Thousands of landowners throughout the country will once again welcome friends and family onto their properties for the game bird hunting season, which starts the first weekend in May [May 6 & 7].
Taking in those hunting in permitted areas on public land, Fish & Game New Zealand is expecting well over 65,000 hunters to turn out for what is widely anticipated to be one of the best seasons in years.
"Some of the wettest spring and summer seasons on record in many regions has meant that the waterfowl population is thriving," says Fish & Game NZ chief executive Corina Jordan.
"The weather has provided optimum conditions for brood rearing, with plenty of wet and ponded areas providing ample food."
Jordan, who will be joining other hunters and tangata whenua at Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, says Opening morning is one of the most longstanding recreational traditions in Aotearoa.
"So much of Opening Weekend is about the tradition of coming together to spend time with loved ones and enjoying being in the outdoors. Ask hunters, and there’s most certainly a wellness aspect to it.
"Often, our ranging teams will also encounter three generations hunting from the same maimai - a spot that may, in some cases, have been used by great-great-grandparents."
Jordan says that for many, Opening Weekend may be the only time friends and families come together each year.
"It’s a sort of pilgrimage as much about rekindling friendships and family bonds as harvesting game birds for many people," she says.
Not only is the first weekend in May a celebration of coming together, but it has also become a significant part of our Kiwi culture and heritage.
"The importance of the game bird season is reflected in many parts of the country like no other pursuit. For example, there are towns where shops are shut, open homes aren’t held, and sport - even rugby - isn’t scheduled.
"In many small rural towns, a festival-type atmosphere descends in the week before Opening, with shops and houses festooned in camo and duck hunting livery.
The duck hunters who descend on the dams, ponds and wetlands dotted around the rural hinterland come from all walks of life too, Jordan says.
"They are from local rural communities, from further afield in our large urban areas, and some even travel from overseas for Opening Weekend each year.
"It shouldn’t be overlooked that the thread that pulls this part of the country’s cultural fabric together is the kindness and hospitality of the farmers who host hunters."
The collective harvest of wild, free-range game birds for friends and family, providing safe, sustainable food for families, cannot be overlooked when the country is in a cost-of-living crisis, she adds.
Above Right: Ready for more hunting, This season is looking like a stunner- Photo Hamish Carnachan.
Northland - Fish & Game Officer Graham Gallaghan
Paradise numbers have increased slightly from our last trend counts; numbers are abundant in the lower Northland area. Swan numbers are still high throughout the region. It appears that greys and mallards have had a good breeding season. The birds are possibly more distributed due to the wet year.
Auckland Waikato - Fish & Game Officer David Klee
One of this region's wettest years on record has led to an excellent breeding season. Farmers carefully watching their ponds, drains, and wetlands tell us this has undoubtedly helped mallards; things look quite good for hunters in the Auckland/Waikato region. However, some regulation changes have occurred, so hunters need to check their regulation book.
Eastern - Fish & Game Officer Matthew McDougall
The game bird season in the Eastern Region is looking very promising. Fish & Game staff report that the mallard breeding season was the best for a number of years. A good breeding season usually translates into a fun Opening Weekend, says Matt McDougall, Senior Fish & Game Officer.
The extreme weather events in Hawkes Bay have resulted in an exceptional game bird breeding season, with plenty of hunting opportunities. Communities are encouraged to come together to take time out to hunt with friends and family. After the events over the last few months, it is important to take some time to focus on mental health and well-being. It is also an opportunity to put some wild game back in the freezer. The region offers not only some exceptional wetland and lake hunting opportunities but also plenty of jump and paddock shooting.
Taranaki: Fish & Game Officer Jacob Morison
Conditions are looking good coming up to the start of the game bird season; ponds have plenty of water in them, the mallard population is healthy, and paradise shelduck populations remain stable in all areas. We just need the weather to play ball with some wind to keep the birds from settling at sea or on large bodies of water for hunters.
Wellington: Fish & Game Officer Hamish Carnachan
Wellington Fish & Game staff completing their transect flights to assess the mallard population have excellent news for hunters in the lower North Island. The duck population in the Western and Eastern transects is up on the previous year. For the east (Wairarapa/Tararua), mallard numbers are the highest recorded in a decade; in the west (Manawatu/Rangitkei), the population is just below the historical high counts of 2020. This means hunters can realistically expect to see more birds throughout the season and have plenty more shooting opportunities.
Nelson Marlborough: Fish & Game Officer Jacob Lucas
Mallard counts indicate good numbers in Marlborough, on par with last year which hunters said was the best season for some years. Paradise shelduck numbers were significantly higher in Golden Bay and the Murchison area.
West Coast: Fish & Game Officer Baylee Kersten
Game bird numbers look healthy after trend counts indicate game bird numbers are above the long-term average. It’s noted, though, that the distribution of birds has not been consistent, with some areas holding few birds while others have been stacked! In other words, it's best hunters do some scouting and ensure they are at the latter come opening morning.
North Canterbury: Fish & Game Officer Richie Cosgrove
With only a few days till Opening Morning, it's pretty exciting to see good mobs of ducks flying about around the region. We've had a good summer with plenty of frequent rain, which has meant plenty of habitat available for all of our waterfowl and no stress of drought.
Duck numbers are good, and hunters should have plenty of opportunity on Opening Morning. So now's the time to be doing any last-minute preparation and getting your gear ready for opening morning, don't forget to buy your licence too.
Central South Island: Fish & Game Officer Hamish Stevens
Overall, 2023 game bird numbers appear to be up on last year and, in general, at "typical" levels hunters have come to expect in the CSI region. So chances are that you will encounter moderate numbers of mallards and paradise shelduck and high numbers of swans. That, of course, depends on the weather on the day and water levels.
Otago: Fish & Game Officer Bruce Quirey
Otago hunters should expect a "standard" season, but that’s still surprisingly good, given the summer drought. Hunters prepared to put in the time and effort will harvest the most rewards. Most of Otago experienced moderate rainfall in spring, which lends well for mallard breeding. Many ponds throughout the district will have benefited from the recent rain, which is a relief for Opening Day.
Southland: Fish & Game Officer Cohen Stewart
Down south, the spring breeding conditions were good. We had well-timed rain during the breeding season, which would have enhanced duckling survival.
Our recent mallard monitoring counts are in line with long-term averages which suggests our mallard population is in good shape going into the season.