Friday, May 31, 2013

And all too soon

This weekend, our abbreviated duck hunting season ends. The reason for closing the season down earlier than we’ve become used to, is to preserve the ducks that pair up in June to begin their mating cycle. This season we’ve been encouraged to ‘go for green’, that is, to harvest mallard drakes in preference to hen birds (and presumably grey ducks also – gender is indistinguishable). I’ve been given a sneak report that according to band returns, harvest is up on last year but the harvest has been centralised on areas with water. No data on age/gender harvest was given to me.

So, is harvest up because with less time to hunt, those who do so spent more time in the field? Possible, maybe even probable. Has the increased focus on returning bands spiked the results? I don’t think so really, because normally the band data is reviewed in conjunction with the game bird harvest phone based survey so you get some normalisation of effort expended vs birds harvested. (Equally, I don’t ‘know so’). The biggest issue I see with the harvest survey is that unless guys keep a diary, it can be pretty hard to recall what you were doing on 8th May, how many hours you hunted and for how many birds.

Will we ever have an 8 week season again? Sorry to be the pessimist, but the whole population estimate is just that, an estimate. Without proof that the population is positively affected by season length reduction, then the status quo will be kept and that’s a 1 month season.

On a happier note, I’ll spend the whole of the day tomorrow and Sunday in the maimai. I’m very much looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The changing face (and price) of camouflage

If wading through the myriad of recreational camo patterns is all too much then spare a thought for the US Military – reading this article it looks like the ‘branches’ (Army, Navy, Air Force & Marines) are competing against each other more than against the enemy. Holy crap those are some big numbers for pattern design…… and the Chinese have probably already nicked the technology to make it (and for much cheaper) already anyhow.....

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

7 degrees & 33 Knots...

Weather like that is just too good to ignore. I mean, its bad enough to be good. I'd put the boat blind on over the weekend, in the hope that we'd get a decent blow before our one month duck season passed by. It sort of went a bit like this: Saturday late afternoon, get back from Tui Ridge. 2 shots, 2 pheasants - quite happy with that. I got a wee bit of video footage too, so will stitch something together at some stage. Anyhow, Sunday came and I got some help from the Domestic Goddess to put the blind on the boat. Then strung the decoy lines. Checked the forecast. Tuesday would be THE DAY, evil cold SW winds, rain, cold... all in all quite good duck weather.

Got hold of dad. he was watching the weather and thinking "SWAMP" but changed his plans based on me re-arranging my work schedule. Which I managed to do, rather easily... The weather was awesome overnight, I was woken at 02.30 by the wind and rain. Up at 04.30, on the road by 5 but the old man beat me to the ramp. We got the boat sorted and launched and did the usual bump-bump-bump across the river bar (at low speed). I don't think the Piako mouth has a defined channel - well probably does but hard to find in the wee small hours.

We got the first decoy set out ok in the rain and wind - I can't remember what we were pi$$ing around having to do but in the gloom ducks were charging by before we were ready. Eventually we were sorted.


The first ducks we shot at were a brace of greys that swung over, after 4 mallards had settled on the water 40m beyond our decoy set. We upped and fired, dad smashing his bird and me missing mine. Soon after a bunch of mallards screamed in over the mangroves from off the land with wings set. They pulled out, zoomed downwind then turned and came in. My bird staggered in mid air then clawed for height as I chased it with 3.5"of Kent Faststeel - dad dropped his drake. 2 nil. We had a few chances at various flocks, pairs and singles but the birds had the advantage of a stiff wind and made good use of it. Finally I put shots on a brace of mallards that swung by, 2 - all.

Next visitors were 4 spoonies that looked stunning in their multi colours. I couldn't get shots on them.

Time ticked by and the weather came and went. It never really built up to a sustained level of crappiness, none the less it was a great duck day.

We got off the water at 11 with our smallish but hard earned bag. Bloody enjoyable hunt and even better, more lessons learned.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Duck band data

I can see why often times duck bands aren’t called in; I’d meant to do so but have been busy pulling the trigger. Anyway I emailed the bands in this morning to Dave Klee and got the following info back.


