The Last Hurrah

As the day broke on the first Saturday of May it was calm and a bit foggy, not good for the ducks but no one in our hunting party would complain. We had made it to the last opening morning on my father-in-law’s pond while they still owned it. This has been an amazing pond with some very special shoots over the years.

It is a large body of water and there are 3 permanent maimais set up to cover as much as possible. This year there was also a 4th pop-up hide in the corner so one of the guys could bring his girlfriend along for the first time.

Duck hunting eve was upon us and there was plenty of discussions on where the decoys would be placed, who was putting the decoys out and where we would each shoot. It felt great to be around the others, especially with my dad and best mate down from Auckland. You could feel the excitement as all the banter and trash-talking was coming out. With the alarms set for 4:30 am and the motorbike trailer loaded up with the decoys, the guns and ammo locked away ready for the morning it was time to try and get some sleep.

We woke to a star-filled sky and after a breakfast of porridge and coffee the bike runs started down to the pond to drop guys and gear off. Cameron and I walked down with our dogs Ellie and Ace. Cameron and I donned the waders to start putting decoys around the main hide with the light from our headlamps bouncing across the water in the early morning mist. Dad was getting our gear sorted inside the maimai ready for us to start.

It always feels like a rush to get the decoys out in time but we were done about 15 minutes before legal starting time. Once we got all the guns and gear in our spots we were right on the starting time but it was still too dark to see the birds among the clear sky and tall trees. We could hear one of the ponds down the road start up and they had a great shoot all morning, personally, I find it great to hear that others are doing well.

We started a bit slow with quite a few birds flying around and on the water so we tried to scare them away without firing any shots hoping they would return later in the day. They did move on, and as the light improved we were on. At first, we had a few birds flying around and due to the lack of wind, they were not committed to where we needed them in the main hide. This isn’t an issue as any ducks on the water when pushed off with shots at other birds ,generally fly past other hides.

My shooting early on was dismal with struggling to get onto the birds correctly, I was in the middle so had my Dad and Cameron to back me up, and there was plenty of that happening. We had birds coming in until about 9 am and they started to slow down. So was time for a quick walk around the pond with Ace, who was amped as ever to get out there and do what he loves. It was time for a quick coffee from the gas cooker which I told my Dad was hot and he proceeded to burn his mouth on.

The birds started to return around 10 am which I think is farmers out and about moving any birds that may be sitting on paddocks or puddles. My highlight from this part of the day was hearing the wings of a shoveler buzz the hide, for me to then jump up and take the drake with the first shot and get to it before Dad and Cameron. We continued till lunchtime working a few birds into land and then taking the next mob to give the others a chance at some birds.

Doing the next round of clearing and finding birds, Cameron and I walked a small creek that is well planted back to the house with Ellie and Ace to find a couple of birds that we saw go in there. Ace was in his element in there, working hard with his nose to find any birds. Quickly he got onto the first and pulled it out from under the water and weed. The second bird was quite a bit further up where the side of the creek was relatively steep but he found it and not wanting to climb up the steep sides he pushed through all the weeds back to where he could easily climb out about 200 metres back and he still had the bird.

Getting back to the house, we had 70 mallards and a handful of parries hanging on the wall to dry. It was a decent effort and we were happy with the birds considering that the weather was against us the whole time.

We headed back down to the pond for the afternoon flight and with a little bit of wind starting to blow around and thinking that the ducks might be hungry for a feed we could be in for a good few hours of ducks.

The ducks did come thick and fast for a few hours and we had 86 mallards down before it was too dark to shoot. It was time to pack up and pick up the ducks, Ace had a small limp at the end, which at the time I thought he was just a bit sore from all the work. Later I found out that he ripped off a toenail.

Sunday with our later start we had thick fog and the ducks wanted to fly when this started to lift. We had a few ducks coming in and my shooting was improving. The next minute we got buzzed by a mob of 8 shovelers and in the next pass we ended up shooting 7 of them. We sent the dogs out to retrieve them and noticed that the Fish and Game Rangers had turned up at the back of the maimai to check in on us. While they were there the ducks turned up. We were calling and shooting ducks while they were checking our licenses and walking around. This is only the second time I have ever seen a Ranger and the first in over 20 years. It was good to see them out and about.

All weekend we had seen and heard geese flying around the district, with the fog still hanging around a pair flying at about 40 metres came cruising over the pond, we shouted to the guys at the far end where they were heading. They managed to pull one of them down. It was an awesome sight.

The fog fully lifted at morning tea time and the ducks stopped flying so it was time to pick up the 20 birds we had gotten and head back to the house for a quick bite before starting the big job of plucking and gutting the birds.

This year I thought I would try my hand at using the pluckers and it wasn’t the best time to pick up having a beard. With our total of 178 Mallards and a handful of Paradise Ducks to process it does take a while even with all hands working on it, but being able to have that free-range meat in our freezer is great.

I needed to head back Sunday afternoon for work and family life, but this was another memorable opening weekend and I am thankful to be able to spend the time with family and friends doing something we love, especially to my father-in-law who has put his heart and soul into his pond over the last 18 years and we have seen the dramatic changes that have come from it.

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