New Zealand's Big Game Animals | New Zealand Hunt Planner


There are a whole pile of non-native critters that have been introduced into the wilds of New Zealand and are considered “noxious animals” by the Department of Conservation (DOC). 


All large mammals in New Zealand are open for hunting year round, with very few exceptions.


Here is a partial list of those animals.  These are the more popular species among hunters:


  • Himalayan Tahr
  • Chamois
  • Red Deer
  • Fallow Deer
  • Sika Deer
  • Sambar Deer
  • Rusa Deer
  • Elk (Wapiti)
  • Whitetail Deer
  • Feral Goat
  • Feral Sheep (Merino, Arapawa)
  • Feral Pig

Lets jump in and take a look at each one as a possible target species for a DIY hunter.


Himalayan Tahr

Location -- South Island

Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- High

Himalayan Tahr are a fantastic mountain game animal.  They are quite literally the king of the long as that mountain is located in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.


Tahr are a large wild goat with a full bristling mane and a proclivity for cliff-hopping the tops of mountains.  They were introduced to New Zealand in 1903 from captive herds in the UK.


Tahr are originally native to the Himalaya Mountains in northern India and Nepal where they are now considered Near Threatened and only limited hunting is conducted in their native range.


In New Zealand, tahr have flourished and can be found on both the east and the west side of the central part of the Southern Alps mountain range.


By goat standards, tahr are rather stocky, with wide barrel chests.  The mature males are super impressive looking with their huge manes and two-toned coloration and they vary in color from dark brown, almost black, to light tan.


A bull tahr can weigh between 150 - 250 pounds.  Nannies might be half the weight of a bull or less.  Thar are shorter and more compact than a North American Mountain Goat, but behaviorally they are similar in many ways, especially in their preference for rocky cliffs and bluffs.


The tahr rut starts around mid-May and runs through June.  During the rut, bulls join nanny groups (or ‘mobs’) to breed.  This time of year bulls can often be seen traveling between mobs to check for breedable nannies.


In the summer and early fall, bull tahr typically have short summer coats and are far less impressive as a trophy than during winter.  A bull’s mane may only be six inches long in February and March, but by late May and June it could be as long as 10-12 inches.


There is no restriction to tahr hunting in New Zealand, but there is restricted aerial access to certain areas during the tahr rut that is managed through a ballot block system.  The ballot system uses a lottery draw to award week-long aerial access a specific block, or hunting area. If you are interested in hunting a ballot block, you must put in an application several months in advance.


If you only go to New Zealand one time, to hunt one species, I highly recommend that you make it the Himalayan Tahr.

Male -- Bull

Female -- Nanny

Juvenile -- Kid



Location -- South Island

Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- High

Chamois are a rather small species of goat-antelope that occupy many of the same areas of the Southern Alps as the Himalayan Tahr, although they do not compete well with tahr and are typically found on the fringes of the tahr’s range.


As a game species they are a rather small animal that occupies the alpine tops as well as the slides and avalanche chutes at lower elevations.  They can frequently be found on river beds and valley floors as well.  


Chamois have a dedicated following among mountain hunters and they make beautiful trophies.  They have a mild, delicious meat.


A chamois buck will weigh somewhere between 70-100 pounds with the females being a bit smaller.


Both bucks and does have unique horns that stand very erect from the chamois’ forehead before hooking back towards the animals rump in a horseshoe bend.


Chamois bucks have black winter coats with white heads and a distinctive black stripe from that extends from the base of each ear, through the eye and continues to the nose.  In the summer, they have a light tan coat with the same black stripe through the eye, giving a very unique seasonal color variation.


Chamois were introduced to New Zealand back in 1907 and are native to the Pyrenees mountains of Europe and the Caucasus mountains of western Asia.  


If you aren’t interested in focusing on Chamois as your primary goal during your hunt, they can make a great incidental species to collect while tahr hunting or as an additional species to pursue once a good tahr or red deer is on the ground.


The chamois rut starts in Early May and runs until about mid June.


Male -- Buck

Female -- Doe

Juvenile -- Kid

Red Deer

Location -- North and South Island

Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- High

Red deer are essentially the European cousin to the North American elk.  They are similar in size, though slightly smaller bodied than a Rocky Mountain elk.  They are also similar in color, although they have less contrast than an elk. A red deer stag will typically not have as dark a neck or as light of a rump as an average Rocky Mountain bull elk and will be a more even color of light brown.  Red deer stags in New Zealand do grow a mane, very similar to an elk’s.


There is some misconception among a lot of American hunters about what a red stag is in New Zealand.  This is due to the popularity of red deer farming and private land guided hunts for trophy, farm raised stags which is very similar to growing big whitetail bucks behind high fence in Texas and charging hunters high fees to shoot them.  


Basically, if you see a photo of a huge stag, with 8 + points on each side and very thick mass, this is almost undoubtedly a farm raised stag.


While these hunts are very popular -- if you are interested in this kind of stag, you will have to research an outfitter in order to find a good hunt.


