Bet­ter duck re­cov­ery

Dr Matt Draisma says re­triev­ing game is an es­sen­tial re­quire­ment to main­tain our ac­cess to duck hunt­ing and a crit­i­cal el­e­ment in the pub­lic per­cep­tion of hun­ters.

Field and Game - - BETTER DUCK RECOVERY -

It has been ap­par­ent in re­cent sea­sons that re­triev­ing on cer­tain pub­lic wet­lands has been an is­sue and one of the causes is the lack of trained gun dogs ac­com­pa­ny­ing some shoot­ers.

Only one act will make us look even worse in the eyes of the ma­jor­ity non­hunter com­mu­nity than un­re­cov­ered dead game­birds float­ing into the shore­line of a wet­land, and that is if th­ese dead birds are pro­tected species.

Through both such mis­de­meanours ac­cess to our recre­ation is threat­ened. We are re­quired to sit and pass a Wa­ter­fowl Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Test in or­der to ac­quire a game­bird li­cence. Many of us may have for­got­ten that one of the pos­si­ble an­swers in this test was “not sure, don’t shoot”.

It is im­per­a­tive we all use this ac­tion if there is ANY doubt about the species iden­tity com­ing into your de­coys.

The duck fevered shoot­ers (they can’t be called hun­ters) who failed to take such care and did shoot with­out iden­ti­fy­ing their tar­get species have set back the cause for hunt­ing with in­cal­cu­la­ble dam­age. Per­haps the out­ra­geous penalty for shoot­ing a Freck­led duck ($30 000) is jus­ti­fied af­ter all, if that is what it takes to curb such ac­tiv­i­ties. If any of you wit­ness such an act please re­port it or risk the loss of your recre­ation. Only by some of the mis­cre­ants be­ing caught, and made an ex­am­ple of, will this law flout­ing be­hav­iour cease. Ob­vi­ously, com­pli­ance of­fi­cers can’t han­dle this alone and need your help.

Our main plat­form to jus­tify duck hunt­ing other than for crop pro­tec­tion is that we are out to har­vest our own meat and to take out well con­di­tioned birds, leav­ing bet­ter quan­ti­ties of scarce win­ter food re­sources for the sur­vivors. By not re­cov­er­ing shot birds we will be seen to turn this rea­son for hunt­ing into a lie. The gen­eral pub­lic has the power to grant or take away our right to hunt so eas­ily, make no mis­take about that. All it needs is a me­dia ex­po­sure of both th­ese prob­lems and there will be a big pub­lic back­lash.

Govern­ment will re­act in a pre­cau­tion­ary man­ner as a re­sult to con­trol th­ese prob­lems.

So how can we re­duce the non-re­cov­ery of downed ducks, be­sides hav­ing the aid of a prop­erly trained gun dog? Note I said prop­erly trained dog, since an im­prop­erly trained one can be a huge pain to put up with and can be the ab­so­lute ru­ina­tion of a duck hunt.

Firstly, the hunter can re­cover his/her own ducks by the cor­rect use of swat­ter loads to quickly dis­patch any wounded birds on the wa­ter, tak­ing great care to make sure you have a safe back­ground be­cause shot will ric­o­chet off the wa­ter sur­face. I would sug­gest we re­fer to the duck hunter book­let is­sued to all duck game li­censees, which pro­poses the use of num­ber 6 steel shot in 32 gram loads, that is a pel­let-dense load com­pared with say, num­ber 2-4 shot size for aerial shots.

This load, shot at rel­a­tively short range at a low an­gle over the wa­ter will pro­vide the most ef­fec­tive killing pat­tern. If the wa­ter is wade­able then all we need to be equipped with is a set of waders prop­erly fit­ted with a waist belt in case you fall over, to stay dry and go out and col­lect those birds tak­ing a wad­ing staff to test for swan holes and other sud­den dips or sunken logs. You will most likely al­ready have been out there set­ting a de­coy spread.

With deeper wa­ter, things be­come a bit more com­plex but not un­duly so. A bit of for­ward plan­ning can en­able you to have ready a duck punt, ca­noe or kayak for the re­cov­ery task as well as it be­ing able to use it to set de­coys.

In some in­stances, a more novel ap­proach can be taken, and that is by us­ing some form of float­ing grap­ple cast on the end of a hand line to scoop up and haul in the dead birds.

