The Sika Show and its history

The Sika Show aims to bring together hunters and those in the industry. At the show, exhibitors can develop new business opportunities and reinforce existing ones, and hunters can find the latest in outdoor products and services, and connect with interest groups, organisations, and each other.

Highlights of the show are the competitions for Sika heads, roaring, photography and taxidermy judged by the best in the industry. There are archery and air rifle try-outs for youngsters, black powder displays, Douglas scoring demonstrations, antler displays, deer jaw ageing demonstrations, a range of activities for kids, a taxidermy display, and a selection of fresh wild food stalls.

The two-day event has been running for 25 years in Taupo, New Zealand. The Sika Show grows bigger each year, and now attracts more than 6000 hunters and their families as well as others with an interest in recreation, wild animal management, and wild food flavours.

While the show focuses on the Sika head competition and other categories of hunted animals, the organisation is keen to use the event as an opportunity to promote other messages to the thousands of people who visit the show each year.

One of the many aims of the Sika Show is to educate people about responsible and ethical hunting practices, especially to young people new to the sport.

An important element of the Sika Show since the beginnings in 1993 has been the collection of jaws. The jaw collection data gathered by Hunters & Habitats and the Sika Show provides valuable information on the population, demography, and condition of Sika in New Zealand.

An overview of the Sika Show’s history, written by Alex Gale, author of the must-have book The Sika Hunters

It’s interesting how ideas take root and grow. The Sika Show, as it is now known, is a prime example: it began with a conversation between Neil Philpott, noted Sika hunter from Taupo and wildlife biologist Cam Speedy, then working for DOC, over how to access better data through jaw analysis, on the health of the central North Island Sika herd.

Since then it has grown into the largest annual outdoor trade show of its kind in New Zealand, now spread over two days and attended by hunters from all over New Zealand and even some from Australia. While its original goal was to provide data, this goal has been vastly widened and the Sika Show has had a profound effect on the hunting scene in New Zealand, drawing together diverse groups of hunters and those in the industry, and adding a sense of coherence and solidarity to what was a very fragmented sport. Hunters by nature are individualists who don’t find it easy to work together and, while we still have a long way to go, the Sika Show has helped immensely.

How it all began…

The inaugural Sika Show, first promoted as the Sika Trophy Competition, was held in 1993 in the Spa Hotel in Taupo on Sunday 23rd May and was just for Sika. The Taupo Branch of the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association and some NZDA members from other local branches provided the Douglas Score measurers, as they have done every year since.

A total of 89 Sika heads were entered, 86 complete with jaws, from as far west as Mount Tongariro and as far east as Puketitiri in the Hawkes Bay. These were to have been shot between the period 1st April and 20th May. There were 57 eight-pointers presented for measuring and twenty-three of these scored over 150 DS. Only two of those made the record book benchmark of 170 DS, the overall winning head being an 11-pointer taken by local Turangi hunter, Ken Drummond, scoring 182 2/8 DS. Dr Wayne Fraser, a deer ecologist with Landcare Research who was to be analysing data obtained, spoke before the prizegiving.

It’s an interesting fact that the three major sponsors for this inaugural Show were Fly ‘n’ Gun Shop, Taupo, Sporting Life, Turangi, and the Department of Conservation, Turangi. Cam Speedy was working for DOC at that stage and was a major factor in DOC’s participation. Sadly Cam didn’t find ongoing support from the DOC hierarchy for this initiative with hunters which was sad, because hunting is a major sport in New Zealand, one that DOC should be promoting. (This is changing – editor!)

A $2,000 rifle was donated by The Fly and Gun Shop and Sporting Life and was won by Harold Magon of Kerikeri. In all, sponsors donated fourteen prizes which were drawn at random from all valid entries. The three top heads were offered a free mount, courtesy of local Taupo taxidermists Vern Pearson, Peter Livesey and Richard Abraham. Because Richard won the second prize he kindly donated the free mount to the fourth place getter. This generosity of local taxidermists has remained a feature of the Sika Show over the years.

1994 Sika Show

There was significantly increased interest in this Show held on Monday 6th of Queen’s Birthday weekend, with an estimated 500 people packing the Spa Hotel. The 146 stag heads measured, taken between 1st March and 31st May, represented a 75per cent increase over entries from the first year and included 65 eight-pointers.