Band Number Species Age Sex Date Banded Banding Site

27-124026 Mallard Juvenile Male 8/01/2013 Pipiroa, Hauraki

27-123920 Mallard Juvenile Female 8/01/2013 Pipiroa, Hauraki

So these ducks were shot within 25km of the banding site. Dave mentioned that they were most likely late-hatching juveniles in a family group; that they were taken with consecutive shots perhaps backs the group theory.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Paddock, paddock, pheasant drive

Most of Friday morning in the office was spent frantically trying to get my ducks in a row so that I could nip out mid afternoon, race home, grab my layout, field duck dekes hit the road and meet Tony and Mark on a flooded cut-over maize paddock. I under-estimated the effect of torrential downpours on traffic, so had to cool my jets while trailing a rural school bus and then a series of pedestrian paced trucks. I met the farmer who grumbled about the rain and warned me to travel slowly on the farm race and avoid the potholes. The rain was seriously heavy and ducks were out in the paddocks. It took me a while to find Tony and Mark in the rain, and when I did we lugged my gear in… and the skies began to clear… and soon all the duck activity died. We laid back in our blinds, calling at the occasional passing bird and soon a pair of parries came by. I shot the drake and promptly missed the hen bird, but at least we were on the board. Over the next couple of hours until dark it was quiet until a pair of mallards swung around and landed well short of our spread. Tony released Nera and she chased them up – no chance of a shot. Large groups of grey heron flew overhead and out to sea, and we were buzzed by masses of pied oyster-catchers and pied stilts (It’s been over 30 years since I’ve seen them in such numbers). As the light dropped a duck buzzed us and swung up high overhead before dropping to the shot – a real highlight of the season. I’m not claiming it as both Tony and I fired simultaneously. I heard both reports but neither Tony nor Mark did – both had thought a single shot had been fired. As the sky gloomed over 3 ducks came in and I nabbed the bird on my side, the pair then clawed for height directly overhead and I was confident of nailing the others but… well nothing dropped at our shots. Soon we called it as it was too gloomy to continue, and with a healthy population of teal around it was not worth the risk. A quick beer back at the cars and then off home. I got there, ditched my gear, grabbed the long handle shears and a rubbish sack and headed off to cut some extra grass for the layout blind.

At 3.12 the next morning, some asshole in a hotted up car decided to lay some rubber down in my cul de sac. The only good news was that it saved the alarm from going off and waking SWMBO – at least she couldn’t blame me for her having a crappy sleep. Coffee in the thermos, goose calls and ammo in the bag, mandatory headlamp, gun (un-pinned) check, check, check things off the mental check list... and then on the road heading for paddock 2. While running around in the office on Friday morning, Rick had advised of a Waikato Goose Mafia gathering. Meeting place as normal at the normal 5am time. I was there early enough to have a coffee and soon the usual suspects rolled in. The predicted wind had died overnight, so we were left in a quandary about which direction to face. So we set up facing NE. It was eerily quiet on the reserve lake and the sky overhead was rain laden, heavy stuff too. I’d brought a brolly along this time as well as the Sitka rain gear (which incidentally has performed flawlessly) and we waited and waited as the sound of rain hitting our umbrellas drowned any other noise. While no one said anything, I think we had had a nagging feeling that with no birds in the air it could be a bust. I was on the verge of sleep when a quiet honk over our right shoulders had me bolt awake – 5 birds slid around our right flank from behind, turned and came in with feet down. We were all caught semi napping –personally I was frantically taking down my umbrella and managed to do so in their visual range when the shot was called and they all tumbled to the ground. Maybe a flight was on? Certainly the swan were moving, as flight after flight cruised past. Then it all got a bit hectic, suddenly geese were in the air approaching from multiple directions. We had some excellent action with birds landing all around us but with no wind the shortcomings of layouts were exposed. I broke the frame of my Finisher turning to take a bird that swung over my shoulder. We had birds on the ground belly up so had to make a call to collect the downed birds even though others were in air. We also turned our blinds 180 degrees – with the effect that the next flight alighted behind us… no wind isn’t ideal for goose hunting. Besides which geese were now joining the swan in a paddock a km away, leaving us having to compete against a growing number of live birds which is never ideal. Some birds still decided to join our spread and the tally grew. Then the sun poked through and with a local having arrived to push off the neighbouring birds (the local farmers hate the geese and swan) things quietened down. The dog was brought in to sweep up birds that had dropped out of sight, and we sorted out the decoys blinds guns and moved out in a small convoy. Back at George’s house we cleaned the birds in short order – looking at my watch I saw that I’d have some family time in the afternoon when I got home – phew… because on the morrow a shoot day at Tui Ridge was arranged.

