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Special season hunting for Paradise Ducks and Canada Geese

by Greg Morton,
The Hunting Report, May 2007

The traditional bird-hunting season in New Zealand begins in May and extends to the end of July, but that is not the only option. Overseas hunters should also know that in February and March waterfowl damage to farmersí green maize and pea crops have resulted in one or two seriously affected provincial regions offering special seasons to control paradise ducks and Canada geese. One premier region is North Canterbury located on the East Coast of the South Island.

North Canterbury farmers encourage hunting because both ducks and geese congregate for weeks at a time on the same paddocks. Only shooting will move them on. The combination of easily decoyed flocks and motivated farmers providing access can result in spectacular hunting.

The special season runs Feb. 3 to April 1, and during this time hunters may harvest unlimited numbers of geese and 20 paradise ducks each day.

The bag limit is set very high because the aim of the special season is to either kill or scare away bird flocks that are destroying crops.

It should be noted that in New Zealand game birds are not migratory, so setting up in one location for long periods of time is not possible. Birds that are regularly shot at quickly move elsewhere.

The most successful hunting groups book with guides who have amassed a large network of farmer contacts and who can take their clients to the birds rather than waiting for birds to come to them.

The outfitter with the largest flock access in the North Canterbury region is James Gray who owns James Gray Hunting and Fishing New Zealand. Located on the outskirts of Christchurch, he is just 20 minutes from Christchurch International Airport and just two hours from excellent bird hunting.

Gray was once a North Canterbury farmer himself, so he finds it easy to secure private land access for hunting. His hunting properties at this time of the year tend to fall into two categories. They are either lowland irrigated farms, or large high country ranches.

The lowland properties suffer mostly from paradise ducks eating or fouling green pastures while the high country ranches have small mobs of geese and larger flocks of ducks living on ponds, rivers, paddocks and creeks.

In both cases the hunting technique involves Gray finding where the birds have congregated, organizing access and accommodations, transporting clients to the property, setting up decoy spreads and providing shooting on incoming feeding birds.

Grayís daily charge is $600 (U.S.)/hunter with group prices working out at a cheaper rate. The only additional costs are ammunition, a short-term hunting license and alcohol. Should a group exceed two hunters he contracts another guide to help him.

The majority of the hunterís bag consists of paradise ducks, though February/March is also a good time to target geese as flocks contain juveniles yet to receive their education on being hunted. This past March, Gray showed me a new property that had been added to his hunting options. It was a secluded small lake on a high country ranch. From a distance, I counted 150 paradise ducks and 30 Canada geese. On our one hunt that evening, two of us shot eight Canada geese and 15 paradise ducks. This particular property also has a good population of small game (rabbits, hares) and occasional pigs, goats and red deer so hunters may target other animals on their daily rate. When hunting with Gray, one never knows what may end up in the bag.

Paradise ducks are a particularly attractive native bird and actively sought after by collectors. The male, the larger of the pair, is chestnut/black with a black head, while the female is a richer chestnut/black with a white head. The birds are, in fact, shelducks, so decoy best over grass or crops.

When feeding on a food source, they are almost suicidal in their determination to land among the decoys. A bag limit of parries can happen very quickly.

Gray is unique among outfitters because he is so mobile. While other guides just have to grin and bear it if birds arenít on their limited areas, Gray simply moves his operation and quickly sets up again on another property.

The hunting itself is easy with hunters sitting in hides and waiting for birds to come to them.

Semi-automatic shotguns are allowed, and steel shot is the norm. Hunters wishing to bring their own weapons should access Grayís website for the appropriate form.

Accommodation is to suit: by this I mean Gray lets the clients choose, with most choosing to sleep close to the hunting. He often utilizes outlying buildings on the hunting property. These consist of bunkroom barracks, with a central cooking area and lounge. They are not flashy, but comfortable, and best of all are right on the hunting site. Food is cooked at these premises.


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