A boom, boom season
An accidental acquisition has become an obsession for James Iaconese, who spent duck season disappearing in a cloud of black smoke — and loving it.
It’s funny when I think about it.
I used to make fun of those who would shoot black powder firearms but an accidental acquisition turned my world upside down.
Something about the “boom” rather than the “bang” and that cloud of black smoke makes me love shooting a muzzle loader. What started with one rifle has now turned into a few, and a couple of shotguns as well.
I acquired my first muzzle-loading shotgun in late 2014 and having only shot black powder rifles, it was a steep learning curve. It soon became apparent that the number of items needed to load a shotgun in the field would be much more than that of a rifle, but after a bit of research I now have my loading process down pat. My plan was to hunt with this firearm throughout the 2015 duck season but sadly when the moment came along I would constantly go for my trusty over and under rather than the muzzle loader.
The year went quickly and the 2016 duck season rolled around; this time I was determined to hunt with the black powder.
On opening morning in Gippsland, we were on the water early. With the hide set up and the decoys put out, it was time to load the shotgun. I was using 100 grains of black powder with 32 grams of lead shot. Yes, that’s right, with a muzzle loader you are allowed to use lead shot. I still took my under and over with me to dispatch any wounded birds as it would be quicker than reloading. Opening time arrived and plenty of shots could be heard coming from the Heart Morass. A few mobs of birds made their way back and forth across the middle of the lake and it took a while before any birds headed our way. Then a pair of black duck changed course and headed towards the decoys.
Before they pitched in we stood up. Pulling the trigger on the black powder, you could hear the click of the hammer hitting the primer then the sudden “boom” as the powder ignited. The ducks disappeared behind a cloud of smoke and kept going. Realigning, I fired the second shot and a bird fell from the sky. Only then did I realise the lead was travelling at a much slower speed than regular field loads.
After quickly reloading and collecting the bird, I was ready for the next birds to come into the decoys. A flock of teal could be seen making their way low across the lake and, with a bit of calling, we had them coming our way. As the birds were pitching in, we stood up, making them flair in all directions. I raised the gun, took aim and was just about to fire, only to watch the bird fall out of the sky; looks like there was a bit of competition in the hide this year. After the initial shock wore off I found another bird from the mob, aimed and fired. The shot connected and the bird folded. I was a lot happier this time as I had hit my second bird with my first shot and it also meant I only had to reload one barrel. >>
Then suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed two black duck contouring the edge of the lake. I quickly pulled back both hammers and fired both shots in succession...
We waited a fair while longer for more birds to come past the decoys as they were becoming a lot more wary as the morning progressed. Then suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed two black duck contouring the edge of the lake. I quickly pulled back both hammers and fired both shots in succession. As the smoke cleared, both birds were on the water.
Sadly, these were the last birds that the black powder would claim this opening morning as we decided to head back to camp. Our other counterparts had shot quite well and although we did not reach our full bag for the day, we did come close. However, this was our only shoot for the opening weekend as issues with a boat motor saw us packing up early and heading home rather than risking getting stuck out on the big water.
I continued to take the black powder away with me on a few more hunts throughout the season. However, on more than one occasion I would load the gun only to discharge it in order to leave as not a single bird was to be seen.
The black powder was pulled out once more for a rather windy trip to Lake Burrumbeet. After setting the decoys and layout blinds we retreated to the shore for dinner and a night’s rest. However, unknown to us, that night we were camped out in one of the worst storms I have ever experienced. As the rain and wind belted down on my swag I could only hope and pray that the decoys would be there the next morning. We woke up early and headed out to the blinds; at this stage the lake was almost dry and only a few centimetres of water remained. However, there were still good numbers of Mountain duck sitting on the lake.
I loaded the gun: powder, over powder card, fiber wad, shot and then over shot card. This is no mean feat in the wind. We waited and waited and called and called, but the Mountain duck were not interested in our efforts until one pair lifted off and headed in our direction. They began to circle the decoys and assess the quality of our layout blinds. We decided that the next time they passed within range we would take the shot. They circled around once more and got close enough to take a shot. We flung the blinds open and fired. I managed to pull one down and my accomplice in the blind next to me followed up on the second bird.
With the birds collected, we decided to head back to camp for some breakfast and then hit the road. I put the black powder away in the safe in anticipation of the rice later in the year.
Many months went past and before I knew it, we were back in the car making the pilgrimage up to the rice fields of NSW. Still an effective tool for shooting, the black powder was put in the car for one last hunt. I decided I would take it earlier in the growing season, as the birds would be in smaller numbers, rather than later in the year when they are more prevalent and reloading becomes an issue.
I selected a nice spot with ample cover, the wind blowing over my head and stable ground to load on. After setting the decoys, it was not long until I had birds moving in my direction. I noticed a pair of black duck making their way up the bay to my decoys. I grabbed the black powder, positioned myself and pulled back the hammers.
As the birds were about to pitch in, I put the gun to my shoulder and fired right barrel then left. After the smoke had cleared, I saw both ducks flying off in the opposite direction. It was clear that I was a bit rusty and needed to get my head around the speed of the shot again.
Once again, more black duck made their way up the bay to my decoy spread. This time I was ready and, like last time, both birds came into the middle of the spread. I aimed and fired one shot after the other and this time both birds hit the water. To say I was a bit chuffed with myself is an understatement. As the evening progressed I managed to shoot a few more birds with the black powder before switching to the under and over for the night shoot.
My plan is to shoot this opening with the black powder and every time I head out during the season. I think the main reason why I love hunting with it is that it adds another element to the hunt. As well as being a bit different, it makes me happy to know that some of the old ways still work just as well as the new ways.
So keep an eye out for a big black cloud of smoke next time you’re out in a wetland and say g’day.