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.

Field and Game - - Black powder hunting -

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...

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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.

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