A challenging and rewarding season
Hunters in Victoria’s Gippsland region enjoyed a strong finish to the season, but until the last few weeks it had been a productive but strange Duck Season.
Simon Webster waded out to a hide in the Macleod Morass on the closing weekend confident of a good result.
The walk to the entry point and the wade out to the hole were hard going but birds were dropping into the decoys well before the official start time, although the first arrivals were three Blue-winged shovelers.
As the weak winter sun rose only to be rendered even more ineffectual by heavy cloud cover, Simon braced against the cold and peered into the distance.
He didn’t wait long before a pair of teal looking to settle were drawn into the decoys, and within an hour there were nine ducks in the bag.
Then, as if alerted by a group text message, every duck in the district decided to “shelter in place”.
For more than an hour we waited, and waited, but nothing was flying.
Of course, the watched kettle principle played out once the hunt was abandoned. While watching for any activity or opportunity there was nothing, but once the decoys were packed in the sled and Simon’s back was turned for the wade home, a single blackie flitted by, flying low over the vacant hide.
In a way, the ending of the hunt reflected the nature of the season in Gippsland. “It was a great opening and business as usual with everybody starting on time and getting some good hunting,” Simon said. “It was one of those years where if you went in a group, one hunter would get a bag and the others might only get ones or twos.”
Like most places, Gippsland was dry for most of the season, which is particularly unseasonal for this part of the world and had a real influence not only on the abundance of birds but the species.
“It was really the year of the Grey teal down here, with virtually no Pacific black duck until late in the season when we got a little bit of rain,” Simon said. “The birds that were here were fickle, and you mostly got one chance at a spot and then you had to scout around for another location.”
With the rain, the last three weeks of the season were really good, but Simon said prior to that it was a bit patchy. “We had virtually no chestnut teal here this season which was bizarre for this region, and a lot of Grey teal which only arrive here in numbers when it is
particularly dry, which was the case for most of the season. “It was a very unusual year.” A day earlier, Mathew Warner settled into a temporary hide on Heart Morass, expecting to benefit from some good scouting but it no longer seemed to be where the birds wanted to settle.
Patience brought its reward, but it was nearly an hour after opening when the small mobs started to flare over the decoys. “It was a very good hunt, a bit slow at the start but once the birds started to move around we got them coming right into the decoys and we had a good hunt,” Mathew said. “Watching those black ducks come into the decoys with wings set, I love it.”
The ducks’ arrival also set two-year-old Buster’s heart racing and each time he would step forward ready to retrieve as soon as the gun was mounted.
His excitement wasn’t tempered.
“This is Buster’s first season. He’s coming along pretty well: he breaks a bit in the shallow water, but in the hides he’s a lot better. He’s learned a lot on the past year, and he’s come a long way,” Mathew said.
“It is really exciting hunting with a new dog. He made a few long retrieves and listened to me, which is the most important thing. He really enjoyed himself.”
Looking back at the season, Mathew agreed hunters had to scout regularly and work harder to get results. “It has been up and down: the birds concentrated where they wanted to be but they weren’t anywhere else, so it was hit and miss. If you could get onto them you would have a good hunt each day, but you had to play it day to day. “It has been a tough season, even today was a bit mixed and not everybody got their bag, but that’s hunting.”
For all hunters, the real success of the 2018 Victorian Duck Season has been the no-fuss approach to increased regulation and scrutiny.
The later start times across the opening weekend were complied with, so too were new regulations around retrieving downed game birds and harvesting of at least the breast meat.
Across the border, South Australia hunted longer and stronger that it has for years. “In the Riverland, birds hung on with the continued dry weather up north,” Jim Godden said. “There was a great start to the season, and a bit of a lull mid-season as birds shifted from the Riverland to the southeast, but by closing weekend we started to see returning teal that were coming back in.”
Jim encouraged people who hunted in SA this season to fill out and return their Hunter Report Card. “Fill it in and send it in, it will only help with future hunting,” he said.