Sunday, March 25, 2012

Northern Geese

Northland has possibilities… so many possibilities. Hunting canadas seems to be one of the last I’d normally think of behind fishing, fishing and fishing, but when you hear the occasional whisper about the numbers of relatively unpressurised geese way up there then it makes you think. Even then, you need local knowledge and land access. I was lucky to be invited on a Northland goose hunt by a guy who I met recently, and who is an avid pheasant chaser. His home is on the Karikari peninsular and he is from one of the old families, with many generations having lived in the area.

I got away pretty early Friday morning, and by 9 was in Whangarei for coffee, by 10 passing through Moerewa which was positively heaving – locked out meat workers were making a big noise. Just after 11 I arrived to meet up with the forum guys Zharn, Matt and Tony who had arrived the previous day. Goose info was quickly passed around, several hundred spotted here, a few more there and we decided to go out scouting. A quick trip to a high spot and a few other places where geese had been the day before – nothing home except piles of goose shit. Matt passed the comment that since we were here we may as well hunt (original plan called for Saturday morning hunt) so we got our gear together (Matt has a sweet trailer that eats up his dekes, layouts and beer) and headed into a field to set up.

I’d hurriedly picked a rubbish sack of grass the night before so set about grassing my blind which to be fair was far lighter than the shadow grass and Max-4 patterns the other guys had.

We set out about 60 dekes and sat back to wait. I tried to fire up my camera…. NO! The battery was flat, and I realised I’d not charged it since before the Whirinaki trip… doh. We could hear geese on the lake behind where we were set up and see more, further down the shoreline. The wind was a stiff north easterly and it all looked promising with the dekes set on a small rise while we were tucked in a hollow. Man it got hot, so off with gumboots and socks… We waited for an hour before Zharn decided to go and scout. After half an hour an almighty ruckus went up as geese lifted off and wheeled around further down the treeline. Most headed out to the head land, but a number got above the shelter belt our paddock was protected by. Matt and I put on the calling and 4 peeled our way, followed by another 30. They came from over our left shoulders… my leg was shaking, my calling was reduced to spaniel-like yips and yelps, but hell, they were talking right back… the 4 set and came in but at the last second flared overhead, Matt who was calling the shot told us to leave them… and in came the 30 odd. Not as low as the 4 but we got into them. I killed 2 stone dead with the first 2 shots and hit the third bird twice to claw him down still alive. It was epic, as exciting as anything I’d ever done. Piako style bird busting with the birds 25m up isn’t what some goose hunters like doing but damn, peeling the big birds out of the sky is just the most awesome shooting experience ever – period. Tony who’d never shot a goose before nailed his first and Matt got a couple so by the time Zharn got back we were pretty happy boys. We told and retold the moment and Zharn came back to see what we’d got. The afternoon just melted away and we were chatting when I spotted 6 birds sneaking behind the far wind break, 50 foot pines at the left border of the paddock.

Hunting equivalent of "grip'n grin"
They were coming towards us, and as they crested the trees they set their wings and came in. A few seconds later and they were all on the deck, everyone enjoying a bird or 2. Our final mob came from the other way and hit us with the wind behind them before swing and dropping their gear. Matt jammed on the first shot but Zharn, Tony and I put them all on the deck including a bird that got wind under his wings and screamed off.

Nera with a goose

Goose guide Rangi (Zharn) with bag
We hunted until after dark, waiting for the birds to move which they duly did as we had the cars in the paddock. Not that they were anywhere near us but they sounded pretty impressive! 18 birds was a solid effort and we were pretty darn happy, none more so than Tony who’d got right into it. Back to Matt’s where Zharn cooked us up a big Barbie while we breasted the birds. We ate like kings and had a few beers before heading back to Zharn’s for a sleep. Well, that was the idea before chainsaw Tony started up. To be fair he had warned me but I thought I’d sleep ok… nah. After an hour I dragged my squab and sleeping bag into the next room and crashed there. We woke at 4.30 and got out the door to meet with Matt. We then drove to the main scene of bird roosting. Well before dawn we were set, dekes out, blinds hidden. And then we waited. In the pre-dawn gloom (no moon) we could hear a few geese moving. We waited… and waited… at 8.30 I went for a scout, walking a couple of kms past the scene of yesterday’s hunt… I only saw one goose. Where were they? We talked. The wind rose to a very stiff breeze. We nodded off. Ducks were in the air. We were woken by Tony’s dog barking at a plover in the dekes. Some parries dropped in for a visit. At lunch time, Zharn decided to go off and have a moment in the trees . He disappeared into a shelter belt and right on cue, 4 geese got off the lake and flew towards us. We got on the callers hard and they came screaming at us. At the last second they got legs down but still had the wind behind them. When we sat up they were overhead… the first shots laid out 3 and I got the 4th well downwind, even hearing the shot smack into him. 3 birds fell within 2m of each other no closer than 30m away… man they had been moving. The 4th gave Nera a bit of a hard time but she ran it down and retrieved it nicely. A lull for another couple of hours and then the wind went to the north and strengthened. Suddenly, birds were in the air! 4 were moving along the shore to our right and saw the dekes. They came in with feet down and hit the deck. As we retrieved them we had to drop everything and run to the blinds as another 2 pairs approached. Our blinds were set for the NE wind so the birds were able to skirt and approach from just behind us to the left. Matt called it and I rolled backwards trying to get on a bird, no dice for me but they came down in a hail of shots. The flight was on! Not really, even though it seemed that way they were the last geese to come close. Round about then, I noticed the plastic wrapper that some comedians had decided to decorate my layout with. Ho Ho, high jinks! Then the rain came. First a gentle shower then it got heavier and heavier… I snugged down in my blind in my bib and raincoat, the others all had Avery umbrellas and they were really good. I slept for a while and before long it was 6pm. Then the funniest conversation of the weekend.

Zharn – “Hey Nick, what time is it?”

Me – “Just after 6 dude”

Zharn – “Oh… I must be hungry then”!!!!

We picked up before 7 in order to get to the fish and chip shop. Back at Matt’s we ate like hungry hunters, enjoying the zillion dollar view of the bay. We watched a bit of the hunt footage and then headed back to Zharn’s. Sleep came pretty easily.

We’d decided not to hunt today, so I got on the road at 5am, and made it home by 9.15. Sweet drive.

Thanks lads, that trip rocked.


Tony, Nera & a visitor from North Shore

Photos courtesy of Matt McCondach.

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