Friday, May 22, 2015

Mud, stubble and lots of trouble [for the ducks!]

This time of year seems to fly by in a haze induced by lack of sleep, road trips, varied hunting and plenty of ammo usage. Add in work and its no wonder that it’s hard to remember exactly what happened where…. Rolling into the second week of the game bird season, I had a pretty clean slate. I’d planned a visit to the ponds initially but when Tony called with a plan… and not just any plan, but a great one, well things just changed on the spot.

It went like this.

Our mate Richard had discovered a maize crop that due to unfortunate circumstances had been harvested both late [when the crop was man near flattened by weather] and with ancient equipment. Whole heads of maize were everywhere. Ducks were attacking in droves. It sounded just a wee bit too good to be true… but then came the kicker. Following the maize hunt we’d head off up north, grab Tony’s boat and head to his and Chewy’s maimai on the Kaipara Harbour, spend the evening in there and have a good tide for the Sunday morning hunt.

Now that, in my books, sounded like a ripper of a plan with the added bonus that I could spend Saturday morning at home with the family.

Saturday rolled around and after a leisurely morning I began to put my gear together for the hunt. 30 field decoys. A wing spinner. Layout blind. Lead ammo [there’s a novelty, we’d be hunting well away from water and I had half a case of lead #4 to get through].  Into the truck and off to the meeting point. Richard arrived first and we had a catch up in the sun. It was warm and a very late season cicada chirped away. A SW wind was forecast and we hoped that it would arrive; with 5 shooters in layout blinds we needed to be able to get the birds to set properly. Matt, Chewy and tony rolled in and we got on our way. The drive out along the peninsula is always pleasant and soon we were passing through beautiful territory. I saw a couple of cock pheasants along the way, shining in the afternoon sun. We arrived at our entry point, got the quad off the trailer, gear onto trailer and then we all clambered aboard. We met 3 hunters who were leaving the property; their bag was a single magpie. The paddock we were to hunt in was indeed a harvesting disaster – whole ears of maize lay everywhere. Feathers and footprints. Paradise ducks lifted off and wheeled around. The wind was now blowing nicely and we walked the paddock surveying our options. We settled on hunting from the side of a small rise overlooking a depression, which would allow us to set 5 blinds bringing guns to bear on birds drifting left to right. 

A wing spinner finished the spread and we settled back. We didn’t have to wait long for the first parries to arrive and each took a couple. About 4pm the first ducks appeared. They were flying up the valley behind us but keeping their distance as they eyed the spread. That was the signal to stop shooting parries. We hadn’t gone overboard with our camo efforts, but had jammed as many stalks and stubble leaves in to the loops on our blinds as we could reasonably manage.  But the sun was our real enemy, as it dropped behind us our blinds threw long [albeit narrow] shadows. The first real duck in was a grey that took us all by surprised, swooped in over the ridge to our left and came straight in. Tony or Matt took the bird and we sat back in anticipation. More and more birds were in the air but staying out of range. Flocks of grey ducks interspersed with the occasional mallard buzzed around. I am unused to seeing greys in such numbers; in the swamp I haunt they usually fly in singles or pairs. Finally the sun dipped below the peak behind us and the duck switch was thrown. Ducks came in in pairs, singles and small groups and not much got away. I’d only brought a single packet of lead shells and was soon through that and the other guys were getting through their ammo supplies fast as well. Ducks cupped up and swung in on the breeze and as the sky darkened the shooting became more and more exciting.
Between 5.30 and 6.15 the most insane hunting was had and by the time the flight began to button off we had 5 duck limits on the ground, along with 10 parries. The dogs got to work rounding up the birds and we deconstructed the decoy spread, took down the blinds and got things stacked onto the trailer. That hunt was memorable for the perfect conditions allowing us all to get stuck in, and as usual the great company.

We said goodbye to Richard and then convoyed north to pick up the guys’ trucks. At Warkworth we said goodbye to Matt; Tony, Chewy and I were headed to Wellsford to collect the boat and headed out onto the Kaipara Harbour for the second part of our weekend.

At Tony’s we loaded our gear onto the boat, jumped into Chewy’s truck and set off along the backroads, arriving at the landing. Boat launched, we set off by the light of headlamps and within 10 minutes arrived at the lads’ island. Their maimai was set on poles with a shooting platform atop the living area which consisted of 4 bunks, a kitchenette and a deck surrounding 2 sides of the structure. Chewy cranked up the cooktop and got duck sausages on the go, while Tony and I drove around setting decoys in the darkness. A quick meal of sausages on bread, and a few coldies on the shooting deck and I for one was ready to hit the hay.

The alarm went at 6 and we got a brew on, climbed into cool weather gear and got set up for our morning’s shoot. It was clam and still and less than ideal for harbour shooting. Behind us, parries moved around over the farmland but not many ducks were getting going. Then a small breeze sprang up and soon strengthened. Behind us, 2 ducks zoomed in over the mangroves and I called to the boys – they set and came in on Tony’s side and we laid into them – 2 down!

The next birds to arrive were a small group and a pair, after some coaxing they set and came in but pulled up 30m out. We each ditched a bird but the survivors got out faster than our follow up shots. More birds turned up now again but the major flurry was when Chewy went to retrieve the boat which was tied up in a creek several hundred metres away and covered by shade cloth. While he was away, 2 mobs appeared and Tony and I put several birds on the deck including one which flew 200m before dropping stone dead. Nera, Tony’s black lab, retrieved the close birds before Chewy arrived and collected the long bird. He then took off to drive up some nearby creeks to see if he could push any birds out – he did, but nothing came to Tony and I.

On Chewy’s return we had a cuppa, then all piled into the boat to retrieve the decoys. Like a well-oiled machine we grabbed dekes and then would the 5m cords in…. this made pond shooting look easy. We still had the tide on our side so were able to make a couple of trips back to the ramp to unload our gear and decoys. Back at Tony’s, we ate a barbecued breakfast before Matt arrived with the previous day’s bag and we made short work of breasting out our birds.

That concluded a couple of great – and unexpected – hunts. With only 2 weeks of our season to go, it all seems to have gone by so fast….

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