February 10 Deer Wars (Day 136)

Today is a rainy day, good for packing for our next move. A good time to catch up on posts too. Yesterday after our lakefront hike we got back to the Airbnb and cleaned up to go out for our last night in town. We chose to go to the Black Dog Bar and adjacent Fiordland Cinema.

Walking distance from the B&B!

We ordered a cheese and meat plate, and ended up having it for dinner it was so much!

We weren’t able to finish our platter before the movie started. We wanted to see the local production of “Deer Wars”. Our waitress/bartender said that’s okay, you can make a plate to take into the theater with your drinks too! When we settled into our seats (we were the only ones there) she proceeded to the projection room to start the film, woman of many talents!

Cushy, comfortable seats with little tables!

Since we got to Fiordland we have heard about NZ’s ‘Deer Wars’ of the 60’s, 70’s and into the 80’s. Our introduction to the history was on our Doubtful Sound Cruise when the skipper told us about “blokes that bulldogged deer by jumping out of helicopters onto the deer, in the surrounding mountains”. We were incredulous, but he pulled up some video on his laptop to show us. First of all, the mountains here are incredibly steep, secondly, deer in NZ, and in these mountains? Red deer were introduced into NZ in the late 1800’s for sport hunting and quickly overran the country to the point that the government had a cadre of deer cullers after WW2 that instituted the tramping hut system throughout the country. Yet it still was not enough to stop the ecological disaster that the deer wrought. Until…some smart bloke in the 60’s said shoot them from a helicopter!

Highly maneuverable helicopters were first used in deer hunting in 1969.

Helicopters were useful especially in the mountains where deer congregated above the tree line. Eventually they decided to take the door off so the shooter has better maneuverability and can jump out, cut the tails off for bounty and jump back on. Then they thought, we’re leaving valuable meat on the mountain, why not use the helicopter to haul the dead deer off the mountain, process it and sell it!

A helicopter hauling the deer carcasses down the mountains.

It was a resounding success with the value of the deer meat soaring. The herds were reduced so much so that poaching ensued and competition spawned fights that eventually the air force was called in to quell. The evolution to the ‘deer farming’ scheme followed; why kill the deer, why not catch them live, bring them to the valley and manage them to create an export resource! Hence the bulldogging, to catch live deer to haul off the mountains!

Crazy Kiwi deer bulldogger!

A complete history of the evolution of deer farming in NZ is HERE. The show was so good that we stayed for the next show “Ata Whenua” which was even more fascinating, an aerial (by helicopter) tour of Fiordlands, with a group of Roads Scholars that joined us! On a sidenote, when we boarded the small helicopter for our quick flight to Luxemore hut for our Kepler Track hike, I asked the pilot if he was a veteran of the Deer Wars, he said YES, so I knew we were safe because he survived the Deer Wars! It turns out that the Cinema and Bar were built by Kim Hollows the owner of Fiordland Helicopters and a veteran of the Deer Wars!

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