It’s strange how some things can seem like they take a lifetime, and then in the same breath, they can seem like no time at all. Last year marked my 25th year since my first Opening Weekend experience; for some, that won’t seem like such a long time, but for me, that’s more than 75% of my entire life where the first weekend of May has meant the annual trip down to hunt the same stretch of water with my uncle. And while those 25 years seem like a lifetime, when we break it down, it’s 50 days of hunting – not even two thirds of our season down here. All of a sudden, it seems like no time at all.
Setting Up Early
This year we decided to utilise our time a little more efficiently to make the most of the weekend. On the Friday of Opening Weekend, we headed down to the maimai first thing in the morning to drop off our gear and set up what we could.
I realise it’s controversial, but we do set up some decoys the day before. Our spot is essentially an Olympic-depth diving pool hidden in some tight willows, and the water is only accessible by dragging our kayak through the trees. Hence, we tend to muck around and set up our jerk-rig/water movement gear in the nice daylight to avoid going for a swim in the dark on the Saturday morning. We could set everything up the day before, since we do a few, but given we run fully flocked floaters, it means if it’s a dewy Saturday morning, we arrive to see our decoy spread has been bedazzled overnight with dewdrops. Therefore, we tend to wait until the morning to do the bulk of them so we only have to dunk a few to clean them off.
We do have the weird added benefit (if you could call it that) of having no resident birds living on our piece of public water – and we don’t feed it – so there’s less risk of the ducks discovering our decoys aren’t real or anything like that. It’s only once the shooting starts that the ducks seem to want to come into the ‘safety’ of this willow hole.
A Couple of Hinds
Once we’d set up what we could and prepped everything for the morning, we decided we were going to try to double down on the weekend and see if we could find a couple of deer on a mate’s run-off block about an hour and a half away.
We arrived at the rolling tussock block with a couple of hours of light left and began glassing from our vantage point. Bellie soon spotted some movement, and after a bit more glassing, we confirmed it was two hinds about 2.5kms away. We decided to make a beeline straight for them as we had a perfect wind and not a lot of daylight hours to get there and back if we were successful. We quickly packed what we thought we’d need and set off in the direction the deer were last seen.
We were about only about 1km into our walk when we came over a knoll and spotted a mob of hinds across the small gully. They knew something wasn’t quite right and were on lookout but hadn’t spooked yet.
We both loaded quickly … Bang! Bang!
“I got one! How about you?”
“Yeah, I got one too!”
“Sweet!” We both had a hind each. It was a great start to the weekend, and a shorter carry than originally planned is always nice.
It was then back to the motel as quick as we could for a late dinner and catch-up with Haz and Josh to talk smack about past seasons before the real work was to begin in the morning.
Saturday morning always starts with a cooked breakfast around 4:30am so we can be packed and on the road early enough to be at the maimai by 6am. That way, we have plenty of time to sort our affairs before first light and that first flight. We managed to set the rest of the decoys out and finished off setting up all the water movement; we were ready well before 7am shooting time.
Water movement has been a massive focus of ours the last couple of years; it seems to be working wonders at attracting those wary ducks in and really makes our spread look realistic. This year, we had an automatic jerk rig that pulled two separate decoy spreaders, two homemade vibrating decoys, and probably our best addition to date – two Higdon XS Pulsator decoys. These Higdon decoys have been amazing for creating water movement and are so easy to use with their new built-in battery system. I’ll happily give these decoys a free plug here, because they’ve been our best purchase over the last two years – such a carefree decoy, they create amazing ripples and splashes through the spread.
As soon as 7am hit, it was like a 50-gun salute all around the river. And that signalled the start of the ducks trickling in perfectly, seeking refuge from the war breaking out all around them.
I normally don’t like to leave dead ducks on the water long, but given the constant action, we didn’t get a chance to do a retrieval run in the kayak until we had close to 20 ducks down.
When we did finally get our first quiet patch, I shot out to do a quick pickup, and to my surprise, out in the thin branches of the willows scratching at the water was a big ferret trying to claim one of our ducks! It was quickly dispatched and joined our pile.
Limit by Lunchtime
As always, as soon as the kayak is out of the water, the pool is like a homing beacon for the ducks to start coming in again. As quickly as possible, I was back in the maimai and ready for another round. Sure enough, with a fair bit of vocal convincing, the ducks started to trickle back in. We really had to work on the calls to get their attention, but once we had it, they were coming straight in, pair after pair.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve noticed an increase in spoonie numbers in our area and this year was no different. By lunchtime we’d managed to secure our 50-mallard limit along with our four-spoonie limit and a rare pair of parries – only the second ever pair of parries to drop into the willows here.
Once we’d packed up for the day, we headed back to the truck intending to go for an afternoon fish. To our surprise, Haz and Josh were also back at their vehicle with a very similar looking stack for their morning’s efforts. We all headed back to the motel for a late lunch, after which, the plan was to go fishing. But by the time we got there, I think everyone had decided they were due a nap instead … so the fish were safe for the day.
Best Ever Sunday Tally
Sunday morning started a little later as we’d decided we didn’t have as much prep to do and only needed to put out the battery decoys. We arrived just before 7am and still set up with time to spare. Sundays here are always hit and miss. Given our spot mainly relies on other hunters being out to get the birds moving, it’s always a guess as to how we’ll go – it’s usually dependent on others doing well on Saturday so they have the motivation to be back on Sunday.
This Sunday, however, was a little different. Although it was a lot quieter with fewer hunters as well as ducks, the birds we did see seemed to just want straight in. The usually wary Sunday ducks were nowhere to be seen, and instead, we had ducks just appearing with no hesitation at all.
Even with very little hunter action, we ended up with our best ever Sunday tally, adding another 34 mallards and our limit of spoonies.
All in all, the 25th year delivered. As far as anniversaries go, with something different in two hinds and a ferret, limits on spoonies and some great mallard action, it was a memorable one!