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Great spot . . . Ralph Bullock (left) and Neville Alexander, with Rooster the Labrador, were duck-shooting at the Wainono Wetland Reserve on Sunday. PHOTO: RHYS ADAMS

The delayed duck-shooting season got off to a flyer last weekend.

Enthusiasts had to wait three weeks this year, due to Covid-19 scuppering the usual opening morning on the first Saturday in May.

Duck-shooters reported some impressive tallies around the Waitaki and Wainono waterways.

Oamaru’s Brett Cairns and his friends, stationed on a pond near Duntroon, shot 23 Canada geese, 14 mallards, and 13 paradise shelduck on Saturday, then 11 Canada geese, 11 mallards, and 21 parries on Sunday.

Mr Cairns said the sunny, calm weather made for pleasant conditions, but some hunters found it a disadvantage. They preferred wind that would move the decoys more naturally, attracting ducks to land.

Further north, Waimate duck-shooters Neville Alexander and Ralph Bullock hid in a new mai mai installed by Fish and Game New Zealand at the Wainono Wetland Reserve.

Fish and Game Central South Island officer Rhys Adams said the organisation wanted to encourage game bird hunters to use the wetland.

The Waimate men took home 31 mallards, two shovelers and two black swans from opening morning. They bagged a smaller number of birds the next day, finding them more wary and flying higher.

“It went very well. We were exceptionally pleased,” Mr Alexander said.

Ducks tended to “show a bit of interest in decoys” on the first day and sometimes flew in to land because they were tired.

“It’s surprising how many land and sit further out.

“The mallard drake’s a crafty duck. It will sit in the willows and come out after you’ve gone past.”

Six-year-old Labrador Rooster, a gun dog field trial champion named after John Wayne’s character in the movie True Grit, was in his prime, Mr Alexander said.

“He’s a lovely dog.”

The ducks would be put into the freezer to be eaten throughout the year, Mr Alexander said. He likes to place them in an oven bag in a slow cooker, but will sometimes slice one and stir-fry it or make it into a curry with coconut milk.

This time last year he was sampling Peking Duck at a restaurant in Beijing.

Mr Alexander said he had not realised Fish and Game installed mai mais until he was offered a couple of stands this year.

“I can’t say enough for how good they’ve been with their scheme in place.”

The mai mai was well-constructed and concealed, and all the organisation wanted was for people to make use of it, he said.

“It’s just tops. We’re quite impressed.”

Mr Adams said the opening weekend results were “satisfying – well worth installing the new mai mais”.

“That’s a harvest anyone should be proud of and will provide many yummy duck dinners.”

Game bird populations should provide great opportunities for the rest of the season, which finished on July 26, he said.

“Overall, harvested bird numbers were about on par with normal.

“Some hunters said the weather was too calm and many hunters wanted to see more hunters in the area to move the birds around.

“Most hunters had harvested two to 10 mallard and paradise shelduck by lunchtime on Saturday.”

The Central South Island rangers patrolling the Timaru-Pareora area found three duck-shooters with no licences. Lead shot was being used within 200m of water on five ponds, Mr Adams said.

“The offenders now face prosecutions and could attract penalties of criminal convictions, fines, forfeiture of seized guns and ammunition and the offences may be considered for the for holding a firearm licence.”

Fish and Game hoped hunters would go out again at Queen’s Birthday Weekend “as a kind of second opening weekend”, he said.

“The more hunters the better, as it encourages the birds to keep moving.”

Duck-shooters seeking a spot could contact the Fish and Game office in Temuka by phoning (03) 615-8400 or emailing csi@fishandgame.org.nz.

“We have three wetlands in the Oamaru area that we own or help to manage and can facilitate access for hunting,” Mr Adams said.

In Fish and Game’s Otago area, which starts at Shag Point, officer Nigel Pacey said about 4000 duck-shooters were out and about last weekend.

It was the first time since World War 2 that the season had been affected, he said.

“It has been a long-standing tradition to open the season on the first Saturday in May. The last time it didn’t was in 1943 when, at the direction of the War Cabinet, the season was cancelled to preserve ammunition.”

Saturday dawned with low cloud and light wind in most regions around Otago, he said. The cloud burned off into a bright, sunny day that made hunting more difficult.

“Hunters prefer low cloud and some wind to keep the birds in range and circulating between ponds.

“Reports coming back into the office from hunters and ranging teams tell of a very positive and mostly successful start to the season.”

More than 100 duck-shooters were interviewed, revealing the expected high compliance with licensing regulations.

“The overriding feeling from talking to hunters was their excitement and relief that the season was finally under way and future prospects look great,” Mr Pacey said.

Otago Fish and Game officer Morgan Trotter said it was “awesome” to see so many families enjoying the day.

“Old timers and experienced hunters that weren’t so old were out in force with their families, sometimes four generations, passing on their knowledge and skills to the next crop of game bird hunters.

“Days like today bring rural communities together – great in times of isolation, while allowing the ultimate in free-range, organic food to be harvested for the table and freezer.”

Bird numbers were high, ponds had water in them and duck-shooters were keen, he said.

“All we need now is the weather to play ball and the season should be a bumper.”