Good news for game bird hunters: longer seasons, bigger bags
Game bird hunters in a number of regions will get more opportunity to target their favourite quarry this hunting season – after some healthy increases in duck populations.
Fish & Game regions which have changed their regulations as a result of this population increase include Eastern in the central North Island, Wellington, Nelson / Marlborough and Southland.
Top right: Two North Canterbury Game bird hunters get their season underway in the early morning light on an irrigation pond near Cust.
Hunters in the Eastern Region, which includes the Rotorua and Taupo lakes, Tauranga and East Cape, can look forward to a better start to the game bird season this year, with “mallard numbers on the rise” after a number of poor seasons.
In response, the Eastern mallard and grey duck season has been extended by two weeks, (7 May – 19 June) and hunters can bag two more mallard or grey ducks per day (total eight) than they were allowed last season.
Eastern Region Senior Fish & Game Officer Matt McDougall says monitoring of mallard breeding in Bay of Plenty drains, and regional banding results, pointed to a good breeding season, with many broods making it through the critical first ten days and on to fledging.
“Anecdotal evidence also points to a lot more ducks around. One veteran hunter says he’s seen more ducks in his favourite Bay of Plenty wetland than he’s seen for 50 years.”
Mr McDougall says Fish & Game’s mallard research project had also produced positive findings.
The telemetry (tracking) study spearheaded by Phd student Jenn Sheppard had shown some examples of females double-brooding, “successfully raising a second brood over the nesting season.”
Mr McDougall says aerial counts of paradise shelduck in January suggested the populations in all four management areas have been relatively stable long term over the last 14 years.
The monitoring of upland game in the forests indicated the pheasant population was similar to counts the previous year.
Further south, Wellington Fish & Game is expecting a “much improved” season with surveys pointing to an increase in bird numbers across the region.
Acting on the apparent upswing in the mallard population, Wellington Fish & Game Council decided on more liberal regulations for the 2016 season.
The daily bag limit for mallards has been increased to eight birds per hunter per day from last season’s six, and the season has been extended from six to eight weeks, giving hunters increased opportunities (7 May – 3 July).
Wellington Fish & Game Manager Phil Teal says the regulations have taken the region closer to what is considered to be a “normal” season.
“The decision to go for more liberal regulations has been based on trend count data showing the mallard/grey duck population has returned to a near normal level.”
Each year staff conduct extensive aerial surveys using small fixed-wing planes to tally duck numbers along defined transects.
“These transect counts are one of the tools we use to estimate the overall population of mallards in our region,” says Mr Teal.
“Comparing data dating back over 20 years we can observe the fluctuations in bird numbers and use this information to recommend to council any adjustments required in the regulations to ensure a sustainable population of mallards remains after hunter harvest.”
Despite the drought in many parts of the lower North Island, a wet spring and enough rainfall in early summer ensured good fledging and survival of ducklings, he says.
In the South Island, some regions have also relaxed their regulations.
Nelson Marlborough has lifted the daily bag limit for paradise shelduck from 10 to 15 in the Tasman/Golden Bay areas, in response to a rising regional population – good news for local hunters.
Fish & Game Officer Jacob Lucas says it’s the first major change in paradise shelduck bag limits in nearly 20 years.
As one example, bird counts in Tasman indicated an increase in the paradise shelduck population of around 15 percent, from 6,500 to 7,500.
Hunters are also being encouraged to target black swan as numbers have built up in coastal areas, as the birds represent a potential aviation hazard.
Mallard populations in the region appear to remain fairly stable from season to season, and the regulations are unchanged – with an aggregate bag limit of 15, and a season of nearly three months from May 7 to July 31.
In Southland, mallard brood counts this year were the highest they’ve been for seven years, so Fish & Game staff are expecting a “great” season ahead.
Fish & Game Officer Erin Garrick says that other indicators also point to a brilliant season.
“Aerial transect surveys have shown good numbers of ducks widely distributed.”
Southland Region’s bag limit for mallards on Opening Weekend has been increased to 20 birds per day, dropping back to 10 per day for the rest of the season (ending July 31,2016).
The length of the season has also been changed back from two to three months this year (7 May – 31 July), “so there will be plenty of opportunity to hunt ducks after Opening Weekend.”
In a couple of Fish & Game regions, regulations have been tightened in response to bird population trends.
In Hawke’s Bay, the mallard bag limit has been reduced to eight, but the limit for paradise shelduck remains at 10.
The West Coast Region’s reduced bag limit for mallards remains at 15 for 2016, but the paradise bag limit has also been reduced from 20 to 15.
Fish & Game says hunters, especially those who move around the country, need to carefully check the rules and regulations for the region they are hunting in. There are 12 Fish & Game regions and game numbers are carefully managed in each of them so the rules and regulations can change.
Please check your hunting regulations booklet or click here for the online version.