Is New Zealand Free Range Hunting a Thing of the Past?
By Simon Guild.
We all know the answer to this question – of course true free range animals still exist. But the reason I ask such a question is to revisit the idea of exactly what ‘free range’ really means.
Hunting Red Stag on a free range New Zealand Hunt
Recently, I received an enquiry from a hunter who wanted to hunt a Red Stag. However, he didn’t want to hunt the stag in a game estate. No problem, each to his own – I said I’d be happy to host him on a High Peak free-range hunt on Lake Heron Station, our partner free-range property. He said great, and asked me what size of stag would be available. I responded that he might find something over 12 points, or over 280 – 300 inches if he was lucky. He asked me why the stags were so small, and I responded that this was not a small free-range stag; in fact a 12-pointer taken in the NZ wild would be a very fine trophy indeed. He responded that there was another outfitter who could get him onto a much bigger, 350-400 inch free-range stag, guaranteed.
Herein lies the problem. Until recently, the NZ SCI record for a true free-range stag was in the region of 335 SCI. Now, I see the record is some 478 inches with the no. 2 being our previous champion at 335. Now, both stags could be genuine free-range, but the skeptic in me suggests that one of them was possibly not born and raised in the wild. . It may however, have been taken in a free-range environment, which begs the question – how did it get there?
What is Free Range game?
So we come to the definition of free-range. Free-range, as I understand it, means the animal is born and raised in the wild from a wild population and is hunted in a wild area of public or private land with no barriers to roam, natural or man-made, to prevent evasion of a potential hunter. Liberated or selectively-bred animals do not qualify as free-range game, even if in a wild locale. In fact, in New Zealand it is totally illegal to release a game animal into the wild and is an offence punishable by a fine up to $100,000 or two years in jail.
Others may have a different view on what constitutes free-range, and this brings me to the point of this post. If you want a free-range hunt, make sure you tell the outfitter what free-range means to you. This may be dependent on the conditions required for a record book entry, or your own personal hunting ethics or moral code, but either way make sure you and your outfitter are on the same page.
If you don’t ask this question, you risk being sold something that you didn’t sign up for. And trust me, you’ll know if you’ve made this mistake. How this effects the outcome of the hunt is purely down to the individual, but keep in mind that the trophy could be on your wall for many years to come. Ensure that the memories that it brings to life every time you walk past are those of an amazing experience, not of a misunderstanding that resulted in memories tarnished by a difference in definition.
New Zealand Hunters Just Telling It How It Is.
At the end of the day, I am a fan of just telling it how it is. The truth if you will. I cannot see the point in pulling the wool over a hunter’s eyes by making a promise I just cannot keep in order to win their patronage. At High Peak we don’t release stags into the wild as it’s clearly illegal, but more importantly, calling them free-range is not telling the truth, as we see it. What we do promise is either a totally fair-chase estate hunt, or a 100% genuine, wild free-range experience. Both will have different outcomes in terms of trophy size, but the same outcome in terms of hunter satisfaction and quality memories of a great experience.