Monday, July 17, 2017

Rules are there for a reason

Its been a while since the last goose hunt. The call had come in from a farmer friend that canadas were on his new grass and he wanted them gone. The week leading up was punctuated with massive southerly storm fronts bringing 160 kph winds in some places and carrying sleet, snow and rain. The birds had been arriving mid morning in good numbers. I was a bit worried that we'd be hunting mid moon rather than on the dark - one of the irrefutable goose hunting rules is that on the dark moon they wont fly at night to feed so will travel and feed by day.

We met early at the usual gathering point and got out to the farm. Because the ground was sodden we'd only be able to get gear in by quad so we travelled light, with a couple of dozen decoys. We got to the site and it was more a marsh than a paddock. My fears came true as 2 mobs of canadas left, disturbed by the quad and our head lamps. With the settled weather post storm they'd obviously resumed night feeding. Our only location option was to set up on a dryish berm, prior experience told us that setting up layouts in mush just leads to big rings of footprints around the blinds. We got setup and then the wait began.

A swamp, not a paddock

A few geese moved early, but not near us. A group of greylag geese watched us from a couple of hundred metres away, nervously shuffling around.

The highlights:

1. I got a good amount of sleep during the day
2. There were truckloads of mallards trading - we may have a good duck hunting option next season
3. No geese ate the farmers grass that day
4. Layla chased down the greylags and scored the only goose for the day

Leggo! The goose was returned unharmed
Next time I hunt geese, there will be no moon.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dirty old mid-weeker

Down at the river, Pete showed me a neat little run below the Lower Bridge Pool on the Big T. Surprisingly given the number of cars in the car park no one was in the run, so I went at the head and Pete went in halfway down. I'd put off meetings and headed down on the back of reports of terrific fishing post a fresh that had blown through the river. I'd left home at 4, arrived in Turangi @ 8 and had gone straight over to Pete's & Sherrie's place. He had the day off and no commitments in the morning, so we'd be able to fish together until after 11, then I'd be on my own for the afternoon. At their place I offloaded her royal blackness the pot licker (Layla), who'd stay with Sherrie and play with her boyfriend Kaiser for the morning.

The 12'6" #7 is certainly a different proposition to the 11'6" #4. I hadn't fished the big rod since Argie in April. I'd rigged it with a 475 gn skagit head, 10' of T-14, 3 or 4' of 15lb leader and a small olive dumbbell eyed AI. The Lower Bridge held its share of anglers and given its reputation as a fish producer, that was no wonder. From time to time when I looked upstream one angler or another would be hooked up. Pete got into his work straight off. We were on river right and with a downstream breeze we both adopted the double spey. He was using Jase's Sage Method #6 and seemed to be able to pump casts out with ease. I had troubles. I always have troubles. I needed to slow down and find that winning rhythm which when it comes makes life so easy. We'd worked our way down for about 40 minutes when I got a cast to hit the far bank, then decided to add a slip loop to the line that I gripped in my right hand on the rod handle. I was farting around when I realised that the line had come up tight and a fish thrashed the surface in the heavy current. The hook didn't grip. Pete looked around as I was clubbing myself on the head - I never learn.. the experts say that you'll catch fish on the worst cast, as long as you work the fly properly. Dicking around mid swing is not working the fly properly. We fished on. I was in the bottom third of the run as Pete fished the tailout when the line bump-bumped and I lifted. The fish took off downstream as they do when they hit a swung fly. The fight was quite protracted as the fish didn't want to come out of the current but eventually the side strain told. Pete netted a short, fat and silver specimen and my day was made.

