Opening Weekend of the 2018 duck season was just around the corner – plans were in place and preparations complete, decoys rigged with line and sinkers, all cleaned after sitting in an old woolshed dormant for 9 months; we loaded what seemed like a never-ending number of decoys, layout blinds, kayaks, dogs, food and other items required for a week of hunting to get the game-bird season underway.
I arrived at our Opening Weekend spot after a short drive to our destination on the Canterbury Plains; we parked up at my brother’s house – he would host us for the first couple of days as we hunted nearby – and unloaded a few bits and pieces while we waited for the evening flight of birds to leave the refuge of our pond … as we know they do in the evening to head out in search of food.
Once it got close to dark, the real work began; 80-odd decoys had to be put out in a way that we hoped would give us the perfect set-up with ducks trying to land right in close to us. The forecast said wind would be coming from the north-east, so we set up the majority of our decoys upwind from where we’d situated our laydown blinds; we left an empty hole right in front of us and then put a rough line of 15 or so decoys downwind of our blinds. This was to entice the birds to fly into the wind up the line of decoys, then land in the space in front of us with the intention of joining the main group of decoys situated upwind; I like this method mostly because it means the ducks are generally within 25 metres – this provides us with clean kill shots.
After what seemed like a lifetime later, saturated from wet decoys and dripping wet kayak paddle handles, we’d finished the job; our layout blinds were also in place, grassed up and ready for action in the morning. We finally made it to bed at 11:45pm with alarms set for 5 o’clock.
The next morning, we were up and into a quick breakfast before the short trip down the road to the pond to greet the sunrise and await the beginning of the hunt. We could hear plenty of mallards flying around us in the darkness, which only increased our levels of anticipation, but before too long it was legal shooting time; you’d have thought World War III had begun as shots rang out all over the district.
It wasn’t long before we had our first lot of ducks commit to our calling and decoys; for the next few hours we had some excellent shooting opportunities and my friend Simon and I were getting some great birds coming into our spot.
There were groups of all sizes of ducks arriving at our pond, and at one stage we had 100 or so birds above us in the air – some were dropping in and others were just out of range circling above; it was a great sight to see but we didn’t want to shoot anything until the mob had dispersed – we didn’t want to spook so many birds in the air at one time as we hoped they’d come back later in smaller mobs.
Benson and Beau
Our hunting spot was a large irrigation pond; every now and then, one of us would go for a walk with the dogs to collect up the shot birds so the ever-hungry hawks wouldn’t feast on our downed game. We had plenty of birds to gather and I was grateful I had my two dogs along for the journey; my older dog, Benson, was struggling with the workload and Beau, my younger Lab, was sent off to retrieve the ducks further out in the water.
At one point, when I sent Benson out to retrieve a shot bird, he left with the energy of a young dog, but then went underwater; thankfully, he surfaced, but I could see he was in trouble and must’ve taken in some water. I was about to strip off to go and get him back to shore, but he made it on is own; he wasn’t in a good way – he was struggling to breathe and coughed up a bit of water. Fortunately, after a short period he came right, but I took him back to my truck so he could rest up … his day was over.
The day ticked by and soon it was after lunch; I’d been keeping in regular contact with my brother and a friend who were also out hunting but at a different location nearly an hour away. Their morning wasn’t going so well, so they’d decided to leave their spot to come and join us for the rest of the day. Before long, they arrived and were gobsmacked by our success so far for the day – we’d nearly limited out on mallards and had a few parries in our bag as well. We don’t normally shoot or have many birds come into our pond in the evenings, but for the last 2 hours of the day, we managed to add another 15 or so ducks to our tally – mostly singles and pairs that dropped into the decoys well and gave us great shooting so we could take them cleanly.
Before we knew it, the day was over; darkness set upon us and we headed home. Our ducks were stored away safely in a spot where they could hang for the evening while we headed in for dinner and then off to bed to recharge the batteries for another early start the next day.
The Second Day
Once again, the alarms went off – slightly later this morning – and again we put together a quick breakfast before making our way down to the pond. Similar to Saturday, once it got light enough to see and was legal shooting time, we had flights of birds, although somewhat less than the previous day; they were a bit more cagey and the weather was different as well, but we still managed to lure a few into our decoys.
It was mid-morning when we decided to pull the pin; we’d scored another 30-odd birds for our morning’s efforts and had a lot of others to clean up and harvest meat from. We had plans of heading to another little pond elsewhere in the region to hunt for the evening.
Two hours later, we had a good chunk of the ducks cleaned up and made tracks to our next destination for an evening hunt – a tiny little pond on my farm where normally a few birds arrive at dusk. We threw out half a dozen decoys and sat in wait under the trees for the last hour and a half of daylight in anticipation of bagging a few more mallards to close out the day. Unfortunately for us, all was quiet, and while we saw a few ducks, they had eyes on different areas – we couldn’t pull any in despite our efforts; darkness arrived and we headed for home, but still chuffed at how the morning had gone.
Monday – Tuesday
Monday morning was a rest day and a chance to process the last few ducks from the weekend. On Tuesday morning, two other friends and I had another hunt lined up on a pond that had a good few geese and ducks living on it. We met, once again very early in the morning, and got set up as quickly as we could before it became light enough to see; birds could be heard above while we threw out our decoys, and anticipation was high of having a good hunt … everything fell into place, and by late morning a few mallards and a good number of geese had dropped in. After packing up, it was another afternoon of processing and cleaning birds before making plans for the next day.
I was once again on a small pond on my farm where I managed to bag 10 birds for the morning; this was a great hunt for Benson, who was now fighting fit again, so he tagged along and enjoyed every second of it … collecting the ducks off the water with minimal effort required due to the pond’s size. After getting some great shooting for the first hour, I decided to finish up for the day – this would give me time to pack up, get birds processed and all my gear put away as I was going back to work until the weekend; my mind was already in overdrive thinking of the next hunt ….
Farewell to Benson
As the season dragged on, I had some great solo shoots as well as some memorable hunts with family and friends and my dogs; a lot of birds were shot and harvested for future snacks and dinners.
Sadly, one evening after the end of the season, my old dog, Benson, passed away at the age of 13; I’ll never forget the years we spent together out in the field doing what we both loved – the past season will remain a memory forever since it was the last one we had hunting together.