Great open­ing

While the post­script of the Vic­to­rian Duck Sea­son open­ing be­came about a mi­nor­ity of hunters do­ing the wrong thing, even on the busiest wet­lands in the state, most hunters had a suc­cess­ful and re­spect­ful start to the sea­son.

Field and Game - - VIC­TO­RIAN DUCK OPEN­ING -

Gra­ham Dal­ton was one of the many hunters who had to con­tend with ac­tivists on the marshes near Kerang. They whis­tled, waved their flu­o­res­cent flags and of­ten came too close for com­fort, and def­i­nitely too close to get a shot off. “The protesters re­ally mucked up the hunt for a while but oth­er­wise it turned out great,” he said.

“I got a few but well short of a bag; I’ll stick to the golden rule of the camp, who cleans them, keeps them.”

If any of the anti-hunt­ing mob had both­ered to ask, Gra­ham would have told them he’d started duck hunt­ing aged 12 and hadn’t missed a year in decades, how he re­spects the game birds and the en­vi­ron­ment. “I reckon it means ev­ery­thing just to get away and be­ing in the en­vi­ron­ment, be­ing out here and do­ing all the right things and go­ing home with a few birds — I love duck,” he said. “We go all over the place, I don’t think there’s a swamp we haven’t been in over the time.”

Har­ri­son West­cott also had a good open­ing. “Early in the morn­ing there were a lot of ducks com­ing over, we had a good shoot be­fore it qui­etened down later on,” he said. “We got 11 in the end be­tween Dad and I; there were a lot of teal and a few pinkies around, a few black­ies as well.”

Har­ri­son and his party were busy pluck­ing their birds on the shore­line while hordes of protesters con­tin­ued their ‘res­cue’ mis­sion on the marshes. “I came here in 2011 when there was no­body here and I bagged out. I like the wad­ing be­cause a lot of the hunt­ing I’ve done in the past has been from banks. I like be­ing out in the wa­ter, which you can do eas­ily here.”

The Koorangie State Game Re­serve, which en­com­passes Lake Bael Bael and First, Sec­ond and Third Marshes, was closed a few days af­ter the open­ing week­end, a con­se­quence of the il­le­gal and un­eth­i­cal con­duct of a mi­nor­ity and the con­tin­ued pres­ence of pro­tected species.

Adam Pop­ple, a mem­ber of Bendigo Field & Game for just six months, spent open­ing week­end on Lake Bael Bael.

A hunter of pest an­i­mals all his life, the 28-year-old was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing duck hunt­ing for the first time and sen­si­bly, he took a cau­tious ap­proach. “Be­ing my first sea­son I lacked a bit of con­fi­dence on the open­ing morn­ing; I just watched other hunters for a bit and let a few birds go,” he said.

“I waited un­til I was pick­ing them, I’d done my WIT test but it is dif­fer­ent in the field. It was more about gain­ing some con­fi­dence, I didn’t want to do the wrong thing. “I could have shot a bag but I de­cided to take my time; there were a lot of birds I didn’t at­tempt.”

Adam said the clo­sure, and the be­hav­iour of a small num­ber of hunters on the same wet­land, was frus­trat­ing. “I am dis­ap­pointed, I can un­der­stand why they had to close it,” he said.

Daniel Burns was along­side Adam lend­ing a hand with strat­egy and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. The pair met on a hunt­ing fo­rum and, not for the first time, Daniel of­fered to play the role of men­tor.

He’s been hunt­ing for six years but re­mem­bers well how dif­fi­cult it was to get started when you come from a fam­ily where it isn’t part of grow­ing up.

