Both Barrels March 2024

  • 19/03/2024
  • Richie Cosgrove

Both Barrels March 2024

A fantastic spring breeding season and mild summer around the country has meant most regions are reporting good duck numbers.

This season’s licences went on sale last Thursday, and pegging day is Sunday, April 7.

Click here now; if you haven’t purchased your season licence, you can get your temporary tag before pegging day.

Those who have got in early and already purchased their licence should receive the tag in the post before April 7.

Check out our regional updates below for the latest pre-season hunting information. 

NZ Hunter Adventures Waterfowl episode

Catch the Waterfowl episode of NZ Hunter Adventures 

This coming Sunday, the crew at NZ Hunter Adventures will be airing Episode 8, ‘A Fowl Feast,’ at 8.30 pm on DUKE and TVNZ+.

Joined by Fish & Game NZ’s CEO Corina Jordan and top wild game chef Dariush Lolaiy, the team set about harvesting some late-season mallards for an elaborate duck dinner.

It’ll be a fantastic show as always, and a great pre-season primer for all of us waterfowl enthusiasts out there.

Regional updates

In need of rain … Mallards and protected teal and scaup on a Fish & Game-managed wetland last week. Photo: Bruce Quirey

Otago game bird season prospects 

Ballots are open for junior and novice waterfowl hunters to access maimais and permits at Otago Fish & Game-managed wetlands for 2024.

Otago Fish & Game region has six managed wetlands where licence holders can hunt game birds: Takitakitoa, Inch Clutha, Toko Reserve, Otokia, Waitapeka, and Paerau.

A junior hunter must be accompanied by an adult.

To apply for a ballot, or for more information about the many places you can hunt, go to our Where to Hunt – Otago webpage:

Otago is hoping for an improved game bird season after harvest rates were down last year. The duck breeding season has been fair, except for a severe spring flood in Central Otago. Our ponds and wetlands need rain. Due to near-drought conditions, ducks are mobbed up on large rivers, drains, big ponds and open water. They will disperse after decent rain.

The annual Otago mallard trend count will be conducted in early April. Look out for more details in Otago’s Both Barrels April newsletter, and follow Otago Fish & Game on Facebook.

Want to improve your wild kai harvest? Now is the time to …

  • Scout for locations.
  • Scrub your maimai.
  • Practise shooting.
  • Train and exercise your dog.
  • Prepare decoys.

Bumper Prospects this Hawkes Bay Game Season 

Despite the long-reaching impacts of last year’s cyclone, the prospects for this season’s game bird hunters are good. A warm, wet spring was literally good weather for ducks, providing excellent breeding conditions for Mallards.

Many ponds around the region held good numbers of ducklings, and over summer, decent-sized flocks of ducks could be seen heading out to feed or roost in the mornings and evenings.

Game bird hunters are encouraged to take opportunities to hunt other game birds through the region. The region still supports good populations of California Quail and Pheasants, and now, with extra weed cover along the riverbanks and dry summer weather conditions, it has resulted in many late broods.

There are also plenty of opportunities to harvest paradise shelducks in the agricultural regions.

For the hunter who likes a challenge, there are good numbers of Pukeko throughout the region.

Talk to one of your local growers; they would love some assistance in controlling bird numbers while new crops are establishing.

Rangers will be partnering with the Police again this year, particularly on opening weekend, with Rangers making sure everyone complies with regulations.

Whenever & wherever you’re going on to hunt over the game bird season, ensure you do so with safety and respect for others and the quarry you are hunting at the forefront of your mind. Finally, from all of us at the Hawkes Bay Fish & Game, have fun out there this season, good luck, and be safe!


Following another productive spring breeding season, mallard populations look good as we head towards opening day. In conjunction with the Wellington Region, Taranaki has set a 12-bird limit for mallard/grey ducks for the entire season to recognise the good numbers of birds.

Paradise shelduck populations remain stable, with the highest numbers on the ringplain surrounding Taranaki Maunga, where areas of maize stubble, new-sown grass and paddocks with temporary standing water will be hunting hotspots.

 Black swans are increasing on the coastal dune lakes between Whanganui and Hawera, and with a daily bag limit of two, they’ll make a good bonus bird on opening weekend.


Northland has re-entered its typical weather patterns after an exceptionally wet year. Its looking like a dry autumn and start to the season.

Even with a disrupted opening weekend at the start of last season, mallard harvest rates were similar to previous years and have been in a narrow band for a number of years.  

Recent shelduck trend counts have remained at historical highs. Swans have declined in the region due to movements from their usual strongholds.

Nelson Marlborough

In Nelson Marlborough, a very dry spring/summer has benefitted the upland game population, and plenty of quail have been encountered during our travels over the region.

While recent trend counts show that paradise duck numbers are decent across most sub-regions, mallard numbers are forecast to be lower than normal due to the dry conditions. However, this will be confirmed in our upcoming mallard monitoring. 

