Hunt­ing far and wide

Across Vic­to­ria the 2017 Duck Sea­son pro­duced an abun­dance of birds and enough water to give hunters a choice of habi­tats to chase a bag. We checked in with hunters who helped us pre­view the sea­son to find out how they fared.

Field and Game - - VICTORIA: DUCK SEASON 2017 -

By the last week­end of the Vic­to­rian sea­son, the water in Richard­son’s La­goon is as still and cold as the win­ter air. The only move­ment as the sun strug­gles to rise is the fog rolling in, and the birds.

Mark Da­ley has been here for a week, boat­ing from the camp to a point where you can eas­ily wade out into the tim­ber. He reck­ons he might have done a bit too well the past few days and spoiled it for the late ar­rivals in camp, in­clud­ing his son Alexan­der.

“I’d been hunt­ing there for nearly three weeks be­fore that and that last week­end was the only time I didn’t bag out,” Mark said.

Rod Drew, Peter Hawker, Barry East­wood, Josh Evely, Alex Da­ley all en­joyed the spoils to some de­gree over those fi­nal weeks. “That’s what en­vi­ron­men­tal water does; with­out it Richard­son’s would have been dry, and there wouldn’t have been any birds,” Mark said.

The last morn­ing pro­duces five birds and over the last of the ba­con and eggs there’s an op­por­tu­nity to sit around the camp­fire and re­flect on the sea­son that was.

“The sea­son over­all was fan­tas­tic; it started with a lot of young birds around and later on the black ducks and hard­head turned up, prob­a­bly from south­ern New South Wales,” Mark said.

Dur­ing the sea­son, Mark hunted the ar­eas around Boort, Kerang and Tor­rum­barry. “The qual­ity of the birds was good, and for me the size of the black ducks was the high­light of the sea­son. “The good sign for next sea­son is that by clos­ing week­end the birds looked ready to start breed­ing ear­lier than nor­mal.”

Trent Leen is ei­ther work­ing or hunt­ing and he agrees the sea­son was a huge suc­cess with very high bird num­bers as he trav­elled across the state. “The only dis­ap­point­ment of the sea­son was not get­ting to hunt the Marshes,” he said. “With good water right across the state we were spoilt for choice as to where to go, hunt­ing live tim­bered swamps is a favourite of mine so we tar­geted them when pos­si­ble but we also had great re­sults hunt­ing in flooded pad­docks and crops.”

The stand­out for Trent was the abun­dance and re­spon­sive­ness of pa­cific black duck. “With so many fresh birds mov­ing into ar­eas we saw very call re­spon­sive birds and found you could call black ducks to your spread after shoot­ing some of the same mob quite reg­u­larly.”

As is of­ten the case, the bird you work the hard­est for is the most mem­o­rable. “I got a hy­brid black duck/teal on the clos­ing arvo; it had been a tough day and it looked like the ducks were go­ing to win,” Trent said. “As the clock ticked down to the close of the sea­son fuel prob­lems in the mud boat meant we had to move lakes, dig a mud hole in record time and set up the de­coys then the first shot I fired the ejec­tor slipped past the spent car­tridge ren­der­ing my gun use­less. Luck­ily, Peter Anderson lent me his gun and I fin­ished with a full bag for the day, in­clud­ing the hy­brid.”

Like ev­ery­one else, Steve Har­ris en­joyed a ter­rific sea­son, made more spe­cial by the ea­ger pres­ence of his son James. “My friends and fam­ily all seemed to do re­ally well and I man­aged to get out a few times with my boy, which was par­tic­u­larly re­ward­ing,” he said. >>

“James is a lit­tle shy of 12 years old so doesn’t get to man a shot­gun yet, but he seems to love com­ing along! Tak­ing the kids adds a new di­men­sion to the hunt­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, some­thing I’ve al­ways looked forward to, right from the mo­ment I first be­came a Dad.

“JB loved sit­ting cam-side, fishing in be­tween hunts, and work­ing the duck-call at my side in the wet­lands. I can’t wait for next year to do it again.”

Steve said the whole state seemed to shoot well but par­tic­u­larly out west. “I went down to Gipp­s­land a few times mid-sea­son and the ar­eas around Sale shot a bit leaner I found, but we still had some good times.”

It was a bright sea­son after a glum start, with Steve los­ing his much-loved labrador Char­lie a few days be­fore open­ing. “Old age and cancer meant 2016 was to be my old mate’s last sea­son, which cer­tainly put a downer on things for me hunt­ing this year. We will be train­ing a new puppy soon (and teach­ing my boy how to train a dog) so hope­fully we will have a new smile on our faces in March 2018,” he said.

Steve’s most mem­o­rable bird for the sea­son is an easy one to an­swer. “The black duck I had for din­ner on Sun­day,” he said.

John By­ers agrees that Gipp­s­land was “patchy” after miss­ing the rains that fell in the rest of the state. “It was pos­si­ble to shoot a bag one day and struggle to get a sin­gle bird the day fol­low­ing,” he said. “Birds that were around were very sus­cep­ti­ble to hunt­ing pres­sure and read­ily moved from wet­lands into no-hunt refuges in the area. Over­all is wasn’t a bad sea­son, but it cer­tainly won’t be a sea­son that eas­ily springs back to me­mory in years to come.”

Like a lot hunters, John re­marked on the num­ber of blue-winged shov­eler. “My most mem­o­rable bird was taken on a mid-sea­son hunt on the edge of Lake Welling­ton. A mob of six black duck, high, wide, with the wind at their tails and des­tined for parts un­known headed down the lake,” he said.

“A solid ren­di­tion of a ‘lonely hen’ on the call peeled a soli­tary drake from the de­part­ing mob and he wheeled back high over the de­coys where a sin­gle shot from the 108-year-old Charles Boswell dou­ble folded him onto the water. “It was all the bet­ter when Bai­ley the duck hound splashed into the water and brought the bird ‘copy book’ back to hand. All good stuff and what it’s all about.”

Ken Farmer and son Luke hunted through­out Vic­to­ria with friends, fam­ily and his dog Tessa. “I spent open­ing with Steve Shaw and Colin Burns, my hunt­ing and fishing com­pan­ions of 45 years. We went to north­ern Vic­to­ria and reached our bag limit by 9 am; we were a very ex­citable bunch that morn­ing dur­ing the pluck­ing,” he said. “This year was about Tessa. Last year we hunted the Swan Hill area quite a bit, mostly on the river over de­coys, static but lots of fun, but this year, for the first time since 2011, we were able to go back to what my fa­ther had taught me wad­ing and hunt­ing on flight lines and cover. “My most mem­o­rable hunts were about the dog and her abil­ity to hunt and re­trieve on the move. It was sim­ply hunt­ing, no de­coys, no call­ers, just mov­ing from one spot to the next.”

Ken said the 2017 sea­son was one of the best he could re­mem­ber and to­wards the end, black duck num­bers in the south east were higher than he’d ever seen be­fore. He hopes there is more of the same next sea­son. “The pos­si­bil­ity that for good wa­ter­fowl breed­ing again this year looks likely. Birds came into breed­ing colour early and there has been plenty of sign that birds are have al­ready been pair­ing.”

Richard­son’s La­goon near Gun­bower, Vic. Barry East­wood

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