Sunday, June 30, 2013

A great lunch and a big clean-up

There's always a catch with doing stuff you enjoy, like hunting and fishing and the catch is that you need to have a clean-up sooner or later. But first I'd managed an evening/day pass and was headed down to Craig's place. Craig, Mick, Mitch, carl the Canadian and Clarissa had gone to the rugby in Hamilton, so even though I was picking Andy up at a relatively late hour we would arrive at Craig's before he got home. It was a chilly 4 degrees when I met Andy and we set sail arriving at Otorohanga at 9.15 with another half hour or so to Craig's. By the time we were in the hills beyond Waitomo it was sub zero with the temp gauge showing it had risen to 1 degree at Craig's place. We got a fire going, unpacked provisions and watched a movie until Craig arrived. The boys came in 40 minutes or so later. I got up at 6.30 to crank up the fire and there was a heavy frost on the ground. By the time we had had a massive breakfast, moved the feed breaks and the cows it was about 9.30, still clear and the sun was beginning to beat down. The hunting would be hard on such a still day so we'd need to be quiet. We had ample dogs with Keira, Heidi, Max, Brutus and Ruby working for us.

The first hunt involved pincer moving on an area that held birds early in the season. Mitch and I (with Brutus and Ruby) had to move down through the bush while Mick took Heidi down a gulley. Andy and Craig worked Max and Keira. The plan worked pretty well, Mitch and popped out and put up 4 birds immediately; but being hens they were safe. Mick shot a cock bird and the other guys had no shots. We regrouped and decided to work the 100 acre paddock. As we crested the brow to work our way down, 5 birds jumped 4-500m ahead. They really were spooky. We worked down the gulley to a natural tunnel, the only cock birds high tailing it out of range - one making the mistake of flying over Craig who was blocking. he knocked out feathers and told us we'd find the bird further on. Through the cave we emerged on a large flat surrounded by manuka regrowth. The dogs worked the bush edges down to a gorse thicket. I moved around the back edge as the dogs pushed in. Then the unmistakeable sound of a cock bird jumping. I let him get out to a safe firing zone and fired a split second before another shot rang out. Craig and I had doubled on him. I fired first so naturally claimed the bird :) . He was an un-banded and untagged bird, large in body and sporting a 37 bar tail, most likely a 2+ year old bird.

Then Craig's earlier bird was found - it had flown another 200m from where shot before dying. We worked back towards the vehicles over some broken scrub country and even though bird sign was abundant we only bumped a couple of hens. Finally we neared the farm tanks and worked down a ridge towards the river, suddenly it was "birdy" with chances coming quite fast. I missed a leaping cock that then evaded Andy and Craig before Mitch coming over the ridge pushed a cock my way and I was able to drop him 40m out. We worked a final patch of gorse before getting back to the trucks. 5 hours had yielded 4 birds.

Back at base we had a lunch that can only be described as epic - smoked marlin, blue cheese, bread rolls, brie, home brew followed by white raspberry chocolate. Getting moving after that was a mission! It had cooled again by the time we arrived at the next hunt. We only had 90 minutes so we spilt up to cover the area more efficiently. I found myself down by the river in heavy cover with Andy up to my left and Craig further down. we arrived at a large gulley and Craig told me to stand in a spot that may offer a shot, sure enough a cock bird came sailing along the gulley but high and wide, I swung and dropped him in the gulley below me. I was quite pleased with that shot... but should have paid more attention as I stepped into a swamp and disappeared up to my crotch...

with time approaching, Andy and I split from the others and headed for the car. 3 hours later and Andy was delivered to his folks' place. I got home, dropped gear in the garage, hung my bird and had a shower.

Today though... the clean up. First up I emptied the crap out of my layout blind.

Then it was time to take off the boat blind. The good news was that today's weather was perfect for drying the nets and grass before rolling up and storing them. Threw them on the car to dry.

Cleaned the under/over, put the sea dekes away, shouldn't really have left them in the boat but had been hoping to get up North before the end of their duck season; but that's finished now.

Having squared everything away, I'm ready to pack my travel bag and head south.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Last weekend it was rain, rain, torrential rain and sitting in the layout bailing water out with our coffee cups. As geese flew by, giggling at us in goose talk.

