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.

Field and Game - - 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.

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“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.

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