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Deer hunting during winter, high, low or middle?!

An age old debate, are the deer located high or low in winter?!

The two most common theories are:

They’ll be down low. it’s too cold and exposed up high. They won’t be out in the open.


They’ll be higher up. More sunlight exposure and the sun hits the hills earlier in the morning. Also, it stays frozen longer down in the valleys.

So with that, they must be somewhere in the middle, right?!

Recent discussion indicates that we should be hunting lower down, in the bush and that you won’t find much out in the open and up high.

But, how much does terrain and weather play a part in this? In my opinion, more so than height will.

Below are some examples of deer located at differing areas and heights but all above 1000m.

Tussock Hut, Jul 24, 2015
Elevation: 1100M

Otutu/Manson, Jul 30, 2019
Elevation: 1260M

Spion Kop, Jul 30, 2019
Elevation: 1330M

Waipakihi River, Jun 7, 2015
Elevation: 1400M

I’ve also seen fresh sign throughout the full elevation range.

My own observations are that if the conditions are favourable, elevation isn’t as significant a factor as is often suggested.

I’d be very keen to hear from others on their experiences and observations.

Note: This case is based on hunting in the Central Plateau, specifically the Kaweka and Kaimanawa Ranges, where elevation ranges from around 800m in the Northern Kaimanawas to around 1700 in the Eastern Kawekas.

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3 weeks ago I got the drop (thanks to my wonderfully clever dog) on pair of hinds a whole 399mtrs according to google earth from my vechile…they maybe COULDVE been 50mtrs lower in altitude if they wanted to sit in the creek.
the tops all around have coating of snow so bugger all incentive to be up there…its been as cold as a whores heart, so down low in sunlight makes sense…oh and out of wind is paramount.

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The old adage “deer are where you find them” is pretty correct. On warm days in the middle of July they can be high but they won’t expend more energy than they can gather from foraging. More focus on warm faces out of the wind not far from from concealment will generally net more sightings than focussing on elevation. In the Manson in the Spoin Kop gully the side that gets the morning sun is where I would be looking, out of the predominant wind and warm with lots of cover. The Manson has had a lot of attention in the last few years, the DoC land over by Mt Meany is a good place to look as well, particularly if fly camping.

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welcome Rod…you sure are correct,they are where you find them. I was out hunting with my old ex culler mate a few years ago,out in open country…I was bamboozled…where should I be looking???everywhere was the reply.

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Yeh and with cover near by.

I’ve spent a lot of time bush stalking the Northern Kaimanawas and predominantly though the winter months. Sign has been prevalent from the ridge tops to the rivers and I’ve put up deer on the southern side of the hills numerous times as well.

There will always be areas that hold deer over others and I reckon its hitting them at the right time and in the right conditions that will increase your strike rate.

Been thinking a bit about this since my last trip. Initially thought that deer would be lower down in the red beech. But not the case at all. Deer were all high in the mountain beech. Cold air sinks, and the tops get morning sun first. For context this is still bush hunting at 1400m - 1000m. High in gully heads has always been how i’ve hunted winter sika.

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Yep, that right there mate.

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