During Alert Level 4 even New Zealand hunters were not allowed to hunt for risk of bursting others bubbles if they ran into strife. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

GIANINA SCHWANECKE

It’s been a difficult season for deer hunters across the country, none more so than hunting tour guide operators.

Not only were they restricted from hunting during the best time to snag a deer, the roar, but travel restrictions and the still standing border closure means there will be no international tourists this season.

Instead many guided hunting operators across the country will be looking closer to home.

With an abundance of deer – red and fallow – feral goats, wild pigs and Arapawa rams [wild New Zealand sheep breed], Wairarapa is home to several guided hunting operations.

For Mountain Hunters owner Brent Moody, based in Homewood, the lockdown came at their busiest time of year.

“We are pretty much all international, so it’s basically stopped overnight for us at the end of March and for the rest of the season,” he said.

Mountain Hunters operator Brent Moody said the lockdown came at their busiest time of year, during the roar

Most of the 150 clients they get each season hail from the United States, and many had to cancel or reschedule their trips due to travel restrictions and flight cancellations.

“Our target is more the trophy hunting. They want the experience and can take some meat back with them, but they want a nice representative red stag or fallow buck.

“For most of them it will be a one-off trip.

“Most of them will come and do the five-night hunt with us and also do an extended tour around New Zealand sightseeing and staying in other places.

“We do have repeat clients that come back. We have very few that come back every year; some come back every couple of years.”

The smaller number of domestic hunters came to experience guided hunting and to fill their freezer with venison, Moody explained.

Most came from urban centres like Auckland and Wellington, though there were a few locals too.

“I’ve already had quite a few people getting in touch to ask if we had any spaces available and that they’d be keen to come.

“There’s been quite a bit of domestic support.”

He said they were lucky compared to others though, as their season ran from February until about June or July.

“We got some of the season in at least.

“We were fortunate that we started at the very beginning of February. We had six or seven weeks of good hunts which was good.”

They also operated a deer farm which helped as an alternative source of income.

“We farm deer as well, primarily for velvet. We do have venison we send for slaughter and have seen the impact of [the price drop]. It’s the same as cattle farmers.”

Moody said some in the industry had turned to conservation work and pest control efforts instead.

“I believe there are people picking up contractors or jobs doing either the wallaby control or wildling pines. But that’s more South Island than locally.”

Mataikona-based Boyd Vermeer of Okau Park said the shutdown had “definitely impacted” their business, which caters to both domestic and international tourists.

“Every single hunting outfit has basically shut down.

“It’s hit everyone in the tourism industry.”

He said it could take two to three years for the business to recover, though they were preparing for next year’s roar.

“It will be hard next year because I think they won’t be allowed over either.

“We’re going to try our best to get more New Zealand hunters and possibly some Aussies when the Trans-Tasman bubble opens up.”

In the interim he was looking at pest control and cutting firewood as an alternative revenue source.

Iraia Hunting near Martinborough, caters mainly to domestic tourists wanting a bit of venison.

Owner Pip Wilkinson said they had also closed during the lockdown but were opening up again this weekend.

“We haven’t had any visitors from the overseas market.

“We mainly cater for meat hunts because we are just inundated with wild deer. It’s a way of getting rid of a few deer and earning some money.”

She said they started cancelling bookings as soon as talk of a lockdown started.

“We just weren’t prepared to risk it.”

Having been running for the last three years, she said they got between 50 to 100 people each season.

“We are starting back up but we’re just doing it slow.”

According to the Game Animal Council, guided hunting contributes more than $50 million to the New Zealand economy each year.

General manager Tim Gale said it was an extremely important employer in provincial regions.

“It really has been a New Zealand tourism success story,” he said.

He said domestic support for the industry would be important to help them recover from the lost season.

“While Kiwi hunters are rightfully proud of our ‘get-out-there and do-it-yourself’ attitude there will be many that have often thought they would like to do a trip with a guide or on a game estate.

“There will never be a better time, and what better justification is there than to help support Kiwi businesses struggling in the aftermath of covid-19.”