Unlike eastern areas of NZ, Taranaki has been blessed with good autumn rains and ponds and wetlands are now well topped up for the game bird hunting season, which begins on Saturday, May 1.
Fish & Game field officer Allen Stancliff says that following an extended breeding season, mallard numbers are looking good throughout the region, while the Taranaki ring plain will be a particular hotspot for paradise shelduck.
"Counts during the January 2021 moult have confirmed that numbers of paradise shelduck remain high on the ring plain and farmers will welcome a harvest of birds that are congregating on paddocks with new-sown grass, particularly those that have had maize crops taken off.
"Areas in paddocks that are perpetually damp or hold water following rain have been attractive to both mallards and paradise shelduck and they'll be prime areas for hunting."
Along with scaup and grey teal, Taranaki hunters need to keep a sharp lookout for whio (blue duck) and also pāteke (brown teal).
After a 100-year absence, pāteke were re-introduced to Taranaki in 2019 with a release of 20 captive-reared birds at the Lake Rotokare Sanctuary, Allen says.
"Pāteke are a small, brown, highly mobile dabbling duck and birds were regularly seen on farm ponds outside the Rotokare Reserve following their release. With successful breeding and a further release of up to 57 Pāteke scheduled for May 2021, there is an increasing possibility that game bird hunters will encounter pāteke during the season. So please make sure you identify for target before shooting."
Taranaki also has a population of more than 200 Taranaki endangered whio (blue duck) living in and around Te Papakura o Taranaki (formerly Egmont National Park).
In recent years, whio have spread out from the park, with ducks being seen on streams and ponds in neighbouring farmland, particularly in the central and north Taranaki areas.
"So, both pāteke and whio could be on a river or settling pond near you and we're just asking hunters to pause and double-check before pulling the trigger."
While hunters using 12-gauge shotguns have been required to use non-toxic shot for waterfowl hunting since 2004, sub-gauge shotguns such as 20-gauge have been exempted.
"But from May 1, 2021, hunters must now use non-toxic shot in all sub-gauges except the .410 shotgun when hunting waterfowl within 200m of open water more than 3m wide," Allen says.
Fish & Game Rangers accompanied by police will be checking on compliance and hunters need to ensure they're carrying both their game and firearms licences.
The NZ Mountain Safety Council says that almost all firearms-related hunting incidents relate back to one of the seven basic firearm safety rules.
"This is especially important in Game Bird Hunting where multiple shooters of various skill levels are using shotguns at once. Don't lapse in concentration around firearms. Treat as loaded, check your safeties, point in a safe direction, check that firing zone. And check again."
Store firearms in racks and away from children and dogs throughout the day and at the end of the day lock them away safely. Communicate with each other on the status of your firearm and help reduce the risk of an incident.
With three years of banding in the Ruapehu District (2017-19) and two years in Whanganui (2020-21), there are up to 500 banded mallard and grey ducks out in the population, plus others that will have moved in from banding sites outside the region.
The information on where and when hunters shot a banded bird is vital to the management of the resource, so please go to the hunting pages on the Fish & Game and fill out the form to report the band or contact Taranaki Fish & Game on 021 270 0239 or email email@example.com
Waterfowl hunters are also reminded to protect their patch this season by taking steps to avoid spreading aquatic pests. Exotic fish, plants, algae and snails can be moved between waterways if you don't check, clean and dry your gear.