There are some great facilitated upland game hunting opportunities this year, with Rabbit Island game hunts continuing and the OneFortyOne Forest's quail hunting arrangement on offer.

North Canterbury

Birds have been finding the water and hanging out there over the hot summer we’ve just had.

During our travels around the region over the spring and summer, staff reported that duck numbers are looking up this year.

The Boggy Creek ballot closes on April 4; check out this page for more info, and be sure to email your ballot entry form to the office before the 4th to go in the draw for this prime hunting spot.

Over the coming year, we will be using the money we have gathered in fines from last season’s game bird hunting offences to start enhancing the stands at Boggy Creek so that they are ready for hunters in the 2025 season.

Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere is sitting quite low at the moment and needs a bit of rain to make a few maimai’s huntable this year.

Also, we’ve coordinated a joint collaborative project to enhance hunter access, with some roading improvements, fencing and parking at Greenpark Sands.

We’ll have a video on the project for hunters to watch in next month's Both Barrels.

The annual Hunting & Fishing Tower Junction Duck Night is Wednesday, May 1. Be sure to support one of our local hunting retailers by coming along and checking out what’s new in game bird hunting this year.

Central South Island:

Central South Island Region is expecting a business-as-usual season for the most part with regulations unchanged and bird numbers expected to be within the normal range. However, it has been a dry summer so hunters are urged to check on their ponds prior to opening to review water levels and plan out alternative hunting locations if needed.

Auckland Waikato:

2023/4 Was A Great Spring/Summer For Duck Breeding.

All those wet months in spring/summer leading up to New Year, when you had to put off lawnmowing yet again, were great for duckling production.  These new birds were then fully old enough to go to larger water areas, lakes and rivers, as things started to dry out afterwards. So, without serious floods or droughts in the breeding season, it’s all looking first-rate for the upcoming season.


There was a large fish kill in the Whangamarino earlier this year, but fortunately, the ducks seem to have got off very lightly.  Fish & Game also actively removed duck and fish carcasses from the Howarth Memorial Reserve near Te Aroha to contain a smaller outbreak there.  

Fish & Game Regulations

Our regulations are updated each year in the NZ Gazette Game Notice.  These can also be found in your regulation booklet that should come with your licence. Here’s an online link to both the North and South Island Game Regulation booklets for 2024:

We’d particularly draw your attention to new Auckland/Waikato rules which came in last year, Numbers 7, 15 and 16. These are the new restrictions on drift shooting between Cambridge and Taupiri.  Also, it is now an offence to shoot game birds and not take reasonable steps to retrieve them.  You should also have the means to do so.  Remember too that the current shooting hours are 6:30am to 6:15pm in the May/June season in this region.  This is to avoid misidentifying protected species as light fades.

The Auckland Waikato Fish and Game Council and staff wish you all a safe and enjoyable game bird season.


Despite Southland experiencing drier than usual conditions during the spring breeding period, the subsequent notably wet conditions over the summer would have led to increased food availability for mallards. As a result, mallards in Southland would have been in excellent condition leading into the moult, with their survival rates likely higher than usual.   

Regardless of the outcomes of Opening Weekend, one certainty is that this season will present an excellent opportunity for hunters to reunite with friends and family, work with their hunting dogs, gather healthy free-range food, and relax in the great outdoors.

Season Prospects in the Eastern Region

The paradise shelduck population is looking better than we had expected. We had some real concerns that cyclone Gabriel may have decimated the paradise population on the East Coast, but this does not appear to have been the case. 

In 1988, Cyclone Bola took a real toll on the East Coast paradise population, and it took about ten years for the population to bounce back.

In early January of this year, we flew the East Coast and Hawke’s Bay as part of our annual monitoring program, and although the population may be a little down in some areas, it seems to have come off relatively unscathed. 

This year, we banded just over 1,600 mallard and grey duck. Banding is an integral part of our monitoring and management. We trap them throughout the Eastern Region, age and sex them, and attach individually numbered tags to each bird.

Handling that number of ducks gives us an idea of their condition, which varies markedly between birds, but in the main, they were in fairly average nick this year. This is our twenty-eighth year of banding in the Eastern region, and during that time, two juveniles per adult have been trapped. 

This year, it was only 1.24, which is down on last year when it was almost 4. A good breeding year like last year can quickly push up the population. The key elements in how successful the breeding season is are climate (rainfall and temperature), and harvest in the preceding year. 

Based on our monitoring and modelling work, the 2024 mallard season is going to be similar to last year, which was decidedly better than the previous few years. 

Black swans are up in Management B2 but still not high enough to have a season, while the rest of the region is similar to last year, so plenty to harvest in A1 and A2.

 In fact, the A2 swan population is up, making me wonder if some of the Hawke’s Bay birds have moved in after last year's cyclone.

