The joy of Open­ing Day


The first Satur­day in May has al­ways been a spe­cial day for many New Zealan­ders.

Known as duck hunt­ing’s Holy Grail, Open­ing Day is an an­nual event ea­gerly awaited by wa­ter­fowlers through­out the land.

This year we stayed close to home, with big­ger and bet­ter duck hunt­ing ex­pe­di­tions to come over the next three months. At short no­tice, we scouted lo­ca­tions on our lo­cal es­tu­ary the day be­fore Open­ing Day and dragged the de­coys out of re­tire­ment in the back shed.

Hur­riedly dress­ing our new­mo­bile duck blind with dry grass, we threw ev­ery­thing in the truck for the long man­ual haul out across the mud early on the mor­row.

As the morn­ing glow in­ten­si­fied, we searched the es­tu­ar­ine skies for wild ducks on the wing. Ac­tu­ally, it was a bit un­der­whelm­ing, but there wide open spa­ces, sea birds flight­ing over­head, and plenty to talk about while the hours flew by.

Over the years I’ve shot a lot of ducks from theWairarapa to South­land, so for me the best part was shar­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence with my old­est son, Jake, 17. We even had our li­cences checked by Fish & Game Rangers and the Po­lice Arms Of­fi­cer, all at­tired in high­viz orange vests.

We saw ducks but they weren’t re­ally in­ter­ested in our of­fer­ings, de­spite the well cam­ou­flaged blind, our swan, paradise, shov­eller, mal­lard duck de­coys, and our plead­ing calls. Jake got a cou­ple of shots away but af­ter a few hours the ducks had won and we had in cricket terms, lit­er­ally ‘scored a duck’.

We hadn’t done our home­work well and got pun­ished by the ducks for set­ting up in a place they re­ally didn’t want to go, de­spite it be­ing a good his­tor­i­cal spot where we’d shot plenty of ducks in decades past.

At a kids’ foot­ball match later that morn­ing, some­one asked me if I was dis­ap­pointed about our lack of suc­cess but I couldn’t care less.

I’d had a great time out on the mud with Jake, en­joyed see­ing flight­ing ducks, and knew that tem­po­rary fail­ure was ac­tu­ally cor­rec­tive feed­back from the ducks that showed our hunt­ing tech­niques could use a tune-up.

Jake was keen to go again the next morn­ing, so we went to an­other spot we’d seen ducks con­gre­gat­ing while out on the es­tu­ary the day be­fore and our for­tunes changed for the bet­ter. Hid­ing in two lay­out blinds that look for all the world like cloth coffins with ametal­lic frame in­side, the ducks swooped low over our de­coys in the half light as Jake fired his 16 gauge pump-ac­tion shot­gun.

We were in the right spot and op­por­tu­ni­ties came our way. As it grew lighter the ducks be­came more sus­pi­cious with fine skies, no wind, and bright sun but it was­magic call­ing to mal­lards cir­cling high above while ig­nor­ing grey teal pitch­ing into our de­coys, and en­joy­ing highly-coloured shov­eller ducks rock­et­ing over­head.

Mod­ern duck hun­ters gen­er­ally need to be more mo­bile to en­joy con­sis­tent suc­cess. Duck and wa­ter­fowl have changed their habits, there is a need to ex­plore new ar­eas, and build­ing large con­spic­u­ous maimai or hides is no longer al­lowed or en­cour­aged on pub­lic wa­ter­ways.

I’ve al­ways en­joyed hunt­ing the big pub­lic waters, whether it be la­goons, es­tu­ar­ies, lakes, or riverbeds where you are hunt­ing wild birds that are not pre-fed like on many farm­ponds. Big wa­ter in­volves good cam­ou­flage, cover, de­coys, good call­ing, and of­ten long chal­leng­ing shots.

Alas, duck hunt­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties are de­clin­ing in many ar­eas around the coun­try with ur­ban de­vel­op­ment, new farm­ing meth­ods, agri­cul­tural chem­i­cals, and loss of habi­tat and feed­ing ar­eas all tak­ing their toll.

Many times hun­ters are in a com­pe­ti­tion with other re­source users – cy­clists are one group who have grown stronger in num­bers and have de­manded new tracks, trails and op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Jake and I found the run­ners and cy­clists we en­coun­tered on our way back to our ve­hi­cle to be very pleas­ant and in­ter­ested, and that made our con­tin­ued right to hunt the es­tu­ary a real suc­cess.

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