Pete finished up and moved downstream while I swung the tailout. I received no further bumps and so reeled in to move down and join him. We'd used our morning's time allotment so it was back to his place for a bowl of soup. Sherrie had excelled and the bacon bone soup was superb. I said goodbye to the folks and headed upstream with a tired black lab in tow. We got out at Admiral's Pool and as I set about getting geared up I heard a kerfuffle in the bushes. I called Layla in and she returned with a dirty old bush chicken which she delivered to hand perfectly. I let the scraggy old bird go and finished my preps. A look into Admiral's from the cliff above revealed 2 rafts chugging around, under which the normally serene and untouchable fish were darting. I noted extra colour in the water and the flow was definitely up - perfect for fishing. Below the Admiral's Pool is a sweet little run of perfect swinging water and I anticipated hitting at least a couple of fish. I fished through twice to be sure, changing the tip for the second run through. I could feel the thrum of the tip and bumping journey of the fly which snagged up now and again so I felt pretty confident... but no, nothing was home. I decided for the final stint that a couple of hours in the Mill Race would be in order. It looks like perfect swinging water but between the boys we've really struggled to unlock its secrets, and maybe that's why we keep returning. My sum total of fish taken from it before today had been one; Pete told me he'd never caught one there and Jase has had very few.

On arrival at the head of the pool I saw an old timer with nymph gear 3/4 of he way up, and he was hooked up. I moved down to greet him and he told me that the pool was "full of fish" as this was his 4th. I helped him land a beautiful little fish and then asked if he'd mind if I started below. He just needed space to water load his back hand cast (the bush is close and tall bank left of this pool) which I gave him. Looking at the pool I realised that its quite a different beast in higher than normal flow, with much more pronounced holding water river left. The water was up a good few inches and I needed to comb it thoroughly. As I swapped my head out for the Airflo F.I.S.T (Floating/Intermediate/Sink Tip) which hangs lower in the water column and slows the swing down, I looked up and the old timer was into another fish. He was fishing the seam perfectly. I needed to cast across the main flow and bump the fly through holding water on the far side then comb mid stream and down below me. My casting had got better as the day wore on and I was able to reach across off both shoulders, allowing me to throw a cast perpendicular to the current and then one at 45 degrees with each step down the pool. The F.I.S.T has one effect that's a bit strange - it 'muffles' the feel of the tip and fly bumping. The hit when it came took me by surprise as it was downstream as the fly came through the slow riffle water. I played out a small perfect rainbow hen and when I glanced up the old boy was leaning into another fish, he seemed to be having a pretty good day. My next strike was 20 minutes later (the old guy had landed by my count by now, his 7th fish) and first cast with a new fly - how often this happens! Because the hit was in the first 10 seconds of the swing the contact was direct and thumping and the fish threw itself skyward time and again (the old boy was leaning hard into another fish and Layla was offering him support) and line ripped from the reel. This was a protracted battle and it took me a good while to get the fish under control (meanwhile the old guy was panting hard) before bringing ashore a solid jack in perfect condition.

I put down the rod and waded up to the other dude who was in the final stages of catching an eye-popping rainbow hen - I estimated her to be in the 5-6 lb range and a real cracker! I netted her and the old boy released her. I reckon that was his 8th fish from the run, a real purple patch!

I swung the rest of the pool for no more takes and then as the other guy had moved I walked up to swing the water that he hadn't touched (his coverage had been limited by the shrubbery, not that it seemed to matter). Nothing came to the fly. With the sun low in the sky it was time to head off. I was pretty pleased overall, every day on the water offers new lessons and that's what matters the most.

Mid weekers should be more commonplace.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hills and sneaky birds

We'd have a decent crew and a large pack of dogs for our annual pheasant chasing sojourn to the beach. 6 hunters, 7 dogs and 4 quad bikes meant that we would be able to cover plenty of territory and because we're now pretty familiar with the lay of the land we'd be able to do a thorough job of hunting it.

