Quacker of a morning greets duck hunters

The weather conditions were in the duck's favour as the sun rose on the 2021 game bird season around the country.

Around 45,000 hunters were out in calm, sunny conditions around most of the country for the traditional Opening Day of the game bird season. 

Anticipation was high amongst hunters after the Covid-19 virus delayed the start of the 2020 game bird season by three weeks. 

For well over 100 years kiwis have gathered on the first Saturday in May to take part in the annual celebration of our wonderful New Zealand game birds. 

This tradition provides a chance for whanau and friends to get together and harvest delicious free-range birds for the plate.

Above Right: Canterbury hunter Stu Henderson and his dog Keisha return to the maimai after recovering a duck at Coopers Lagoon in the Selwyn District. Photo: Richard Cosgrove  

Unlike other forms of hunting, game bird hunting is done collectively as it is only for a few weeks a year and gives families and friends the chance to spend time together. 

Duck hunting is also multi-generational, with all ages coming together for the weekend, this ability to connect with each other, discuss the past and plan for the future while enjoying the great outdoors makes Opening Weekend an ingrained part of New Zealand's culture. 

Around the country Fish & Game staff report hunter numbers were strong and compliance with the rules very good at this stage. 

In the Auckland/Waikato region, Fish & Game rangers reported that the clear weather made hunting hard for hunters and the number of birds harvested was low. The Waikato River delta area was hunting the best in the region and hunters were getting a few birds.

In the Eastern region, the clear weather meant a quiet start to the day, but hunters in the coastal lagoons were able to achieve limit bags. Rangers report that hunters were happy to see them, no issues were reported. The Gisborne area bucked the trend with a bit of squally weather to start the day and paradise shelduck numbers harvested were up. The indications were that it won't be a bad season in the Eastern region. 

The South Wairarapa Rangers reported full compliance by hunters and hunter numbers were up on 2019 numbers. The weather was initially clear and calm leading to a slow start to hunting but as the day progressed and the weather worsened, hunting improved. 

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Braden and Olivia Savage with the results of their mornings hunting on the West Coast. Photo: Baylee Kersten.

Staff on the West Coast reported the fantastic weather on the coast was very much in the ducks' favour. Many hunters took this opportunity to get their family out which was fantastic to see. The majority of hunters still bagged a few birds despite the challenging conditions. On the compliance front, hunters were well behaved with only a few minor incidents detected that required staff to provide hunters with some education. With the game bird population in great shape on the Coast, hunters should have plenty of great opportunities in the coming months. 

North Canterbury hunters initially had good hunting conditions with low cloud and drizzle, but the day soon cleared and hunting became challenging with birds flying high. Whilst the conditions were challenging the numbers of birds around provided hunters with a consistent opportunity for which those that dug in for the whole day would be rewarded. 

The Mackenzie Country had a cracker of a morning but despite that Rangers reported plenty of birds harvested, Compliance was very good with only one pond of three hunters letting the rest of the team down 

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CAPTION: Otago Fish & Game rangers check a compliant hunter on a South Otago pond. PHOTO: BRUCE QUIREY

Duck hunters had mixed bags across Otago. Almost all hunters checked by Fish & Game Rangers were compliant. One infringement notice was issued for possession of lead ammunition at a pond. Some of the large ponds checked by Rangers had shot well while others were quieter, and several ponds had less water than usual. Early fog in South Otago lifted to clear skies and a little breeze. Several hunters reported mallards were flying high. Some noted an increase in paradise shelducks and fewer mallards on their ponds than in previous years. Hunters at a Tapanui pond shot close to their limit before calling it a day early. The Maniototo produced mixed results for hunters in cool and breezy conditions. Conditions in the Tarras and Lindis areas were warm with almost no wind. Fish & Game Rangers around Owaka in the Catlins found only very light numbers of hunters and clear skies.