Is a common theme when it comes to hunting ballots.
The odds of drawing any block, let alone the one you want, seem to be getting lower and lower every year. I’m lucky enough to have drawn a good Tahr block this year; across 3 ballots this is the first in 5 years that I’ve drawn. That’s less than a 10% success rate in even getting a block, let alone one of your first few choices.
This year in the Tahr ballot for example we had 646 applications for for 200 opportunities, with the majority applying for the middle periods and popular blocks. The Haast ballot had 571 applications for 256 opportunities, Wanaka had 192 possibilities and 466 applicants.
Those of you who have been around a while will remember the early start to get your place in the que outside of the Doc office. This system had some merit especially if you were a local. We now have a ballot system that levels the playing field for hunters anywhere in New Zealand as well as abroad.
Why does it seem to be getting harder?
Hunter participation is certainly on the up, most likely because it’s now a hell of a lot easier to find a game animal than it was 15 years ago. The ballots are receiving more and more applications each year.
A SportNZ survey from 2010 stated that of their sample, hunting was the 10th most popular sport amongst men with 9.7% claiming they had hunted big game in the last 12 months. This equates to 154,000 people in NZ.
A Lincoln University survey in 2010 states that at the time in New Zealand there were 237,000 firearms license holders and approximately 63,000 big game hunting permits issued. It does also state that they estimate hunting permit compliance to be between 50-90%.
The facts are that since 2013, the Wanaka roar ballot has seen a 36% increase in applications, the Haast ballot a 23% increase, and the Tahr ballot a whopping 114% increase!
And let’s not forget about the increasing numbers of Australian’s and other overseas visitors we are seeing in the ballot blocks. One of the younger guys working for James Scott estimated that about 25% of the people he’s flying into the Tahr blocks are Australian.
With numbers like these, it’s no surprise that you’re less likely to draw that block you’ve put the effort into researching and scouting.
Is the system robust?
We’ve all heard the rumors and whinging that the draws are rigged. People talk about the same old names being drawn from the Wapiti ballot, or the hunting guide who ended up with 8 Tahr blocks. Just recently I was told about a Wanaka local who has drawn the same sought after block for the same period for 4 years running. If this is true then the odds must be like winning Lotto.
I don’t believe the ballots are rigged, but I do however think that the system has a few weaknesses that are being taken advantage of.
For example, I know for a fact that the Tahr ballot has been used by climbers as a way to heli access the wilderness area in order to climb some of the peaks. This particular climbing party was a bunch of relatively high profile climbers from New Zealand and they showed up complete with rifle cases so they would look the part. This completely undermines the system, as the reason we are granted helicopter access is to assist in controlling and monitoring Tahr numbers in the wilderness area.
It’s also no secret that a lot of people get every mate with a firearms license they can think of to enter the ballot. This is fine if these people applying actually intend to hunt those blocks should they draw one, but we all know this isn’t the case.
Should overseas applications be at a disadvantage?
Countries such as Canada and America work ballots on points system which favors domestic hunters. Overseas hunters can still draw a “tag” but their odds of doing so are less.
I’m not sure whether overseas applicants should be disadvantaged like they would be in every other country, as we also want to encourage tourism - which is our backbone having just overtaken farming as our primary industry.
However, I do think foreign hunters should contribute towards managing the resource as currently all they are helping pay for is the Doc admin fees. People paying tax here are contributing to managing our parks, 20 million dollars of 1080 this year, culls, huts, even paying for the heli rides and medical costs should these foreigners hurt themselves whilst hunting here. I don’t think charging more for foreign applications will make a difference either way, as you could triple the cost and most people still won’t even flinch, especially if they’re already paying for an international airfare to get here.
Is the current system costing people hunting opportunities?
Whilst flying into a mates Haast block last year, the pilot told me that overall the blocks were half empty. How can it be that so many people had confirmed a block but then not bothered to show up? This really disappointed me as I haven’t drawn a Haast block for 5 years now.
My initial thoughts were that this is potentially an issue with hunters from further afield such as the North Island or Australia. You can see how it happens, they enter the ballot and either draw or pick up one of the unconfirmed blocks. Then it all comes down to getting themselves and their mates organised, time off work, kids, life….. They wait till the last minute to book the flights so they can try and see the weather. Often it becomes too hard, too late and too expensive,so the whole trip goes by the wayside.
