The upcoming duck season bodes well for Bay hunters as mallard numbers begin to climb after a chronic population decline but the bag limit of six per day has been reinforced.

Advocates for firearm safety were also calling for shooters to stay sober and said "the drinking culture has shifted but it hasn't changed".

Senior Fish & Game Officer Matthew McDougall said monitoring had indicated a good breeding season, "after many years of poor productivity".

Our long-term monitoring of population trends, with duck banding and other surveys, suggests the mallard population is cyclic, and "over the last few years reached rock bottom," he said.

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However the banding of more than 1000 birds in the region over summer indicated a good breeding season although the overall mallard population was still low with some birds lacking condition because of the drought, he said.

In view of the research findings, the Eastern Fish and Game Council had taken a conservative approach to setting harvest regulations.

"We are sticking with a short, four-week season ending on Queen's Birthday, June 1, with a bag limit of only six mallard and grey duck in an attempt to hasten the recovery of the population.

"We can understand that hunters would wish for more but ask for their patience and assistance during this recovery period."

Mountain Safety firearms and hunter safety programme manager Nicole McKee said duck hunters needed to avoid alcohol and drugs.

"It's almost a tradition in some respects that people go out with a tod of whiskey or a bit of rum to sip in their maimai first thing in the morning and have a drink before they shoot. But that is an absolute no, no."

It was okay after but not during the shoot itself.

"The culture has shifted but it hasn't changed but we need it to with firearms and alcohol.

"If you pull the trigger and hurt somebody or kill someone then you have to live with that."

About 55,000 people participated on the opening day of duck shooting last year and while only two incidents were reported both were avoidable, she said.

Broncos Sports in Tauranga said it had sold a few shotguns, ammunition and decoys and while fewer people were buying licences than last year that would pick up.

Firearm handling
1. Treat every firearm as loaded: Check every firearm yourself and pass or accept only an open or unloaded one.

2. Always point firearms in a safe direction: Loaded or unloaded, always point the muzzle in a safe direction.

3. Load a firearm only when ready to fire: Load the magazine only after you reach your shooting area. Load the chamber only when ready to shoot. Completely unload before leaving the area.

4. Identify your target beyond all doubt: Movement, colour, sound and shape can all deceive you. Assume colour, shape, sound, and shape to be human until proven otherwise

5. Check your firing zone: Think! What may happen if you miss your target? What might you hit between you and the target or beyond? Do not fire when you know others are in your firing zone

6. Store firearms and ammunition safely: When not in use, lock away the bolt, firearm and ammunition separately. And never leave firearms in a vehicle that is unattended

7. Avoid alcohol and drugs when handling firearms: Good judgment is the key to safe use.

* Source: New Zealand Mountain Safety Council