The second weekend of the season. I haven't hunted ducks on that weekend for quite a number of years, as we've kicked our pheasant season off that weekend normally. Because our pheasants are late to mature this year the decision was made to push our opening back to June - fine by me! Dad, Matt and I would be hunting together and were able to make an early call as to where to hunt. We'd be less than imaginative and hunt Puru. Its a pond that produces birds more by dint of how much effort is put in than for any other reason. I got in way later than I would have thought; traffic was diabolical and a 90 minute trip took twice that in reality. Matt and dad had arrived earlier and set the decoys. They hunted the Friday afternoon and evening for 2 birds to hand.
The weather forecast was for rain, both patchy and heavy as the day progressed and sme generally northerly wind. I doubted the wind forecast and said as much when I spoke with Tony while on my trip south. He and the lads were planning a paddock hunt over some surface water.
We arrived at the maimai nice and early and got set. The first shots, as usual, rang out well before 06.30. Our first birds arrived closer to 07.00 and we got underway. The rain began to fall. With 3 guns in the maimai we rotated the shooting, 2 guns up and one standing by. At 11am and with 10 or so birds in the bag, I'd seen enough birds landing back in the trees to warrant a walk. I told the guys that I'd be gone an hour and set off in the direction of a semi abandoned pond a half km or so away. Layla got a grin on and began to cast around, covering territory in search of a scent. With a damaged shin, I opted for the easiest path I could find through the windfall and swamp. Its just plain noisy getting around in there so there's not much of an opportunity to stalk quietly, so when we approached the old pond the birds flushed out of sight. I caught a glimpse of 6 birds disappearing into the distance. The rain was persistent and with the sweat I'd worked up I was drenched, but at least it was warm. I waited by the pond to see if any birds returned (sometimes they'll come back) and formed a new plan. Rather than simply returning to our pond I'd do a circuit through the trees, visit another pond and pass around the guys hunting near us. The track to this old pond was overgrown and it took a bit of effort to make headway. I was passing a thicket when lo and behold a very large chocolate Labrador appeared. I called out 'good morning' and three young guys almost jumped out of their skins! I was camo'd head to toes inc a face mask so they probably didn't pick me up easily. We chatted about our intentions - they were on their way to visit another pond and parted ways. Soon after Layla pushed a bird out of a flooded depression but I was nowhere near ready and missed the chance. We continued and suddenly 40m out in front, a grey duck burst from the trees. My second shot, a pretty long one, felled the bird and I saw it fall out in the open to my left. I realised that the bird had actually dropped into the river and called Layla over. Just then, the guys I'd met earlier came around the corner in their boat. They picked my bird and threw it to me, a fine looking duck. Layla and I got back on our way, visiting a pond that I'd hoped would hold a bird or two but that was not to be. We reentered the trees and Layla quickly flushed a hen mallard which I dropped. The dog brought my duck in and I added it to my belt. Soon after, she went hot again and chased down a grey duck that wasn't able to fly. I was now nearing our hut so veered back into the swamp to intersect our ponds. There I found dad and Matt out looking for a bird they'd dropped. Layla got out into the flooded willows and chased a bird out just as Matt's Zulu grabbed another! Having completed a strong retrieve, Layla delivered the bird. I was soaked to the skin and tired, so after a short stint back in the maimai I headed back to the hut to prepare some lunch and change into a dry set of clothes. Hot coffee and sandwiches made, it was back to the guys for the afternoon shoot. We had a few chances and I was pleased to knock off my limit bird late in the afternoon. Darkness descended and we headed in to the hut with 18 birds for our day's effort.
We dined on goose burgers and had a few quiet drinks. I was completely stuffed and my shin was swollen out. Layla was dead on her feet. We were in bed by 20.30. Still the rain fell. Wet gear was draped on chairs in front of the fire, or hung above.
When Matt's alarm went off, I really didn't want to get out of bed. But, a hunting morning lay ahead and there's not one that can be missed. We weren't exactly on time to the pond, but soon had birds in range. The rain had drenched our guns and despite (or because of!) meticulously cleaning them the previous evening, we all suffered jams or malfunctions! Several times I could only get one shot away and even Matt's A400 suffered.
At 9 we pulled the pin with 5 birds in the bag and made our way back to clean the bag, the hut, get everything ship shape and get underway while we had tide on our side.
As I write this entry now, my shin is pounding, telling me about the effort I'd exerted. And Layla, well she's tired too...