Mafia crew and the bag

I slept pretty damn well that night and got up at 6, made coffee and pottered around arranging my driven pheasant gear. Breeks, long socks, shirt, tie… the Justin Bieber Fan Club mocked me for “looking silly in tweed and checks and a tie”. The crew rolled into Rick’s on time and we had a good catch-up and chinwag before setting off to the first drive, consisting of an un-mown maize paddock. Given its close proximity to our release site, the birds were seeking it out and spending their time in the rows. I’d drawn peg number 8 so was on the very right hand end of the gun line. On my left was Tim, a very experienced game keeper and gun. Given the size of the paddock it took quite a while to drive it through – and from my position I could see birds run out of the maize on the flank into a recently harvested potato paddock, and then run back into cover. The occasional bird broke back over the beaters but soon I had my first flush, a cock bird that never got high enough for a shot under our shoot rules. Smart bird. Then Tim and I had a flurry and took a few birds before the major flush at the other end of the line. Then at my end, a crippled melanistic cross cock bird limped out into the paddock dragging his wing. I watched him for a while before walking across to dispatch him. A damn good first drive! As with any driven day, the luck of the peg draw plays a decent role so I was quite happy to finish the day with 5 birds bagged and 1 not picked and there were some truly classic shots taken. We retired to Rick’s place for a barbecue and had a great time regaling the day with the shooters and beaters. Huge thanks to Rex Murray who came as my beater, to Andrew Speed for just volunteering, to Rick, Malcolm, and Helen in particular and to all the others who gave up their day to push birds through some truly awful and gnarly crap. A fantastic day in a fantastic (slightly elongated) weekend.

There's no escaping it, the ring neck pheasant is a stunning bird 

I declare Tui Ridge a success.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Yesterday dad and I travelled to Hamilton to verbally support the submission we had made regarding the Department Of Conservation’s (DOC) Conservation Management Strategy (CMS). Under the draft CMS released for consultation, private accommodation (approved or otherwise) is slated for removal and this includes the pre-existing duck huts in areas including the Kopuatai wetland where we hunt.

“Hut 5” (The hut) is a haven offering warmth and shelter, and during the hunting season, the hut is the centre of our world and the focal point of our activities. My direct family has a 4 generation entanglement with the area, the hut and the previous hut which was razed by fire in 1976. If and when my daughter finally decides that she is ready to hunt ducks, a 5th generation will in time become a guardian of the resource. The area itself has in my lifetime been developed from round holes in raupo swamp, inter-connected by small narrow ditches, to the prime habitat that now exists. The Hut 5 group, focused by the drive and foresight of my father and his father before him, has invested a huge amount of time, sweat and money to develop the area, and naturally we are both proud of what we’ve achieved; but at the same time we are humbled by the positive comments and feedback of people whom we’ve taken to the area.

I can only imagine that other duck hunting parties with huts have a similar depth of feeling and connectivity; especially those with multi-generational links such as the Haywards and the Kipas who have huts near ours.