After looking at the actual numbers of applications from further afield it seems to me that apart from the Tahr ballot, foreigners really only make up a minor number of applicants. What really seems to be the issue is people from everywhere confirming their blocks and then not bothering to hunt them. My suspicions are that this is very much due to the “shotgun like” manner in which people are applying. For example if you’ve wrangled six of your mates to apply for you and then draw 3 blocks, there is a strong chance that 1 or 2 of those blocks don’t get hunted.
This approach to applying, combined with certain blocks and periods being more popular is in my mind the reason it seems to be much harder these days to even draw a block, let alone something at the top of your list.
What Are Your Chances?
West Coast Tahr
This year you had a 28% chance of actually drawing any block from your “picks”; back in 2013 you had a 52% chance.
Of note in the Tahr ballot is the huge 128% increase in overseas applications, as well as there only being 13 hunting guides that officially applied. DOC did make a special mention that they are well aware that guides are applying without stating they are guiding. Only to fly in for a quick couple of hour heli hunt assuming they have the right concessions also.
A huge increase in overseas applicants combined with our own ‘taking the piss style’ of applying is making your chances of drawing a block very slim.
It's really important that we as recreational hunters "play ball" and send in our return forms as this monitoring is the reason we are allowed to land in the first place.
Haast Roar Ballot
Overall the Haast blocks have seen a 24% increase in applications since 2013 and your chances of drawing a block have hovered around 40-44% from 2013 till now.
This at a glance doesn’t make sense with the overall increase in applications. To make sense of this I looked at the numbers of officially unused blocks (not drawn or picked up in the 2nd round). Back in 2013 there were 83 x one week opportunities not utilised. This has decreased quite drastically to 25 x one week opportunities not utilised in 2016. Again these numbers are the officially not used blocks/periods and nothing to do with the “no shows” discussed earlier in the article.
This means that in 2013, 71% of the hunting opportunities in theory were used compared with 2016 where 90% were used. I.e. Some of the less desirable blocks/times have been balloted which has absorbed some of the increase in applications.
Your chances of drawing one of your chosen blocks in 2013 was 46%, these days it’s 37%.
The below graphs illustrate where these applications are coming from.
Of note is that in 2013 about 95% of applications were South Island based. Now, in 2016, about 85% are South Island based.
Wanaka locals had a 42% success rate in 2013, now a 28% success rate (2016).
North Island applicants have more than doubled from 5% of applicants in 2013 to 11% of applicants in 2016.
The Opportunity Cost – a solution?
My suggestion is that we need a system in place where if you don’t show up prepared to try and hunt your block then you are somehow penalised in next year’s ballot because your costing someone else the opportunity.
Perhaps this could be achieved if the block holder had to pick up his permit over the counter at the local Doc office whilst going to their block. This would make it a bit harder for the guys using Joe Blog’s firearms license to increase their chances, as then Joe himself would actually have to front up to get the permit.
Again this is pretty easy for people to sidestep, but do we want to go to the extreme of the Wapiti blocks and have all party members named?
This suggestion clearly won’t solve the entire issue but it would hopefully go some way towards lowering the amount of no shows and using your mate’s details to enter, which is essentially multiple applications.
Do we implement a points system like some other countries to try and spread the likelihood of people getting the block they want over a few years? For example, if you don’t draw a block this year then you get preference points for next year which ups your chances and accumulates until you eventually draw. Perhaps we could combine this with a demerit point if you’re a “no show” for the block you’ve drawn.
A system such as this, and dealing with just individual’s, and not worrying about party members would go some way to stamping out the multiple applications and over time people will draw a block they’ve dreamed of hunting.
Additionally perhaps a web page or even a Facebook page where people who do need to cancel last minute can post their block, giving someone else the opportunity.
A major consideration in all this is that the system has to be robust and relatively easy to administer. Currently Doc is doing us all a favor by administering these ballots, the admin fees don’t cover the true cost and it’s a drain on resources such as staffing. A big thank you to the Haast and Wanaka Doc offices for giving me the time and data needed for this article.
The system relies on the integrity of those applying, think about that.