If these walls could talk… deer culler huts tell tales of our past

Sarah Mankelow —  20/02/2012

Everyone who has tramped or hunted in the back country knows that feeling; when you clear that last ridge or walk out of that last patch of forest to see the hut just ahead in the distance. Your pack suddenly gets a little lighter and you feel a sudden burst of energy that sets you steaming towards tonight’s home away from home.

But as you take off your boots at the front door, have you ever thought about all the others that have done the very same thing before you? That you are the latest player in a history that goes back decades?

Hunters arrive at historic Shutes Hut; photo David Yule.

Hunters arrive at historic Shute's Hut (1920 rabbiters hut)

The back-country of New Zealand contains about 1400 huts, a network unequalled anywhere in the world. And over half of these were built for government shooters.

Historic huts are more than just shelter; they are a reminder of the past and a link to our cultural heritage.

“So oil up your boots my boys, and check your pack and gun
The deer are far too numerous, there’s culling to be done.”
(Caughley, G.)

Deer culling sorted the men out from the boys

Deer were first introduced into New Zealand over 150 years ago, to hunt for sport. They spread so far and so fast they became a serious pest.

In the 1930s the government (Department of Internal Affairs) started paying shooters to go into the backcountry to reduce deer numbers and slow their spread. It was tough work, both physically and mentally.

Some of the earlier huts were built by the deer cullers themselves. Because these huts were built in remote locations, they often used what was on site, using old crafts for the last time like splitting, hewing, pit-sawing.

A new generation of culler huts

When the New Zealand Forest Service (NZFS) took over responsibility for deer control in 1956, they quickly began creating a network of tracks, bridges and huts for deer cullers who practically lived in the backcountry.

The first steel metal huts were cold and uncomfortable, and were soon replaced by the standard NZFS-designed wooden-framed and lined four and six-bunk huts in the valleys, and two-bunk bivs on the passes.

Muddy Stream Hut.

Muddy Stream Hut St James Range.

Many of these lasted far beyond their expected lifespan and still stand today, used by modern trampers and hunters. They have become an iconic feature of our New Zealand back country and are unique in the world.

Good keen men

The deer cullers were admired for the difficult job they did. They became an iconic – almost mythic – figure in the New Zealand landscape, thanks in part to the many books written about their exploits. They played a big part in creating the legend of the kiwi bloke, or as Barry Crump phrased it, the “good keen man”. The hut was an ever-present stage in these books.

State-funded deer culling continued until the early 1970s but faded out after commercial hunters using helicopters became more common. However, the legacy of the deer culler lives on, in their huts.

Cedar Flat Hut, West Coast.

Cedar Flat Hut

Why not plan your next trip to one of these historic huts?

Roger’s Hut (1952) One of three remaining slab-beech huts in the entire Urewera Range, built in the winter of 1952 by a team of cullers led by Rex Forrester.

Te Totara Hut (1952) is the oldest surviving hut in Te Urewera National Park, also built by Rex Forrester, from split totara slabs.

Cedar Flat, (1957) on the Toaroha Track inland from Hokitika was built from a mix of sawn air-dropped timbers and hand-adzed timbers from the surrounding bush. 

Slaty Creek Hut (1952) Another West Coast hut, built of pit-sawn totara slabs with an iron roof.

Dasler Biv (1966) in Mackenzie Basin was first known as Cullers Biv. This two bunk hut was built by NZFS with treated wooden piles, flat tin walls and chimney, and corrugated iron roof.

Caswell Sound Hut (1949) is the last physical remnant of the New Zealand-American Fiordland scientific expedition set up to study the Fiordland Wapiti herd. It was built of surplus supplies at the end of the expedition, so it would be used by Wapiti hunters.

Clark Hut (1941) the last remaining split beech log hut in Fiordland National Park was built by cullers Archie Clark and Allan Cookson. Archie Clark, the first deer culler in the area, was a local legend, an expert stalker and a crack shot.

Muddy Stream Hut (1965) was built in the St James range, Lewis Pass. In 2006 DOC donated the hut to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve who restored and officially opened it within the reserve during Conservation Week, August 2006.

Children hear a tale or two from old deer culler Bill Scott 2006.

Children hear a tale or two from old deer culler Bill Scott outside Muddy Stream Hut in 2006.

Further reading

Caughley, G. (1983) The Deer Wars: the story of deer in New Zealand (Heinemann).

Wild animal control huts 

Wild Animal Control Huts: A National Heritage Identification Study (PDF, 5514K)

Sarah Mankelow


A North Island defector, I came south to go to Lincoln Uni and never looked back. My first ‘serious’ job with DOC was in Arthur’s Pass. I've been based in Christchurch since the turn of the century!

6 responses to If these walls could talk… deer culler huts tell tales of our past

    Charlie Douglas. 25/03/2012 at 3:51 pm

    I was employed in the winter 1941 on the Landsbrough track and our base hut was the origonal log cabin. The historic hut ,two public works huts joined joined must have been after 1941, at that time the Public Works huts were still near Gates of Hast. at top of Pass. There were a team of about 8 or so for the winter season. I have a couple of old snaps of the gang,


    Oops. I meant to link to this review (silly me).


    Thanks fro the write-up. For anyone who’s not been in bookshops lately, Mark Pickering’s ‘Huts: Untold Stories from Back-country New Zealand’ is a wonderful resource for stories of how, where and why huts have come from in the New Zealand culture. (I put up a bit of a review over here some time back, and there are others around.)

    “The back-country of New Zealand contains about 1400 huts”

    I remember some of the older (but still relatively recent) DoC literature and signage referred to “more than 1000” huts, and in most places that’s since been reduced to about “950”.

    Presumably with the 1400 figure, you’re referring to private huts as well as those managed by or otherwise somehow affiliated with DoC, right?

    Gordon Sylvester 20/02/2012 at 8:43 am

    Having worked in the Northern Kaimanawa’s in the 1960’s for the Forest Service. We made temp huts using the tent Camp as the basis. We constructed chimnies from pumice blocks. and two bunks were made from split timber as was a table and some shelving to put plates etc on. We had a base hut some 4 hours away at Poronui. And our tent camp was on the Tiki Tiki Stream not to far from the Kaipo Stream. We used that site for 4 months until it was destroyed in a storm


      Thanks for sharing your memories! The pumice chimney sounds ingenious! I have fond memories of the Kaimanawa’s sleeping under a tent fly, tramping with my father. (Sarah)