Coronavirus: Hunters urged to 'play it safe' as level 2 begins

Hunters will soon be allowed to access public conservation land and travel between regions.
Hunters will soon be allowed to access public conservation land and travel between regions. Photo credit: Getty

Hunters are being urged to "play it safe" as they gear up to get back outdoors after more than five weeks of lockdown.

Thursday will mark the country's shift to alert level 2, meaning hunters will be allowed to access public conservation land and travel between regions.

Although hunting was permitted at level 3, it could only be done on private land and with the landowner's permission.

Tim Gale, Game Animal Council's general manager, says he expects there to be a "rush into the hills" with many people raring to go after being cooped up for so long during lockdown.

"This makes being aware of where others may be, positively identifying your target, storing firearms responsibly at huts and general gun safety measures absolutely critical," Gale says.

"The fact is the vast majority of hunting accidents aren’t firearms-related so don’t disregard the risk of falls and slips, take river crossings extremely seriously and generally play it safe by hunting within your capabilities especially as we come into winter."

Earlier this week it was confirmed the game bird hunting season would start on May 23.

Originally scheduled for May 2, the season's launch was postponed due to COVID-19.

With the start of level 2, hunters will also be able to use boats and stay overnight at hunting spots.

Mike Daisley, chief executive of the Mountain Safety Council, says the key to hunting safely is good planning.

"Weather can be extremely changeable at this time of year; expect it to be cold and the days to be short. It is important that hunters study the weather forecast before they go and remain flexible with their dates and plans to avoid being caught out in bad weather.

"This is not the time for the old 'she’ll be right' attitude. Being exposed to a winter storm can be deadly."

He recommends hunters leave a detailed plan of their trip with a family member or friend in case things go wrong.

Many hope the shift to level 2 and the return of domestic tourism will bring some much-needed revenue to operators in the hunting industry. But with the bulk of clients coming from overseas, many are treating the 2020 season as a write-off.

Earlier this week James Cagney, president of the New Zealand Professional Hunting Guides Association, said COVID-19 struck just as the season was set to begin.

"The timing for us couldn't have been worse," Cagney said.

"It's impacted the whole tourist industry, but for the hunting industry, in particular, we don't have a summer season, we don't have a summer peak. Our peak season is autumn, late summer through autumn into winter - so really it's hit us right at our peak and shut us down just as we've started for the season."