Across Victoria the 2017 Duck Season produced an abundance of birds and enough water to give hunters a choice of habitats to chase a bag. We checked in with hunters who helped us preview the season to find out how they fared.
By the last weekend of the Victorian season, the water in Richardson’s Lagoon is as still and cold as the winter air. The only movement as the sun struggles to rise is the fog rolling in, and the birds.
Mark Daley has been here for a week, boating from the camp to a point where you can easily wade out into the timber. He reckons he might have done a bit too well the past few days and spoiled it for the late arrivals in camp, including his son Alexander.
“I’d been hunting there for nearly three weeks before that and that last weekend was the only time I didn’t bag out,” Mark said.
Rod Drew, Peter Hawker, Barry Eastwood, Josh Evely, Alex Daley all enjoyed the spoils to some degree over those final weeks.
“That’s what environmental water does; without it Richardson’s would have been dry, and there wouldn’t have been any birds,” Mark said.
The last morning produces five birds and over the last of the bacon and eggs there’s an opportunity to sit around the campfire and reflect on the season that was.
“The season overall was fantastic; it started with a lot of young birds around and later on the black ducks and hardhead turned up, probably from southern New South Wales,” Mark said.
During the season, Mark hunted the areas around Boort, Kerang and Torrumbarry.
“The quality of the birds was good, and for me the size of the black ducks was the highlight of the season.
“The good sign for next season is that by closing weekend the birds looked ready to start breeding earlier than normal.”
Trent Leen is either working or hunting and he agrees the season was a huge success with very high bird numbers as he travelled across the state.
“The only disappointment of the season was not getting to hunt the Marshes,” he said.
“With good water right across the state we were spoilt for choice as to where to go, hunting live timbered swamps is a favourite of mine so we targeted them when possible but we also had great results hunting in flooded paddocks and crops.”
The standout for Trent was the abundance and responsiveness of pacific black duck.
“With so many fresh birds moving into areas we saw very call responsive birds and found you could call black ducks to your spread after shooting some of the same mob quite regularly.”
As is often the case, the bird you work the hardest for is the most memorable.
“I got a hybrid black duck/teal on the closing arvo; it had been a tough day and it looked like the ducks were going to win,” Trent said.
“As the clock ticked down to the close of the season fuel problems in the mud boat meant we had to move lakes, dig a mud hole in record time and set up the decoys then the first shot I fired the ejector slipped past the spent cartridge rendering my gun useless. Luckily, Peter Anderson lent me his gun and I finished with a full bag for the day, including the hybrid.”
Like everyone else, Steve Harris enjoyed a terrific season, made more special by the eager presence of his son James.
“My friends and family all seemed to do really well and I managed to get out a few times with my boy, which was particularly rewarding,” he said.
“James is a little shy of 12 years old so doesn’t get to man a shotgun yet, but he seems to love coming along! Taking the kids adds a new dimension to the hunting experience, something I’ve always looked forward to, right from the moment I first became a Dad.
“JB loved sitting cam-side, fishing in between hunts, and working the duck-call at my side in the wetlands. I can’t wait for next year to do it again.”
Steve said the whole state seemed to shoot well but particularly out west.
“I went down to Gippsland a few times mid-season and the areas around Sale shot a bit leaner I found, but we still had some good times.”
It was a bright season after a glum start, with Steve losing his much-loved labrador Charlie a few days before opening.
“Old age and cancer meant 2016 was to be my old mate’s last season, which certainly put a downer on things for me hunting this year. We will be training a new puppy soon (and teaching my boy how to train a dog) so hopefully we will have a new smile on our faces in March 2018,” he said.
Steve’s most memorable bird for the season is an easy one to answer.
“The black duck I had for dinner on Sunday,” he said.
John Byers agrees that Gippsland was “patchy” after missing the rains that fell in the rest of the state.
“It was possible to shoot a bag one day and struggle to get a single bird the day following,” he said.
“Birds that were around were very susceptible to hunting pressure and readily moved from wetlands into no-hunt refuges in the area. Overall is wasn’t a bad season, but it certainly won’t be a season that easily springs back to memory in years to come.”
Like a lot hunters, John remarked on the number of blue-winged shoveler.
“My most memorable bird was taken on a mid-season hunt on the edge of Lake Wellington. A mob of six black duck, high, wide, with the wind at their tails and destined for parts unknown headed down the lake,” he said.
“A solid rendition of a ‘lonely hen’ on the call peeled a solitary drake from the departing mob and he wheeled back high over the decoys where a single shot from the 108-year-old Charles Boswell double folded him onto the water.
“It was all the better when Bailey the duck hound splashed into the water and brought the bird ‘copy book’ back to hand. All good stuff and what it’s all about.”
Ken Farmer and son Luke hunted throughout Victoria with friends, family and his dog Tessa.
“I spent opening with Steve Shaw and Colin Burns, my hunting and fishing companions of 45 years. We went to northern Victoria and reached our bag limit by 9 am; we were a very excitable bunch that morning during the plucking,” he said.
“This year was about Tessa. Last year we hunted the Swan Hill area quite a bit, mostly on the river over decoys, static but lots of fun, but this year, for the first time since 2011, we were able to go back to what my father had taught me wading and hunting on flight lines and cover.
“My most memorable hunts were about the dog and her ability to hunt and retrieve on the move. It was simply hunting, no decoys, no callers, just moving from one spot to the next.”
Ken said the 2017 season was one of the best he could remember and towards the end, black duck numbers in the south east were higher than he’d ever seen before. He hopes there is more of the same next season.
“The possibility that for good waterfowl breeding again this year looks likely. Birds came into breeding colour early and there has been plenty of sign that birds are have already been pairing.”