As a New Zealand hunting consultant, I have helped several hundred hunters take their first New Zealand Red Stag Hunting trip. The most frequently asked question is, "when is the best time for Red Stag hunting in New Zealand?" The information in this article is based on my firsthand experience. I have hunted the Red Deer "Roar" in New Zealand and also in Argentina. I have also hunted deer outside of the roar in New Zealand.
The biggest draw for New Zealand hunting is the Red Deer also known as Red Stag. Most of the Outdoor TV Shows, hunting magazine articles and hunting reports focus their reviews around hunting during the "Roar." The Roar is the vocal sound the red deer make during their rutting period, similar in nature but completely different than that of the Rocky Mountain Elk. The "Roar" usually runs around the third week in March to the forth week in April. This time period can change +/- 7 to 10 days by the weather conditions. If New Zealand gets a cold weather front in early March, it can speed up the Roar.
Deer hunting during the Roar is an exciting time to hunt and should be experienced at least once in a hunter's lifetime. The stags will roar around the clock. During this time period, the red deer are focusing on their territories, hinds (female red deer) and other stags. A typical rifle shot during the Roar can be well under 100 yards. The Roar is also the best time for bow hunting red deer. A good guide should be able to get the bow hunter within 25 to 40 yards of his target. Blinds and hides can also be set up over mud wallows and trails offering shots at less than 35 yards.
Weather during the Roar is usually like early September in the Rocky Mountains. Expect the mornings to be cool, usually in the low 40's and high temperatures in the high 70's and even possibly low 80's.
Red Deer Hunting can be done on both the North and South Island from late February through Mid-August. In most cases, the red deer will be out of velvet around the 20th of February. The last ten days of February and the first two weeks of March, the red deer will be in the best physical appearance of the year and should have no broken antlers or missing tines. They will start dropping their antlers around the third to fourth week of August. Red Deer in New Zealand will start fighting with other stags, usually shortly after the first seven to ten days in April. Hunters will start to see some broken tines from this time through the end of August. These deer have been known to fight so hard with other stags; they have actually broken off the antlers at the skull plate exposing the stag's brain. When this happens, the deer usually dies shortly thereafter.
With this being said, the best time to bow hunt red deer is during the Roar, from late March through late April. The most premium red deer hunting "roar" dates would be the first ten days in April. Late February and early March and a great time to rifle hunt red deer and also a great time of the year to add some New Zealand fly fishing on the side. They can be hunted with a rifle during the roar but expect it to be an easier hunt than normal with most shots probably less than 100 yards. Red Deer hunting becomes more challenging than May through August with average shots in the 150 to 200 yard range.
The first week of June usually brings the first snow of the season. Morning temperatures average in the mid to high 30's and highs in the mid 50's to low 60's. Late May, June and July better replicate the late fall and Winter hunts we can experience in the United States. This is also a great time to mix a red stag hunt with Tahr hunting or Chamois hunting. The colder weather in late May starts the Tahr rut and is also liable for the Tahr and Chamois to turn their winter coats darker in color. The "lion like" mane of the Tahr will also be at its fullest length during this time of the year.
There are two ways to hunt red deer in New Zealand. The first is known as "Estate Hunting." Estate hunts are held on large fenced ranches or stations. These stations are usually quite large in size, from 2,500 acres to 20,000 acres or more. The fencing allows the ranchers to manage the herds and genetics and also keep out local hunters and poachers. Management in New Zealand has allowed the country to develop the largest red deer in the world. There were two New Zealand red deer harvested in 2009 over six hundred (600) inches and one was over 650 inches. All trophy class red deer in New Zealand come from Estates or Ranches. The fines on these stations eliminate the term "free range" but not fair chase. Most of these properties are extremely large and the terrain and flua make these hunts just as challenging as a free range hunt.
True free range hunting in New Zealand is available on both Government and private properties. These properties may contain cattle fence but this does not stop the red deer from simply jumping over them and moving freely about. Free range are much smaller in antler size than the estate stags. A trophy free range stag on private property will have 10 to 14 points and will score from 220 to 275 inches. Due to hunting pressure and no real season for red stag, the public properties see much smaller stags than those on private property. It is very rare to see a "true" free range stag over 300 inches. Some property owners will release 300 inch plus red deer on their free range properties. These stag can typically be identified after harvest by looking for holes in their ears where a tag used to be.
With the general big game hunting seasons in New Zealand closing in August and the US big game season starting in September, red deer hunting in New Zealand is a great way to extend your big game hunting season.