Good planning will make your New Zealand hunt a breeze to execute.
I was overwhelmed and pretty stressed out while planning our trip to the South Island. But from the time I got to the airport until I returned home again, the trip was pretty dang effortless.
That might come as a surprise considering that I completely forgot to fill out a couple of forms until the last minute and missed my connection after re-entering US Customs on the return flight. On the whole though, the trip was easy, and the experience was priceless.
Here is a quick and dirty breakdown of how to plan your travel logistics for your DIY hunt-of-a-lifetime in New Zealand.
Remember, it may seem like a lot at first, but if you follow the steps as they are laid out, you won’t have anything to stress out about.
First Things First
If you haven’t read through the previous articles in the New Zealand Hunt Planner series, go back and do that first.
They walk you through what I like to call the “Hunt Characteristics” of planning any hunt -- anywhere in the world.
The hunt characteristics questions are the basic, Who, What, When, Where, Why and How’s of any hunt plan. Go read them, answer the questions for yourself and then read on.
The New Zealand Hunt Planner Series | Hunt Characteristics
Once you’ve got that done and your questions are answered to the best of your ability, you are more than halfway along in your planning process.
Here are my suggestions for timeline based action steps that will help you plan your New Zealand hunting adventure effectively and efficiently:
Six Months Out
Start reading everything you can find about the game animal that you want to hunt. Don’t worry too much about information about guided hunts, look for information from DIY hunters.
Go on Zinio and order as many back issues of NZ Hunter Magazine that you can afford. Literally, buy them all if you can. There is so much information in those magazines, they are a freaking gold mine. Read them all. Definitely read every single article at least twice that covers the game animal that you most want to hunt. Take notes of what you learn.
Start befriending kiwis (New Zealanders) on Instagram, Facebook and online forums. Offer them anything to be your friend including all of your best hunting spots, all the beer they want, hell offer to mail them your best Sitka hunting jacket if it takes that. Just be honest, authentic and cool. Don’t make Americans look bad. (more on this in the Plan Your Alaska Dream Hunt -- Even If You Don’t Know Where To Start video that is free on the website)
Start learning how to speak kiwi. Its super fun. You can start here.
Find a hunting partner if you don’t already have one.
Decide which island that you will hunt and which New Zealand city you will fly into.
Four Months Out
Start shopping for airfare.
Plan on paying $1500 for your round trip ticket. If you have enough airmiles to book your ticket, lucky you! Otherwise, keep your eye on the prices of flights that have as few layovers as possible.
Dial in your bow or rifle. If you are handloading, get your loads worked up. If you are fletching arrows, make a couple dozen and start practicing on steep terrain.
Order any gear that you might need for the trip.
Check your passport, then check it again. Don’t have a passport? Apply for one. If yours is expired, send in the renewal form with new passport pics.
Start diving into maps like crazy. Take everything you’ve learned from online searches, forum posts, magazine articles and your new social media besties from the past two months and apply that info to identify 5-10 potential hunting locations.
Two Months Out
Start working out. Those mountains are stupid steep. You will want to be in really good shape before you hit those hills. Check out the article How To Choose A Hunting Partner for my suggestions on gaining a functional mountain fitness level.
If you haven’t found a good deal on your airfare yet, it's time to bite the bullet and buy a ticket. Make sure you coordinate times and dates with your hunting partner.
Contact your helicopter company and let them know your dates and hunt plans. Don’t pay a deposit. You want to stay super flexible so you can plan your hunt around the weather. Consider contacting multiple helicopter companies to access different parts of the island. Typically, you can pay for helicopter services after the flight.
Fill out US Customs & Border Protection Form 4457. This verifies that you are leaving the US with your firearm so that when you return with it, US Customs is assured that you didn’t obtain it overseas.
Test any new gear so you have time to return it if you need to.
Order a couple of outlet plugs that will fit New Zealand outlets. Get the kind that will adapt to a 3-prong US outlet and accept USB cables like this one.
Research cell phone options for coverage overseas. If you were to just take your cell phone over to New Zealand, you might come home with a thousand dollar cell phone bill. Don’t do that. Look into prepaid phones, SIM cards options and your cell carrier’s overseas plans. You will want as much data as possible while in New Zealand so you can use your maps for navigation and you can update social media with all of your awesome pictures!
One Month Out
Research your overseas airlines baggage policies. Note the checked baggage size and weight limitations plus any restrictions on carry on bags.
