Looking After Our Game Animals
Being a hunter brings with it great reward, but also a high degree of responsibility. This not only means hunting safely and being properly trained in the safe use of firearms and the necessary backcountry skills, it also means looking after our game animal herds and the precious habitats they live in.
The majority of hunting in New Zealand takes place on public conservation land, which covers nearly one-third of the country. The freedom of access we have to this rich hunting resource is part of what makes hunting a fundamental part of New Zealand culture and why for so many communities it is such an important recreational activity and source of mahinga kai.
Looking after our game animals requires looking after the habitat and ecosystems that support them. This requires knowledge of how game animal herds work and how the choices we make while out hunting have an impact on them.
This programme brought to you by the Game Animal Council is designed to help hunters make good game animal management decisions that will benefit both hunting and conservation.
HEALTHY ANIMALS REQUIRE A HEALTHY HABITAT
The natural ecosystem and the habitat that supports our game animals are the foundations of the hunting experience.
Experienced hunters understand that a healthy habitat supports healthy game animals. They also know that while a game animal herd can recover from poor management in a matter of years, for our forests and other native habitats it takes far longer (decades). It is therefore critical to do what we can to assist with good game animal management as this will ensure the protection of our native ecosystems while providing for consistently high-quality game animal herds and quality hunting.
A major threat to a healthy habitat is having too many game animals. If a game animal population exceeds the carrying capacity of the ecosystem then food will be in short supply and animals will struggle to gain weight and develop. This leads to a poor-quality game animal herd, poor hunting and an ecosystem in decline.
Responsible hunter-led game animal management that can balance the needs of the herd and its habitat with the hunter’s desire to harvest mature males will ensure a healthy ecosystem, quality meat harvest and many more mature trophy-class males in the future. Feeding brings out the breeding!
HUNTERS AS CARETAKERS
Hunters are uniquely placed to act as caretakers of the ecosystem and the game animal habitat by making the right choices while out hunting. It is all about understanding how the decisions we make will affect the future of the habitat and the herd it supports.
The Te Reo reflection of this principle: Whakatautika nga kararehe ki a ngahere (balance the animals to the forest) is how nature works in habitat-herbivore-predator systems.
Hunters who make decisions that look after this balance understand the simple premise that when it comes to a game animal herd, male and female animals have different roles and a different impact on breeding and the ecosystem.
Whether we are talking deer, tahr or chamois, all are polygynous animals, meaning that one male can breed with a whole lot of females. Except for extreme circumstances this means that the number of males does not really affect the breeding rate. It is the number of females that matters, they are the engine-room of the herd. Females also tend to group together and have a smaller geographical range. This means they can have a much higher localised habitat impact than males do. A herd with a high proportion of breeding females can be bad for the habitat, bad for the herd and ultimately bad for hunting.
IT’S QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Naturally, as hunters we are tuned in to primarily target mature male game animals. These are the animals we see mounted on the wall, profiled in magazines and feature in the stories we are told as kids.
It is therefore very common to walk past a number of females in pursuit of that elusive trophy-class male. However, if in doing this we find ourselves harvesting immature males and taking very few females the result will be a herd with a high ratio of breeding females, very few younger males getting to mature trophy quality and a population that increases beyond the carrying capacity of the habitat.
This kind of hunting will lead to a high population, a habitat under pressure and a herd out of balance with very few decent animals:
The good news is that hunters can help achieve a much healthier herd balance by targeting more yearling and breeding-age females while at the same time exhibiting the discipline to leave younger males to mature. This results in a more balanced herd that promotes better quality meat animals, more trophy-class males and a far more intense and exciting rut – lots of mature males competing for fewer but highly receptive females. It’s quality over quantity and a win-win for hunting and conservation:
MEASURING OUR SUCCESS
Success is when by our actions as hunters we are actively managing our game animal herds to achieve a healthy habitat, healthy meat animals and where younger males get the opportunity to develop into mature trophy-class animals. Success is also an ecosystem where native species can thrive alongside a quality game animal herd.
Hunters know the importance of target identification when it comes to hunter safety. It is also extremely important when it comes to game animal management. Being able to assess the age and potential of a male game animal and be willing to let it go if it hasn’t yet reached maturity is a successful hunting decision. If enough of us do this we will ensure a good number of high quality mature males for the future.
At the same time, success is making sure we do our bit to include more yearling and breeding-age females in what we target. Harvesting animals in this way will mean there are a greater number of more mature males competing for fewer but highly-receptive females, which will make for outstanding rut hunting!
By doing the right thing for the herd and its habitat, hunters can be rewarded with better hunting in a better-balanced ecosystem.
Special thanks to Cam Speedy of Wildlife Management Associates Ltd for contributing his ecological and wildlife management knowledge to this programme and allowing us to use his lifetime of learning for this resource.
If you are interested in further discussion from Cam Speedy on the game animal management principles incorporated in this resource we encourage you to have a look at the following video from the Sika Foundation.