While sunshine and light winds across the country might have been in the duck’s favour, it didn’t stop hunters from celebrating the traditional first Saturday in May, the Opening Day of the game bird hunting season.
The warm, wet summer had contributed to increased duck numbers in parts of the country, increasing the chances of success for hunters looking to harvest wild, free-range birds for the dinner table.
New Zealand outdoors retailers compensated for the continued global shipping delays and ordered earlier than ever before to ensure hunters had adequate stocks for decoys, ammunition, and other hunting gear before the season started.
Opening weekend is when many families come to gather sustainable, free-range birds for the months ahead.
Around the county, Fish & Game rangers were out in force checking licences and seeing how opening day had gone for hunters.
In Northland, fine and settled weather made for challenging hunting conditions for the hunters, although, these conditions were great to support the social aspect of opening weekend.
A relatively damp summer season resulted in good numbers of game birds in the region, which should have presented hunters with reasonable opportunity despite the weather.
With rangers confiscating four firearms for unlicensed hunters during the opening day, Northland hunters are also being encouraged to use the ‘Take a mate hunting’ licence available in the region to provide the opportunity for newcomers to get a taste of what it’s all about for the nominal cost of $4.
In the Waikato, despite a fine day with calm conditions, it was an excellent start to the season, with good duck numbers probably because the efforts Fish & Game NZ put into minimising botulism outbreaks were successful.
Hunting was hard for hunters in the Eastern Region, as early morning fog gave way to a blue sky day. However, those in the Bay of Plenty fared better, as did those in the Gisborne area.
All hunters reported birds harvested, and only one shooting with lead shot offence was detected.
In the Taranaki Region, a fine day greeted hunters, but there was plenty of hunting activity.
The wet spring and summer in Wellington created perfect conditions for the mallard population to flourish in the region with some of the best numbers seen in years, says Wellington Fish & Game manager Phil Teal.
“The so-called summer we’ve just had may have been a washout for campers and beachgoers, but it’s been a boon for the waterfowl population.
The late harvest of grain across much of the region has benefitted hunters and has likely kept more ducks around the lower North Island at this time of year as they haven’t had to move around to find feed.”
Teal said duck numbers in Wairarapa were encouraging, with some of the highest numbers ever seen when staff were monitoring wildlife populations around Wairarapa Moana earlier in the year.
“The mallard numbers in the Manawatu River during recent population trend counts were quite staggering – twice what we observed last year – suggesting that overall, we have a very healthy duck population in the lower North Island and some great prospects for all hunters this season.”
The West Coast region had overcast weather pleasing hunters, but a lack of wind limited success on larger water bodies.
Many hunters who had prepared in the preseason were rewarded with good tallies, with bag limits not being uncommon.
Compliance overall was relatively good, although, a few hunters had to be reminded to read their regulations. Nonetheless, it was fantastic to see many hunters out enjoying opening weekend as the social occasion it is well known for.
Nelson Marlborough hunters had a reasonable day given the weather was perfect, with a moderate number of ducks being harvested.
Compliance was high with all hunters reporting a favourable day with two hunting offences.
North Canterbury hunters battled fog in places, but good numbers of game birds were harvested, with the hunting getting better as the day progressed.
Central South Island rangers around the Mid-Canterbury, Ashburton area had pleasant weather, which was in favour of the birds. There was just enough wind to get the decoys moving and good numbers of birds in the air.
Compliance was relatively good, and hunters at every pond were checked – a change from last year, where only about 40% of ponds were hunted.
On Opening D, Otago rangers checked about 90 hunters across the region by noon.
Rangers worked in teams across Omakau, Springvale, Earnscleugh, Maniototo, Palmerston, and Lake Waipori.
There’ve been mixed bags, but it’s fair to say shooting has been fairly quiet at most locations in fine warm conditions with light wind.
Waipori was particularly quiet, with few ducks in the sky. Hunters came to the region for opening day from away as Nelson and Australia.
Five offence notices were issued for shooting lead shot, hunting without a licence, and failing to produce a licence.
Fish & Game rangers and police are also investigating two loaded firearms found at an unattended maimai with lead ammunition Palmerston area.
Down south, in Southland, hunters were happy to have overcast conditions with a good breeze to help put some movement in their decoys.
Southland rangers reported favourable hunting conditions resulted in some great harvests.