Julie Gillespie didn’t start hunting ducks until she turned 40, but this is no mid-life crisis, it is an extension of a long-standing family tradition of sourcing sustainable wild food.
As the South Australian Duck Season draws to a close, Julie Gillespie is making the most of the opportunity to harvest wild duck.
While still a relative novice, Julie is as keen as any hunter.
On this particular morning she is nestled in the reeds at Loveday, the Riverland wetland managed by Barmera Moorook Field & Game.
The whole family, Julie, husband Brad and boys Kyle and Ryan, are all members of Barmera Moorook.
“I met my husband Brad 20 years ago and he was into hunting,” she said. “We used to go pig shooting but after we had children we couldn’t get out much anymore."
“Three or four years ago Brad did his WIT test because he had decided to get back into duck hunting and I was curious, so I went clay target shooting to see if I could handle a shotgun.
“I thoroughly enjoyed that, so I got a gun licence and did the WIT test so we could go hunting together again.”
It is a cold but clear winter’s morning and the conversation is interrupted regularly as Julie spots ducks heading for her decoys. They come in twos and threes passing left to right or right to left. Julie swings the shotgun and manages a couple for her bag but she admits the search for a shotgun she can use easily is ongoing.
“Being small in stature I am trying to find that perfect shotgun; it has been a struggle, you pick them up and they feel right until you bring the shotgun up,” she said.
“From what I’ve seen, unless you spend big dollars, there aren’t stocks of ladies’ shotguns to choose from.”
How many end up in the bag isn’t too much of a concern. While waiting for the opening time Julie stood and listened to the birds coming to life, soaked up the serenity of the surrounding environment and enjoyed the sense of isolation as she watched another magnificent sunrise.
“I really enjoy eating duck so when I turned 40 I thought why not try to hunt them myself. It gets Brad and I out as a couple together as well,” she said.
“Duck hunting is something I never would have pictured myself doing years ago but you get up in the early hours before sunrise and it is just total peace out here watching the sun come up, listening to the ducks and feeling the anticipation and wondering what you are going to put on the table that night.”
Julie would like to see more women out duck hunting but for the moment she’s one of the few in the Riverland. However, Julie says her experience in taking up duck hunting should provide encouragement for other women, even those who have no experience.
“I haven’t come across any barriers yet. We do some duck hunting on private property with friends and I’m the only female hunter and the men around me are very encouraging and supportive.”
The only funny looks have come from friends and work colleagues when Julie has revealed herself as a firearm owner and active hunter. She doesn’t fit the stereotype but that’s fine, it gives her an opportunity to educate the uneducated.
“The initial reaction when you say you are a hunter and firearm owner is a funny look but when you sit and explain to them that it isn’t all about guns and hunting but conservation and looking after where you hunt, providing natural food and the social side of it, then they look at it a bit differently,” she said.
“We are not going out there shooting something just for the fun of shooting something; we do it to provide food.”
Meals in the Gillespie household revolve around the available wild food.
“We do a lot of fishing and Brad goes out and gets rabbits as well, so between the rabbit, duck and fish and our own lamb from the farm we don’t buy a lot of meat,” Julie said.
“You can’t go past a rabbit backstrap schnitzel, that is a very popular dish amongst our friends.”
Duck schnitzel, duck pasta, duck bolognaise and more recently, duck kebabs, have featured on the household menu. Julie’s philosophy is simple: any recipe is worth trying where you can substitute wild harvested food for the traditional protein.
“I try anything with wild meat using duck instead of beef and rabbit instead of chicken.”