Dog Squad

Matt and I arrived the morning after the rest of the guys and were soon met by Richard and Tony on quads. We got our gear loaded on a trailer and covered it with a tarp, a fresh southerly brought with it cold rains - as the Met Service guy said "the door to the Antarctic fridge is open". Cold winter days can be the most beautiful when sunny and glorious, but the grey skies and showers heralded anything but glory. The ride down to the hut was a little hairy as the track was mire. Quads were the only means of getting in there and without them we'd be stuck in no time flat. Soon we were unpacked and got ready to hunt the first field. Layla and I took the high side of a bank, and moved in line with Tony & Matt towards Chewy, Richard and Travis. We soon bumped a hen which shot skywards on the updraft created by the bank, then doubled back over Matt & Tony. It would have been a truly sporting bird if she had been a he.... the first shot came soon after as a cock bird boosted out of a rushy area, and Matt was on the board.

The area we hunt is simply stunning, tall green grassed hills, bushy valleys and an outlook over a broad harbour. The air is clean, the views magical and we are so very privileged to be able to access the farm. The fact that its a pheasant haven is simply a wonderful bonus, albeit the central reason that we go there. We hunted hard into the afternoon and as sometimes happens, the birds flew towards one hunter. Matt soon had his limit and then acted as dog controller for the rest of us.

We pushed an area of swamp, high rushes, general shit and spikey stuff where Layla got hot and pushed a large peacock, my shot took him down and Layla got in and scragged him back to me. Pheasants and peafowl are not the best flatmates but as Chewy and I did the hard yards in the thick stuff we still managed to bump hen after hen pheasant. The only cock bird I saw from my constricted zone flew low back and escaped. At least the weather had cleared, which would be more conducive for the dogs to scent pheasants.

Late in the afternoon the boys called it, but Chewy and I wanted to work an area that had given us chances in the past so we hopped on a quad and moved on. I soon had a call on the radio that he'd bumped birds from an open face, and they'd flown wild across an open marsh into a pine tee belt 300m away. I moved across a causeway and got into the trees. Layla quickly sparked up and bumped a hen and then my chance of the day came when a cock jumped and flew directly at me before veering uphill between tall pine trunks. I shoulda had him. 9 times out of 10 I woulda had him. This was that 10th time and I blew it, snap shooting instead of waiting for him to clear the trees into an easy shooting area. Layla gave me that look. We all know it - "boss, you blew it..."

4 birds hung from the hut's veranda when we got back and darkness soon fell, and stars filled the sky, truly a sight to behold. We ate our meal in front of the "TV", an iPhone which Matt had hooked to his Sky TV account so we could watch the All Blacks play the Lions. The match was a fantastic display of power and precision, and the northern hemisphere team were comprehensively outclassed.

Sunday and we were up at sparrow's to watch the America's Cup matches and then after a solid breakfast we were up and out. A beautiful clear day beckoned and we made the most of it, hunting out some gullys that we'd left alone the prior day. Tony managed a bird early and then I picked one up a bit later, but again the pheasants seemed to be a step ahead of us. Every bird I got close to that day put shrubbery between me and him.

Richard and I decided to do the final walk of the day, involving a steep uphill climb then following the farm boundary. We passed a small copse of trees that looked too good to ignore, so I made my way over. Layla got birdy but I couldn't put her in as the copse was deer fenced off, so I gave one of the posts a kick - a rooster launched and I missed him twice..... doh.

My legs told me about those hills for the next few days.....


Monday, June 19, 2017

Slowing down

Saturday was about taking everything slow, the advice imparted in the Larimer DVD was all about starting with body position, strong anchor set and letting it flow from there. But way before the fishing started we were already taking it easy, as some of the thickest fog I'd ever seen blanketed the Waikato. We were away at 4.20 am with Layla riding shotgun and we headed south. Over the Bombays we hit the fog and it was dramatic. With fog lights on and headlights on low beam visibility was low and we simply had to drive slowly. I rang Jase when I was about an hour out and he was 10 minutes behind me. We arranged a rendezvous point and by the time Jase pulled in, Layla had been watered and toileted. The final leg was better as the road was clear and there was little fog. It was with some trepidation that I strung up the #4 Sage 11'6" with the 325 g skagit head, this time paired with 10' of T-8. Jase had swung up some crackers on a small green AI the previous week so I tied one on. Layla sniffed the air, and set about finding some pheasant scent. We were breathing steam like dragons. I had a number of layers on - the air was crackling cold and ice was on the ground. It would be a stunner of a day. By the time we reached our entry point the sun was trying to poke through the low lying mist and we couldn't have timed our start better. Layla and I headed up to a big pool with a beautiful wide tailout. Up at the head of the rapids was a bucket on our side of the river so that was where I started. I flicked the tip and half the head out and guided the fly from heavy water and into the bucket. The take was subtle, just a weight coming on rather than a smash and I lifted into a fish that ripped the head out through the rings. I got some control and fought a neat rainbow through the heavy water and beached her for a couple of quick shots.

