Upland game bird season starts early

Chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck-a-chuck — the call of a Chukar spreading the news that the Otago upland game bird season gets under way tomorrow.

This is a change from the traditional Queen’s Birthday Weekend opening for upland game species such as pheasants, chukar and quail.

The upland game hunting season extends until mid-August — providing plenty of action after the duck season closes at the end of July.

This season, some upland game bird hunters are anxious about their prospects, after receiving mixed reports about the size of the California quail population. California Quail are found predominantly in Central Otago, but some upland game bird hunters also chase chukar and pheasant in small pockets of the region.

Maniototo hunter David Dodd, a former veterinarian in the region, is hoping quail numbers will bounce back this year after two challenging seasons.

"We could have another difficult season this year. We’ve had two years with poor bird numbers, and I haven’t shot a younger bird in two years," he said.

"Coveys have been small, which makes them difficult to find, but we will find out in another week or two."

However, Central Otago quail hunter Dan Rae is confident of a reasonable quail season this year.

The former Otago Fish & Game councillor and retired sheep farmer, said he saw a large quail covey, including good numbers of young birds, at a Central Otago property this week.

"We had a bit of rain in November, but I think the quail have had a good breeding season. Weather permitting, we are looking at reasonable numbers of birds to hunt."

A Central Otago pest controller, who wished to remain anonymous, was also positive, saying quail populations have improved in areas where trapping for possums and wild cats has been conducted.

Otago Fish & Game officer Bruce Quirey said hunters were reminded their dogs must be dosed monthly for tapeworm to prevent the spread of sheep measles. Dogs play an important part in hunting quail, which often roost in briar and scrub.

Mr Quirey said a significant amount of upland bird hunting is found on private land, so hunters are encouraged to approach landowners directly for access.

"Hunters whose dogs are correctly dosed are more likely to be given access to farms."

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