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

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