Pack all of your stuff and weigh it. You will most likely get the first bag free and pay $100 for any bag after that is within the size and weight restriction. Check with your overseas airline baggage fees for specific fees. (You can unpack your gear after weighing, as long as you have a detailed list of what you are taking so you don't forget anything)
If you are taking a firearm and you don’t already have one, make sure to get a TSA approved, lockable firearm case like this one and some locks like these. If you get padlocks, put the spare key in your wallet or in your shoe, somewhere you can access it if you lose your key.
Keep working out.
Keep shooting, especially on elevation
Download maps and mapping apps to your phone. Print topo maps if you like to carry paper maps.
Make sure you have enough prepaid minutes on your Sat phone. Or make sure your Sat texting device works and your subscription plan is current. Don’t have a Satellite device? I highly recommend the Garmin inReach Mini
Reserve a rental car to be picked up when you land, and dropped off when you fly home.
Reserve lodging for your first night in NZ. If you don’t need a reservation, at least plan where you will stay and save the address somewhere. After your first night, I don't recommend reserving any lodging. You will want to be able to stay as flexible as possible so you can work around weather issues.
Make a list on your cell phone of all forms, emails and phone numbers of the NZ and US agencies that you will need to get yourself, your firearms and trophies to New Zealand and back again. (This way if you have any issues along the way, you won’t have to waste time and cell data googling a government office or online form while you are on the road)
One Week Out
Clean your gear. New Zealand customs is very particular about dirt, weeds, weed seeds and any animal or agricultural products coming into their country. Pay special attention to your boots, gaiters, trekking poles, tents and tent stakes, backpack, knives and kill kit...anything that can harbor organic matter of any kind. You should completely clean all of this gear until it will pass your mom’s white glove test and sniff test.
Pack all of your gear, double check with your gear lists and double check your baggage weights to make sure they are within airline policies
Pack snack food and entertainment! Your flights will be somewhere around 15-25 hours depending on where you live and how many layovers you have
Print a few copies of the New Zealand non-CITES Declaration and put them in a plastic sleeve or baggie to keep them safe. This document gets your trophies back through US Customs. It's not super intuitive to fill out so if you have questions, USF&W officials can help you complete it in US Customs
Apply for your New Zealand Open Hunting Permit online and print two copies. I always take cell phone pics of my hunting licenses and permits, just in case I lose the hard copy
Call you credit card and/or debit card companies. Ask what their international fees are (if they have any) and notify them of the dates of your travel.
Finish any last minute packing, take out the trash, kiss the wife/girlfriend/dog/kids and don’t be late for your flight!
In New Zealand
You are going to fill out a little form that the flight attendant will give you on the plane before you land. Declare everything that you can think of, otherwise NZ customs threatens to fine you if they are surprised by something on the list.
Once you land, be sure and message friends and family that you made it safe. Because of the time change, you will now be living in their “tomorrow.” Have fun with it.
You need to pull $25 NZ for your Firearms License. Do this as you go through the airport, but before you get to NZ Customs to save time.
The NZ Customs agents are by far the most friendly government employees I’ve ever encountered anywhere. It's like being in the twilight zone or something. Just enjoy the experience...culture shock baby! (No offence if you are a US government employee! I know it's not your fault)
Keep your passport handy during your entire stay in New Zealand. If anyone asks to check your ID, even if its to buy a 6-pack of beer at the grocery store, they will want to see your Passport, not your state ID or drivers license.
Once through customs, get your rental car, load up your baggage and take a big, deep breath. DRIVE ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD. It's pretty easy going as long as you don't get into a head on collision before you get the hang of it!
Go to the grocery store and stock up on grub. Grocery stores in New Zealand are so similar to grocery stores in America that there is really no need to explain anything. Make sure and pickup some Dilmah tea and Tim Tams for the road.
Go to the sporting goods store and get your freeze-dried meals and fuel canisters (if you need them), plus any last minute items that you might have forgotten
Check the weather and begin to formulate a plan for where to hunt based on the seven day forecast. Remember those 5-10 hunting locations that you have already researched? Now is the time to start comparing those to the country wide weather forecasts to find a spot that will be clear for a few days.