The most notable feature, apart from increased interest, was the number of heads that made the record book: seven as compared to two the previous year. Even the next three heads were at most 1 1/8 points short of the record book! The biggest head entered scored 213 1/8 DS and was shot by Bruce Bates of Ngamatea Station, but was judged a hybrid. The winning head that scored 191 2/8 DS was shot in the Kawekas by Steve Clark. These were the days of Buller boots and Swanndris, with hunters standing around with a jug of beer in one hand, yarning with other similarly clad local hunters.

Again the show was sponsored by DOC and The Fly and Gun Shop of Taupo, and was supported by an increasing number of businesses and organisations. Consequently twenty-one hunters shared in some $6,000 worth of prizes, the top prize being a Savage .243 and scope drawn at random, as were most of the other prizes.

1995 Sika Show

Again the venue was the Spa Hotel and the date Queen’s Birthday weekend. In total 136 heads were entered, compared to 89 the first year and 146 in 1994. Of the heads registered, 109 were presented together with jaw bones for measuring, but there were only 36 heads with eight points or more, compared to 65 the previous year. Only four heads made the record book, but again a number were just under. Mike Spray of Papakura, with a head scoring 184 DS shot in Ecology Creek, was the winner. Once again there were a number of prizes offered by sponsors and, in total, 21 hunters shared these prizes valued at over $8,500.

1996 Sika Show

This year’s Show had a number of changes. It had been offered to NZDA Taupo and Bob Neckelson took the idea to the Taupo NZDA committee, but it was rejected on the following bases:

  • NZDA was not a commercial entity.

  • There was no enthusiasm for the extra work, even with obvious national benefits.

  • Some of the committee were quite half-hearted and others were really against the club taking it over.

  • Bob comments that “by the turn of the century opinions had changed, but by then the opportunity had long gone”.

Mark Bridgman had been involved with the Sika Show since its inception as a sponsor and as a helper, but now he and his team from Hunters and Habitat took over the organisation and it was advertised as the Heli-Sika Hunting Competition, indicating the higher level of commercial interest. There was also a significantly increased level of general interest, with over a thousand hunting and outdoor enthusiasts appreciating the Sika trophies, the increased number of trade exhibits and the giveaway prizes. Cam Speedy continued to be involved and indeed he has been at every Sika Show since, in some capacity.

Again held at the Spa Hotel in Taupo in 1996, 84 heads were registered, taken from as far south as the Sparrow Hawk Range in the Ruahines to Stoney Creek in the Ahimanawas. While the number of heads entered was down on previous years, this was due to the stricter criteria in that only heads of six points or more were eligible. However, the quality of the heads was noticeably better, with ten scoring over the 170 DS criteria, making them eligible for the NZDA record book trophy register. The talking point of the Show was undoubtedly the head entered by Glen McRae, the best since the Show began and the best Sika head shot in the previous twenty years.

According to Cam Speedy, the higher quality of the heads was partly due to the good growing season in early spring, enabling stags to increase body condition before casting their antlers, therefore allowing a more significant component of their spring nutrition to go into velvet production. The effect of the ash from the September 1995 Mount Ruapehu eruption was unknown, but an increase of trace elements and minerals as a result of the ash may have helped improve antler production also. He also commented that with four of the top ten heads coming from the Clements Road area, this again is evidence that habitat quality has had an influence. This area has shown a lower deer density achieved by intense recreational hunting pressure and, while the fewer numbers may not have suited all hunters, the trade-off is better habitat quality and therefore more nutrition available to remaining animals, thus producing better trophies.

A further example of this was derived from data from hinds’ jaws supplied by Monroe Reweti from the Motiti area of the Waiotaka Catchment in the back of Lake Taupo Forest. This area had been 1080 poisoned in August/September of 1995 and, as a consequence, there was a major decline in deer numbers and, I might add, opossum numbers. The next two years saw significant improvement in forest condition and this was reflected in the deer present. Monroe had provided six hind jaws from the area, four of which were less than four years old (ie. still growing when the area was poisoned) and all were 5-10per cent larger than the herd average for their year class.

1997 – 2009 

It is worth noting at this point the development of Hunters and Habitat and their involvement with the Sika Show over the years. This organisation started in 1995 because of disaffection with NZDA and a recognition of the need to promote hunting, obtain data from Sika jaws for management purposes, and for game management itself. Led by Mark Bridgman, the club has provided the significant part of the manpower and organisation. Mark, in fact, is now the key mover behind the show and personally helped fund it for a number of years. Other members of H&H have also contributed funding, as it has only been in the last two years that the show has been making a profit. Groups such as Safari Club International and the Taxidermists’ Association have also contributed in different ways, but the inspiration and drive for the development of the show since 1997 has come from Mark Bridgman.

