Both Barrels May 2022

Plenty of waterfowl still to harvest

Hunters shot slightly fewer birds and spent less time in the maimai on opening weekend of the game bird season in Otago this year.

This was despite strong mallard and paradise shelduck trend counts before the season opened.

The region’s average bag on opening weekend was almost 12 birds, Fish & Game’s annual opening weekend harvest survey found.

Hunters’ total bags were down slightly by one bird compared with the five-year average.

The average greylard bag (mallards and grey ducks) was 8.3 birds, almost two down.

But parrie bags were up by almost a bird per hunter.

Otago game bird licence holders who harvested seven or more greylards in the region on opening weekend were in the top 50% of hunters.

The top 10% harvested 18 or more greylards.

Fine weather played a major part in the opening weekend success rate being slightly down.

The good news is waterfowlers have the rest of the three-month season to harvest food for the table.

Rangers in Otago encountered duck hunters from as far away as Perth and throughout New Zealand.

Hunters spent an average of nearly 11 hours in the maimai on opening weekend. This was about an hour less than the five-year average and could be explained by fewer hunters going out on Sunday.

Above Right: Duck hunters (from left) Craig Hayward, of Mosgiel, and brothers James Mason, of Winton, and Michael Mason, of Milton, bagged a feed of mallards at Ashley Downs, in South Otago, on opening day. Photo: Ian Hadland, Otago Fish & Game

Less than one percent of hunters reached their daily bag limit of 25 mallards.

But the number of hunters who went home with at least one bird for the table was up on previous years.

Long-term trends gained from the harvest survey help ensure regulations are set appropriately to support sustainable game bird populations. 

Otago hunters achieve high compliance

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Otago Fish & Game officer Jayde Couper chats with a hunter near Middlemarch on opening weekend. Photo: Bruce Quirey, Otago Fish & Game

We were pleased to find about 95% of game bird hunters in Otago were compliant with the regulations on opening weekend.

However, a small number of hunters let others down.

Rangers accompanied by police seized four firearms for regulation offences on opening day.

Two firearms were seized after they were left unattended and loaded in a maimai inland of Palmerston.

Rangers issued those hunters infringement notices for shooting with lead near water. The matter of unattended firearms is under police investigation.

Two other hunters had their firearms seized and were issued infringement notices for hunting without game bird licences.

The season for greylards and shovellers and, in some areas, black swans continues until July 31. 

Secrets for setting decoys

Setting Decoys video screengrab

Click above to watch the video

Knowing how to set decoys correctly is a key to successful waterfowling.

Watch this video, as Otago Fish & Game field officer Ben Sowry shares tips to help you harvest tasty wild game for the table. The video covers:

- Setting decoy species that are present in your area.

- Matching decoys to natural numbers.

- How to group the different species.

- Setting the largest species upwind.

- Why shovelers decoys aren’t necessary but can still be useful.

- Tricks for parrie decoys.

- “Rangefinder” decoys.

- Wind direction.

- J and U-shape spreads.

- Keeping decoys apart.

- Avoiding frost or dew on decoys.

- Shoreline sets.

Drift boating the Clutha opens

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Take care hunting on the water this season. Photo: Ian Hadland, Otago Fish & Game

Drift shooting on the Clutha River opened on May 16.

Harvesting birds from an unmoored rowboat is closed in the Clutha for the first week and first two weekends of the season to allow shore-based hunters some undisturbed hunting for the first couple of weekends.

Alongside the standard firearms safety, be extra vigilant with water safety.

Don’t store heavy ammunition in your pockets, and always wear a lifejacket. Inflatable lifejackets are perfect for this, as they are less bulky and won’t affect your shotgun mounting.

Feathered lightning

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Bring on the upland game bird season, which opens this year on May 29. Photo: Ben Sowry, Otago Fish & Game

The last Sunday of May marks the opening of the upland game bird season in Otago.

The quail, chukar and pheasant season opens on May 29. Many hunters will be grabbing the hounds, smoothbores and Hi-Viz and heading into the dry country to chase these fast-flying and exquisite-tasting birds.

Californian quail are our most abundant upland bird species in Otago and are widespread inland.

Using clay target ammunition with #7.5 pellets will create a dense spread to harvest these fast and often frustrating birds.

Ringneck pheasant and chukar are found in pockets around Otago too, with some dedicated hunters targeting these challenging birds.

Due to their secretive nature and tendency to hide, a trained gun dog is almost a necessity for these birds.

Remember to take some water for the dogs when out there.

Although it can be cold, these dogs are racing around all day.

As this is often far from waterways, carry some water to keep them well hydrated throughout the hunt.

A significant amount of upland bird hunting is found on private land, so hunters are encouraged to approach landowners directly for access. 

Door-knocking and the WAMS website

Otago Fish and Game staff are often contacted by hunters regarding access to hunting areas.

One of the most useful tools available is the Walking access commissions website: https://maps.walkingaccess.govt.nz/OurMaps/

This website has a series of layers on its mapping system that shows public access points.

Hunters are reminded to contact local landowners, however, to notify them of your intentions.

As for access to private property, the only way for this is directly approaching the landowners.

For obvious reasons, landowners aren’t too keen on having strangers with guns roaming around on their property.

Fish & Game can’t organise this access on your behalf ─ so it’s up to you to knock on the doors! 

Teach a friend to keep your hunting traditions alive

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Opening day was a family affair for the O’Neills as (from left) Brendan, cousin Sam, brother Jack and dad Peter headed back to their Middlemarch maimai for an evening shoot after morning success. Photo: Bruce Quirey, Otago Fish & Game

Why not take a friend or family member hunting this season to have a go?

Encouraging and teaching others to take part in game bird hunting is one of the most important ways to keep our traditions alive.

Game bird hunting remains as legitimate today as it was 100 years ago. Let’s each do our bit to keep it that way.

Day game bird hunting licences ($23 adult or $8 junior) are now available at sports stores or online here.  

Hot barrels and safe shooting.

 - Bruce Quirey and Ben Sowry, Otago Fish & Game Officers