Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

It's nice weather - for ducks

Sunny skies for opening weekend will favour game more than shooters as northerners face shorter season

Barrister, grandmother and keen duck hunter Marian Whyte checks out the Mamaku wetlands north of Rotorua. Photo / Christine Cornege
Barrister, grandmother and keen duck hunter Marian Whyte checks out the Mamaku wetlands north of Rotorua. Photo / Christine Cornege

About 40,000 hunters will be heading to huts, ponds and rivers from tomorrow as duck shooting season begins.

The weather might not be ideal for them, but their prey should benefit from fine, bright skies.

Duck shooters prefer overcast, windy and rainy weather to keep ducks lower so they can respond to decoys within the 40m shooting range.

MetService spokesman Daniel Corbett says it will be fine and sunny in the North Island at the weekend, becoming wet and windy from Monday.

However veteran hunter Murray Davies isn't worried about the weather. "It won't make any difference to me. I'm one of these people that is a duck hunter not a duck shooter and the difference to me is some people go out and shoot ducks and I will hunt them until I find where they are and they've got to be somewhere. I do a fair bit of surveillance watching before the season."

The season lasts from 4-8 weeks, depending on the region.

Senior Fish and Game officer Matthew McDougall is expecting a tough season in Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty because the number of mallards and grey ducks is lower after months of dry conditions.

The bag limit has been lowered and the season length shortened to just 4 weeks to try to protect stock in these areas. Parts of the South Island have an abundance of birds and fewer hunters, so can look forward to a longer season.

Popular hunting areas from north to south include Wairoa Valley, Dargaville and lowland plains such as the Hauraki Plains, Rangitikei Plains and Lake Wairarapa, according to Fish and Game.

Safe executive director Hans Kriek says the anti-animal cruelty organisation is strongly opposed to duck shooting not just because of the large number of birds that are killed but those that are left injured.

International research shows about 30 per cent of those shot at are left crippled, he says.

Auckland Waikato Fish and Game gamebird manager David Klee says rules in the Auckland/Waikato regions mean a plug has to be put in magazines to limit the total number of shots a gun can hold to three.

"We are trying to take some pressure off our mallard stock and get hunters to be a bit more thoughtful about when they pull the trigger."

Mr Klee says more ducks head to refuge sites, such as lakes within city limits before duck shooting season, and Hamilton Lake tended to have an extra couple of hundred ducks by the start of May.

"Whether it's due to them knowing, having some kind of innate knowledge of what is about to occur is questions. I think it is more due to the fact there's more disturbance."

There are an estimated 500,000 mallard and grey ducks in the Auckland/Waikato region.

Busy barrister relieves work stress - with a shotgun

Barrister Marian Whyte will be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to sneak into her maimai (hut) before the sun rises and the ducks suspect anything.

Ms Whyte will be heading to Pukehina, between Tauranga and Whakatane, with her partner Geoff for the start of duck shooting season and expects by the end of the eastern region's 4-week season to have a freezer full of birds for her crockpot during the winter months.

The 57-year-old Rotorua grandmother doesn't fill the usual bill of a duck shooter.

Being outdoors is not only good for relieving stress from her role as a barrister specialising in family law, but also for companionship.

" You can sit in the maimai for several hours without firing a shot and you have to be patient, you have to be comfortable in your own skin.

"I'm quite happy to sit quietly and nod off and take 40 winks or whatever and you hear a duck quacking and away you go."

The opening shots from 6.30am tomorrow are the most important because after that the birds become more wary, she says.

Ms Whyte was introduced to shooting rabbits by her brother when she was a young mother-of-two.

About 20 years ago she was invited to a farm in Masterton for the start of duck shooting season and was hooked. "I can still see my first shot and my first goose. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience."

During the off-season Ms Whyte shoots clay birds competitively.

She says there's a negative misconception about duck shooters and most follow the rules. "Conservation is all part of that. Participating in a humane way, a sustainable way and safely."

Fish and Game working to save ducks' home

Work is in progress to create wetlands and preserve those threatened by urban sprawl.

Not-for-profit organisation Fish and Game is working with farmers and duck shooters to improve wetlands and watercourses to create a better habitat for birds.

The focus is on areas where ducks congregate and feed.

Fish and Game communications adviser Grant Dyson said the organisation was concerned about duck habitats disappearing.

"Large areas of wetlands have disappeared with the development of farmland and they now occupy only about 2 per cent of New Zealand's total land area," he said. "It is estimated that about 90 per cent of New Zealand's wetlands have been drained - one of the largest wetland losses anywhere in the world."

The organisation is involved in projects to restore wetlands, including the $1 million Ohaaki Wetland project in Reporoa, which involves building a 1.2km stopbank to hold Waikato River water in an old river channel and create a wetland.

Other projects included the restoration of New Zealand's largest remaining lowland wetland, the Para Wetland north of Blenheim.

Veteran duck shooter and Auckland Waikato Fish and Game environmental officer Murray Davies said it was important waterways were kept clean for future generations.

He had been involved with the restoration of Lake Koromatua, on the southwest side of Hamilton, and had planted native plants to stop sediment from the farm entering the lake.

Since his involvement 16 years ago, water clarity in the lake had improved and mainly native plants remained, he said.

- NZ Herald

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