Duck hunting always popular in the south
The popularity of duck shooting has never really waned in rural areas like Southland, and the tradition has a long and venerable history stretching back to pre-European times.
For example, paradise shelducks and grey ducks were an important historical food source for Maori, with flightless fledglings and moulting adults taken in high summer at their peak of plumpness.
The ducks would be driven into wetland vegetation where they could relatively easily be caught or snared.
Just as today, a closed season was applied, specifically for the native grey duck.
With the arrival of early European settlers came introduced wildfowl and other game birds, although not all became naturalised as a matter of course.
However, the acclimatisation societies of the 1860s onwards, encouraged and aided by the Protection of Certain Animals Act 1861, systematically imported, managed and, later, protected wildfowl and other animals and birds
The societies also regulated the shooting of native species classified as game, including ducks and other wetland birds.
Today, the mallard is the most common duck in New Zealand, but it wasn’t always the case.
From 1867 repeated attempts were made to acclimatise English game farm stock, but these failed.
In the 1930s and 40s, however, eggs from San Francisco came in wicker baskets on board flying boats, the hatchlings from which spread rapidly and successfully throughout the country.
Today there are about 4.5 million mallards – enough to be a genuine nuisance.
Resultantly, the mallard is the mainstay of the duck hunter’s bag.
The commonly seen paradise duck, or ‘‘parry’’, is New Zealand’s only shelduck (gooselike duck) but, when the country was first settled by Europeans, it was rare.
The historical conversion of bush to pasture, and the addition of stock ponds, many subsidised by hunters’ licence fees, has helped numbers grow exponentially.
Although abundant right across the south, northern Southland provides the best paradise duck hunting in the region.
Canada geese, or ‘‘Honkers’’ were first introduced from the USA as a gift from President Theodore Roosevelt.
This is known as the wariest of all waterfowl and therefore the hunter’s most challenging target.
They feed on pasture, and this is where the most successful hunting can occur.
However a high degree of skill and much perseverance is required to taste success, as they are distinctly wily birds.
Southland has a healthy Canada goose population with most being found in the Te Anau Basin and along the coastal fringe where they seek out the large water bodies they use for resting and refuge.
Whatever ends up in your bag this season though: have fun, and safe shooting!