load of copper No. 2s dropped it instantly. The splash was titanic, like a washing machine being dropped into the lake. Water flew everywhere. Ripples broke the reflection of the snowcapped Alps in the background.
The next day was paradise duck day. We set up before the first rays of light hit the marsh. Jonathan built a driftwood blind. Until we set out the robo duck decoy, things looked bleak as one group of ducks after another veered off our decoys. Once we clicked the switch on the rotating wings of the robo decoy, pairs and small flocks of ducks came in with their landing gear down. The wing motion of the robo duck worked magic on them.
I stopped shooting when I folded the eighth duck. Jonathan was puzzled since the limit was 20 and he had lined up families to take the ducks. I explained I had all I wanted to shoot and had a great pair for mounting. He was a good sport and suggested we go try jump shooting grey ducks.
Grey ducks look like hen mallards with an eyeliner. Never plentiful in New Zealand, they were a challenge to hunt. Shy and elusive, they remind me of black duck hunting on the East Coast. The afternoon’s stalk along the river and marsh edges produced one bird. I missed several good shots at flushing greys.
Excellent meals were prepared at the chalet each evening and their red deer cutlets were to die for. But one evening I took over and cooked thin strips of swan breast marinated in kiwi, olive oil, sesame seeds, soy sause, lime juice and brown sugar. Quick fried, they remained tender and juicy. Jonathan was amazed since his family’s roasting method produced chewy dry meat from every goose.
I passed up a morning of Canada goose hunting to go look at elk, red stag, fallow deer and aparrware sheep on the ranch. I was stunned at the 500-point SCI class red stag they were keeping a close eye on for a hunter coming in the following week. It truly was massive. Tines curled in all directions off its main beam. Taking a jeep ride up a timberline canyon, we spotted several small herds of red deer but no big bulls. Higher up, the open range area at the top of the valley looked like classic elk hunting country, and I vowed to return to red deer hunt there in the future.
In the afternoon, we scouted for turkeys. Jonathan knew of two flocks of about 20 birds that used the edge of the pastureland each afternoon to feed on bugs. Using a spotting scope, we found the first flock out in the open with no way to approach them. There were a half dozen jakes but only one mature tom and his beard was short. A gust of wind followed by snow chased us and the turkeys back to cover.
The next morning, we set up on a small hillside overlooking two ravines that led out of deep forest into mixed wood and pasture lands below. A large flock of turkeys with two big toms worked downhill toward us. The key was to figure out which side gully afforded enough cover to intercept the flock as it fed our way. Circling downhill, we wedged in behind a series of dead snags that made a natural blind. If things went as planned, the flock would pass below us about 20 yards out.
Everything worked as planned except that both gobblers were tightly mixed in with the hens and jakes. I never got a clear head shot and had to let them pass less than 20 yards away. Somehow they sensed something was wrong and trotted off immediately after passing us and disappeared into the timber. We played tag with that flock for the next two hours, never getting close enough for a shot.
At lunch, one of the ranch hands told us he watched half a dozen turkeys with at least one really big gobbler in the flock feeding along a series of benches above the sheep pens. We hiked above the pens and spotted the turkeys scratching around on the middle bench, moving slowly downhill. We picked out a concealed spot below them and set up.
Luck was on our side. Something spooked a red deer above the turkeys and they quickly moved downhill toward us, looking back over their shoulders. Half a dozen hens appeared in the opening above us less than 20 yards away. Behind them came four jakes and one nice gobbler. When I got a clear shot, I touched off the round and flattened him.
It was a beautiful gobbler weighing close to 20 pounds and with an extremely thick bushy beard. It was a perfect ending for a mixed bag bird hunt. My revelry was broken when my guide said my bird hunt was not over. A local farmer from the next valley over had a real Canada goose problem. The farmer wondered if we could come over and shoot a couple of dozen geese for him and get them out of his crops? There is no limit on Canada geese on the South Island.– Harry Morse
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.