Red deer
Image: Gordon Roberts | ©


Find out about red deer - the most widespread deer species in New Zealand.

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Size: Males have a shoulder height of 1100-1300 mm and weigh 95-215 kg with females smaller at 950-1050 mm shoulder height and weighing 85-110kg.

The head of red deer (Cervus elaphus) is longer and more bony in appearance than sika deer. Their ears are pointed and can be longer than half the length of their head. Red deer tails are short (12-15 cm) and match the colour of their upper rump.

Colour: The summer coat of red deer is typically a reddish brown. White spots are extremely rare on adults and limited to the area around the spine. Although red deer sometimes have a dorsal stripe, it is usually restricted to the neck and hip regions, and is rarely continuous.

The winter coat of red deer is usually of a brown or grey-brown with the throat and underside being light grey grading to creamy-white between the hind legs.

Although red deer have a cream rump patch, no margin is present and it cannot be flared as in sika.

Antlers: Antlers are grown and cast annually by males from their second year.

The antler beams of red stags are larger and wider than those of sika stags. In cross-section, the bone component of the antler is thinner in red deer than for sika deer, and there is a comparatively larger porous core. In red deer, the brow tines usually branch closer to the coronet and are at right angles to the main antler beam. Red deer also have bez tines.

Velvet antler growth starts between early September and December and is complete when the dried velvet is frayed from the hard antler between mid-January and mid-March.

Social behaviour: Red deer are sociable animals and form single sex groups outside of the rut period.

Male groupings may be quite loose but female groupings are much more cohesive, made up of females their young and previous season's offspring.

Feeding occurs early morning and late evening although in undisturbed areas or in periods of light rain feeding may occur over extended daylight hours.

Reproduction: Before the rut, male groupings break up as the older males seek to establish their own rutting area and attempt to attract females into a harem. During the roar, males will roar periodically, especially in the early morning and evening.

Red deer make use of wallows, both during the roar and at other times of the year. The covering of mud accentuates the smell of a rutting male and can give the deer a larger, darker appearance.

The rut is from late March through April with most conceptions occurring early to mid-April.

Gestation period: 221 to 252 days. Average 234 days.

Birthing: Late November and December, peak early December. Fawns born with reddish brown coats scattered with white spots on back and flanks. Spots disappear in about 2 months.

Nomenclature: Male = stag. Female = hind. Young = fawn/calf.

Where to hunt

Red deer are the most widespread deer species in New Zealand with wild populations established throughout most of the forested and tussock country from the Kaimai Range in the north to Stewart Island in the south.

Areas that have few or no red deer are Northland, much of Taranaki, Coromandel and Banks Peninsula.

Find a hunting block that has red deer

You can use the hunting block search function to find hunting areas that have red deer.

Search for a hunting block that has red deer.

Some of the country occupied by red deer is private property and you will need landowner permission to hunt these areas.

Tips for hunting red deer


Hunting response

Red deer are medium sized animals of about 180  kg in weight.

While calibres as small as .222 have been successfully used on red deer the recommended calibre is a minimum of .243.

Feeding activity tends to be greatest in early morning and late afternoon.

Plan your hunt to be at likely areas early morning and late afternoon.

Red deer have good sense of smell, eyesight and hearing.

Hunt into the wind as quietly as possible and take advantage of available cover.

Deer react quickly to movement.

When bush stalking carry your rifle, as opposed to have it slung over your shoulder, to keep movement to a minimum when lining up a shot.

During the roar, males become preoccupied in finding hinds and become less cautious.

If hunting for trophies the roar is a good time to locate and stalk male deer. Remember to positively identify your target.

Red deer often stay within forest cover for much of the day.

Stalk carefully along mid-valley terraces and gully heads where feed is abundant.

In spring, deer will often venture out into open areas to eat fresh spring grass growth.

In spring hunt grass river flats by stalking slowly just within the forest margin or stake out likely feeding spots.

Like other deer species, weather often influences feeding etc of red deer. In windy weather, deer will seek sheltered areas and will keep to shelter in heavy rain, whilst during light drizzle overcast weather feeding can occur all hours of the day.

During windy weather seek out sheltered areas and during light drizzly rain expect deer out feeding at any time.

Hunting seasons and ballots

In New Zealand, there is no seasonal restriction to hunting red deer, so generally they can be hunted throughout the year. There are however, instances where restrictions apply for specific reasons and periods when hunting is favoured.

Specific restrictions

  • Some areas may be closed during periods of high fire danger.
  • During the roar (rutting period March-April) some locations run block systems (due to high use) where blocks are allocated by ballot or first registered.
  • Occasionally an area may be closed on a temporary basis so research or other management can be undertaken without being compromised by hunting.

It is important to check for these conditions with the DOC office nearest the hunting area.

Favoured hunting periods

  • The roar or rut is when the stags are most vocal, calling to attract the attention of hinds and are less cautious than other times. The roar lasts approximately four weeks, with stags being the most vocal in the middle two weeks. Red deer roar from late March through April.
  • Spring is another favourable time of the year to hunt red deer. During spring, deer can be seen coming out of the forest to feed on new grass and shrub growth.

International travel with hunting trophies

You may need CITES documentation to enter or leave New Zealand with your hunting trophy.

Check you need documentation

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