Both Barrels April 2024 - Otago

  • Otago
  • 21/04/2024

Both Barrels April 2024 - Otago

May the 4th be with you!

Sorry about that awful pun in the headline. Preparation for the May 4 opening of the 2024 game bird season is getting down to the last days. What’s left to do?

By now, your maimai should be scrubbed and ready. It’s time to leave the hunting stand-alone so mallards are undisturbed before Opening Day.  

Above: Ducks camp on a South Otago pond during mallard monitoring on April 15. Photo: Jayde Couper

While the countryside is greener, April’s rainfall so far hasn’t made a huge difference to water levels in many ponds and wetlands. Many areas need more rain.

However, heavy rainfall in headwaters did top up Otago’s big Southern Lakes and is still spilling down the Clutha River/Mata-au.

Rangers out and about

Otago Fish & Game ranger teams will be operating throughout the region on Opening Weekend, checking compliance on both public and private land. We could be anywhere!

We seldom find issues. Past experience tells us that hunters are a well-behaved group. We’ll be happy to have a friendly chat and offer any advice.

Mallards on the Taieri River. Photo: Jayde Couper

Duck data

The numbers are in from Otago Fish & Game’s ninth annual mallard aerial survey  ̶  and the news is generally positive. This year, dry weather affected the surveyed ponds, and high and dirty river conditions impacted counts on the Clutha River/Mata-au. Let’s dive into the data:

  • This year, 5130 mallards were counted. That’s remarkably close to last year’s trend count of 5100.
  • The overall trend across nine years is positive.
  • This season’s trend count was below the average, which is 5700.
  • But when the 2022 year, which had an extremely high count, is removed from calculations, this year is just above
  • Birds appeared to be more evenly distributed this year, with only 16 sites containing no ducks, below the average of 19 and the highest result at 25.  

In terms of strata …

  • Cross-country transects were similar to previous averages.
  • Pond counts were higher than normal.
  • River counts were low, at around 800 mallards less than normal. 


Above: Heavy flows from the headwaters were spilling down the Clutha River/Mata-au at more than 800 cumecs below Clydevale, on Monday. Photo: Jayde Couper 

Why were river counts low?

On April 15, the day of the mallard count, the Clutha River/Mata-au was running at about 800 cumecs near Clydevale.

This was due to very high flows from heavy rain in the headwaters. Mallards, which would normally be camped on the river, were instead likely sheltering out of sight, deeper among the willows or off-river. 

Understanding a trend count

  • The first thing to realise is it’s not a population count of all mallards in Otago! That would be extremely difficult.
  • We count mallards at 46 ponds, six 10km river sections, and ten 10km overland transects, starting in the Taieri but mostly in South Otago around the Clutha/Mata-au and Pomahaka.
  • We fly over and count mallards in the same places every year.
  • This year was our ninth survey.
  • Each time, the count may be affected by variables such as water levels and the weather.
  • So, rather than just looking at the latest count, we then analyse the overall trend. 

Lead banned

  • Use of lead shot has been banned from all shotguns for duck hunting. This completes a 20-year phase-out of lead shot.
  • Last season was the final exemption for lead shot in .410 shotguns within 200 metres of open water – a decision by the Minister of Conservation.
  • Duck hunters must use non-toxic shot such as steel, tungsten and bismuth.
  • Some hunters are having difficulty obtaining non-toxic ammunition for .410s, which has long been regarded as an entry-level shotgun for youth learning to hunt. Suppliers have had over a year’s notice this was coming. Contact your hunting store about stocks.

Clean, check and dry

  • The Check, Clean, Dry method to preventing the spread of aquatic pests, like lake snow and lagarosiphon, doesn’t just apply to fishing!
  • Aquatic weeds can easily get caught up in hunters’ decoys, waders, boat or trailer.
  • If transferred to another pond or lake, it can choke the waterway.
  • Have a look at your gear when packing up, and make sure pests such as this don’t spread to the next waterway.
  • Click to watch this MPI video: How to Clean, Check and Dry your boat and gear 

Clay bird action at the Gun City Dunedin Preseason Duck Hunters Shoot at Dunedin Clay Target Club earlier this month. Photo: Bruce Quirey

Busting clays

Otago’s biggest hunting stores have already held their preseason clay shoots at local gun clubs this month. But if you’re around Wānaka or Tapanui, there’s still a chance for more shotgun practice:

  • Wanaka Clay Target Club Duck Shooters Shoot: 12 pm, Thursday, April 25, 2024. Wanaka Clay Target Club, Lake Hawea-Albert Town Road. Inquiries: 027-486-0472
  • West Otago Gun Club Duck Shooters Shoot: 1 pm, Sunday, April 28, 2024. West Otago Rod and Gun Club, Station Road, Tapanui. Inquiries: 027-202-331
  • Otherwise, if you can get hold of a clay thrower, pull some mates together for an afternoon practice session.

Owner/occupier rules

Duck hunting is an enduring tradition and a highlight of the rural calendar. So, what are the rules if you are shooting on your own land? Do you have to buy a licence?

  • You can hunt on your own land without a licence, and that covers your partner and one child. All the other rules must be followed, around bag limits, one gun per hunter, and no lead shot over water. Read more about those rules on the Fish & Game website.

If you manage a farm, do you have to buy a licence?

  • This privilege can be transferred to a farm manager in writing, and Fish & Game must be notified. However, it is limited to one transfer per season, so you can’t swap back again. This also only applies to the land the hunter lives on, so if you are managing a farm that is not directly on the block of land you live on, then you cannot claim landowner/occupier privilege.  

Channelling ducks and decoys

  • Want tips on decoy spreads? Fish & Game officers see some hunters making easily fixable mistakes with decoy spreads. So, we made this video to help you to harvest more birds for the table. Click to watch Setting decoys.
  • Know someone just getting started in duck hunting? Delving into the Fish & Game YouTube archives, here’s a five-part series, Introduction to Duck Hunting, presented by (then slightly younger) Southland Fish & Game manager Zane Moss.
  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • Part 4
  • Part 5
  • Part 6

Go fetch

In the weeks before Opening Weekend, you and your dog have done regular conditioning and training, right?

Bringing an unprepared, disruptive dog along to the maimai is a sure way not to get invited back.

Your retriever works hard for you during duck season, so take care of them before, during, and after hunting.

  • Duck hunting involves a lot of waiting. Practice patience with your retriever by placing them on a stand or mat and instructing them to sit and stay. Release them after a reasonable time.
  • Be sure your dog is up to date with tapeworm treatments before going on-farm. Sheep measles can devastate farmers’ livelihoods. Talk to your vet.
  • Keep an eye on your dog’s behaviour during the hunt for any signs of distress, making sure it is warm and sheltered between retrieves.
  • After the hunt, check your dog for injuries. Look in their mouth and check their eyes, ears, nose, and head for any wounds or bumps. Run your hands along their body to check for injuries.

Go Rewild responsibly

To protect the traditions of duck hunting, we rely on all hunters to follow the rules and hunt safely. Double-check you have:

The Otago Fish & Game team wishes everyone an enjoyable, safe and productive game bird harvest.

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