Grand hunt­ing; no stress

The usual mid-fe­bru­ary heat was thank­fully ab­sent for the open­ing of the 2017 Duck Sea­son in South Aus­tralia but for­tu­nately the game birds were ever present and hunters across the state en­joyed a bright start.

Field and Game - - SOUTH AUS­TRALIA DUCK OPEN­ING -

The Tolderol Game Re­serve is a thing of beauty and stand­ing in the waist-deep wa­ter amid a net­work of chan­nels and holes cre­ated by the thick cover, you feel a world away from any­where.

Ac­tu­ally, you are a fair way from any­where and the pro­tected area of 428 ha on the north-west­ern side of Lake Alexan­d­rina is a haven for wa­ter­fowl, with­out an over­abun­dance of hunters.

A se­ries of fab­ri­cated open and shal­low basins with con­nect­ing chan­nels and levee banks en­able the ma­nip­u­la­tion of wa­ter lev­els to cre­ate rich for­ag­ing habi­tat for mi­gra­tory wader birds.

A shal­low sanc­tu­ary for waders is teem­ing but hunters are head­ing fur­ther away from camp to the area re­served for hunt­ing.

From the camp­ing area, a boat ride will get you there but oth­ers take the al­ter­na­tive route, driv­ing a track cut along the levee bank and wad­ing out.

On open­ing morn­ing, Ben Richards is one of the Vic­to­rian visi­tors but he’s not fo­cused on his own hunt. Along­side him is 13-year-old daugh­ter Cassidy, who is fol­low­ing fam­ily tra­di­tion and join­ing in, hop­ing to bag her first duck.

The clock ticks past open­ing time and the pair are nes­tled to­gether in the reeds look­ing over the de­coy spread, which is in a cir­cle of calm wa­ter be­tween the rushes. They didn’t have to wait for long. “My stated goal for the trip was that Cass got a duck and Daryl Snow­don’s young labrador Luna got her first re­trieve,” Ben said.

“The first to come into the de­coys was a hard­head, which pre­sented it­self per­fectly at 10 m and she could have got it blind­folded; to get a hard­head as her first bird would have been in­cred­i­ble but they were ex­cluded from the bag in South Aus­tralia so she had to let it pass.”

Soon af­ter, Cass got onto a Grey teal pass­ing right to left and folded it. The bird fell in the reeds across the de­coy spread and Luna en­thu­si­as­ti­cally re­trieved it — mis­sion ac­com­plished.

Cass would bag three ducks over the open­ing week­end.

“Her se­cond duck was far more emphatic and emo­tional; she swung onto a cross­ing black duck and dropped the se­cond back in the pair with her se­cond bar­rel,” Ben said. “I was very im­pressed with the com­po­sure she showed and how ef­fi­ciently she man­aged the job.

“When you are hunt­ing with a new hunter you are not look­ing to get a bag, you are look­ing to get ex­pe­ri­ence, that’s far more valu­able.”

The sur­prise of the week­end, even for ex­pe­ri­enced hunters, was the be­hav­iour of pro­tected Freck­led duck at Tolderol.

“I hadn’t had much ex­pe­ri­ence with Freck­led duck, I’d only ever had one come un­der the bead of my shot­gun at Reedy Swamp. I cer­tainly never ex­pected them to come in and swim around play­fully in the de­coys,” Ben said.

“We were shoot­ing over the top of them at times be­cause they were sleep­ing in the de­coys. We even gave them names: Terry, Sharon and Barry, they just hung around.”

Else­where in the vast area avail­able to hunters at Tolderol, brothers Grant and Ja­son Pat­tulo were hav­ing a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence.

For a while, it was guns down and video >>

>> cam­era out as a pair of Freck­led duck ar­gued over a lit­tle patch of ter­ri­tory.

“I had a pair fight­ing over a log; they were go­ing on for a cou­ple of hours and were not both­ered with us at all,” Grant said.

“A few years ago would have been the first time we en­coun­tered them at Tolderol but they weren’t sit­ting in the de­coys like they did open­ing week­end.”

Grant is based in Mel­bourne and Ja­son farms in the Ade­laide hills, they meet half­way to ride mo­tor­bikes in the Mallee coun­try, but Tolderol is their go-to place for the South Aus­tralian open­ing.

“There are so many ar­eas you can sneak into but it does need a few hunters to keep the birds mov­ing around,” Grant said.

“You can spread out a bit, you are in the mid­dle of nowhere, and it is awe­some. It re­minds me of the swamps around Gee­long; you have the big tall reeds you can get into, it is just on a much big­ger scale.”

Af­ter an above-av­er­age open­ing Grant and Ja­son will be back be­fore sea­son’s end and given the lack of hunter pres­sure, they ex­pect the hunt­ing to be just as con­sis­tent.

“There were not as many teal as nor­mal on open­ing week­end but I got a pinky, which is the first time I’ve got one there,” Grant said.

“Ev­ery other time I’ve been there other than open­ing I’ve pretty much been the only one there. I’m sur­prised more hunters don’t go there, it is one of my favourite spots to go hunt­ing.”

David Rehn ven­tured into the Cortina Lakes com­plex near Keith for open­ing morn­ing where 400 hunters av­er­aged eight birds.

“Duck hunt­ing has been go­ing re­ally well; when the sea­son was de­clared in South Aus­tralia there were con­cerns from some quar­ters that the num­bers wouldn’t be around but they came in as the lo­cals ex­pected,” he said.

“We’ve had four or five shoots now and they have all been a seven- or eight-bird av­er­age and many hunters have bagged out.”

In the River­land the open­ing was a bit “hit and miss” ac­cord­ing to Jim God­den from Barmera Moorook Field & Game.

“Re­ports from the Game Re­serves in­di­cated a lack of bird num­bers and hence bag num­bers but pri­vate prop­erty seemed to shoot bet­ter, es­pe­cially on any wet­land that had ex­pe­ri­enced a dry­ing and wet­ting phase in the past few years — these wet­lands kept a res­i­dent bird pop­u­la­tion,” Jim said.

“The gen­eral con­sen­sus was an av­er­age bag of six to seven birds and the main species var­ied across dif­fer­ent ar­eas with Wood duck in the Pike sys­tem and pink-ear and teal at Love­day and Moorook.”

Jim said that since open­ing, bird num­bers had been main­tained through­out the re­gion but some of the mi­gra­tory species had moved on.

“What is very pleas­ing is the sig­nif­i­cant sight­ings of Freck­led duck, hard­head and blue-wing shov­eler. Hunters are re­port­ing see­ing more of these species than ever be­fore, which is worth a note of cau­tion if you are com­ing to the River­land to hunt.”

Ben Richards calls in a mob for his daugh­ter Cassidy

Ja­son and Grant Pat­tulo in the gen­er­ous cover at Tolderol

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