Victoria’s 2017 Duck Season presents Field & Game Australia with a series of challenges that we are already tackling head on.
As chairman, I spent the days leading up to opening getting around the many camps set up throughout the Koorangie State Game Reserve, west of Kerang.
There was great excitement amongst hunters and we all anticipated a successful hunt on one of the magnificent marshes. The visits to duck camps were more than a social call, FGA staff and board members were spreading the RESPECT message.
Don’t shoot early (out of season), positively identify game birds, adhere to the ethical dispatch and treatment of game, recover the birds you shoot, and operate in a safe and courteous manner around fellow hunters.
For the vast majority of hunters, and certainly we would hope, for all FGA members, the visits simply reinforced normal operating procedures. Ethical and sustainable hunting isn’t difficult and it should be second nature to most hunters.
Unfortunately, the outcome at Kerang fell well short of our expectations.
It is important at this point to remove the rose-coloured glasses.
There were not a ‘few’ guns blazing prior to the opening time; it might have started with a few but within ten minutes, still well before time, there was a wall of sound echoing across the marshes.
Arguing that protesters with firearms licences triggered it all ignores that fact that anybody firing a shot prior to start time was doing so out of season and therefore illegally.
By the Sunday afternoon we were getting a sense of the scale of the issues with shot protected birds, game birds not retrieved and spent shells left bobbing in the water.
Dead protected and non-game species are most likely due to the misdeeds of a minority of hunters but the evident failure to retrieve hundreds of game birds and the rubbish we observed could not have been generated by only a few.
Officially, Koorangie SGR was closed because of the presence of the significant numbers of freckled and blue-billed ducks.
The need to protect them through a closure was clearly driven by the Game Management Authority recording 75 Freckled duck and 22 blue-billed duck being illegally destroyed over the opening weekend.
FGA publicly condemned what occurred at Koorangie SGR; we argue strongly on behalf of hunting but we cannot defend the indefensible.
What we can do is be proactive in looking for ways to eliminate the practices that do damage to the reputation of the majority of hunters who are ethical and responsible.
As the duck hunter’s organisation, we have already been engaged at the highest levels politically and we have reached out within the hunting community to draw on the vast experience of people both within FGA and externally.
A round table discussion aimed at identifying the problems, their causes, and potential solutions was a breath of fresh air.
The discussion provided valuable insights for the FGA board to consider as we work to resolve compliance issues.
One thing I can share was a consensus that we need to engage and educate and in some way, we had already started down that road.
Our current membership campaign, with the chance for renewing or new members to win a Kubota RTV, is bringing more hunters under the FGA umbrella.
The belief that membership of an organisation brings with it greater responsibility and therefore compliance seems to me to be well founded.
Signing up to a responsible organisation and an accepted code of conduct can only be good for hunting and its future, and I urge all members to be active recruiters on wetlands during the remainder of the season.
While on the subject of recruitment, I take this opportunity to welcome our new South Australian branches, Waikerie and Renmark Berri.
Both branches are hoping to grow their numbers under the FGA banner and I encourage travelling shooters to support their monthly events and enjoy their hospitality.
The FGA board has also welcomed a South Australian representative in Jim Godden from Barmera Moorook. Jim brings to the board significant business skills along with his enthusiasm for wetland conservation and waterfowling. His knowledge will be invaluable as we fight even harder on behalf of South Australia’s passionate hunting community.
Enjoy the final months of the duck season and wherever you go, remember you are an ambassador for hunting.