The big day was almost on us.Duck opener. Greg and Daryl had got in from Melbourne with Daryl’s boy Jack the day before and were set up in the hut with dad and Larry already. I’d arranged with Matt to meet at the landing pretty early, so had hit to road @ 5am with her Royal Blackness Layla onboard.
As we launched and loaded the boat in the morning gloom, a family group of pheasants got up and flew across the river for their morning feed. We counted 11 in total. Greg came down to help us offload our gear and then Daryl arrived. Matt and I had managed to fill my wee tub with an inordinate amount of stuff! Once settled in we set about getting our decoys in order, jerk string lines sorted, batteries for electronica worked out and soon we were motoring around the ponds setting the decoys. With sunny blue-sky weather forecast and no wind whatsoever, there would be a real danger of fog the following day. As hunters entered the swamp masses of ducks whirled overhead and their calls could be heard for miles.
It’s a busy area. As habitat shrinks there is more and more pressure on the remaining resource. I think back to those lucky and happy days of secondary and tertiary education, where I could disappear into the swamp for a week or two and be surprised if I saw another person. Now there are literally hundreds of hunters in the area for at least the first week of the season. It does taper off later on, and I crave those days later in the season where birds can be worked without undue pressure on sky busting idiots nearby and where hidey holes can be worked for ducks looking for quiet loafing and a drink of water.
Tom arrived mid-morning leaving only Andy and Paul to arrive and round out the numbers. We caught up on each other’s tales, trials and tribulations. It was a good time to reflect on party members past and present. Later in the day Matt and I put out decoys on the pond that Paul would hunt, in his absence, and then took the opportunity to watch birds work the ponds. We both commented on the large number of beautifully coloured up mallard drakes. I’d be shooting greenheads only – or at least that was my plan – so it was good to see plenty of the quarry up close and personal.
Andy and Paul rolled in late in the afternoon and as at this time of year camp got quite busy, with 10 people and 6 dogs in attendance. With dad’s curry in our bellies it was time to have a few quiet drinks and tell some lies.
The Opening. That magic day of days. No duck shooter would miss it – and I say ‘shooter’ deliberately because there are plenty who only go out for the one day, leaving the serious hunters to work the balance of the season. Andy and Greg dropped me and the Black Piranha off at McLennan’s, a kidney shaped pond at the outer edge of our setup. I got set up and decided at that point to not even switch on the wing spinning decoy. I’d not need much more than good calling to bring birds in. There was a cover of high cloud so picking drakes was going to be more difficult than yesterday. The first shots boomed out well before legal hunting time as usual. Its always a disappointment that some fools can’t wait the extra 20-30 minutes until legal shooting time. As I get older and grumpier I wish more for Darth Vader like throat crushing dark force powers. From afar I’d dangle the offenders in mid air while the gasp for… ok, back to the opener. My first bird came at roughly 6.45 am. In the pre-dawn gloom he gave himself away with a drakey-croke and soon Layla came back and handed him over.
My morning was glorious. Numerous times grey ducks and mallard hens dropped in to be left alone, while I picked off my greenhead limit bird by bird. To my surprise, my shooting was quite good, and I was done in under a box of cartridges which included 3 shots finishing off a bird hit by another party. At 9am I was done and sat down to tidy up my spent shells and get my birds strung on the stringer.
I called Matt who reported slow going down his way so asked if he and Larry wanted to move locations, and soon they came chugging along in the punt. Matt got to work immediately and in short order finished up his limit. I spent some time calling in birds for Larry but he was shooting poorly indeed. After a while, Paul who had closed his limit came by and offered to do the lunch run on Larry’s behalf. Paul soon delivered large chunks of bacon & egg pie (NO PEAS!!!) to the pond crews. I took my birds back to the hut and hung them to cool and tidied down my gear. The action had quietened down substantially as birds had moved into the stratosphere. After a coffee I took Layla and we walked (in short boots) out to The Park, where Greg and Andy had set up to close out their limit birds. We spent the afternoon chatting and occasionally a bird or two arrived to interrupt. By dark the guys were finished or close to limiting out.
The day after. Day 2. It can be good hunting, it can be diabolical. I call it hunting because the birds are generally wised up already and we’re hunting a localised population, not migrators.
Matt and I had made the call to hunt Bollocks. Our largest pond by size, its also generally neglected by most of the team. Again I decided against using any electronic decoys. They have a time and place, but on still days when every pond has at least one in operation I’m looking for differentiation. That can be strong calling, water ripples, different decoy posture and positioning… anything but what the birds are being mass force fed. Things were a bit relaxed so it was after legal time by the time the boys had finished being ferried to their spots, which involved driving through our pond. Matt and I had waded out so were all set up and ready. Our hunt that morning was classic in your face stuff as we worked birds into feet-down range. With only a couple of stuff ups we made our number by 9, and the other guys knocked a few down also. Matt had taken a wonderful hybrid.
I moved down to work with Larry on Watsons. First hand I saw that the pond was simply not working. While I could pull birds from afar they wouldn’t commit, rather they’d peel into one of the other ponds. Larry was keen to stay on there But with birds to clean and an injured leg from a fall earlier, I wanted to get back to the hut. I hobbled back and caught up with Paul. He’d dug an offal pit while I cleaned the hut floor and then we got on with breasting the birds. As the guys came back to the hut the plucking line got started and after a couple of hours of effort we’d broken the birds down into edible packages. Andy and Paul left on the afternoon tide, with busy jobs they couldn’t stay on.
The rest of the season beckons.