Fewer ducks but shooters hoping for quacker season

23:41, May 01 2014

Fish & Game has vowed to crack down on Waikato shooters caught flouting regulations this duck hunting season, as it continues its effort to improve falling duck numbers.

The duck hunting season opens tomorrow and, like last year, Fish & Game regulators have shortened the grey, mallard and New Zealand shoveler duck shooting season from eight weeks to four.

The historic eight-week season was halved last year because of dropping population estimates and declining survival rates - and regulations introduced in 2013 have been carried over.

David Klee, Southern game bird manager at Fish & Game, said there was no excuse for non-compliance and hunters should be familiar with the rules. "Last year there was a degree of leniency because it was the first year of some new regulations that hunters were unaware of. But this year we will definitely be coming down a lot harder on it."

Klee said hunters needed to be aware that total shotgun capacity has been set at three shots - two in the magazine and one in the breach - and guns need to be plugged with a one-piece filler.

Pond feeding was banned between April 3 and June 29.

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About 30 volunteer rangers would be patrolling the Auckland-Waikato region over opening weekend.

"They'll be out on both public and private land," Klee said. "It's up to hunters to familiarise themselves with the regulations."

Klee said last year rangers dealt with "quite a few" unplugged gun offences - where hunters were flouting the three shell rule - as well as hunters using lead shot over water and shooting without a licence.

On opening weekend last year, 12 hunters were picked up for non-compliance among 140 visits on the Hauraki Plains.

"If hunters are non-compliant for whatever reason, we will seize their gear."

New rules were introduced last year to combat declining duck numbers, which are estimated to be at an all-time low since banding began in the region in 2002. Population estimates have dropped from about 900,000 in 2005 to about 500,000 in 2013.

Changes to land use and climate, destruction of nesting habitats and outbreaks of avian botulism have had an impact on mallard and grey duck numbers.

Klee said authorities would like to see population rates recover more.

The Mountain Safety Council, which promotes safety in land-based outdoor activities, also had a message for hunters heading out at the weekend.

Nicole McKee, firearms and hunter safety programme manager, said hunters needed to be aware of their field of fire.

"Duck hunting parties need to set their firing zones and stick to their shooting boundaries to keep themselves and their mates safe."

The last duck hunting death was in 2011.

Duck hunting season for grey, mallard and New Zealand shoveler duck runs from May 3 to June 2.

MAIMAI FOR THE NIGHT AS DUCK SEASON STARTS

At this time every year hundreds of Waikato women become weekend widows as duck shooting season officially opens.

Gary Prescott's wife will be no different this weekend.

The 61-year-old has been shooting for more than 40 years and he has no plans to stop now.

When the season officially opens at 6.30am tomorrow morning he will be sitting in his maimai, or as he calls it, his palace, with his black labrador Oneway ready for any ducks that might fly his way.

He will spend the weekend at the Four Trees Inn bach, which he built with his family, on the banks of the Waikato River near Hoods Landing, Otaua.

But tonight, he will sleep in the enclosed section of his maimai, which is about the size of an average broom closet, because the low tides tomorrow morning would make it nearly impossible for him to get to it.

He has used the same maimai for more than 32 years and said it was almost perfect.

The enclosed section has a plastic deck chair and an old microwave to store food away from the rats.

Outside, there is a small shelf where he places his gas cooker to make a cup of tea in the morning and a deck covered with tea tree branches to camouflage him while he looks for and shoots ducks.

Prescott's grandson Shane Burns, 16, joined him in the maimai for the first time three years ago. "The first time I slept in there it was so cold, it was like sleeping in a fridge," he said.

He had a successful year last year and will be shooting by himself for the first time this season.

His grandfather had a relatively poor season but he said the number of ducks he shot was not the most important thing.

"I do not worry about how many ducks I get, I just love being here."

But ducks were no longer as abundant on the river as they once were, he said.

"Guys who used to shoot their limit every Saturday are lucky to do that now.

"A lot of that has to do with the spraying of the alligator weed so there is not a lot of vegetation here to eat, and further south there is a lot of maize grown and the ducks like that so they head down there."

His preparations for the season have been positive with him claiming the Four Trees Clay Shoot trophy for the fourth straight year on Anzac Day.

After taking a good look at the nearby sections of the river, he said it was the most ducks he had seen in years, but he was not setting his sights too high.

"If I got half a dozen ducks, I would be rapt," he said.

Both Prescott and Shane had their fingers crossed for wet and windy conditions tomorrow, which will keep the ducks flying low.

Waikato Times