Ex­pe­ri­ence has shown that de­pend­ing on the size of the grap­ple it can be cast un­der­arm for dis­tances of 20m and more with con­sid­er­able ac­cu­racy with a lit­tle prac­tice.

I have per­son­ally made three dif­fer­ent sized ver­sions of such grap­ples with fold­ing arms akin to a cloth-less um­brella. The dif­fer­ent sized ver­sions have arms of dif­fer­ing length for use in shal­low wa­ters where longer arms may snag on the bot­tom, and hav­ing dif­fer­ent weights to al­low dif­fer­ent cast­ing dis­tances ac­cord­ing to the ter­rain be­ing hunted.

I in­clude pic­tures of th­ese; they can be made with var­i­ous lev­els of com­plex­ity, var­ied by the user’s imag­i­na­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing skills. For me they have been de­signed mainly to re­cover birds >>

>> shot over dams but that does not mean their use is lim­ited to such. I have seen ver­sions that em­bar­rass­ingly sank on first use (not mine ei­ther), so do test them out in the laun­dry tubs or some such.

Ma­te­ri­als of float­able tim­ber bod­ies such as maple and red cedar, or dow­els fit­ted with cylin­dri­cal foam net floats as shown are some of my choices. The arms must be able to be folded for car­riage and can be made prefer­ably from alu­minium or strong plas­tics, light­weight in ei­ther case. Sev­eral dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als such as thick alu­minium wire from high volt­age wire as used on those high tow­ers, an­gled alu­minium struts or TV an­tenna arms have been my choices. With the larger ver­sion, you will note I have in­cluded a string web into the arms to im­prove pick up and added a wooden bead to the cast­ing line to im­prove grip and cast­ing dis­tance.

When open­ing up the grap­ple arms there needs to be some sort of de­vice to hold them open. In the mag­num TV aerial arm ver­sion, this is achieved by us­ing a slid­ing wooden disc that in the folded po­si­tion holds the arms closed by means of a small at­tached plas­tic lid into which the arm ends fit. The smaller arms are held open by us­ing some light det­o­na­tor wire at the bot­tom, which is twisted tight or loos­ened slightly to al­low for fold­ing.

There is a choice of sev­eral line types to haul them in with once the de­vice is thrown past the bird. Heavy ny­lon fish­ing line around 25 kg break­ing strain is rel­a­tively tan­gle proof, as is an old float­ing fly-fish­ing line. The line can ei­ther be on a small hand caster or wound around the body of the smaller ver­sions and un­wound and spread on the ground, tak­ing care not to be­come en­tan­gled in it your­self as you do so. Oth­er­wise, the grap­ple will come up short on the line and come hurtling back at you in a very dis­con­cert­ing man­ner that could even cost you an eye, so take your time and take care when us­ing it.

The smaller de­vices can hang off your car­tridge belt and the mag­num stores in a small bag that can be slung on one’s back when on the move. The mar­ket is wide open for the de­vel­op­ment of com­mer­cial ver­sions, prob­a­bly made of moulded plas­tics, should some­one be en­ter­pris­ing enough to make them. There would ob­vi­ously be a rather large po­ten­tial mar­ket for such items. It’s suit­abil­ity for use on rice bays is supreme since the snake risk to gun dogs here is great enough to pre­clude their use should a suit­able al­ter­na­tive be avail­able for duck re­cov­ery and the usual size of the rice bays suit its ap­pli­ca­tion ex­actly.

With the ex­pan­sion of the ra­dio­con­trolled model boat tech­nol­ogy I would guess that it would be rea­son­ably easy to con­vert such equip­ment to duck re­cov­ery by the more in­no­va­tive mem­bers of our tribe. The sky is the limit, and re­mem­ber, bet­ter downed duck re­cov­ery for the com­ing sea­son is crit­i­cal.

The Mini be­ing cast with an un­der­arm ac­tion to around about 8 m and re­trieved on a sec­tion of float­ing fly line.

The Mag­num, show­ing the wooden bead that as­sists grip for 20 to 25 m casts.

The Mag­num grap­ple in the wa­ter show­ing the duck pick-up po­si­tion. The three grap­ples in their spread po­si­tion ready for ac­tion. Each has a dif­fer­ent cast­ing range in­her­ently be­cause of their vary­ing weights and line lengths are matched to th­ese ranges.

A ca­noe equipped for set­ting de­coys and re­cov­er­ing downed ducks.

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