Cracking season on the cards as Opening Weekend looms
Thousands of landowners throughout the country will once again welcome friends and family onto their properties for the game bird hunting season, which starts this weekend [May 6 & 7].
Taking in those hunting in permitted areas on public land, Fish & Game New Zealand is expecting well over 65,000 hunters to turn out for what is widely anticipated to be one of the best seasons in years.
"Some of the wettest spring and summer seasons on record in many regions has meant that the waterfowl population is thriving," says Fish & Game NZ chief executive Corina Jordan.
"The weather has provided optimum conditions for brood rearing, with plenty of wet and ponded areas providing ample food."
Jordan, who will be joining other hunters and tangata whenua at Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, says Opening morning is one of the most longstanding recreational traditions in Aotearoa.
"So much of Opening Weekend is about the tradition of coming together to spend time with loved ones and enjoying being in the outdoors. Ask hunters and there’s most certainly a wellness aspect to it.
"Often our ranging teams will also encounter three generations hunting from the same maimai - a spot that may, in some cases, have been used by great-great grandparents."
Jordan says that for many, Opening Weekend may be the only time friends and families come together each year.
"It’s a sort of pilgrimage as much about rekindling friendships and family bonds as harvesting game birds for many people," she says.
Not only is the first weekend in May a celebration of coming together, but it has also become a significant part of our Kiwi culture and heritage.
"The importance of the game bird season is reflected in many parts of the country like no other pursuit. For example, there are towns where shops are shut, open homes aren’t held, and sport - even rugby - isn’t scheduled.
"In many small rural towns, a festival-type atmosphere descends in the week before Opening, with shops and houses festooned in camo and duck hunting livery.
The duck hunters who descend on the dams, ponds and wetlands dotted around the rural hinterland come from all walks of life too, Jordan says.
"They are from local rural communities, from further afield in our large urban areas, and some even travel from overseas for Opening Weekend each year.
"It shouldn’t be overlooked that the thread that pulls this part of the country’s cultural fabric together is the kindness and hospitality of the farmers who host hunters."
The collective harvest of wild, free-range game birds for friends and family, providing safe, sustainable food for families, cannot be overlooked when the country is in a cost-of-living crisis, she adds.
Central South Island Fish & Game Officer Hamish Stevens
Overall, 2023 game bird numbers appear to be up on last year and, in general, at "typical" levels hunters have come to expect in the CSI region. So chances are that you will encounter moderate numbers of mallards and paradise shelduck and high numbers of swans. That, of course, depends on the weather on the day and water levels.
Otago Fish & Game Officer Bruce Quirey
Otago hunters should expect a "standard" season, but that’s still surprisingly good, given the summer drought. Hunters prepared to put in the time and effort will harvest the most rewards. Most of Otago experienced moderate rainfall in spring, which lends well for mallard breeding. Many ponds throughout the district will have benefited from the recent rain, which is a relief for Opening Day.
Main image: Fish & Game NZ / Facebook