A dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence

Vic­to­rian duck hun­ters faced a chal­leng­ing open­ing week­end with hunt­ing com­menc­ing in broad day­light on the first two days and new reg­u­la­tions cover­ing the re­trieval of game birds and the re­ten­tion of at least the breast meat.

Field and Game - - VICTORIAN DUCK SEASON -

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>> En­force­ment was present at 38 wet­lands, with the main con­cen­tra­tion of ef­fort in the Kerang re­gion where pro­test­ers also massed.

It was a very dif­fer­ent open­ing, but hun­ters are noth­ing if not adapt­able. “I’ve never felt more reg­u­lated at a duck open­ing,” Mel­bourne Field & Game mem­ber Steve Tucker said.

Steve was with a crew at Lake El­iz­a­beth that didn’t fire a shot and didn’t get a duck, cour­tesy of a lone pro­tester who stood in front of the de­coy spread wav­ing a flag on a pole.

The pro­tester claimed to have a firearms li­cence, a WIT and a hunt­ing per­mit but in Steve’s view he should not have been in the wa­ter. Even if the pa­per­work was in or­der, it was ac­quired not with the in­ten­tion of hunt­ing but with a clear in­tent to in­ter­fere with the hunt­ing of sim­i­larly ac­cred­ited peo­ple.

“The way I see it, it isn’t in the spirit of the leg­is­la­tion,” Steve said.

A short dis­tance away at Lake Cullen, hun­ters were also deal­ing with pro­test­ers and with the num­ber of guns lim­ited (most, it seems, de­cided to avoid the cir­cus and hunt some­where else), there was not a lot of op­por­tu­nity.

What lit­tle shoot­ing there was started on time and the hunts passed with­out in­ci­dent leav­ing the anti-hunt­ing fra­ter­nity with lit­tle to do and noth­ing to com­plain about.

While the hunt was a dis­ap­point­ment to those who ven­tured out, the out­come in rep­u­ta­tional terms was more than worth the ef­fort. >>

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A lit­tle to the south­west, at Sand­hill Lake, sev­eral groups of hun­ters had the place to them­selves apart from the com­pli­ance team watch­ing from the sur­round­ing hills on the sec­ond morn­ing.

While many Field & Game Aus­tralia branches or­gan­ise hunt­ing trips dur­ing the sea­son, this was less for­mal.

The hun­ters were in two main camp­ing area and to­gether they all agreed on the way they would hunt, which started with no­body even en­ter­ing the wa­ter un­til the of­fi­cial start time.

No­body shot early and ev­ery­one en­joyed a pro­duc­tive week­end. “This would have to be one of the best duck open­ings I’ve had,” Dar­ren Stendt from Gee­long Field & Game said. “It is a 50 ha wet­land and we or­gan­ised with all the other camps that we would all walk out at 9 am; the co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the in­di­vid­ual hun­ters and the dif­fer­ent camps was fan­tas­tic, and that is what made the hunt for me.”

Dar­ren said the 9 am and 8 am start times for the first two days were not re­ally an is­sue. “If you can stay off the wet­land for as long as pos­si­ble, ev­ery­one gets a good crack,” he said. “The way I see it, no mat­ter what the start time is, we are all hunt­ing at the same time and the birds are still in that same state where they are mov­ing around creat­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Steve Pask has been duck hunt­ing in the re­gion for 47 years and he’d been keep­ing an eye on Sand­hill. “I’d been watch­ing this wet­land for three weeks and as hun­ters started to come in I went and spoke to them and the mes­sage was sim­ple: if we all work to­gether, we will have a mag­nif­i­cent hunt,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a bet­ter re­sult; it isn’t hard to achieve with good com­mu­ni­ca­tion and co­op­er­a­tion be­tween hun­ters. It would be one of the best hunts I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced in 47 years, but it isn’t rocket science.”

Dar­ren and Steve set the tone for open­ing week­end, but stick of com­pli­ance wasn’t the driver, in­stead it was the car­rot of bet­ter hunt­ing. “I picked it up on a pri­vate shoot in South Aus­tralia where the rules were don’t en­ter the wa­ter; it worked for the hunt, it worked for keep­ing the birds in the area and it is cer­tainly prefer­able to peo­ple trudg­ing through your de­coys and shin­ing lights around as they head out,” Dar­ren said.

Port Phillip mem­ber Tass Mouza­kis was al­ready very fa­mil­iar with Sand­hill and wasn’t go­ing to miss the op­por­tu­nity to hunt there. “I’ve been com­ing here for 20 years camp­ing and just en­joy­ing the area when it has been dry but to have wa­ter and ex­pe­ri­ence an open­ing here has been

“I’ve been com­ing here for 20 years camp­ing and just en­joy­ing the area when it has been dry but to have wa­ter and ex­pe­ri­ence an open­ing here has been bril­liant.”

Tass Mouza­kis

bril­liant,” he said.

There are only two camp­ing ar­eas and the main one, 150 m off the ac­cess point, is a tight cir­cle sur­rounded by bush. The close prox­im­ity made or­gan­i­sa­tion eas­ier, but most thought the same col­lab­o­ra­tion and co­op­er­a­tion would work at much larger wet­lands if hun­ters put in the ef­fort. “On a big wet­land such as the Marshes when in flood, vis­it­ing ev­ery camp would be more dif­fi­cult but this should be the ap­proach to hunt­ing, with ev­ery­one co­op­er­at­ing to make sure ev­ery­one gets a fair go,” Dar­ren said. “No­body de­lib­er­ately wants to go out there and break the law, no­body wants to be a rat­bag.”

As a lo­cal, Steve Pask was up­set and frus­trated by what oc­curred at Koorangie State Game Re­serve a year ear­lier and he was wor­ried about the rocky road duck hunt­ing seemed to be headed down.

He was also ini­tially an­gry with changes im­posed on all hun­ters be­cause of the ac­tions of a few.

His re­sponse was to con­trol what he could by mak­ing hun­ters ac­count­able, not to the au­thor­i­ties or the leg­is­la­tors, but to fel­low hun­ters. “I wasn’t happy about the start time, I was an­gry about it, but the way the week­end went I might have been swayed, it was all right and it took the steam out of the open­ing week­end, which was prob­a­bly not a bad thing,” Steve said. “They (en­force­ment staff) watched ev­ery move this morn­ing but there was noth­ing there to pick on, we were all re­spon­si­ble.”

Both morn­ings, even in broad day­light, the Sand­hill hun­ters en­joyed a spec­tac­u­lar sight and good hunt­ing. “The first flight was phe­nom­e­nal; I didn’t know whether to grab a shell or my phone, to see the birds lift up like that,” Dar­ren said.

Tass agreed that the spec­ta­cle and the hunt­ing on of­fer took the sting out of the en­forced late start time. “We started hunt­ing af­ter 9 am and hunted for 90 min­utes on open­ing morn­ing; around 4000 birds got up in the first flight, it just went black and if peo­ple didn’t bag out they were up around seven or eight birds,” he said.

“As for the late start times, if it had been a 7.20 am start I think hun­ters would have bagged out 20 min­utes ear­lier, which was the main dif­fer­ence, the sun was up, so it was bright, it was hard, and the birds got up quicker, so it does have good and bad points. “For a few of my crew it was their first time at Sand­hill and with the camps so close to­gether we’ve all shared food and drinks and en­joyed the time to­gether, so com­bined with the hunt, it has been a great ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Steve Pask joins the hunt

A quiet start at Lake Cullen

March­ing out on open­ing time

Dar­ren Stendt

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