In 2000 the Show was shifted to the Great Lake Centre, in the centre of Taupo, due to increased interest from hunters, the public and the commercial exhibitors. At the same time the Show was extended to include heads from other species. In 2003 the Show was again shifted, this time to a larger venue, the Taupo Events Centre, and then in 2004 the single day event was extended to two days. This move was to make it more worthwhile for the commercial exhibitors, some of whom came from as far away as Alexandra in New Zealand and Queensland, Australia and also to meet the needs of the growing interest of hunters who by this time had begun to see the Sika Show as an important yearly meeting place, almost akin to the old time ‘meeting of the tribes’, where they could meet old acquaintances, spend money on hunting bargains and new innovations, and be inspired by the great heads on show. It was around this time that the name was changed again to ‘The Sika Competition and Outdoor Trade Show’, generally abbreviated to ‘Sika Show’ for short.

The transition of the Sika Show, from a small sideshow at a local bar, where the male clientele often looked as if they had just come straight from a morning hunt, to the largest hunting competition and outdoor trade show of its kind in Australasia, has not been an easy one. In fact, only two years ago, some members of Hunters and Habitat committee were not in favour of continuing with the Show, such were the demands and lack of financial return for the key parties involved. However, reason and vision prevailed and, as so often happens, the show was at a critical point and since then has continued to expand and grow from strength to strength.

To achieve the current high standard in a country where the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude is often prevalent in government organisations and commercial exhibitors alike, has necessitated some strong leadership and vision, and Mark Bridgman has supplied these. Both Government agencies and commercial exhibitors have at times needed some firm direction as to what is acceptable both in terms of preparation and presentation. To put it bluntly, in Mark’s words, “It’s about dragging organisations into the commercial and public relationship realities of the 21st century.”

While the core interest of the Show has always been Sika heads and the various commercial trade exhibitors, other interesting events such as a fashion parade of outdoor clothing, a climbing contest carrying a small pack up the climbing wall of the Events Centre and a colouring competition for the kids have created some interest. Perhaps New Zealand outdoor clothing manufacturers or distributors are not very adventurous for surprisingly there was little interest in the fashion parade, with Swazi being the notable exception. It was great fun though seeing Davy Hughes and team being models! While efforts have been made to make the Show more user-friendly to women and families, it will always remain a hunting show, although it must be noted that more women are taking up hunting. There have been discussions in the past as to whether to broaden the base to include fishing, but it was felt that that would dilute the purpose of the event.

So what happens over the four days the Events Centre is booked? On the Thursday the main arena is set up by a great team of volunteers, mainly from Hunters and Habitat, with some support from the Taxidermists’ Association. Booths are erected, the video screen and display areas for heads and tables for the public are erected, and then on Friday the exhibitors arrive and their equipment and goods are ferried in. A professional security firm is hired to police the event as there are firearms and expensive equipment such as binoculars on display. Then in the evening the exhibitors and helpers are invited to a catered buffet meal with all drinks supplied.

When the Show starts at 9 am on Saturday, the doors open to a continuous stream of interested parties. While it is still obviously a male dominated arena, there are mums pushing strollers or carrying babies, couples young and old and a good representation of the general public. It is easy to spot the hopeful hunters … they come clutching a head or two and are directed out the back where the heads are processed and scored by the team from Deerstalkers’ Associations and Sika jaws collected. The heads are then taken out for display.

Last year, 2008, over 4,500 people attended the Show over the two days and there were a total of 39 Sika heads entered, of which thirty-five were in the Open Category, three were in the Women’s Category and one was in the Bow Category. This seems a big drop from 1996 when there were 84 heads entered of six points or more, but my feeling is that whereas in the past hunters would bring in heads of any size, now they are becoming more discerning and only bringing in the better quality heads. I would also like to think that more hunters are not just shooting anything with antlers, including smaller eight-pointers, but waiting for that bigger stag.

During the weekend the public are able to entertain themselves by checking out the various trophies on display or viewing and purchasing from the wide variety of exhibitors and there’s even a food and drink area where they can relax and be educated or entertained by short DVDs on the main screen, watching presentations such as a promotion by Food Safety, New Zealand, a hunting trip in Africa or Alaska or one of a fellow Kiwi hunting Sika.