During the week I ran a theory about going pheasant hunting at Craig’s past SWMBO and was told that celebrating my birthday with my family was pretty darn important and that I better not have any plans on Saturday. Rang Craig and canned the trip. With rain and wind forecast it would have been difficult anyway, but still I felt a bit gutted. Late in the week I called Coch for a chat and he mentioned that maybe a plan to hunt geese on Sunday could be hatched. Ran it past SWMBO on Saturday afternoon, she rolled her eyes, mentioned divorce and walked away. Permission granted! Birthday dinner at Narita (Japanese) was excellent, great food and the Justin Bieber Fan Club had a blast trying out different types of food. Got home, packed gear (waders a must this time!), threw ammo into my bag (yup, 80 rounds should do it). Alarm at 4am, brekkie, thermos filled with coffee, hit the road in steady rain. I’m always surprised at how much traffic is around at that time – it simply wasn’t like this 10 years ago. Where are all these people going? The drive was steady and I arrived on time at the meeting point. Quick coffee and off to meeting point 2 – there’d been a change of plans so I was drifting along with the tide of the new proposition. So we loaded the gear into the trucks and set off. In the early morning gloom I hadn’t a clue where the heck I was - everything seems so much more distant in the dark as there are no discernible boundaries. Finally we were in a cut over maize paddock, re-grassed in early April. Not that you’d know it, it seemed to be a desert of half cm grass overlaid with goose and swan kak. Hard to believe the carnage created by birds. The weather was perfect, drizzle and a steady NE wind, directly away from the roost. In the gloom we assembled the decoys, a mix of full body and shells, got the blinds arranged and re-arranged, had a safety briefing and settled. We had 5 guns, 3 old hands, me and 1 very new to this type of thing. Soon the geese would be in the air…. Well that was the hope. We waited as the day brightened. And waited. Waited some more. A couple of hours in and we were still waiting. We could hear the birds several kms away on their roost. They had to be getting hungry –surely? Finally after an eternity of drizzle laden “drenchedness” a flight took off. They got wind under their tails and set sail to our left before swinging wide and committing. After that it was a bit of a blur. Geese filled the air; we called, flagged, shot and often couldn’t get to the downed birds because more were on their way.

Decoy spread and goose bodies
At one stage a mob of ~60? 80? – too many anyway, descended on us and we had to let them go rather than educating them. As more manageable groups came in we dealt to them.
The shooting was effective, everyone concentrating on their birds and it really was a well-coordinated hunt. Very soon mutterings of “low ammo supply” began to be murmured’ We re-distributed the remaining stock and got stuck in again… so a call was made for a run to be made – ammo in and bodies out. “The Don” made the run and returned with trailer attached to the quad, there was simply no way we were getting the trucks back in the paddock which had turned from grass field to a quaking bog.
We piled as many geese onto the trailer as we could, replenished the ammo supplies and then dragged more of the geese to the edge of the paddock where we covered them in rushes pulled from the drain.

The geese kept coming, but now in smaller mobs and we were able to deal with them very effectively. Then the inevitable happened and the birds began to non-commit and start landing elsewhere. The Don pushed them out of other paddocks several times and again we were able to hit new flocks. Then the flocks began to circle more, stay high and avoid us. Probably birds that we’d shot at earlier. Finally there was a lull. We waited for 45 minutes at and 2pm made the call to depart. Rick and I swept the nearby paddocks and returned with 10 birds. It took another 45 minutes to transport the gear out by quad to the trucks… and then back to base. We arranged the birds in rows and did the tally – we had each offered a guestimate on the final tally, my guess was mid 140’s so when we came up with a final number of 197 it was a complete surprise.

