Come Saturday morning thousands of keen shooters will be up at the crack of dawn for the biggest day of the duck shooting season. We look at how the season is shaping up and why the season is about more than just shooting ducks for many.
Rain that's soaked the country over recent weeks has primed some regions for the best duck hunting season likely seen in years.
Fish & Game is predicting bumper numbers around New Zealand ahead of this season's opening day on May 4.
In the North Island, Wellington could prove the best region for a fruitful weekend at the maimai.
Experienced hunters, and those working in the wildlife field, have noticed a marked increase in the number of mallards around the region this year.
"This is unsolicited and entirely welcome feedback staff are commonly receiving," said Wellington Fish & Game manager Phil Teal.
One long-time hunter observed that the last three breeding seasons were very good - but this season has been exceptional.
Teal said any observer who passed paddocks flooded by the deluges the region received during spring and early summer would have noticed scores of ducks happily feeding on the worms and insects brought to the surface.
In Taranaki, there were strong mallard populations and paradise shelduck numbers have rebounded.
And, in the Auckland and Waikato and Wellington regions, staff were also reporting healthy duck numbers.
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Aerial flights over Kawhia and Aotea harbours had revealed scores of swans, while many thousands more were spotted feeding on eelgrass in the Kaipara and Manukau harbours.
The season looked just as promising in the central South Island, where duck counts had been the second highest since the annual surveys began in 2007.
Local Fish & Game officer Rhys Adams was picking a big season at the region's game bird stronghold, the Wainono Lagoon.
"Last opening, the hunting at Wainono was touted as the best in a long time. We reckon it will be just as good, if not better this year," Adams said.
"Our drone surveys of mallard ducks at Wainono Lagoon have shown increases on 2018 counts."
Staff who recently carried out pre-tagging at the lagoon noted how mallard numbers were about double what was observed last year, he said.
In Southland, extra rain that fell in November and December had meant later-nesting mallards fared well, leading to a successful breeding season.
Numbers were three times higher than last season's count, Fish & Game reported, which followed a very dry summer and poor breeding season.
This year also marked the first season under reformed gun laws which made most semi-automatic firearms illegal.
Fish & Game chief executive Martin Taylor said there would be no real change for the vast majority of game-bird hunters, who had been able to retain semi-auto and pump shotguns.
"This means game-bird hunters can use semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns as long as their internal magazines only hold five shots," Taylor said.
"This season, we will again have thousands of licenced game-bird hunters in the field for opening weekend.
"Each and every hunter should have made themselves, with Fish & Game's help, completely familiar with the new gun laws - and what they need to do to comply."
Taylor said every hunter out in the field was urged to focus on safe gun handling by each person in the party, and be "fastidious" about checking firing zones to make sure it was safe to fire.
The season closes on August 25 for upland game like pheasant and quail, while duck season closes earlier, depending on individual regions.
Hunters were asked to check with their local Fish & Game office for regional bag limits and other rules.
'It's about getting out together'
For Canterbury's Craig Maylam, there's more to duck shooting than, well, shooting ducks.
"I didn't come from a hunting family myself so I got taken by my friend's dad – I was hooked and that was that," he said.
"Now, taking kids out is part of my thing – I want to teach young people because the art is dying ... and it's also how I keep young myself."
Joining him for her second opening day out at Lake Ellesmere will be daughter Emma, 16.
"For my party, it's not even really about bird numbers – it's about all of us getting out together, he said.
"We've got a mate flying out from New York just to shoot with us for two days."
Lunch by the lake was typically a bacon and egg pie – and maybe soup and biscuits later on.
He'd also stuck to the basics with his maimai, perched less than a kilometre from where he grew up, and built 31 years ago from bits of an old steel power pylon.
"It's got a floor, some canvas to keep the wind off my back and some seats with nice foam padding ... that's about it," he said.
"It's a bit like granddad's axe – it's had four heads and three handles but it's still the same maimai."
This season's best spots
Mallard numbers are above normal levels, with ponds with good overhead cover currently holding the largest mobs.
WELLINGTON: Fish & Game's counts from each of the past two years show the highest number of ducks observed in the lower North Island in more than two decades of monitoring. The mallard counts for 2019 have just been completed and numbers are again high, continuing the upward trend.
CENTRAL SOUTH ISLAND: 2019 duck counts are the second highest recorded since the annual survey was established in 2007. Ponds around South Canterbury and North Otago adjacent to harvested crops appeared to hold the most birds, while on the other hand the numbers in mid-Canterbury were lower than some years.
SOUTHLAND: Numbers are expected to be double what's considered a normal year, with plenty of naive juveniles hanging round.
OTAGO: Recent aerial counts of mallard hybrids in coastal and south Otago have shown numbers are well up on last year. Paradise duck moult counts in January also revealed an increase in numbers from the previous season.
Region by region: mallard and grey duck season
May 4 – June 30. Daily bag limit 12.
AUCKLAND/WAIKATO: May 4 – June 3. Daily bag limit 10.
EASTERN: May 4 – June 3. Daily bag limit 8 (4 in Reporoa).
HAWKE'S BAY: May 4 – June 16. Daily bag limit 8.
TARANAKI: May 4 – June 30. Daily bag limit 10.
WELLINGTON: May 4 – June 30. Daily bag limit 10.
NELSON-MARLBOROUGH: May 4 – July 28. Daily bag limit: 8.
WEST COAST: May 4 – July 28. Daily bag limit: 15.
NORTH CANTERBURY: May 6 – July 28. Daily bag limit: 15 (25 on opening weekend, May 4-5).
CENTRAL SOUTH ISLAND: May 4 – July 28. Daily bag limit: 50
OTAGO: May 4 – July 28. Daily bag limit: 25
SOUTHLAND: May 6 – July 14. Daily bag limit: 10 (20 on opening weekend, May 4-5).
• Season dates and bag limits differ for paradise shelducks. Visit www.fishandgame.org.nz for details .