Upland game hunting last year was hard for many hunters. This was not unexpected as a good year for the ducks usually is a bad year for the pheasant and quail. This year is looking better, but we don’t have a very good handle on the population, as our monitoring occurs during the breeding season rather than after it. 

Generally, we expect a better season than we have been used to over the last few years, so get out there and have fun.

New Zealand Fishing, Hunting and 4X4 Expo


It’s on again! The highly successful NZ Fishing, Hunting and 4x4 Expo will run again in Rotorua on 23-25 August 2024. This year it’s going to be bigger and better. Follow their social media to keep in touch:


West Coast

After a couple of hot/dry summers, the wet and cool summer we have experienced is excellent news for West Coast game bird hunters.

 Fledgling survival through to the juvenile moult has been high, with excellent numbers observed during trend counts and by hunters in the summer season. With hunters taking mostly juvenile birds on opening weekend, the hunting prospects look superb for the 2024 season.

Currently, West Coast Fish & Game Staff are preparing for their annual grey/mallard and pukeko survey, but if paradise shelduck numbers are anything to go off, things are looking promising. The count was up last year’s survey, with an impressive count of just over 24,000 birds.

 Watch for the results from our grey/mallard counts in the next edition of Both Barrels.

Solid Prospects for the Wellington Season Ahead

A mild spring with a moderate amount of rainfall saw most wetlands and ponds holding enough water for successful breeding, and a lack of floods during this critical period means brood survival should have been good. 

Many landowners have again observed hens taking multiple broods through to fledging, which is very encouraging. 

Given the excellent mallard population in the Wellington Fish & Game region, we’re coming off a solid base, so the expectation is that there should be more birds around.

Hunters keeping an eye on the sky might not notice this anecdotally, though, which is likely because the long, dry summer has seen ducks congregating on ponds still holding water along with large water bodies like Lake Wairarapa and Horowhenua. 

Some significant duck camps have also been sighted on river bends and in estuarine areas where there are exposed beaches for birds to rest and preen, such as the Manawatu.

Late harvested crops around after Opening will be hotspots for both mallards and parries to converge on and mop up maize, and if we get some rainfall and ponding on these freshly harvested fields, plenty of ducks will be drawn in. 

While the waterfowl population is strong in the Wellington region, of course the weather is an important factor for hunting. 

Last season we experienced very few of the big southerly and westerly fronts that really move birds around. Hopefully, with the El Nino weather pattern, we’ll see more of these in the months ahead.  

We can’t forecast what the weather is going to do this coming season, but we can reliably say that good numbers of mallards are around, and hopefully (given the right conditions), this should translate to good opportunities to harvest some free-range food for the table and enjoy time out in the wild with friends and family.  

So, get your prep done early and start getting excited about the season ahead!

Don’t Risk Your Firearms Licence

We’d like to think that all enthusiastic duck hunters recognise the value of Fish & Game’s management of the duck hunting resource, the advocacy we do on your behalf to keep hunting areas open, and the pursuit recognised as a legitimate pastime, and that accordingly you purchase a licence to support us. 

However, there are always a few who prefer to chance their arm, cheat the rest, and go without buying a licence. While these freeloaders probably think it is just a bit of mischief, Fish & Game is trying to get the message out about the significance of getting caught without a duck hunting licence.

We have been advised that if you are prosecuted for an offence under the Wildlife Act – such as hunting without a game bird licence – you are likely to fail the ‘Fit and Proper Person’ requirement regarding renewing your firearms licence. 

So, if you have a mate that you suspect hunts without a licence, perhaps give them a bit of a prod not to risk their future access to all firearms. 

Fish & Game has strong and active compliance teams operating throughout the country; often, our Rangers are accompanied by police officers, so expect to see us whether you hunt private or public water.

Error in the Central South Island regulation books

Just an update: There is a printing error in the South Island regulations booklet for the Central South Island region; their mallard limit is incorrectly printed as 20 instead of 50.

.410 ammo

For those looking for non-toxic .410 shot,  ammunition importers NIOA have let us know that only just over half of their shipment has been pre-sold.

So, there is still an opportunity for those wanting to get their orders in for when the shipment arrives in early April.

When the Minister of Conservation from the previous government removed the exemption for .410 lead shot in early 2023, the Minister also considered the banning of .410’s for waterfowl hunting.

Thanks to the efforts of NIOA in sourcing non-toxic bismuth and tungsten-super shot ammunition, that has meant that was averted.

So, for those who use a .410, please support the efforts of NIOA by getting in with your orders for non-toxic shot.

Fish & Game Magazine in the post

All full-season licence holders from last season will receive their copy of the game bird special edition of the Fish & Game Magazine in the coming days.

It is packed full of information for the coming season with loads of handy tips to help you succeed on opening weekend.

Warm Barrels

The team at Fish & Game NZ

More Posts