Daniel said his in­tro­duc­tion to firearms was through an Aus­tralian Deer As­so­ci­a­tion come and try day. He joined >>

>> ADA and par­tic­i­pated in their men­tor­ing pro­gram, but when he de­cided to branch out into duck hunt­ing, he was on his own. “My first duck sea­son I got all the gear, got a shot­gun and stood out in the mid­dle of a swamp where I was told there would be ducks. I didn’t get a shot off,” he said. The next year Daniel de­cided to go to the Bendigo Field & Game Duck Fever night and as luck would have it, he spot­ted a work­mate who he didn’t know was a hunter. He ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion to join their crew and re­ceived the help he needed to hunt suc­cess­fully. Given his ex­pe­ri­ence and the help he’s of­fered two other new hunters, Daniel is keen on the de­vel­op­ment of a men­tor­ing pro­gram within FGA. “I think it would be hugely ben­e­fi­cial be­cause it is daunt­ing com­ing into it, just to have some­one there to turn to if you’re not sure about some­thing.”

As for open­ing week­end, Daniel said if not for the early shoot­ing he could have bagged out quickly. “We waited un­til open­ing time and it was a bit quiet by then,” he said. “I left room in the bag for an af­ter­noon hunt, it wasn’t for the lack of birds though — we had a cou­ple of new hunters with us and I de­cided to be very se­lec­tive about my birds this year. “We passed up a lot of ducks be­cause we knew there were a lot of Freck­led ducks about and we weren’t cer­tain.”

Michael Bul­lock also spent time talk­ing to early shoot­ers be­fore he started his own sea­son on time. “It was good, there were plenty of ducks and ev­ery­body bagged out that morn­ing,” he said. “We waited and there were nice mobs of teal, Wood ducks and hard­head.”

Michael went to Kerang based on his fa­ther’s rec­om­men­da­tion and the party of 14 has made plans to re­turn dur­ing the sea­son. “It is one of the best hunts I’ve ever had,” he said.

Away from the iconic wet­lands of North­ern Vic­to­ria, west of the state, and

par­tic­u­larly the Grampians re­gion, proved both pop­u­lar and pro­duc­tive.

Trent Leen was one of many who made the trek. “We scouted a few swamps in the Eden­hope area on the Thurs­day morn­ing and af­ter much de­lib­er­a­tion we set­tled on Leah Swamp,” he said. “The temp­ta­tion of hunt­ing flooded red gums was too much to re­sist and we were lucky enough to get there be­fore oth­ers had ar­rived, so we could see where the birds wanted to sit and also where they went when pres­sured.”

The boat (tem­po­rar­ily dis­abled) was left at home in favour of a Beaver­tail Stealth 2000, which suited the very shal­low (just the way the ducks like it) wa­ter.

On open­ing morn­ing, Trent poled out to his spot, set up the new won­der ducks, tweaked the de­coy spread, and waited. “The min­utes lead­ing up to open­ing time seem to take an eter­nity but it would have to be my favourite time; see­ing birds fly­ing in all di­rec­tions and pitch­ing into your de­coys mo­ments be­fore le­gal time is great.” he said. “We had hunters come in from all di­rec­tions but all left suf­fi­cient room for all to en­joy. As time counted down we heard some shots in the dis­tance but most did the right thing and held off un­til le­gal time.”

Soon the swamp echoed with gun­fire and the birds were fly­ing left and right. “I shot back-to-back with Steven Reed, who was off to a great start and kept me busy han­dling the dog to re­trieve his birds; it was great to see Lar­ney roar­ing through the shal­low wa­ter and back with the birds. “No low fin­ish­ing shots could be taken be­cause of oth­ers hunters nearby, so the dog re­ally earned her keep.”

Trent picked out a few birds of his own and soon Lar­ney was dou­bly busy and the pairs bag limit within sight. “We took our time and picked our last shots, we sent the dog to re­trieve and then re­set un­til we reached our bag,” Trent said. “Then we just sat there and en­joyed the mo­ment.”

(l-r Bran­don Jack­son, Gra­ham Dal­ton and Har­ri­son West­cott av­er­aged six on open­ing morn­ing as protesters waded around them

Trent Leen's dog Lar­ney af­ter a big morn­ing's work Daniel Burns re­trieves an­other bird for his bag

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