The Rifle Down Under

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An American Hunter Would Feel
Right At Home In A Kiwi Gunshop.

By Dave Anderson

With its mild climate, abundant rainfall and lack of predators, New Zealand has fabulous big game hunting. There are seven species of deer up to the size of elk, plus chamois, tahr, feral goats and sheep. Kiwi hunters have 21 million acres of public land available and hunting is free.

I had the good fortune to talk hunting and hunting rifles with Kevin Duncan, manager of Hunting & Fishing New Zealand in Kaikoura, and with Jeremy Hanaray, owner of Rivers to Ranges in Hamilton. I’m grateful to both men for their time and for their insights—not to mention their patience! Jeremy is also an outfitter and guide, offering big game hunting and trout fishing. I shot a magnificent red stag while hunting with Jeremy and his assistant guide, Ben Munford.

Landowners sometimes have trophy hunting for a fee, but also need surplus game culled. There are no closed seasons and no bag limits on public land. A Kiwi hunter can easily shoot more big game in a week than most American hunters will in a lifetime.

In terms of terrain, there’s hardly a flat spot in New Zealand. Even on what they call easy terrain, there is plenty of uphill and downhill walking, often on wet and slippery ground. If you are thinking of mountain hunting for chamois and tahr, you better be fit and tough.
No part of New Zealand is more than 75 miles from the sea, so your firearm will likely be exposed to salt air. You can count on hunting in the rain at least some of the time.

So what are their preferences in hunting rifles? No other place on earth (except maybe Alaska) welcomed synthetic stocks and stainles steel barreled actions as enthusiastically as the Kiwis. Blued carbon steel can be made fairly rust-resistant with chemical sprays and coatings, but wooden stocks really take a beating from excessive moisture. Other than .22 rimfires, I doubt one new rifle in 10 sold in New Zealand has a wooden stock.

The other virtues Kiwis want are lightweight, toughness, durability and balance for shooting from various positions (including offhand) and, of course, accuracy.

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Jeremy Hanaray put together this package he calls the “scrub rifle” (what we might
call a truck rifle), a handy, compact, light and tough all-around rifle. It starts
with a Tikka T3 Lite Stainless for the cartridge of your choice. The barrel is fluted,
bolt body spiral fluted, and the barrel is shortened by 4 inches. The Hardy suppressor
fits over the barrel, only 4 inches of the suppressor extends past the muzzle. The
result is overall length is the same as the original, weighing 6-1/2 pounds.

ost popular rifle they sell, especially the Lite and Superlite Stainless versions. The T3 has a sterling reputation with Kiwi hunters, and from a dealer’s perspective, they very seldom cause problems, making for happy customers.

At a bit higher price point, the Kimber Montana is very highly regarded. I’ve been looking to add another Montana to my personal collection but can’t seem to find one for sale. Now I know why: the Kiwis have them all! At still a higher price point, the Sako Finnlight is probably the most admired and desired of the lightweights.

In keeping with the lightweight theme, Talley one-piece bases/rings are well liked and popular, as are the old reliable Weaver bases and rings. As in the US, there is an increasing interest in longer range shooting, often with heavier rifles chambered for .300 Win Mag or .338 Lapua. Warne steel rings are especially popular for attaching heavy scopes to hard-kicking rifles.

In terms of scopes, Kevin and Jeremy both advised Leupold is their best selling brand, held in high esteem by Kiwi shooters. Jeremy says in recent years Vortex scopes have sold very well. Several European brands (notably Swarovski, Zeiss, Kahles) have their fans, while long-range shooters opt for scopes such as Nightforce and some of the top-end Bushnell models.

I was interested to learn Kevin and Jeremy, both of them knowledgeable and enthusiastic riflemen, chose the Remington 700 for their own hunting rifles. The 700 is of course an excellent rifle off the shelf. With its sound, simple design it is easy to modify and aftermarket parts (barrels, triggers, stocks, for example) are widely available.

At the entry level, or for the farmer or rancher who just wants a basic rifle for pest control, Jeremy says the Remington 783 and several Savage models are popular choices. Often these buyers want a package deal, with rifle, scope, bases and rings. The Ruger American, especially the stainless all-weather version, seems to be catching on.

