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The game bird hunting and duck shooting season is a time-honoured tradition in New Zealand. From early May, hunters, dressed head-to-toe in camo, flock to custom-built maimais armed with shotguns, decoys and duck callers in search of feathered game. But the duck shooting season isn't just about bagging birds, it's also about hanging out with friends and family (including the canine variety) and enjoying the outdoors. Whether you're a seasoned duck shooter or a first-timer, it's important to be prepared and stay safe out there. That's why we've put together some top tips to help you make the most of your hunting experience. In this article, we'll cover everything from duck shooting rules and safety advice, to the gear you'll need, to shooting tips to improve your chance of success. As always, if you have any expert advice, duck shooting stories, or game bird recipes to share with the Bushbuck community, you can contribute to the blog here and earn points to spend on new gear.
The duck shooting season in New Zealand can be a little confusing as the dates change depending on your region and type of game bird you're hunting. One thing that stays the same is the start date - better known as "opening weekend" - which is always the first Saturday of May. You can find the official duck shooting season dates for your region on the Fish & Game website here. But opening weekend isn't the only important day to be aware of. Game bird hunting is unique in that hunters have to claim their spot ahead of opening weekend and there's a special day for this - Pegging Day. In order to "peg" your hunting spot or maimai, you need to have your duck shooting license for the upcoming season. Pegging Day is the first Sunday of April, four weeks before opening weekend. Hunters with an exisiting maimai of duck shooting stand have until 10am on Pegging Day to "peg" it by attaching their claim tag, which is attached to their Game Bird License, in a prominent position. You can peg your spot any time from when you get your license up until 10am on Pegging Day. It's recommended that you take a photo of your claim tag at your spot as evidence that you pegged the sport first. For other hunters wanting to claim an existing maimai for the first time, they must wait until after 10am on Pegging Day. After this time, all unclaimed spots on public land are fair game. This is an old tradition that helps avoid disputes at public hunting spots. You don't need to peg your spot on private land. One other quirk to be aware of is, even if you peg a maimai on public land, if you don't show up within one hour after the opening hour of hunting on opening weekend, someone else can claim your spot. It pays to be organised to ensure a smooth start to the duck shooting season.
If you're new to duck shooting, it can be a bit of a headache trying to work out where you're allowed to hunt. Game birds can be found on lakes, estuaries, rivers, streams, swamps and ponds across the country. There's no shortage of spots for duck shooting, but it helps if you know where to find them. The first thing to decide is whether you're looking to hunt on public (conservation) and or private land.
In addition to your game bird hunting license, you need to get a separate permit to hunt game birds on public conservation land. You can only get these permits through your local DOC office, however not all regions have duck shooting spots available on conservation land so it pays to call ahead. You also need permission to establish a maimai on public land.
Game bird hunting on private land is all about who you know - just like any other kind of hunting on private land. If you know a local farmer with a pond or farm, or have friend or family connections, you might be in luck. You only need your game bird license to shoot ducks on private land. It always pays to check-in with your private connections each season to make sure they're still happy to let you hunt there.
A lot of duck hunters swear by wearing full camouflage. But as long as you're blending in with your surroundings and covering up your bright, shiny face and hands, which birds can spot from a mile away, you should be concealed enough. This is especially true if you're shooting from a maimai, which is usually covered in foliage. In saying that, there's no harm in going the whole hog and wearing camo gear for duck shooting. There's no such thing as being too hidden when it comes to game bird hunting. The other thing to be aware of is it can be cold and wet during the duck shooting season, and you could be spending long hours exposed to the weather, so make sure you're layering up effectively. Wear an insulating base layer, warm mid-layer, and a waterproof outer layer.
We recommend something like:
Combat Merino Neck Gaiter (for covering your face)
Aside from clothing, you'll need a bunch more gear for a successful duck shooting season.
