Special Feature: Sambar trophy herd in coastal swampland

The Ruahine and Tararua ranges form a central backbone to the lower North Island region bordering the wide Manawatu Plains.

Tussock covered summit ridges from the Ruahine skyline, fall abruptly in steep-sided bush clad ridges into beautiful secluded valleys. The high country supports only low numbers of deer due to the relentless pressure from recreational hunters living nearby in Wellington, Palmerston North and other urban centres.

Red deer are present throughout the main ranges and doing the ‘hard yards’ by tramping into the less accessible river headwaters and climbing onto the open tops, a fit hunter can achieve good results. Sika deer are gaining ground in the northern Ruahines, displacing some of the resident red deer. It seems likely that they will spread into the Tararuas as they aggressively seek new territory and food sources.

Sambar deer have a unique coastal enclave, effectively concealed in sand dune, pine forest and near impassable swampland. These magnificent animals are built like bulldozers – solid and squat and the stags carry even six point antlers. This protected herd is controlled by balloted hunting within a limited season. Initially the herd struggled to survive in a small range based on Santoft Forest but now has expanded northwards. Farm escapes and illegal releases have enabled sambar to spread into the Whanganui, Mangawhero, Whangaehu and Turakina river catchments east of Wanganui city.

Wild pigs occur in the Ruahines and Tararuas in small pockets along the forest margins in scrub and fern covered foothills. Goats are well established on the drier eastern slopes of the Ruahines but are kept in check by culling.

Waterfowl are quite plentiful on Manawatu lakes such as Omanu near Foxton, Koitiata near Bulls and wetlands at Makerua, Waimahora and Pukepuke. Pheasant and California quail can be hunted in a number of Manawatu forest areas.

Guided hunting for fallow trophies in regenerating bush on private property is offered in Waikanae and helicopter fly-ins to the Ruahines and Tararuas can be arranged at Paraparaumu Airport.