Kevin Duncan says the 7mm-08 Rem is the most popular cartridge among Kiwi hunters. Other popular rounds include old favorites such as the .243, .270, and .308 Win and .30-06. He personally favors the 7mm Rem Mag. The .300 Win Mag is quite popular. Among the more recent cartridges, the .300 WSM has done very well, as it has plenty of power and fits light, short-action rifles.

Jeremy Hanaray agrees with Kevin, and the 7mm-08 Rem has been virtually the standard for a decade or more. It’s easy to see why. It has adequate power for all New Zealand game, good downrange ballistics and moderate recoil, even in the light rifles so prized by mountain hunters.

Jeremy says he is seeing a trend towards more powerful cartridges. He attributes the trend to the increasingly widespread use of suppressors. In New Zealand, suppressors can be purchased with no fees, paperwork or permits required.

Moreover, their use is encouraged as a matter of safety, protecting the hearing of the shooter and bystanders. The attitude seems to be not having a suppressor is about equivalent to not having a muffler on your vehicle or motorbike.

Anyone who has used a suppressor knows, in addition to reducing the decibel level, it is a very effective muzzlebrake, dramatically reducing recoil. Many hunters are concluding if they can have a bit more power and flatter trajectory, with no muzzle blast and with mild recoil, why not?

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Just as in America, the Ruger 10-22 is a bestseller among .22 rifles. Jeremy
Hanaray shows one offered for sale as a package with scope and suppressor
for $649 NZ, equivalent to about $455 US.

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AR rifles, as well as practically any firearm with a separate pistol grip, require
an additional endorsement on the firearms license and must be registered, unlike
regular sporting long guns. Nonetheless, examples such as the one shown here with
integral suppressor are used for some types of hunting such as vermin control.

Jeremy’s personal rifle is a stainless Remington 700 in .300 Win Mag with a Hardy suppressor and lightweight McMillan stock. His assistant guide, Ben Munford, uses an identical rifle but in .300 WSM. Ben kindly let me borrow his rifle to hunt red stag, and I can attest recoil is mild indeed.

The Hardy suppressor they use adds only 4 inches to overall length, with most of the body of the suppressor extending back over the barrel. The practice Jeremy uses and recommends is to have the barrel fluted to reduce weight, and shortened by 4 inches – to 18 inches for standard cartridges and to 20 inches for magnum cartridges. With the suppressor fitted, overall length remains the same as it was with the original barrel.

AR rifles—in fact about anything with a separate pistol grip—require an additional endorsement to the firearm license. It seems AR’s first became popular with competitive shooters of 3-Gun matches, and now some hunters are finding an AR can be a very accurate, practical rifle, especially for pest control. Jeremy says he is seeing a growing interest in handloading and plans to expand his store’s inventory of components and loading tools.

An American rifle enthusiast won’t have trouble feeling right at home in New Zealand. It’s the same good shoptalk of cartridges, bullets, powders, scopes, good days and bad in the hunting field. If it wasn’t for the accents, which had us all a bit puzzled at times, I could have been back in my favorite gun store in North Dakota.

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One thought on “The Rifle Down Under

  1. Martin B

    Being a New Zealander I can confirm much of what is said here. I might add that in the distant past, deer culling was a profession, and many soldiers returning from WWII (and our war was 6 years, not 2 or 3 like yours!) found a job tramping the bush and shooting deer. Regretfully, our ancestors did not think to supply our abundant bush with furry predators to keep deer under control, so the hunting opportunities are everywhere. Most people who die in our bush expire from exposure after getting lost, not difficult once in our thick undergrowth. And our steep hills do require a significant level of athleticism. Crossing rivers can be very hazardous, and used to be called the “New Zealand death”, along with the risk of shipwreck on our extensive shoreline. Saying that, it really is as beautiful as it looks in the Lord of the Rings movies, and you really can compile a lifetime of hunting in a few months. Just watch out for dope growers and their booby traps, and you should be fine. Ask your friends who have been to Hawaii, and they’ll tell you. You meet some interesting characters out in the bush. You might need a Kiwi guide to help translate our speech, but our written English is similar to yours. Ours is spelt properly, though. There are plenty of Americans who live here, and we are quite used to you. Please come. PS, we do not have snakes or tarantulas. Go to Australia if you want to be bitten by them.

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