Near per­fect plan­ning

Stand­ing around a camp­fire late in the af­ter­noon, a group of South Aus­tralian hun­ters work out their strat­egy for the last big duck hunt of the sea­son on Love­day.

Field and Game - - NEAR PERFECT PLANNING -

Jim God­den's house over­looks the wet­land, which is the pride and joy of the Barmera Moorook Field & Game Aus­tralia branch.

He knows who is about and where they will hunt on the wet­land; this fi­nal meet­ing is to fill in the gaps to en­sure good cov­er­age.

"All we aim for is to cover the wet­land and en­sure ev­ery­body gets the chance to have a good hunt," Jim said.

Ear­lier in the day, in one of the few struc­tures re­main­ing from an old abat­toir, we meet the Greek con­tin­gent.

They have al­ready added a few sheets of tin and nailed down the rest to shel­ter from the Antarc­tic breeze blow­ing across the evap­o­ra­tion pond.

They of­fer up food and drink and the hos­pi­tal­ity ex­tends to a few yarns, which ex­plains why a small clus­ter of reed topped mounds in the wet­lands is marked on the map as the Greek Is­lands.

It started as a some­what dis­parag­ing nick­name for the area hunted ex­clu­sively by Greek im­mi­grants who toiled on fruit blocks in the River­land.

Many of the orig­i­nal mem­bers are still around, and although later generations have drifted to the big cities, they still re­turn year af­ter year to hunt and con­trib­ute to con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. "This is my 50th year hunt­ing here," Ge­orge Sour­bis says proudly.

"Most of us went to Ade­laide to give our kids a bet­ter chance at ed­u­ca­tion but we love the life up here."

Peter Economou is 76 years old and a reg­u­lar fix­ture at Love­day.

"I love to hunt; we come here all the time” he said “You can walk, you can fish; this is a beau­ti­ful place. I come down here with my boys, shoot­ing or no shoot­ing.”

Chris Pal­lis has been hunt­ing Love­day for 44 years.

"Most of the time I come I get my ducks, not a bag limit but enough," he said.

"It isn't just the hunt­ing, it is the ca­ma­raderie, the camp life." The plan looked per­fect when teal started drop­ping in on a de­coy spread in the min­utes be­fore the open­ing time but hunt­ing is rarely that easy.

Ge­orge was a mem­ber of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee that made the de­ci­sion to buy the Love­day lease and his love for the wet­land is ev­i­dent.

"This is life, this is where we be­long.” he said.

“It is a way of life; you light the fire, you sit around and you meet new peo­ple.

“I started shoot­ing with my fa­ther here 50 years ago with a sin­gle-bar­rel shot­gun and a hes­sian bag."

Shannon Baxter only started hunt­ing ducks this sea­son with her husband Nathan and fa­ther, Jim God­den.

They were dis­cussing get­ting into hunt­ing, which led to a text from Shannon to her fa­ther ask­ing: 'Can girls hunt ducks?'

Jim's re­sponse was a re­sound­ing yes. For generations, duck camps in his fam­ily were for the boys but times have changed.

"Ob­vi­ously I've been around it all my life but I only started hunt­ing this year," Shannon said.

"A cou­ple of times I went out and got two birds. To­day is the first time I haven't pulled the trig­ger."

Po­si­tioned on the edge of the reeds with her dad, the fi­nal big shoot of the sea­son looked promis­ing.

As the first glow of a mag­nif­i­cent sun­rise peaked over the sand hills, a lone teal plopped grace­fully into the de­coy spread, even be­fore Jim had waded back to get into cover.

As the light im­proved an­other two teal flared their wings and joined the de­coys bob­bing on the still wa­ter.

"This is look­ing good," Jim said.

None of the teal ap­peared to be wear­ing watches but their sense of tim­ing was per­fect — 7.13 am was the of­fi­cial start time but by 7.12 am, they had all gone.

A sin­gle Black duck clearly didn't get the memo, and Jim took his chance even though it was a long shot. It would be the only bird for the morn­ing and Jim joined a long and il­lus­tri­ous list of hun­ters who bagged a sin­gle. Top gun was three birds.

Love­day of­ten wel­comes re­turn­ing teal to­wards the end of the sea­son but not this year, with the heavy rains in New South Wales and Queensland. There are small mobs of birds about but by now they know to get up and stay high.

On a patch of wa­ter called Big Mus­sel three hun­ters are set up along flight lines they know well but on this day, strange things are hap­pen­ing.

Ducks are fol­low­ing the Mur­ray River, which runs along one bound­ary of Love­day and cut­ting back across dry land.

The trio, in­clud­ing Philippe Gravier, need eyes in the back of their heads as they study known flight lines only to be sur­prised by birds sneak­ing through from be­hind.

"I only had two car­tridges — I got one and missed the sec­ond one," Philippe said.

"Two ducks came from be­hind and I didn't see them and gen­er­ally they were fly­ing very high, so not many op­por­tu­ni­ties."

Orig­i­nally from France, where he mostly hunted on pri­vate prop­erty, Philippe is en­joy­ing the tran­si­tion to wild ducks rather than bred-and-re­leased birds.

"I love this place, it is a plea­sure ev­ery time," he said.

Dubbed "Out­back Phil" by his mates, Philippe is a handy ad­di­tion to any camp. Post hunt, while the birds are be­ing plucked and dressed, he serves up ar­ti­san bread with pro­sciutto fol­lowed by the same bread smoth­ered in Di­jon mus­tard topped with a Gruyère cheese.

The feast on the eve of the hunt fea­tured a goat's leg.

Philippe likes his ducks slow cooked in white wine or duck fat and served on a bed of sauer­kraut and, with his French roots, he makes the most of duck liver.

To­day yields one duck but like ev­ery other hunter on Love­day, he's sat­is­fied as he pre­pares fine food in a peace­ful bush camp — where else would you want to be?

“It is a way of life; you light the fire, you sit around and you meet new peo­ple."

Ge­orge Sour­bis

Jim God­den and and Shannon Baxter mark in­com­ing birds

Clock­wise from left; Peter Economou, Tony Plar­i­nos, Ge­orge Sour­bis, Chris Pal­lis and Jom God­den

A long shot but Jim God­den got his Black duck

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