Rigs and decoys for attracting game birds to your pond/lake/hunting area
A duck caller
A good pair of boots and waders for retrieving ducks
A kayak or boat if it's too deep to wade
A bit of face paint to take the shine off (and look like Rambo)
A chilly bin loaded with more food and drink than you think you'll need
The rules and regulations for duck shooting in New Zealand can be confusing as each region has its own set of guidelines to follow. However, there is a Game Bird Hunting Code of Conduct, which spells out the expectations of hunters during duck shooting season. The code of conduct covers the humane treatment of animals, protecting hunting traditions, caring for the environment, and respecting others.
Shoot only within the effective range of our firearm and our capabilities, and only when a quick, clean kill is likely
Retrieve all short birds promptly and dispatch wounded game birds quickly and humanely
Respect the resource and value our game birds
Understand and observe all hunting regulations and licensing requirements
Support game bird management and habitat enhancement activities
Take no more than our immediate needs
Share our knowledge and foster ethical attitudes and behaviour in hunting companions and youth
Remove all rubbish from the hunting area and dispose of offal and carcasses responsibly
Use non-toxic shot and biodegradable products
Use established tracks and roads
Respect private property and always ask for access permission
Be considerate of non-hunters
Be aware of our safety and the safety of others when hunting
Comply with the Arms Act 1983 and always follow the firearms safety rules
There are too many duck shooting regulations to list here, but some of the key ones are:
No one's allowed to use more than one shotgun or any live decoy
You can't shoot lead shot ammunition within 200 metres of open water
It's an offence to hunt or kill game without a current game bird license
It's an offence to shoot (or shoot at) any bird not in flight, unless it's already wounded from shooting
It's an offence to obstruct a ranger
It's an offence to hunt or kill protected wildlife
You're not allowed to exceed your daily bag limit
Check out the Fish and Game website here to find the duck shooting regulations specific to your region. You can also find more information about daily bag limits. These are subject to change based on bird populations, so make sure you double-check each season.
It's vital to know which waterfowl are fair game during the duck shooting season and which are protected. New Zealand has four duck species that you're allowed to hunt during the duck shooting season: the Mallard Duck, Grey Duck, Paradise Duck, and the Shoveller Duck. In addition to ducks, you're also allowed to hunt the Black Swan. We also have four protected waterfowl species which are not allowed to be hunted at any time. They are: The Blue Duck (Whio), Grey Teal, Black Teal, and Brown Teal. Make sure to familiarise yourself with the waterfowl species and hunt responsibly. The future of these species and duck shooting in New Zealand depends on hunters doing the right thing.
There are duck shooting accidents every year that can be avoided by being serious about safety.
You might have heard about the 7 Ps, "Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance". By having a plan and being prepared with all the gear you need, you'll leave less room for mistakes to slip in. Don't wait till 4am on opening day to get everything sorted. Communicate with your hunting group, get on the same page, and avoid unnecessary stress and confusion. This includes having the right clothing for the weather conditions.
Testing your gear is part of being prepared. It's a good idea to get everyone together for a test shoot before opening weekend. Make sure your firearms are working correctly and everyone knows what they're doing.
Give the maimai a bit of a clean up before the season starts. Check for loose or rotten wood, exposed nails or screws, and remove any unnecessary obstacles that could cause a fall or injury. Make sure everything's set up and working as it should. You should also firearm holders/rests for storing shotguns when they're not in use. Leaning them up against a wall doesn't cut it. You may be surprised, but hunters are injured every year from guns that get knocked over and discharge.
Another way hunters get injured is by crossing over someone else's firing line. That's why it's important to agree on your firing zone at the start of the day. You may want to use limit stakes to mark out your firing zone.
Whenever firearms are involved, you should always abide by the seven basic rules of firearm safety. It can be tempting to crack open the beers in the maimai while waiting for ducks to swoop in, but lay off the booze until the end of the day. There are plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives that'll tide you over.
Jonathan Carson is a Content Writer and Copywriter at Bushbuck. He's a wordsmith who handles most of Bushbuck's website, marketing copy and oversees our blog, The Campfire.
Outside of work, he's big on hiking and dabbles in surfing and bouldering. His favourite wilderness area in New Zealand is Nelson Lakes National Park, particularly the Blue Lake, home to the clearest known freshwater in the world.