Shooting continues from maimais, hides and blinds throughout the season. Hunters also shoot over stubble paddocks, stalk the edges of heavily willowed rivers and streams, or quietly approach farm ponds where ducks are resting. Some shoot from boats. Others hunt in the evenings, using their calls to bring in ducks which have left the safety of open water to feed at wet spots in paddocks and along drains.
A duck, once shot, often falls into heavy cover or into deep water, and here a gun dog becomes indispensable. Dogs are also very useful for flushing game from heavily willowed or other inaccessible places.
Plucking and eating
Having delivered the quarry, the dog can relax, but not so the hunter. The gun must be cleaned and oiled, equipment and clothing stored away, and the birds plucked and dressed, although sometimes only the breast meat is taken. Traditionally, game was roasted and served with gravy or orange sauce and vegetables. Today a much wider range of recipes is available, and a good red wine is often included in a meal eaten with family and friends.
Game management and conservation
Duck hunting is managed and regulated by fish and game councils, which monitor species numbers, and set bag limits and the length of the hunting season. As duck populations depend on wetland and riparian habitat, Fish & Game New Zealand works with the Department of Conservation, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the National Wetlands Trust and organisations such as Ducks Unlimited and the New Zealand Game Bird Habitat Trust on freshwater and wetland conservation and management.
Women and duck hunting
While some women are keen shooters, most duck hunters are men. Boys are often introduced to the sport by their fathers, or by other adult male relatives and friends. Fish and Game New Zealand introduces women to clay-target shooting – an important step to duck hunting – via a programme modelled on a Wisconsin initiative.
In the 1990s and 2000s, interest in duck hunting has declined, particularly among young people. Reasons include the continuing loss of wetlands, the increasing separation of town and country, the popularity of urban values, and the costs of gearing up for the sport. Towns and cities also offer alternative, convenient, often more passive, forms of recreation. Fish and game councils and hunting retailers are working to counter this trend.
Shotguns are lethal at short range, and even at more than 100 metres, depending on size, shotgun pellets can cause serious harm to sensitive body parts such as eyes. Some safety messages are common to all field sports involving guns, but game-bird shooting has its own specific messages. It is important to avoid low shots (protecting other hunters directly and from chance ricochets off hard surfaces). Shotguns should be ‘broken’ and unloaded when moving over rough country, rivers, streams and fence lines, and when moving to and from or in and out of vehicles. Hunters should signal any change of position to other hunters by word or gesture.
Shotgun blasts are very loud and can cause hearing damage, so an increasing number of hunters wear hearing protection.
Keen hunters also practise by shooting clay targets in the off season. Gun and hunting clubs are excellent places to learn how to shoot safely.