The shooting season opened at the weekend to early morning gun blasts, much to the delight of Levin's Tikka, the black labrador bitch who calls on natural instinct to fetch fallen prey.

Tikka's owner and keen duck shooter Marcus Coley said his dog was happiest when she was out of bed early and doing what she was bred to do.

"It's good when you see a dog working. It's like a light switch goes on. At home she can't get enough pats, but when you take her duck shooting she looks at you as if to say 'leave me alone - I've got a job to do'," he said.

"She's easy to train and is born to do it really. It's quite funny,-I think for her they are just falling out of the sky. She loves it."

Coley had a pair of waders for retrieving ducks, but said there was no point in getting wet when a good dog was at hand.

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"They've got a better nose than us and where you might lose a duck, a dog will find it. They can get into areas where we can't and they are fast on the water," he said.

Coley said he lives by the creed that if you kill an animal, you eat it. Any surplus duck he was unable to eat himself was given to family members, neighbours or friends.

"I don't believe in killing for the sake of it. You either eat it or give it away to be eaten," he said.

The season runs from May 5 to June 30, and Coley said this year was shaping as the best he had seen last 15 years. Foggy conditions last Saturday morning made for good shooting.

"It was just covered in mist which makes life easier," he said.

Meanwhile, duck shooters around the country were also anticipating their best season for some time.

Fish & Game Communications Advisor Richard Cosgrove said rain that had fallen over large parts of the country in recent weeks had topped up dam and pond levels after a hot summer, and restored river flows.

Levin black labrador Tikka and duck.
Levin black labrador Tikka and duck.

Cosgrove said Wellington region staff were predicting one of the best seasons in years. The region included the Wairarapa and Manawatū, while further north in Taranaki there are "strong" mallard populations and paradise shelduck numbers reported.

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In the Auckland/Waikato Region Fish and Game field staff are also reporting healthy duck numbers.

King Country paradise shelduck populations are healthy, just below the threshold used to consider holding special shelduck seasons.

Cosgrove said reports from Central South Island staff showed duck counts were the second highest recorded since annual surveys began in 2007, and in Southland duck numbers were booming.

He said Fish & Game had made every effort to make every licence holder aware of the new firearm laws.

There was no real change for the majority of game bird hunters as a case was "successfully and sensibly" made to retain semi-auto and pump shotguns for game bird hunting, he said.

Game bird hunters could use these firearms as long as their internal magazines only held five shots.

"We hope that by now every hunter is completely familiar with the new firearm laws - and what they need to do to comply," he said.

"We have used the channels of newsletters and online postings in particular to spell out to our licence holders as concisely as possible details of the new laws."

"We have also pushed the message that hunters need to be extra sensitive to the public's reactions - so they are super aware of how they transport firearms, and how people nearby might react if they hear shots."