Story: Game birds

Page 2. Hunting

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Hunting times

Upland game are usually hunted in the middle of a bright, sunny winter’s day. Traditional waterfowl-hunting, on the other hand, is done in the early morning or evening.

Giving them a lead

When shooting at flying birds hunters must swing their shotgun in an arc that follows the flight path and then overtakes it, to shoot at where the birds are going to be, not where they are. One hunter wrote, ‘I know of some shooters who have taken years to realise that, especially with the longer shots, you have to lead them by the length of a farm gate. Over the years I have missed plenty of birds behind but I can’t recall having ever missed one by shooting too far in front.’1

Hunting with dogs

To be shot legally, birds must be flying and within range (30–50 metres) of the hunter, who uses a shotgun. A well-trained and competently-handled gun dog is essential in hunting upland game, as these birds rarely take to the wing unless flushed by a dog. Dogs should not move further than a hunter can fire at a flushed bird. The hunter needs to shoot within seconds of the bird flying up from ground cover in a whirr of wings.

Dogs are also used to flush wetland game from cover, and to retrieve them from waterways.

Different hunters prefer different breeds of dog – often pointers, setters or retrievers. Many hunters belong to gun-dog clubs and gun clubs and maintain their interest in dog training year-round, although the hunting season is only a few months in winter.

Pheasant cloaks

Hunter and fly-fisher Keith Draper tied flies using feathers from game birds he shot, and also gave the plumage to Māori weavers. He wrote, ‘The old kuias [elderly women], involved in the traditional art of weaving feather cloaks, treasure the feathers of the cock pheasant. The bronze and green plumage is an acceptable substitute for that of the kaka [parrot], which was used in olden times.’2

Quail and pheasants

 Upland game hunters have to be keen and hard-working, as there are few places where pheasants and quail are common. Partridges were introduced to New Zealand, but their numbers remain very low. Hunting quail involves considerable work for the dog, but little action for the hunter except watching for the sudden flushing of a bird. Once a covey is found in a gully, the hunter must wait to see if they will be flushed by the dog or sit tight, which they may do for hours.

Pheasant hunting, by contrast, may involve travelling long distances before the dogs find their strong-smelling quarry. To keep pheasant numbers up, only the cocks are hunted – so hunters need split-second judgement to target the right birds when they are in flight.

Generally quail and pheasants are hunted by a group, in which each hunter has a similar chance of firing a shot. If they are successful, the dog must retrieve the downed bird.

Ducks and other wetland birds

Wetland game birds, including various species of duck, are shot from hunting places on farms and at publicly owned waterways and wetlands where hunting is permitted. Usually hunters conceal themselves in a hide near the water, and use artificial decoys and calls to lure ducks and geese into shooting range.


Most game-bird hunters eat what they shoot or give birds to friends and relatives. Birds bound for the table must be cleaned and plucked or skinned. Since the 1990s wild foods have become more popular, and recipes are readily available. Most towns have restaurants that will cook game provided by hunters – a welcome change for chefs, particularly those trained in Europe, as New Zealand traditionally offered few opportunities to cook game.

  1. Keith Draper, A duckhunter’s tale: wildfowling in New Zealand. Christchurch: Shoal Bay, 1999, p. 149. Back
  2. A duckhunter’s tale, p. 107. Back
How to cite this page:

Neil Deans, 'Game birds - Hunting', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 April 2024)

Story by Neil Deans, published 24 Nov 2008, reviewed & revised 29 Apr 2015