Dr Matt Draisma says retrieving game is an essential requirement to maintain our access to duck hunting and a critical element in the public perception of hunters.
It has been apparent in recent seasons that retrieving on certain public wetlands has been an issue and one of the causes is the lack of trained gun dogs accompanying some shooters.
Only one act will make us look even worse in the eyes of the majority non-hunter community than unrecovered dead gamebirds floating into the shoreline of a wetland, and that is if these dead birds are protected species.
Through both such misdemeanours access to our recreation is threatened. We are required to sit and pass a Waterfowl Identification Test in order to acquire a gamebird licence. Many of us may have forgotten that one of the possible answers in this test was “not sure, don’t shoot”.
It is imperative we all use this action if there is ANY doubt about the species identity coming into your decoys.
The duck fevered shooters (they can’t be called hunters) who failed to take such care and did shoot without identifying their target species have set back the cause for hunting with incalculable damage. Perhaps the outrageous penalty for shooting a Freckled duck ($30 000) is justified after all, if that is what it takes to curb such activities. If any of you witness such an act please report it or risk the loss of your recreation. Only by some of the miscreants being caught, and made an example of, will this law flouting behaviour cease. Obviously, compliance officers can’t handle this alone and need your help.
Our main platform to justify duck hunting other than for crop protection is that we are out to harvest our own meat and to take out well conditioned birds, leaving better quantities of scarce winter food resources for the survivors. By not recovering shot birds we will be seen to turn this reason for hunting into a lie. The general public has the power to grant or take away our right to hunt so easily, make no mistake about that. All it needs is a media exposure of both these problems and there will be a big public backlash. Government will react in a precautionary manner as a result to control these problems.
So how can we reduce the non-recovery of downed ducks, besides having the aid of a properly trained gun dog? Note I said properly trained dog, since an improperly trained one can be a huge pain to put up with and can be the absolute ruination of a duck hunt.
Firstly, the hunter can recover his/her own ducks by the correct use of swatter loads to quickly dispatch any wounded birds on the water, taking great care to make sure you have a safe background because shot will ricochet off the water surface. I would suggest we refer to the duck hunter booklet issued to all duck game licensees, which proposes the use of number 6 steel shot in 32 gram loads, that is a pellet-dense load compared with say, number 2-4 shot size for aerial shots.
This load, shot at relatively short range at a low angle over the water will provide the most effective killing pattern. If the water is wadeable then all we need to be equipped with is a set of waders properly fitted with a waist belt in case you fall over, to stay dry and go out and collect those birds taking a wading staff to test for swan holes and other sudden dips or sunken logs. You will most likely already have been out there setting a decoy spread.
With deeper water, things become a bit more complex but not unduly so. A bit of forward planning can enable you to have ready a duck punt, canoe or kayak for the recovery task as well as it being able to use it to set decoys.
In some instances, a more novel approach can be taken, and that is by using some form of floating grapple cast on the end of a hand line to scoop up and haul in the dead birds.
Experience has shown that depending on the size of the grapple it can be cast underarm for distances of 20m and more with considerable accuracy with a little practice.
I have personally made three different sized versions of such grapples with folding arms akin to a cloth-less umbrella. The different sized versions have arms of differing length for use in shallow waters where longer arms may snag on the bottom, and having different weights to allow different casting distances according to the terrain being hunted.
I include pictures of these; they can be made with various levels of complexity, varied by the user’s imagination and manufacturing skills. For me they have been designed mainly to recover birds shot over dams but that does not mean their use is limited to such. I have seen versions that embarrassingly sank on first use (not mine either), so do test them out in the laundry tubs or some such.
Materials of floatable timber bodies such as maple and red cedar, or dowels fitted with cylindrical foam net floats as shown are some of my choices. The arms must be able to be folded for carriage and can be made preferably from aluminium or strong plastics, lightweight in either case. Several different materials such as thick aluminium wire from high voltage wire as used on those high towers, angled aluminium struts or TV antenna arms have been my choices. With the larger version, you will note I have included a string web into the arms to improve pick up and added a wooden bead to the casting line to improve grip and casting distance.
When opening up the grapple arms there needs to be some sort of device to hold them open. In the magnum TV aerial arm version, this is achieved by using a sliding wooden disc that in the folded position holds the arms closed by means of a small attached plastic lid into which the arm ends fit. The smaller arms are held open by using some light detonator wire at the bottom, which is twisted tight or loosened slightly to allow for folding.
There is a choice of several line types to haul them in with once the device is thrown past the bird. Heavy nylon fishing line around 25 kg breaking strain is relatively tangle proof, as is an old floating fly-fishing line. The line can either be on a small hand caster or wound around the body of the smaller versions and unwound and spread on the ground, taking care not to become entangled in it yourself as you do so. Otherwise, the grapple will come up short on the line and come hurtling back at you in a very disconcerting manner that could even cost you an eye, so take your time and take care when using it.
The smaller devices can hang off your cartridge belt and the magnum stores in a small bag that can be slung on one’s back when on the move. The market is wide open for the development of commercial versions, probably made of moulded plastics, should someone be enterprising enough to make them. There would obviously be a rather large potential market for such items. It’s suitability for use on rice bays is supreme since the snake risk to gun dogs here is great enough to preclude their use should a suitable alternative be available for duck recovery and the usual size of the rice bays suit its application exactly.
With the expansion of the radio-controlled model boat technology I would guess that it would be reasonably easy to convert such equipment to duck recovery by the more innovative members of our tribe. The sky is the limit, and remember, better downed duck recovery for the coming season is critical.