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Get ready . . . Oamaru Sports and Outdoors owners Richard Hill (left, with a decoy) and Barry McCallum (in the pop-up mai mai) have a full range of duck-shooting paraphernalia in store. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

The 2019 duck shooting season is shaping up as a cracker.

Duck numbers in the central South Island are the highest on record, Fish and Game New Zealand officer Rhys Adams says.

Monitoring counts of the combined number of mallards, grey ducks and shovellers in the area from Rangitata to North Otago were carried out from a Cessna plane. Mr Adams said mallards, which would be most in demand by duck shooters, made up the vast majority.

Their population was “a complex equation”, he said. They must have had a good breeding season, which meant wet weather would have provided a lot of small, shallow areas of water.

Once the ducklings had fledged, they must have had plenty of food available on farms and in the shallow water.

Fish and Game sometimes received reports of nuisance caused by duck numbers and could issue permits to control them. But this year, only the “normal” number of permits had been issued, Mr Adams said.

That showed the boosted population was not a problem.

“It’s only a good thing.

“Go out and make the most of it. Have fun.”

Ducks were plentiful last year, too, he said.

“The duck populations tend to work in cycles. They always come back to moderate levels.

“Long-term, they’re really stable. It’s a seven- to eight-year cycle.

“It’s a great time to be a hunter and to bring home provisions for your family.”

Paradise shelducks, the second-most-hunted gamebirds in the central South Island region, had moderate numbers, Mr Adams said.

However, they were “quite high” at the Wainono Lagoon near Waimate during the late January monitoring.

A young paradise shelduck could provide a good breast steak or roast, Mr Adams said.

The meat was darker and “a bit more gamey” than mallard, and most hunters had it made into salami or sausages.

“The greater Wainono wetland is the home of waterfowl. There are lots and lots of different species – mallards, parries, royal spoonbills, pied stilts .

“We can happily co-exist alongside endangered species and watch some amazing native birds alongside us.”

One of the best parts of duck-shooting was the tradition, buzz and family time of opening day, he said.

He reminded all hunters to ensure they had the correct licence on hand at all times, as officers would be out patrolling the district, including private land, from May 4.

Licence sales were likely to ramp up as that date neared, Oamaru Sports and Outdoors co-owner Barry McCallum said.

He estimated the number of duck-shooters in the district was “steady” and the sport was often enjoyed by many generations of families.

Those who don’t have traditional mai mais can take advantage of products like pop-up mai mais with seats inside that fold up into a lightweight, portable bag, or “lay-down blinds”, where the hunter lies in a sort of sleeping bag with a top hatch that snaps open when a shot is to be fired.

Decoy ducks can be remote-controlled flying or swimming versions, or even just the rear end sticking up out of the water.

Mr McCallum said he hoped the weather stayed settled in the lead-up to the season, then got a bit rougher on opening morning so the ducks had to fly nice and low.