Volunteers have gone into South Island back country looking for white-tailed deer which may have been killed by a Department of Conservation 1080 poison drop.

Despite lobbying from deerstalkers to use deer-repellent bait, the department said it could not afford modified pellets. The aerial 1080 dump beyond Glenorchy at the head of Lake Wakatipu was completed on August 30.

A dozen volunteers, co-ordinated by Lincoln University PhD student Kaylyn McBrearty, have the job of searching for white-tailed deer that may have consumed fatal amounts of bait.

The 1080 drop was part of the department's "Battle for our Birds" project, a $21 million exercise involving the largest aerial dump of poison bait yet to kill a predicted population explosion of rats and mice.

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Many deerstalkers oppose the project because species they hunt - including white-tailed deer - may die from eating 1080 pellets and will remain off limits for some months after the bait drop.

Ms McBrearty, a hunter herself, has briefed volunteers on a "carcass count" using a grid search over about 4sq km of bush where the deer are found. The search ends on Sunday.

She does not know if white-tails will be casualties of the bait drop, though DoC's Greg Lind thinks the herd should be safe based on previous 1080 dumps in 2006 and 2009 when one deer carcass was found.

New Zealand has just two white-tail communities - the herd of 200 to 800 near Glenorchy, and a group on Stewart Island.