Layout blind aka empties recepticle
We sorted the birds and set up the production line, Coch skinning, Rick & I breasting, and 2 others “legging”. The rain by now was torrential so I quite enjoyed standing under a carport just out of the rain slicing & dicing.
Coch in a sea of geese

Let the chopping begin

Take breast meat, meat into cold water to chill down, then onto drying rack and into heavy bag to be added to the salami pile. Body passed to “legging” team to do their bit. Next bird. 3 and a half hours later the breasting crew was done. The legging boys were only half way in. A quick drink to celebrate a massive day and then I hit the road, but not before draining the dregs of my thermos. At one point on the trip home the rain was too heavy to drive through safely, with maybe 10 feet of visibility so I pulled off to one side. As the squall passed I saw half a dozen cars had done the same thing – at least everyone was thinking safety first.

Home and into the shower. Wet gear onto drying rack. Gun disassembled and cleaned down. Ammo dried and CRC’d….

What a day. What a blimmin long and marvellous day – that evening watching TV I was quite alert and despite my knee lacking movement there was very little pain.

Utu achieved. - with interest. My never-ending thanks to the Mafia boys for the invitation to experience a once in a lifetime hunt..


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Where are the trout?

Ok, I'll admit it, I've not caught a trout this year. I think I did try on New Year's Day, but got skunked. It doesn't bug me so much that I haven't. At least I don't feel dissatisfied or anything.

One of the blogs I follow had this post  which explains the trout predicament quite nicely - people moving into fly fishing niches. Hard to say if I have a fly fishing niche, but I can say that its been several months since I picked up a fly rod and that was for beefier species.

I'll come back to angling for trout, I know I will.

Hydro hunting - outwitted by birds

The rain was torrential at 1am and still falling at 04.30 when I hit the road. In the car I had the layout (pre-grassed), a bag of Higdon Alpha 3/4 body goose decoys, the gun, 150 rounds of goose medicine, a swag of wet weather gear, blind bag with coffee and Gingernut bikkies and the unpinned gun. (I have to say that having to constantly dick around to remove the magazine cap of the Xtrema to put the mag plug in/take the mag plug out is a pain – the mag cap has a flange with a lip that needs to be depressed from its slot and in the process I’ve broken one cap already). The reason for all of this was the dark of the moon – theoretically the geese don’t have enough light to navigate with so ought to do their feeding during the daylight hours, so they should fly to feed during the day.

It was still chucking it down when I arrived to meet with the crew. Andrew arrived first and then Lick & Coch showed up. We waited for Dickie who had decided to “do some work” - finally getting him on cell - and having finalised that we were it we set off. Out with the dekes, layouts setup and then the lads went to park their trucks. As Coch and I waited in the gloom, the first flight of geese passed by. Finally we were all set, with umbrellas up to ward off the incessant rain. At least that was the theory – my brolly imploded with a gust of wind and ended up with broken spokes sticking out all over the place. We waited. And waited some more. Geese could be seen lifting off the big lake and either heading for the sanctuary lake or dropping in on far off paddocks. Our setup appeared to be a bit out of their way. At least there was some wind; Met Service had predicted a still morning however Predict Wind & Metvuw both said that there’d be a north easterly and they were to a certain extent correct. Finally we coaxed a flight of geese down and after much circling they committed, but to one side of our spread… we axed down the birds that we could under the circumstances. Much later a flight of 4 came in and were dispatched – and then the wind changed, turning a complete 180 degrees!

Where are the geese?

The rain continued (we bailed out our layouts with our coffee cups!) and now with a biting southerly, birds began to really get up and go – mostly large flocks of ducks, some teal and huge flocks of swan. We spun our layouts around, reset the dekes and waited. Finally a flock committed nicely and we laid into them… and then that was it. Where were all the hungry geese? At 11am, we retreated. Not defeated as we had 15 birds down, but something wasn’t quite right. Having not worn my waders, the rain had leaked up inside my over-trousers so I was nicely damp from waist down and it was getting cold, so I was quite happy to be moving. Decoys and layouts were packed in record time. We got back to the cars, I packed my stuff said bye to the lads and headed off.

An hour later I got a text from Coch. “400 geese went in after we packed up, no kidding!”

Wouldn’t that rip your nightie.

UTU! I want Utu!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Stealing" an Eastern Region duck

The hen I got on Sunday morning was wearing a band as I'd previously mentioned. But she's a bit more interesting than the ones from opening day, in that she'd travelled approximately 70km and over the Kaimai ranges from the Kaituna wetland to be harvested.