I’d like to think that in view of the collective efforts of the occupiers of the approved huts that provision would be made by DOC for a continuation of renewable leases (of the land that the structures occupy). I hope that the points that we attempted to make will help promote the on-going working relationship between DOC and The Upper Piako Wetland Management Association. I hope that in my and my daughter’s lifetime that we don’t see the removal of historic structures that impede no one’s experience of the resource.

I hope that the partnership that we enjoy with DOC can continue. Sure, I’ve been tetchy, and at times critical of DOC – but that’s what happens in partnerships. We want to continue to invest in our time and effort and importantly in $ that DOC simple cannot afford. In return we’d like our concession to continue. Fingers crossed.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Week 1: Part II

Having got home on Tuesday afternoon for a family visit and a quick clean up, I had most of Wednesday to sort out gear and food for the second half of the week. I loaded the boat and truck and got on the road mid-morning to avoid traffic. Arriving at the swamp at 12.30 I found dad and Larry pottering around and setting up. We had a quick beer and welcomed Larry into the party (replacing Tim) before I hauled a set of decoys out and got set up in The Park. After that I nipped over to hunt with the old guys in the Puru pond.

Old buggas
Larry had his lab pup Tonga along and before too long we had a retrieve for him.

From memory we hung 3 birds up that evening. Then back to the hut for a meal, beers and I had a wee kip prior to firing up the boat and going to pick up Mitch at 9.30. He had Brutus and Ruby in tow and soon we were heading downriver to the hut. We sat around having a few drinks and a catch up before hitting the hay.

Dad's stupid alarm clock went off at 4.30 on Thursday morning, but no one stirred so I hung around in my warm sleeping bag until just before 5 then got up, brewed some good coffee and got the breakfast stuff laid out. Mitch and I hit the pond early and sat around waiting for legal shooting time. In the minutes leading up, ducks buzzed us so we were quite confident of a reasonable shoot. The first bird was taken just after 06.30 and then we had steady shooting all morning.

Brutus with a Shoveler hen

Ducks came in small numbers at reasonable intervals, and after a break in the early afternoon to build a rat trap we returned to the pond and collected a few more birds in the late afternoon to round out an excellent day with a dozen. That evening Larry had to return to Tauranga to take care of some farm business, so Mitch and I pulled the decoys from The Park - we'd shoot with dad in the morning.

At sparrow's fart, Mitch, dad and I were ready and waiting in The Puru pond maimai, with a solid spread of good decoys in front of us. We had a couple of good flurries and when we picked up at 9 am there were 5 ducks added to the tally.

Final tally from the ponds for week 1 was just over 200 birds, a very pleasing return.

We pulled out of the swamp and headed our separate ways - Mitch and I would catch up later that night at Craig's, but not before I returned to the smoke, ditched my duck gear, loaded my pheasant gear and then set off across town to pick up Hendrik. We then had to detour out to AJ's place to grab some prizes that he and Beretta NZ had donated. The weather was pretty shitty for driving and of course we got stuck behind a truck that didn't want to pull over and let the stream of traffic pass. We hit Craig's in the early evening and met up with Jim, a visitor from Canada along with Craig and another bloke whose name I can't remember. Hendrik whipped us up some steak and sausages and then we settled back to await Mick and Mitch who arrived to complete the shooting party. I'd nabbed a bed so slept well, and was up at 7am. It was Hendrik who spotted the group of fallow deer first; so we quickly arranged ourselves for a hunt. I was on back up gun to Hendrik. The deer moved nicely over a brow from where we saw them and gave us a chance to high tail it up to them and finally to arrive at the lip of a bowl where they were feeding. At Hendrik's shot the deer bolted, but he was certain of a hit on the buck he'd been going for. I headed up the ridge to check for a blood trail while he headed down and then... wrench... as I swung my leg over a gate, the knee I'd aggravated in the swamp clicked out. I didn't quite hit the ground, but I knew that I had a long limp back to the house where I self medicated and strapped the knee. That SOB knee has had repaired cartilage but is prone to going out of alignment - not that that had happened for a few years.

