Fish & Game is appealing to the 40,000-plus game bird hunters to focus on "safety first" for the 2012 season, which opens tomorrow.
Chief executive Bryce Johnson said recent deer-hunting fatalities were a tragic reminder of the importance of firearms safety.
"The lead-up to opening day is an exciting time for game bird hunters and it can also be very busy as final preparations are made," Mr Johnson said.
"However, I encourage all those hunters heading out on Saturday morning to take a few minutes to refresh themselves with the seven golden rules of firearms safety in the Arms Code.
"One of the greatest dangers in duck hunting is unsafe handling of firearms in the maimai. Hunters need to be particularly careful when they have loaded shotguns in confined spaces with others present."
But chasing waterfowl often meant more than potential firearms danger.
"Getting to where the birds are can mean putting yourself into some potentially risky situations, climbing into, and using, punts, dinghies and runabouts, and other water craft," Mr Johnson said.
"Whether it is a large river or lake, or a wetland, there are many ways for the careless to get into trouble - especially by failing to observe simple rules of safe boating, such as always wearing a lifejacket."
Failing to have a properly fitting lifejacket was inexcusable. Camo buoyancy vests or camo suspender-type lifejackets needed just a pull on the tab to inflate.
"Game-bird season opening is the highlight on the hunting calendar for many," he said.
"It's a fantastic pursuit - a great way of engaging in a healthy outdoor activity, and a wonderful means of harvesting free-range food from New Zealand's abundant outdoor supermarket."
Assessing likely bird numbers a shot in the dark
Prospects for Bay duck shooters are "tough to call" due to the wet summer and the number of predators seen in some areas.
Senior Fish & Game officer Mathew McDougall said the summer rain resulted in temporary ponding in many areas.
"This has meant the ducks have been able to spread out over paddocks and farmland, and it's difficult to get a handle on bird numbers," Mr McDougall said. "With all this rain the adults perhaps haven't needed a free feed and kept away from the traps that we've put out as part of our surveys of bird populations."
Fish & Game also caught lots of wild cats and ferrets during its earlier trapping programme, which was a "disturbing sign", he said.
"We strongly urge farmers and other landowners who have birds nesting on ponds to launch trapping programmes to control predators. This can make a real difference to the waterfowl breeding season which runs from mid-August to the end of October."
Protecting young birds between hatching and reaching 10 days old from predators such as stoats, wild cats, rats and hawks was crucial to bird numbers.
Fish & Game wanted to hear from hunters who harvested birds with bands or transmitters attached. More than 40 birds were fitted with the devices for research and few had been recovered.
For more information, visit www.fishandgame.org.nz
- Treat every firearm as loaded
- Always point firearms in a safe direction
- Load a firearm only when ready to fire
- Identify your target beyond all doubt
- Check your firing zone
- Store firearms and ammunition safely
- Avoid alcohol and drugs when handling firearms