A juvenile bird, she was banded on 27 January 2013.

Monday, June 3, 2013

End of season report

The blur that has been the duck season has come and gone. I'd thought that I would feel a bit ripped off about having a 1 month season, but far from it actually, its been great. Life's what you make it they say, so grabbing every chance to get out has meant that we've packed more in over the shorter time allotment.

On Friday afternoon I had a chat with Craig to see if he wanted to come for a hunt, but with Mitch, Mick and a guest due for a pheasant hunt he was tied up.

Being a long weekend, I'd expected traffic horror when I left Auckland at 18.30 so was really surprised to run the motorway at 100kph the entire way. Over the Bombays I joined at the tail of a queue of traffic and was slightly unamused to be the fifth in a line of cars to get pinged by a speed camera in the 90 kph zone. I arrived at the landing just before Andy, packed his boat, we launched and were in the hut just after 8.30. Larry and dad were ensconced and had the place nice and warm. We had dinner, a few beers and then hit the hay. Larry snored like a chainsaw. We cursed him loudly to no avail whatsoever. When 5am rolled around, Andy said that even with an 8 week old baby, that was his worst sleep in months.

Weetbix, coffee and off to the maimai. Dad didn't bring his gun as he'd decided that he'd had a good season and shot enough birds. We were set in the predawn darkness and it was quiet. the sun rose in a glorious display of colour, as it only can in the swamp with orange light against a willow back drop.

A brace of grey ducks came in in the early light and landed. As they rose I picked the right hand bird in a gap in the trees and dropped it; the other bird hit the burners and rose above the treeline 40m out where my second shot intercepted it. The feeling of being pleased with a good start was diminished a bit when despite several sweeps, the hounds couldn't find the second bird. We kicked back and waited for more birds to fly... waited, waited. It wasn't until about 7.45 that a pair of mallards cruised by and responded to the call. The swung over the dekes and we dropped them both. Later a triple met the same fate, and after that every half hour or so we had ducks coming by. We were pleased to not drop a shot on a bird. The bag of 10 birds was a fair reflection and the birds were of high quality.

One of my birds was a blue-billed drake - we used to see a number of these in the past and I'm not sure of the reason for the shade of their beak.

After lunch dad dropped Larry off at the landing while Andy and I went on a walk through the low lying swamp area to see if we could find any birds tucked up in the trees - the answer was yes but I just couldn't connect despite multiple shots. As water rises in the swamps the ducks use telepathy or some other communication method to transmit the location of food and water... put it this way, the water had only risen over the past few days but the ducks were well into it. We wandered around for an hour or so and then returned to the maimai before getting ready for our evening hunt in a favourite hole in the willows. We were set up in plenty of time to observe the passage of swan and ducks overhead. I had the first chance at a grey that simply dived in from great height. My shots rocked him but at the speed he was going he cupped up and flew at least 2oom before hitting the deck. Darkness fell and 2 mallards came in with a sound like a jet liner before coming around and over. Andy let fly and they departed jinking like crazy. Soon a single zoomed in and got away unscathed. The shooting is challenging in this spot! We quit soon after as darkness dropped.

Back at the hut the day was retold, a few beers downed and we turned in early to catch up on our sleep with no Larry around.... it worked.

Sunday morning, the last morning of the season. I dad would be shooting today. The first brace of mallards didn't show up until sun up, and we dropped them well overhead. My bird was wearing a band and I felt a bit for her; none the less the data from her bling may help with the overall picture.

We had a pretty good shoot, ending with 8 birds, including another blue-bill that Andy downed.

Andy needed to be out of the swamp to catch up with a mate on a pheasant hunt, so having dropped him off dad and I resumed hunting until 11. Then we pulled the dekes, cleaned the hut, packed our gear and got ready to depart.

A pretty good season all in all, with 287 birds to hand. Probably a reflection of the effort expended. As mentioned earlier, we certainly compressed more hunting into the shorter period. I haven't done any per day effort expended calculations but if we look at ducks per day of allowable season it works out to 9.56 ducks per day. Pretty solid returns.

A damn good season.