It’s all good fun with an old-time distinctively Kiwi rural feel about it. Certainly not for the non-hunter or those not enamoured with the great sport of hunting, as you may see the demise of a trophy bear or a magnificent trophy stag.

The ultimate prize, the trophy for the top Sika head entered. This trophy was sculptured by Chris Short who won it himself in 2006 with a stag that scored 209 DS.

With regard to the heads themselves, the main focus of the Show, there is great anticipation among hunters as to who will win first prize. While all entries have to be in by 3pm on the Saturday, some hunters leave their entries until the very last, hoping to slip in unobserved. A comparison of the heads over the years is interesting: whereas for the first three years, 1993 to 1995, the very best head scored 194 DS, in 1996 and 1997 the Show was won by heads scoring over 200 DS. In the years 1998 to 2000, the best head scored 195 DS, but thereafter each year has produced a winning head of over 200 DS. Only one hunter has won the coveted trophy twice – Glen McRae, from Taupo, whose winning head from 1996 of 212 3/8 DS was the first head entered over the 200 DS mark and one of the biggest Sika trophies ever shot in New Zealand.

On the Sunday afternoon, beginning at 2pm, comes the climax of the weekend: the prize giving. As you will see below, there is a huge array of prizes, with the great finale being the award of prizes for the top five scoring Sika heads, including the trophy for the top Sika head itself. The generosity of the sponsors is seen in the prizes that are awarded to winning participants. Then, when the prize giving is over, hunters may linger for a while to catch up with an old friend before heading home, no doubt with the unspoken dream that next year they may be the lucky hunter who takes home the coveted prize or, at the very least, shoot a record book stag. With the crowd dispersing, the exhibitors and helpers focus on their final act – the big clean up. Then it’s all over until the next year. The planning for that is already well under way. One interesting comment re the prizes – in the early days there were random prizes for the general public and one year a guy won a pair of expensive Meindl boots and then sold them to the first taker for a half dozen cans of beer! Nowadays even random prizes are restricted to actual entrants, whether they bring in a head, a photo or a jaw.

A show of this nature would not be complete without its controversies, and it’s fair to record that many of these revolve around the heads themselves. Some heads entered come from hybrids, meaning they are a cross between a Red deer, generally with larger antlers, and a Sika, thus giving an unfair advantage. The scorers have the unenviable task of making a decision that determines the ultimate fate of the category, and when a head is moved to the hybrid section, the end result is often a very disappointed hunter. The alternative, of course, is to have quite a few irate hunters, as has also happened. Then there are heads shot under the spotlight and entered, and, even worse in the writers opinion, are so called ‘hunters’ who shoot their ‘trophies’ behind the wire, often illegally or with the aid of a guide and then enter these heads in the competition. Unfortunately when there are prizes of a high value sometimes ethics go out the door. Sadly more Kiwi shooters, for they are not hunters, are going the way of the Americans and buying into this canned ‘hunting’. Canned ‘hunting’ has its place as commercial entertainment, but it’s not hunting as we know it. In future years there may be a category for this type of activity, but in my opinion this will be a retrograde step as the bigger the chequebook, the bigger the head. Some Kiwis seem to have forgotten what hunting is all about. Finally, there are often disputes or rumours as to where some heads were taken and some landowners have even attempted to have winning heads DNA tested in an attempt to prove the animal (all wild animals belong to the Crown) was shot on their land. Never a dull moment.

The Sika Show has been the most significant event that has happened in New Zealand hunting circles in the author’s hunting lifetime, in his opinion. The Show is a place where key relationships are built, and then built on from year to year. Supported by virtually all the main players in the hunting scene, it has brought together those at grassroots level and those at a commercial and political level, and in so doing has delivered a degree of trust, unity, strength and, dare I say it, new direction to a very fragmented, individualistic and often suspicious hunting fraternity. And, while some hunting organisations have been slow to face the changing realities of the New Zealand hunting scene, what has happened with the Sika Show has not only been in response to those changes, but has helped shape them. We may have the best hunting in the world and the best Sika herd, but we surely have among the worst game management, and that has to change! What flows from the Sika Show will play a significant part in that.

As to the future, the Sika Show and its South Island offshoot, the Tahr Show, will continue to play an increasingly important part in New Zealand hunting. From a small event in a country bar it has grown to be a main player in the New Zealand hunting scene. It has an exciting future.

(The author is grateful to Cam Speedy for providing information about the first four Sika Shows, taken from articles he wrote for the “Taupo Target”, a magazine originally marketed by DOC for hunters and fishermen.)