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Get ready for the duck season

Get ready for the duck season

Steps taken now in the run-up to the duck hunting season can ramp up your chances of success.

It’s a simple message of some basic preparations weeks ahead that at least raise the odds of some successful bags, says Eastern Fish & Game officer John Meikle – for it’s a challenging pursuit with no guarantee of easy pickings.

Mr Meikle, a long-time (and successful) hunter, says that for many hunters, access to hunting spots should be their priority, so relationships formed with farmers or other landowners are crucial.

The committed hunter who returns to the same hunting sites year after year, will have turned up perhaps three or four times since last season and carried out some basic preparation work on the ponds – such as tidying up the surrounds, and tackling any pest plants.

You’ll have let the farmer know that your dogs have been wormed and they are up to date with their vet visits. “It’s all about sending the farmer the message that you’re a sensible and responsible hunter,” he says.

“You don’t turn up the week before duck shooting for a chat – you should be doing this now, over February and March.”

During summer or autumn when you arrive at the farm, don’t get stressed when you’re confronted by a dried up pond or wetland area, because it can change quickly back into a bird-friendly habitat with some rains. The cracked bottom is not a bad thing; grasses will swiftly grow up through them once some water flows in.

The pond tidy up should focus on removing pest plants such as blackberry and glyceria, Mr Meikle advises, but be sure to leave the plants like sedges and willow weed, because when the pond does flood, they’ll provide lots of food for ducks.

Try and make sure that any measures in place to protect ponds from stock are secure, so the animals can’t graze on and destroy food that would otherwise be on hand for the ducks, once the pond’s filling with water again.

Getting permission for this sort of work is part of the good relationship you’ll have aimed to foster with the farmer, Mr Meikle says. The person who turns up in February and March to put in this sort of effort is far more likely to shoot a good number of birds than the one who turns up the week before. “Good preparation may not guarantee a limit bag but will definitely enhance the chance of success.”

Access ways can be cleared manually with a machete, scrub bar, or chemical spraying. “Pond clearance is essential if you want to have an attractive landing site for ducks.”

If the pond is dominated by Raupo, it’s now too late to spray for this season so cut the plants at their base and use them to cover the maimai for some fresh, natural-looking camouflage. “Or bundle them together and use them for floating pads – ducks love these for preening and resting on when the water turns up.” Don’t use vegetation such as manuka branches that “conflict” with the vegetation which normally surrounds the pond. “If it’s a Raupo-dominated pond – use Raupo.”

March is the best month for doing maintenance on your maimai, or the likes of an access style across the fence. This is outside the breeding and moult periods so waterfowl aren’t discouraged or disturbed.

Make sure your maimai is up to standard and robust – so you can’t fall through it. “Falling through or out of the maimai while holding a shotgun is not what you want to happen!”

The most important areas are the floor and front of the structure. Marine-grade ply is a better bet than pallets for flooring, and good iron should be used for the walls and roof. Mr Meikle urges the use of tanalised framing and nails that are larger than required for a structure that is safe – and sound.

Once your “prep work” is done on site go away, Mr Meikle advises. “Leave it undisturbed as much as possible after pegging day (April 7, 2013 )when claim tags are put up on the maimai.

Feeding out or “baiting” the birds with maize can be a successful method for attracting more ducks to your pond (prohibited Auckland/Waikato Region), which should be started at least six weeks prior to the game bird season. It is the only other time you should be visiting your hunting spot, as you head in every few days to replenish the maize.

Aside from sorting out access, hunters should use March and April to tackle a range of “five minute tasks” that can be done in the evening, such as checking your decoys are freshly painted and lines and weights are up to scratch.

Check other equipment like your waders to make sure they’re not leaking or perished, and if you use a boat, make sure it’s serviced and in good running order, with lifejackets on board.

Hunters who use dogs should spend some time getting their hunting mate fitter; start now taking your dog for some runs and swims – don’t leave it to the last minute, Mr Meikle says.

Another important reminder, he adds, is to get your hunting eye in shooting at your local gun club, at some clay targets, or with some mates on the farm you have permission to shoot on.

As part of being a good friend to the farmer who’s kindly allowed you to shoot on his land, don’t neglect some “maimai housework.” Fish & Game gets frequent complaints during the season about rubbish and empty shotgun shells left around the stands. “Don’t be one of these thoughtless people and remember to collect your used shells and any rubbish to pack out.”

Mr Meikle reminds farmers and other landowners that if they shooting on their own property where they’re living; they don’t need a game bird licence. The regulations permit the owner, partner, and their child to hunt, but of course subject to all the normal rules and regulations. “Naturally, farmers and other owners must still play by the rules,” Mr Meikle says.

“Please get a copy of the regulations from a hunting store, our Fish & Game website (www.fishandgame.org.nz) or phone us – and we’ll mail them out to you and answer any questions you may have.”

Don’t forget, that as the regulations point out, once the season for mallards and greys has closed in most parts of the country, there are still weeks left to try your hand at upland game birds.

The upland game bird season continues until August 28, and black swans and pukeko can also be hunted up until then.

Mr Meikle says that to sum up: a key part of game bird hunting is not just the shooting – it’s careful preparation for a rewarding pursuit to get the most from it. This includes doing your “annual bit” by looking after your favourite farm pond hunting spot. Good preparation and leaving the birds alone in April, undisturbed will tip the odds in your favour – for more successful hunting and returning with a good feed of “honest, natural meat.”


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