Both Barrels April 2022
GAME BIRD POPULATION UPDATE
The game bird season is almost here, and Fish and Game monitoring data is indicating we have yet another cracker season ahead.
Our spring brood counts revealed high duckling survival throughout the brood-rearing period.
Above Right: Ducklings on a puddle in Southland.
We got that all-important surface water at just the right time (when broods were hatching) and this provided the growing ducklings with the food they needed to get them past their vulnerable first ten days of life.
The high duckling survival was evident during our mallard aerial counts at the end of March.
We saw solid mallard numbers throughout the region with hotspots on the lower Aparima, lower Mataura, and lower Waiau River.
There were also good numbers near Winton, Balfour and Gore.
Paradise shelduck and black swan numbers were fairly typical across the region.
SIX COMMON OPENING DAY MISTAKES
Each year, as rangers catch up with hunters over opening weekend, we see some hunters who are doing everything right and are rewarded with a great harvest.
We also see other hunters who make several mistakes and then complain to us that they are not having much success.
There are a few very simple things you can do to increase your success on opening day.
1.) Scrub your maimai early! If you haven’t done it yet, do it now! You want to give your shooting possie at least a couple of weeks to settle down after scrubbing.
2.) Don’t overdo the scrub. Often, we see hunters who have over-scrubbed their maimai and it means they can’t swing their shotgun properly. You want scrub, but not too much.
3.) Ditch the old decoys. Too often we see sun-bleached decoys on ponds. These unrealistic decoys will not help your efforts.
4.) Get movement on the pond. For some reason, the opening day in Southland always seems to be fine and still. This means getting your pond to look realistic is vital. The movement created by a jerk cord, spinner or a handful of rocks will help convince the ducks that your spot is a good place to land.
5.) Calling is important, but not too much. Occasionally, when out checking hunting licences, we will be approaching a maimai and see ducks circling. As the ducks look like they are ready to commit, someone in the maimai will blast a hail call when the ducks are too close. No prizes for guessing what the ducks do.
6.) Camo up. Make sure everyone in the maimai has their faces and hands covered or painted up. It only takes the flash of one white face or hand to spook incoming ducks.
LOOKING AFTER YOUR BIRDS
Our game birds are a fantastic resource and warrant particular care and attention to make sure that when they reach our plate, they are the tastiest they can be.
This care starts immediately after the shot and your bird hits the water.
Get your hound to fetch the downed bird promptly rather than letting it sit out on the pond for any length of time.
The more time it is sitting on the pond, the more opportunity there will be for pond water to contaminate any open wounds in the flesh and soaked feathers make for harder plucking.
Once the hound delivers your bird to you, it pays to put it in the shade where there is good air circulation as this will help cool your bird and slow bacteria growth.
If you can get your birds hanging up on individual hooks at the back of the maimai, that is ideal.
It is not advisable to pile up your ducks one on top of another because the birds will stay warm for too long, bacteria will start to proliferate, and you will have increased the risk of foodborne pathogens.
The plucking of birds should start as soon as practical.
On opening day, I have been impressed by some hunters that are super on-to-it, plucking birds during the middle of the day when the action tends to subside for a few hours.
These hunters are rewarded with birds that are perfect for the table and a smaller job come the end of the day.
Following careful gutting and cleaning, try to get the birds in refrigeration as quick as possible or freeze them for a later date.
From here, you need to unleash your inner chef!
Cooking ducks is not just a matter of bunging them in the oven, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.
You really need to be mindful about seasoning, and flavour combinations and not overcooking the bird.
Game chef Angelo Georgalli has partnered with Fish & Game and produced the Fish & Game cookbook which is available now for anglers and hunters here.
It's perfect for having a few good recipes up your sleeve and has a bunch of sauces and chutneys as well to top it all off.
If you keep these tips in mind you will be all set for some super tasty birds this season.
The Southland Fish & Game Council and staff would like to wish all hunters a safe and successful game bird hunting season. Good luck and happy hunting.
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