We couldn't locate a blood trail so Craig decided that we'd hunt pheasants until late afternoon, and then go looking for the deer. The day was almost perfect, with a slight but chilly breeze, sun in the sky and within m of leaving the car a cock bird went up. I missed, twice. I ad a bit of a giggle but that really set the tone of the morning as far as my shooting was concerned... behind and over. Not getting my cheek down. We worked the swamp area and I limped my way though hoping that the knee would improve (it did). Craig and Hendrik were on fire, while Mick worked over Heidi and got his birds nice and close. Mitch and I had chances but didn't connect. Back home for lunch of soup, smoked marlin and toast and then reinvigorated, we got back out there. The first drive was through a gorse ridden gulley where we'd seen no less than 6 cocks and a hen run into. We pincer moved it and birds flushed in all directions. I took a nice cock bird at doistance, Mitch dropped a beauty and with the others chimed in also, so only 1 bird escaped. Later we worked over cover crops where I promptly missed a sitter, then came right on a bird that ditched out the back and got a screamer that came downhill on set wings before making the fatal mistake of flaring up where my #6's found him. The next couple of hours were spent working through kale and I managed a final bird. Hendrik captured a nice video of one bird that none of us could pull on due to an unsafe line of fire.

The last bird of the day went to Mitch, who had worked Brutus patiently all day and was rewarded with an utter screamer - a very pleasing result. We lined the birds up for a photo session.

Yup, that's a turkey. There was a special prize for her...

Brilliant end to the first week of the hunting season, and with weather on the way it could be greatr hunting conditions by friday.....

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What a difference a few days make...

When I packed my gear before the duck season, it was meticulously listed and crossed off, everything present and correct - all good. When I got home yesterday from four and a half days away, I chucked washing in the machine, decoys in the corner, cleaned out my blind bag and tossed stuff back in it as carelessly as if the next trip meant nothing... what I really think happens is that you generally know deep down EXACTLY what you need to pack, and the rest falls by the wayside. The difference a couple of days makes is that you fall back on the accumulated knowledge of decades of doing the same thing (albeit months apart).

The season has treated me excellently. The birds have been present in good numbers and with recent heavy rain raising the water levels in the swamps, birds such as shoveler and teal have appeared in good numbers where they were absent a week ago.

Here are some shots:


Saturday's limit bag
Group effort....

... and a celebration

A perfect mallard drake, and a hybrid hen

Sunday limit bag

The hybrid

Monday's limit bag

Tony with a limit
It's been an interesting season in terms of people and change; having to say good bye to Tim who is leaving our party (bye bro), hosting a mate Tony who with his lab Nera had a ball, watching dad getting around on his new knee and sucking up the pain just to be there, having my bro across from Melbourne, my cousin Paul's last hunt for the next 2 years while he's in Canada.... things have to change and so they do.

Anyway, I'm off again today and will be joined by dad, Larry & Mitch so a few more days duck hunting over the dark moon period before chasing pheasants will be just a perfect way to round out the week.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The uphill grind

There is no doubt that the opening day of the duck season is the biggest day of the year. Bigger than Xmas. Bigger than a wedding anniversary. (Maybe not as big as the wedding day itself but that’s a life changing and extraordinary event). Every duck hunter is in the same boat this week, distracted, a waste of space in the work place (yesterday in a business conversation with a client I may have secured a new goose hunting spot – put 2 & 2 together to figure how a sales discussion got to that happy place!), a nuisance to partners, children and generally a black hole into which information pours and a glazed over look accompanied by a slight smile emerges. Sleep patterns are disrupted. Secret accounts are taxed and new gear is stuffed into bags before it is discovered by the missus. Dogs pick up on the vibe and become anxious and excited.

This week is like ground hog day and is replayed every year with very small differences. It’s been the same since I was 9 years old and allowed to go for my first opening day.

For all 35,000 of us duck hunters in NZ, this week is like an uphill grind. But we’ll get there as we always do.

I wish all of you the very best for the season.