If, however, you want to hunt a wild-born, free ranging red deer, just like you would hunt an elk on public land in Colorado, Montana or Wyoming, you will be hunting an animal with antlers that look similar to a five or six point Roosevelt elk.  A very large free range stag would tape out at 280-300”.


Nomenclature can help out a bit here.  If you see or hear reference to a ‘red stag,’ or ‘estate stag’ then it is most likely a captive bred red deer.  Within a hunting context a ‘red deer’ or ‘red deer stag’ is commonly used to refer to a wild-born, free-range red deer.  These are not hard and fast rules and can be easily interchanged (although typically ‘estate stag’ will always be used to describe a captive bred red deer).


Red deer live in the hill and mountain country of New Zealand from the river flats up to grassy alpine tops.


Red deer are a bit smaller than Rocky Mountain elk and an average red deer stag will weigh about 400-500 lbs.


The red deer rut or “roar” as its called among kiwi hunters runs from late March through April.  During this time, red deer stags actually make a roaring sound, very similar to an elk’s bugle.


Male -- Stag

Female -- Hind

Juvenile -- Fawn/Calf

Fallow Deer

 Location -- North and South Island

Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- Medium


In coloration and markings, Fallow deer (including the bucks, does and fawns) are tan and  covered in white dots, which make them look very similar to a whitetail deer fawn . Unlike whitetail though, fallow deer also have a dark color phase, a light color phase and a white color phase.  Within some of the color variations the white spots don’t occur.


NOTE: just for clarification, don’t confuse Fallow deer with Chital, or Axis deer, which are also tan with white spots, but are not found in New Zealand.  Axis deer are a popular game species in Texas and Hawaii. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two if you aren’t sure is to look at the antlers of the bucks.  Fallow antlers are shorter with wide palmations at the tops. Axis antlers are taller than a Fallow’s with no palmation.


A fallow buck’s antlers are super unique in the deer family and very recognizable.  They sweep back off of the buck’s head and then forward, in a shallow ‘C’ shape not unlike the main beams of a caribou, and the upper half of the antlers are typically palmated.


An average fallow buck will be similar in size to an average North American whitetail deer and weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 150-200 pounds.


Fallow deer rut very aggressively and the bucks make a unique croaking sound during the rut.  In New Zealand, the fallow rut occurs during April and May.


Fallow deer are originally from Europe where they are a popular game animal and they have been introduced in several countries all over the world.  They were introduced in New Zealand in the mid to late 1800s where they are common on private land and can be found on some public lands.


In New Zealand, Fallow deer can be found living in valleys, along river and creek bottoms and in hill country on both the North and South Islands.


Male -- Buck

Female -- Doe

Juvenile -- Fawn

Sika Deer

Location -- North Island

Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- Medium


Originally from Asia, Sika deer are also known as Japanese deer.  Sika deer were introduced to the North Island of New Zealand from Japan in 1905.


An average sika stag will weigh about 160 to 190 pounds and they have antlers that are a bit smaller than a red deer’s antlers.  A mature Sika stag will typically have four points to each antler.


Hunting Sika during the rut is popular in New Zealand.  Sika are very aggressive during the rut, and are often called into range in thick forests and brush.  


The Sika rut occurs from late March through early May.


Sika deer are unique in the fact that they sometimes lay down flat on the ground in order to avoid detection by hunters and predators instead of running away like most deer species.


Male -- Stag

Female -- Hind

Juvenile -- Fawn/Calf

Sambar Deer

Location -- North Island

Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- Not Available


Sambar deer are originally from southern Asia and were introduced to the North Island of New Zealand from India in the late 1800s.  


Currently there are two distinct herds on the North Island and although hunting is available for both herds, the majority of the New Zealand Sambar population occurs on private land.


Larger than a Red deer, an average male Sambar will weigh about 500 - 600 pounds.


Male -- Stag

Female -- Hind

Juvenile -- Fawn/Calf

Rusa Deer

Location -- North Island

Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- Limited

Rusa deer, also known as Javan Rusa, are originally from Indonesia and are closely related to the Sambar deer.  Rusa deer were introduced to the North Island of New Zealand in the early 1900s.


Rusa still occur in New Zealand today in relatively small numbers with limited hunting opportunities, mostly on private land. 


An average male Rusa will weigh about 250 - 300 pounds


The Rusa rut occurs from July through August.


Male -- Stag

Female -- Hind

Juvenile -- Fawn/Calf

American Elk (Wapiti)

Location -- Fiordland, South Island

Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- Medium


Elk were introduced to Fiordland, a remote mountainous region on the southern end of New Zealand’s South Island, from stock sent overy by good ol’ Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900’s.  These elk are called “wapiti” by the kiwis. Unfortunately, they have interbred with red deer so there is quite a bit of variation in coloration and antler structure among the herd.


Wapiti are one of the most intentionally managed game animals in New Zealand.  The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation has worked with the DOC to cull red deer and red deer/wapiti hybrids from wapiti’s range to increase the quality and trophy potential of the herd specifically for recreational hunting.


The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation manages a ballot block system that occurs during the rut, mid-March through mid-April, and limits hunting opportunity through a lottery draw.  A hunting season closure for the Wapiti Area Core Area has been implemented for a few months just prior to the beginning of the ballot. This is one of the very few closures on hunting big game in New Zealand.


