Cracking start to game bird season

First shoot . . . Archie Eaton (12), of Outram, holds his first two ducks, which he bagged on Saturday morning during a duck-shooting expedition at Lake Waipori with his grandfather, Colin Weatherall. PHOTO: SCOTT WEATHERALL

Duck-shooters were delighted to finally get out on the water for a delayed start to the game bird hunting season on Saturday.

About 4000 Otago hunters took to their mai mais, boats, hides, and other covers before dawn, ready for the season to begin.

Among them were members of the Weatherall family, cousins George Weatherall (8) and Archie Eaton (12), granddad Colin Weatherall, George’s dad Scott Weatherall, and dog Meg.

Scott Weatherall told The Star the group did not get a huge number of ducks, but still had “an absolutely awesome weekend”.

Numbers of ducks were good, and Archie enjoyed the opportunity to shoot his first couple, with the guidance and mentoring of his granddad, he said.

“Meg loved her second opening weekend, fetched each duck and found a couple more, so we had a great time,” Mr Weatherall said.

Great experience . . . George Weatherall, of Brighton, loved getting out on Lake Waipori with his cousin Archie Eaton, dad Scott Weatherall, granddad Colin Weatherall, and dog Meg. PHOTO: SCOTT WEATHERALL

Otago Fish & Game Officer Nigel Pacey said this was the first time since World War 2 that the season had been affected.

“It has been a long-standing tradition to open the season on the first Saturday in May,” Mr Pacey said.

“The last time it didn’t was in 1943 when, at the direction of the War Cabinet, the season was cancelled to preserve ammunition.”

Saturday dawned with low cloud and light wind in most regions around Otago. The cloud burned off to a bright, sunny day, which made hunting more difficult.

“Hunters prefer low cloud and some wind to keep the birds in range and circulating between ponds,” Mr Pacey said.

“Reports coming back into the office from hunters and ranging teams tell of a very positive, and mostly successful, start to the season.”

Otago Fish & Game had five teams of rangers out across Otago, supported by volunteer rangers, who interviewed more than 100 hunters and found high compliance rates.

“The overriding feeling from talking to hunters was their excitement and relief that the season was finally under way and future prospects look great.”

Bagging birds . . . Shooting at Outram just after sunrise on Saturday were (from left) Nicholas Askin, Ben Vercoe, Steven Vercoe, and Rodney Askin, who already had a few birds in the bag. PHOTO: OTAGO FISH & GAME

Otago Fish & Game Officer Morgan Trotter said it was awesome to see so many families out enjoying the day.

“Old-timers and experienced hunters that weren’t so old, were out in force with their families, sometimes four generations, passing on their knowledge and skills to the next crop of game bird hunters,” he said.

“Days like today bring rural communities together in times of isolation allowing the ultimate in free-range, organic food to be harvested for the table and freezer.”

The prospects for rest of the season are very promising as bird numbers are high, ponds have water, and hunters are keen.

“All we need now is the weather to play ball and the season should be a bumper.”