Early birds in South Australia
It is mid-february and the sun is yet to shine its light on the hills over the beautiful Cortina Lakes in the south-east of South Australia.
The day before, hunters’ rigs rolled off the dusty roads and into the campgrounds, checking in with the hunt organisers and chatting about the season ahead.
They are from all parts of South Australia and Victoria.
Keith Field & Game members are here in numbers, including David Rehn, who also has the task of organising hunters on part of this vast stretch of water.
A lot of years the ducks in South Australia disappear just before opening, drawn north by fresh rainfall or the flush of water that comes with the remnants of a cyclone. Not this year.
“You need a lot of hunters to cover a place like Cortina,” David says from experience.
About 320 guns are here for the opening, including Brian ‘Hollywood’ Hoyland, who has hunted on this stretch of water many times before.
“It is one of the most magnificent areas of water and I’ve only probably seen 60 per cent of it over the years,” Hollywood said.
“I’ve seen it at its best and its worst but it is a fabulous water course.”
In the dark, David comes across a group of hunters who are way off course and are readying to walk onto the same neck set aside for the Keith crew. He guides them to another access road before getting ready to hunt.
The walk in is about 800 m and it is hard going where the water has started to draw back.
Hunters from different camps are taking their places; it is difficult to see more than one or two other hunters from any position, but there is no mistaking the boom of the first shots, signalling the hunt has begun.
Hollywood gets the odd chance but he was already playing down his opening on the walk out. The water is receding and brackish and he expects for the most part the ducks have gone looking for fresher water.
He’s right, one or two birds is the average here but in other parts of Cortina (and part of the same shoot) one lucky crew from Shepparton is assigned to a far flung body of water and they wade out to the sigh of tens of thousands of ducks lifting into the air. As one reports after the shoot, they all got their bag in quick time and spent the rest wondering at the sight of so many birds.
“I thought it would have hunted a lot better than it did,” Hollywood said, especially after the success of every other shoot through to early April.
“If you discount the opening morning, this year would be one of the best years ever had in that region.” David agrees. “The opening was probably the worst >>
“If you discount the opening morning, this year would be one of the best years ever had in that region.”
Brian ‘Hollywood’ Hoyland
>> hunt we have had so far as duck numbers but we were covering such a big area and the average was still six to seven birds,” he said.
In subsequent week the hunting moved around to well-known waterholes like Jip Jip, Pretty Johnny’s, Jaffrays and then back to Cortina.
“Every one of those hunts we have averaged 10 or 11 and at Jip Jip we bagged out,” David said.
“The lower south-east around Lake George is just black with ducks and hunters have been having a great time. There has been no rain up north to drag the birds away and it doesn’t look like changing soon.”
Early April is most often the start of the second wave of duck hunting in South Australia as birds return but this year, most never left.
“At Cortina the water has come back a long way since opening because we’ve had warm and windy days that suck the moisture out,” David said.
“The numbers have been holding up really well though, and hunters are certainly taking advantage.”
In the Riverland, Jim Godden said there were many birds around for opening weekend with Barmera Moorook Field & Game at Loveday.
Jim’s bag was limited because he was busy working a young dog with each retrieve but reports from other hunters were good.
“We had a clean out at the same time as Victoria did but good resident populations have remained, so the hunting has been good right through,” he said.
“What I’m hearing consistently still from hunters is that the conditions and the hunting is very good across South Australia.”
Dave Rehn (left) stops for a chat