Most of the wapiti’s range is within a wilderness area that prohibits or limits aircraft access including gear or food drops and game recovery.  Fiordland is one of the most rugged and weathered areas within New Zealand and the wapiti herd has naturalised to the area in the past hundred years, making it one of the most unique elk hunting destinations in the world.


If you are interested in hunting Wapiti in New Zealand, I recommend creating a long term plan to apply each year for a ballot block.  You will need to be in phenomenal physical condition.


Male -- Bull

Female -- Cow

Juvenile -- Calf

Whitetail Deer

Location -- Stewart Island, South Island

Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- Limited

Whitetail deer were introduced to New Zealand back in 1905 from New Hampshire.


There are currently two whitetail deer herds in New Zealand.  One is a small, relatively isolated population on the southern half of New Zealand’s South Island.  The second herd is on Stewart Island, a small island located just off of the southern shore of the South Island.


Whitetail hunting opportunities for both herds is primarily managed through a ballot block system, with the Stewart Island herd having the larger and more stable population.


Whitetail haven’t thrived on the South Island of New Zealand for unknown reasons.  On Stewart Island, the deer population is considered healthy, but trophy potential is limited by North American standards.


The whitetail rut in New Zealand is typically from mid-April to early June.


Male -- Buck

Female -- Doe

Juvenile -- Fawn

Feral Goat 

Location -- North Island, South Island

Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- High

First introduced in the 1700s by whalers, feral goats can be found on both public and private lands on the North and the South Islands.


Feral goats occupy a variety of habitats and can be found from low elevations near sea-level all the way into the alpine zone.  They are not particularly spooky animals and hunting success can be high once feral goats are located.


There are no restrictions on hunting feral goats in New Zealand.  


Feral goats typically breed year round, so there is no defined rut period.


Male -- Billy

Female -- Nanny

Juvenile -- Kid

Feral Sheep - Merino, Arapawa

Location -- North Island, South Island, Chatham, Pitt and Arapawa Islands

 Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- Limited


Feral sheep, typically Merino or Arapawa varieties, can be found on the North Island and the South Island as well as Chatham, Pitt and Arapawa Islands.


Feral sheep have long shaggy wool and the rams have twisted horns that can reach and even exceed two full curls.  An average ram will weigh between 120-150 pounds.


Most hunting opportunities for feral sheep are on private lands and require the use of an outfitter, although there is some limited hunting on public land on the South Island.


Male -- Ram

Female -- Ewe

Juvenile -- Lamb


Feral Pig

Location -- North Island, South Island

Public Land, DIY Opportunity -- High

Pigs were first introduced to New Zealand by Captain Cook back in the late 1700s, although pigs of additional heritage have been released at various times throughout the years.


Hunting feral pigs is a popular sport in New Zealand and there are several pig hunting clubs on both the North and the South Islands.  In New Zealand pigs are commonly hunted with dogs that are trained to scent track and then bay the pig or pigs until hunters arrive to dispatch the animal.


Due to a variety of bloodlines, there is a lot of variety of the size, shape and color of feral pigs in NZ.  Large boars can get up to 400 pounds.


Feral pigs breed year round.


Male -- Boar

Female -- Sow

Juvenile -- Piglet



Although it can be tough in such a game rich environment to figure out what to focus on when planning a hunt in New Zealand, I highly recommend focusing on one animal if you are planning a DIY hunt.  


If you are indecisive, my only advice is to force yourself to choose one species to focus on.  (Maybe your hunting partner has a strong preference?) By focusing on one species, you are far more likely to have a quality hunt and higher odds of success than if you get too scattered or try to do too much.


Here are my thoughts on choosing a game animal to focus on:


Based on trophy quality and high levels of opportunity on public land, the Himalayan Tahr, Chamois and Red Deer are at the top of the heap for a DIY hunt, in my opinion.


Following that I’d rate the Fallow deer and Sika deer as a close second.  They are both fantastic trophies and they offer quality hunting. Unfortunately, they are just not as plentiful on public land as tahr, chamois and red deer.


The feral goats and pigs have high levels of availability, but lack trophy appeal for many hunters.  If this is not the case for you, then feel free to put them at the top of the heap.


Wapiti are an incredible trophy species as most US hunters know, but the harsh nature of Fiordland, the limited access due to the large wilderness area and the ballot block system all combine to limit opportunity to only a few hunters who are tough enough and plan carefully enough to pull off a Wapiti hunt in NZ.


The rest of the deer species -- Sambar, Rusa and Whitetail -- although fine trophies in their own right, are just too limited in availability to be able to recommend highly for a DIY hunt.  However, many of them can be hunted, so if your dream is a Southern Hemisphere whitetail, then don’t let me stop you from putting in for a ballot and if you get lucky enough, planning a trip to Stewart Island.


Obviously, you will decide for yourself what game to pursue based on your own preferences.  However, if you are on the fence at all, I’d highly recommend focusing on a South Island hunt for either tahr or red deer with chamois available as an incidental species.  


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