Touch base with your helicopter transporter (if you are going to use one) and discuss your timing and options for getting flown in. Your helicopter pilot can help tremendously by recommending specific landing sights and good hunting areas
Have a blast! Hit up the pubs, meet the locals, ask around for the best meat pies, and try out your new kiwi vocabulary on everyone that you meet. Say “yeah, nah” and “sweet as” as much as possible (NOT “sweet ass”, which is what I thought people were saying the entire first week that I was in New Zealand. This video will help clear things up for you)
Enjoy every moment because you might not want to go home.
Before Heading Home
Take care of your trophies. The easiest way is to use a local taxidermist to prep the skull and hide for you and then fly home with your own trophies. However, you have to have sufficient time for this to work out. If you don’t have the time, you can pay the taxidermist to expedite your trophies for you. Or you can go cheap and boil your own skulls and turn, flesh, salt and dry your own hides. It all depends on how much you want to spend, how much time you have and how comfortable you are with putting up hides and skulls.
Get your meat to a butcher. If you want to take meat home, you need to find a “homekill" butcher and have it professionally cut, wrapped and labeled. This way US Customs is more likely to believe that it is what it says it is. If you don’t want to take meat home, there are lots of good folks in NZ that would be happy to take the meat. Be sure and make friends along the way! If you do take your meat to a butcher, don’t forget to swing by and pick it up before flying home.
Call USFW during business hours a few days before you fly home. Tell them where you are coming from, what hunting trophies and meat you will be returning with and what date and time you are scheduled to arrive into US Customs (and at what airport). If you are arriving outside of normal business hours they will either schedule a USFW agent to be in Customs for your arrival, or they will have you enter your information into their system so that US Customs agents can clear you. If you forget to do this and you arrive when there is no USFW agent on site, you will most likely have significant delays and possibly higher fees before you are cleared through US Customs so it’s worth your time to get this sorted out before you arrive in the US.
Clean your gear. US Customs isn’t as picky as NZ Customs, but it's nice to not get held up in customs because your boots are muddy or because there is blood dripping out of your backpack
Pack your bags. All animal parts (boiled skulls, salted hides, frozen meat) should be labeled with the animal species and packaged in heavy duty plastic bags. Clear bags are nice so you can see what’s what. You will most likely be getting all of your meat and trophies out for inspection once you hit US Customs.
Make sure your paperwork is in order before your flight. Gather all of these forms together and keep them handy for re-entry into the US:
US Form 4457 (to get your firearm back through US Customs)
Your New Zealand Hunting Permit (for checking in your trophy and meat with US Fish & Wildlife at US Customs)
The New Zealand non-CITES Declaration (for checking in your trophy and meat with US Fish & Wildlife at US Customs)
USFW Form 3-117 (for checking in your trophy and meat with US Fish & Wildlife at US Customs)
Butchers receipt (for checking in your trophy and meat with US Fish & Wildlife at US Customs)
If you have a wife and kids at home or maybe just a really, really good bird dog, you might be eager to get home to your loved ones. However, if you don’t have anyone waiting eagerly for your return, you might be tempted to stay in New Zealand a bit longer than you had originally planned. Lucky for you, you can stay in New Zealand for up to three months without a Visa. Want my opinion? You only live once....go for it! (plus you probably passed by a dozen cool places or things worth checking out and I bet you know exactly where you would hunt if you just had one more week in the mountains!)
Once You Are Home
Make sure your trophy and meat made it safely. Get that meat and unbleached skull into the freezer until you can “bleach” your skull (use high strength hydrogen peroxide from a beauty supply store).
If your salted hide isn’t dried yet, make sure and finish drying it ASAP and then make arrangements to get it to your taxidermist or to a tannery
If any of your gear went missing during your flights, be sure to get online and fill out a missing item form with all of the airlines that you flew on.
Grill chamois steaks with friends or family and tell them stories of the tall mountains and strange critters of the Southern Hemisphere into the wee hours of the night
Send your kiwi friends a care package and thank them for their hospitality!
Finally, if you are like me, you will start planning your next trip to New Zealand on the plane ride home. Make sure you finalize those plans and put the dates on the calendar!
While this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive to-do list, if you follow these steps you will be better prepared for your hunt in New Zealand than we were! Honestly, you will have no troubles at all.
If this list seems overwhelming, I totally understand! I was overwhelmed too, when I first started doing research on how to plan our hunt on the South Island.
Take each section one at a time and if you space the tasks out, they won’t be any trouble at all.
Good luck planning and be safe in those mountains!