Monday, May 19, 2014

Across the border

There’s a nominal line in the centre of a road in a back block that marks the boundary of 2 Fish and Game regions. In one region there’s a growing feeling of optimism that at last a true mallard research program is established; and that maybe, just maybe we can begin to understand the dynamics at play that seem to be affecting our mallard population. In this region the season the waterfowl season runs for 4 weeks and 5 weekends; shotguns are limited to being pinned at 3 shots, baiting of ponds being shot over is illegal and the daily limit is 10 grey ducks/mallard/greylards with an allowance of 2 shoveler within the overall 10 bird bag. In the other region, the season runs for 8 weeks, the bag limit is 15 birds, with 3 shoveler allowable in the mix; guns needn’t be pinned and there’s no restriction on feeding/baiting of ponds. I’m not going to expound on the boundary and regulation topic as other’s have done that to death; its just one of those quirks like being able to stand on the border between countries and be in 2 places at once… I sort of like the idea of being able to drive on a road with the border down the middle and because of its windy gravel nature, be able to cross zones whenever I like, or be driving in parallel duck dimensions!

We'd be hunting in the region with the more liberal regs.

The Green Pond was the 2nd choice (first choice dried up in the almost drought) release site of our reared ducks which have now become fully wild birds. We’d wanted to see if we could develop a local population on ponds devoid of ducks and to put down and raise enough birds to allow a sustainable harvest. The time had come to test the theory. We had ideal conditions with a south westerly at our backs. Because this was to be our first hunt we’d not prepared a blind; we first needed to understand flight lines and shooting positions. So we tucked ourselves behind large outcrops clumped grass with a fence line at our backs. We moved fast to set field decoys and get in place. Soon the first birds arrived and we began to learn about the new spot… hiding 4 guys is pretty difficult without a blind, the wind had them swing high and wide at the first shot and we’d expected in-your-face action so had gone to skeet and open chokes with light loads (I had my 20g u/o with cylinder and skeet, pushing a 1oz lead package).

In the greying sky the birds would approach and use the humps and hollows of the land and the wind to their advantage (sometimes seemingly skimming just a few feet over ridges); mostly in pairs and small groups. To our left a clump of trees provided cover for the birds which until the last second were shrouded from our view. The birds could either scream in from over or behind the trees, or peel away at the last second (where in a second a bird could travel 15m with wind beneath its wings).

Taking them early on the pass lead to a few light hits and complete misses as they used the wind and their speed to get up and out in seconds; so a change of plan was called for. We’d decoy them as close to the water as possible and then take them. Our effectiveness improved straight away and the downed bird count increased in increments. At times I felt under gunned – really my choice of load wasn’t the best with good solid hits needed to fold birds, but with the boys there we had the birds covered and worked with each other really well. Amongst the action were some "moments"; such as when I hit a high bird that came down on the roof of the implement shed, or when the arrival of 2 ducks turned into a frenzy when one was identified as "The Priest", a black bird with a white neck flash. (Matt and I doubled on him, a bottle was at stake...)

The Priest
Tony retrieves...
We called it with 60 birds down and then hurried to withdraw so as not to disturb any further incomers. At the shed we checked the bag; it appeared that plenty of greys had come in off the salt, along with the expected mallards. We set to cleaning the birds to go into our next salami/beer stick run, had a celebration beer and pie, some of Chewie’s goose biltong (chilli flavoured, yummm) and some more pie (the pie was stunning), we shot the breeze, ran a hunt autopsy, figured the “who’s gonna be where” part in aid of scheduling the next hunt and then it was time to leave.

As I drove home, my mind drifted back to those screaming incomers….

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