Ducks and geese have remarkably good eyesight, and traditionally hunters have camouflaged themselves in a maimai (a hide, often made of wooden framing and corrugated iron, screened with mānuka brush). Some maimais are permanent and wonderfully elaborate; others are temporary and basic, made of materials found nearby. The aim is to conceal the hunters while providing an open field for shooting. Hunters also construct makeshift hides or blinds out of brush or rocks, or just take cover behind or within bushes. Some dig small trenches, jump in and cover them with camouflage netting.
In the 1990s and 2000s hunters have begun to use a range of commercial products – some from overseas, particularly the US, but also made in New Zealand. These include camouflage clothing, nets and portable hides or blinds. Shopping over the internet or at hunting stores has become an important part of duck hunting in the early 2000s.
On public wetlands and waterways, shooting places can be reserved by ‘tagging’. Licence holders are provided with a tag which they attach to their maimai on tagging day, several weeks before opening day. Beforehand, hunters new to an area, or wanting a new place to shoot, search wetlands and river margins for untagged places. On the day and shortly after, public wetlands and waterways are filled with hunters at their maimais – tagging, building, dressing them with mānuka brush or camouflage netting, and doing maintenance.
Early settlers made lifelike decoy ducks from carved and painted wood. Decoys were later made from cork. By the 1960s, plastic and pre-painted decoys were on sale, and in the early 2000s a wide variety are available – including some that simulate the movement of wings and water.
Decoys are placed and anchored strategically so they look realistic and encourage birds to land at a spot which suits the hunter. Different species require slightly different hunting techniques, and some are more responsive to decoys and calling than others. Those most often bagged – the mallard, grey and paradise ducks, and the Canada goose – are susceptible to decoys.
Come on back now
Hunters employ different calls to try and draw ducks towards them. The ‘come-back’ is used when ducks fly in towards the decoys and then swing away. One author wrote, ‘Think of this one as a pleading call, an urgent series of excited quacks with the first three or so being high pitched and drawn out, and the rest lowering in pitch. W-A-A-A-CK, W-A-A-A-CK, W-A-A-A-CK, waack, waack, waack, waack.’ 1
Decoys accompanied by effective calls are a deadly combination. Duck and goose calls are reed instruments, easily held in a cupped hand. They are blown to simulate calls that tell incoming birds it is safe to land. Hunters learning to call usually provide a good deal of amusement for family and friends. Proficient callers are more successful hunters, and often enter duck-calling competitions held in pubs prior to the hunting season. Modelled on competitions in the US, these are really just an excuse for a night out, with the added possibility of winning a prize from a local hunting store.
Camouflaged hunters who can place decoys and call effectively can attract ducks within shooting range. A shotgun’s range (rifles are not used) is about 55 metres, but most birds are shot within 20 to 30 metres. Shotguns come in several types and gauges, and the pros and cons of different types are a constant source of discussion.
The most important factor in successful shooting is skill and experience – in this context, skill is the ability to shoot a flying bird. Unlike rifle shooting, both eyes are kept open and the gun is swung in a flowing movement, aiming in front of the bird’s flight path. In the past, lead shot was used, but ducks ate the lead, mistaking it for grit, and were poisoned. It was banned in 2005 in favour of steel shot.