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The Foundation

Herd Management

Balancing conservation objectives and the health of the Fiordland Wapiti Herd.


Dedicated to protecting and sharing all the things that make Fiordland Special

The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation’s herd management strategies are very simplistic, just like our goals – preserving conservation values while maintaining a highly sought after recreational hunting resource.

The FWF’s number one goal is to protect the environment of Fiordland by undertaking the right amount of deer control in the Wapiti area.

Following closely behind this is providing a high quality, low density Wapiti herd for hunters to hunt. The key outcome for the Foundation is to find some synergy. The Wapiti Foundation has been operating under this new herd management strategy for almost 20 years, but in terms of animal management it is cutting edge and very new in New Zealand.

Our Approach

The simplistic approach is key to the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation achieving it outcomes in such a vast inhospitable area like Fiordland Nation Park.

A low-density herd suits the environment as it allows rejuvenation of the Flora and equally a low-density herd suits recreational hunter as food is a key ingredient to having a healthy herd. Low numbers are good for the environment, it’s about animals eating plants- simple.

The Wapiti herd managed for recreational hunting and trophy hunting and the key to producing large antlers is genetics, age and diet. On the face of it all this sounds simple, so let’s break these three important ingredients down for the males in the herd as they are the reason why hunters are involved


The Wapiti Foundation manage this through their animal management program and on average the Foundation shoot 1000 deer per year. Looking after the environment by having a low density of deer is also crucial for having a healthy herd-synergy.


Number one for hunters is big antlers – and if the animal carrying those big antlers looks like a Wapiti, even better.

However this is the hardest goal for the Foundation to achieve when undertaking deer management. Wapiti have been cross breeding with Red deer for almost 100 years and visually it’s very hard to tell how much Wapiti blood vs Red deer blood a Fiordland Wapiti has.

The Foundation has spent a lot of money trying to simplify this but the only reliable visual marker that we have found is body weight. It seems that the more Wapiti blood a Fiordland Wapiti has the heaver the animal is. However, this is impossible to see while doing deer recovery in a helicopter.

Both bulls have the same amount of wapiti genetics however one looks wapiti and the other looks red-in the eyes of the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation both are Fiordland Wapiti.

While undertaking deer recovery the Foundation’s strategy is;
If it’s a Red deer it gets shot.
If it’s under the age of 4.5 years it lives
If it’s over the age of 4.5 years and it’s not showing trophy potential, it gets shot.
If it’s over the age of 4.5 years and has trophy potential, it lives.



Age is key to producing trophy antlers. A Wapiti bull doesn’t reach full maturity until the age of 10 years. Wapiti are large animals and like all large deer species their priority is to mature their skeletal structure first, then once that is done its efforts go into really growing their antlers. This may only happen from the age of 6 or 7 years and once again it also links back to how much feed is available to first grow that big skeleton and then the antlers later in life.

It is of paramount importance for a breeding herd to have mature bulls doing the breeding. Deer have antlers purely for breeding purposes and in a perfect world with lots of food and good age structure the older bulls with the biggest antlers and heaviest bodies generally do the breeding. So if you are a younger bull living in this herd structure the only way you will get the opportunity to breed is get bigger and grow larger antlers. If there aren’t bulls making it to maturity because they get shot too young by hunters, then any rubbish young bull can breed.


Did You know?
Age structure is the number one problem that threatens the future of the Wapiti herd, the bulls get shot far to young by recreational hunters.


Females – The Wapiti Foundation also has a simplistic approach to managing the females of the Wapiti herd. Generally, the females have a bigger environment impact than males as they tend to live in larger family groups in more confined areas. Plus, males do not have babies. When starting the Wapiti management program, the Foundation quickly found through their surveys that hunters were seeing large amounts of females and low amounts of males. This was not healthy for the environment or the Wapiti herd, so the Foundation quickly put a strategy in place to correct this by reducing the female population. The approach to this was similar to the males; anything that was a Red deer was removed but in reverse to the male strategy older females were removed, as the best genetics in the Wapiti herd under human management should be the young deer.

Several years on we are seeing a more balanced herd. There is a real conservation minded approach to this as well as a trophy herd approach.

By keeping the female numbers low we reduce the number of calves that are born each year. This in turn reduces the size of the Wapiti herd and the animals that remain are healthier with more feed available.

Wapiti Cow and Calf
Herd Management

Wapiti Bull

Learn how to evaluate Wapiti bulls.

It’s going to improve your chances of shooting
a real trophy – a big old bull