Sky Rats and Shriek-Ducks

Caleb and Isaac arrived on time and we started the pilgrimage to the neighbour’s property we had been given permission to shoot for closing weekend. The morning was still and warm and the shrieks and honks of paradise ducks echoed off the landscape. I had nick-named them shriek-ducks recently as large mobs flew over the house while I was sleeping off night shifts – so I was pretty keen to reduce the numbers! We set up in two hides against a stand of tall poplars, surrounded by a flock of decoys, and absolutely in awe as dawn revealed the numbers of ducks coming in. Teeva the dog was looking skyward and whining, and things looked promising. My job today was to train and handle her and quickly dispatch any wounded birds.

“I’m kind of amazed that Cathy let us shoot in her paddock of bulls, actually.” I commented, as Friesian bulls milled around us. We were positioned in a harvested maize crop and the fallen grain had been attracting large flocks of birds. It was amazing to finally work Teeva on a substrate where she actually was an appropriate colour to blend in!

“Into it boys!” The shotguns came up and the first pari ducks hit the deck. Most of the ducks flew high over head on the clear morning and didn’t afford a shot. James and I kept giggling as Caleb used the mallard call to attract parries. Many flew over but settled in the paddock further away, so Caleb and Isaac decided to take a walk to stir them up a bit. As they disappeared behind some distant pines we heard a series of shots and some cheering. James and I were surprised when they returned with hares, not ducks, but they were the biggest hares I had ever seen!

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Our initial set-up – in the wrong person’s paddock!

After a few of hours of intermittent shooting, the other neighbours pulled up over the fence to shift their dry cows.

“Don’t shoot! She called, and we reassured her. “Sorry to interrupt your morning!”

We went over to speak with them, as over 100 paradise ducks suddenly came in low and swirled around the hides. We cursed inwardly, unable to shoot with the farmers nearby, but soon became more focused on the conversation…. as it dawned on us that we were in completely the wrong area. We were actually on THEIR property, in the middle of THEIR bulls, with a dog and three shotguns. It was a pretty awkward situation, and they gave us directions to the maize crop we were supposed to be in – as well as telling us we were welcome to stay where we were. We were very lucky they didn’t mind as they were well within their rights to tell us to piss off, and worse! We offered profuse apologies and it sounds like it will be made up for over some pints at the local tavern.

We decided that perhaps we should move to where we had actually planned to be, so packed up and set up against a stand of swampy willow saplings. It was a great spot with good traffic, and the hides were much better camouflaged. Only the dog wasn’t! Fortunately though, she was calm. Last year was her first opening morning and she whined continuously, remained hyper alert and was actually rather exhausting. She did perform very well though, and had very little practice since then. This time she curled up or lay down until the shotguns were lifted – a drastic improvement. The only thing she messed up on was when James took a walk to stir things up down the paddock, and she watched intently as he disappeared behind the pine trees. Some parries decoyed in and one was brought down – but as I let her go she took off after James instead of retrieving the duck! She was not letting that shotgun out of her sight! Not a major issue though as she found James and lead him safely back to the hides to shoot more ducks for her.

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James and Teeva have reached an understanding

Through out the afternoon we had small groups of parries coming in – some escaped and some did not. At times we even had pigeons coming in to join our decoy flock! I had the .22 on hand so any birds that were still alive when Teeva delivered them to me were quickly and humanely dispatched with a bullet to the head at point blank. I honestly think this should be a mandatory part of duck shooting. Teeva did an outstanding job, retrieving all day with enthusiasm – bringing in parries, pigeons and even the 3 unlucky pukekos the guys hunted. On breasting them out only three breasts had damage from the dog.

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The homemade backpack came in very handy as we gave Teeva a few kg of ammo to carry

The end of the day brought a surprise – very few parries coming in but plenty of mallards. We were not sited near a body of water for them to land on, so the likelihood of getting one was slim. Right on dark however, a duck flew in low and a very well delivered shot brought it cleanly down. The guys felt it was the icing on the cake after a really good day, also netting 26 pari ducks, 3 pukeko, 3 hares, and 8 pigeons.

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The team with some of their birds
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