Both Barrels April 2024 - Southland

  • Southland
  • 22/04/2024

Both Barrels April 2024 - Southland

Southland waterfowl monitoring results  


Southland Fish & Game's waterfowl monitoring program provides valuable insights into the population dynamics of the species we manage. 

Each year, we utilise a combination of aerial and ground counts to monitor our mallard, paradise shelduck, Australian shoveler and black swan populations.

Mallards are monitored across the region in late March, on three habitat types: wetlands, river transects, and land transects.

Paradise shelduck counts are conducted during the summer moulting period at known moulting locations, offering valuable data on the stability of their population.

For Australian shoveler, our monitoring efforts align with the national shoveler monitoring program, recognising their highly mobile nature, and treating them as a national population rather than a Southland population.

Ground counts conducted after the hunting season provide important information on the health of the shoveler population nationally.

Black swans are counted during the summer, at sites where they are known to congregate e.g., Awarua Bay, Waituna Lagoon, New River Estuary. 


On average, the 2024 mallard counts were slightly down compared to previous years, where we experienced higher-than-typical numbers during our monitoring flights.

Lower counts this year are likely due to the dry conditions we had during the spring breeding period which may have impacted duckling survival.

However, despite lower counts, recent rainfall during summer and autumn suggests birds are likely in excellent condition.

Above: Despite a lower mallard count this season, Southland still has a strong mallard population. On this wetland we counted over 1200 mallards.

For our paradise shelduck population, monitoring results have shown a stable and healthy population.

The 2024 counts of paradise shelduck were in line with the long-term average.

For shoveler, monitoring shows that drakes outnumber hens at a ratio of 2:1.

In response, the Southland Council opted for a conservative approach to shoveler management, implementing a bag limit of 1 shoveler drake per day.

Lastly, the black swan population in Southland remains robust, presenting ample opportunity for hunters to diversify their harvest this season. 

Observations from my first Opening Weekend ranging

Visiting a couple of dozen maimai in a single day is certainly a unique experience, and you can’t help but make observations and comparisons between them.

Generally, they are all facing the same weather conditions and have relative potential for success.

Unfortunately, the 80/20 rule fits. 80% of the birds are shot by 20% of the hunters.

Groups that get the basics right have birds come in and present opportunities.

As Rangers approach a wetland, we hear the talking, unrealistic calling, sometimes music, we see motionless decoys on a flat pond, the unscrubbed maimai, people moving around and often the flash of exposed skin that stands out a mile away.

The good news is that getting these basics right isn’t difficult or expensive, and with a bit of effort hunters can shift those percentages.

These tips are timeless.

  • Get the water moving. Waterfowl are seldom still, and they create waves and splashes. A dozen motionless decoys look dead to both approaching Rangers, and probably the ducks too. Movement can be made by throwing stones in the water when ducks are overhead, by putting decoys on a jerk cord, or with battery powered motion decoys. 
  • Have a basic calling strategy. In most cases, a simple ‘quack’ is all you need to know.

Then know when not to call. If they are flying away, call. If they are coming towards you, keep quiet and let the movement on the water pull them in. 

  • Often the first glimpse we see of hunters is of their uncovered face and hands. Using face paint can be irksome but it does significantly increase your camouflage, especially when looking skyward.

If you can progress on the above, then I’m sure you’ll be presented with more shooting opportunities on opening day.

A photo from our recent mallard monitoring flight clearly shows ripples on the water due to waterfowl movement, this is what hunters need to emulate.   

Maimai: (noun) a duck hunter’s shelter.

These are made in every size and shape imaginable. We’ve seen full houses, buses, shipping containers, caravans, old trucks and garden sheds. However, most commonly they are built out of used and salvaged materials with a large sheltered enclosed room at the back and a shooting deck at the front.

We have drafted a Maimai Functionality Checklist below, and we encourage you to measure your current set up against it.

Maimai Functionality Checklist        

  • shelter from rough weather.
  • concealment from a bird’s scrutiny.
  • a wide field of view.
  • solid footing.
  • a defined, yet unhindered shooting arc.
  • safe firearms storage when not in use. 

Look to remedy any shortfalls as soon as you can after the season…. i.e., before you forget.

We have a small, functional maimai built and on display in the Southland office. It is designed for two hunters, can be built at home and then assembled on site. It deliberately has a low roof to allow hunters to shoot over it and cover the full 360˚ . 

You’re welcome to pop into the office and check it out. 

Duck Processing - ‘Meateater’ Style

We’re always on the lookout for new ways to enjoy our harvest, and this method of processing gamebirds looks the business. Minimal plucking and no gutting, yet still utilising the vast majority of the meat from the bird. Check out the video below.

Also, the final episode of NZ Hunter Adventures had chief Dariush Lolaiy showcasing fresh ideas on how to cook mallard, and interestingly, what to serve with it. It’s available to stream here - 

Website Update

Southland staff have updated our regional information on the website.

You will now find greater detail on:

  • Building a wetland and what can be done without the need for Resource Consent.
  • Information for hunting and building a maimai on public land.
  • Public areas that are closed to gamebird hunting.
  • Contributing towards the improvement gamebird habitat, and the hunting experience.

We encourage you to check it out. 

Clarification: Season End Date

Please note that the Southland season closes on July 21, 2024. There was a mistake in the recent Fish & Game magazine. 

Good luck!

Enjoy your time in the maimai; socialising, reminiscing, creating more memories and of course, hunting and harvesting our valued gamebirds.

All the best for Opening Weekend and the rest of the season.

Ben Febery, Field Officer

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