Face full of Senyo's AI

Layla found some bird scent and followed it into the scrub. She's still a bit too impatient to sit and wait while I fish out a pool - one thing about swinging is that its a very thorough exercise to comb a pool.

Layla giving me the "I'm bored" salute
Moving down to the base of the rapid I began to consciously analyse the cast. Set feet. Lift slowly and position anchor, sweep from low to high applying energy smoothly. With no wind to bother me I was able to practice off both shoulders and got some pretty pleasing casts in. The next fish took well down the tailout and ripped line so I knew it was a goodie. It made run after run before I got it ashore for a quick photo shoot. The final fish of the tail out hit the fly as I stripped line to make a new cast and was a small energetic little guy. As we wandered downstream to meet Jase the sun was out and air chilled further with the catabatic effect pushing cooler air down. It was a simply stunning day and my heart sang. We met up and agreed that Jase would cross to fish the next pool while I tackled it from my side. The pool had enough width to accommodate us both without much bother. I tied on a heavy eyed fly and twice fouled the bottom, while the current was heavy the pool shallowed out my side. The second time I pulled hard but my 12 lb leader with a guides Bimini didn't break... but my shooting line to head knot did! Damn! I waded downstream and soon spotted the teal blue head, waded out and got hold of it. After a rigging a new loop and rearranging the head I tied on a lighter fly. Next cast was rewarded with a tug and a fish took off. I landed her and soon hooked another at the very end of the swing - this was one of those that the pressure on the line told the story of rather than any thumping or head shaking. I soon banked her.

Fishing 2 pools had occupied a whole morning. We wandered further downstream to a pool where Jase had had good success before and he set to fishing it while I fed Layla and ate my own lunch. Jase soon laid into a fish that threw the hook.

There, then gone

The next stretch is beautiful swinging water but on my side I didn't elicit a take, while Jase missed 2 fish. We got down to an area shadowed by the high hills and it was cold... the water dark in the shade. Jase did well and landed a couple before I moved down to fish a promising run studded with boulders.

I hadn't touched a fish for a couple of hours by this time. Jase leapfrogged down stream and I got about my work. Layla found a spot in the sun to lie down on. Her day of quail and pheasant scenting, river crossing, and making sure no wayward cattle bothered us had been pretty full-on. I was blowing my anchor again so had to focus. Feet, body, lift, set, cast. Slowly slowly. The fish when it hit simply thud-thudded mid swing and sat out in the current. I was picking the fight as very brown-like so was surprised to see a rainbow jack. Soon after another jogging hit, but the hook missed its mark.

The dog and I crossed downstream with little free board on my part. We met with Jase  who'd swung a great looking pool to no effect. Time was getting on - by now it was 3 pm and we decided to call it at 4, with darkness dropping at 5.30 we really wanted to be out of the gorge with time to spare. We moved further downstream to check out a few new spots and then about turned. The march out was the most frantic thing we'd done all day.  We moved a large covey of quail and mentally bagged a few each.

A friendly local passed us by on a motorcycle with a wave and soon we were back at the cars.

Beautiful winter days are hard to beat, and drinking them slowly is the best way of enjoying them.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I sucked

Pride comes before a fall. Prior to our Argie trip, my Skagit casting was good. Not great, but I could bang a cast out off either shoulder. Post Patagonia I didn't pick up a rod but my mates' photos of nice fresh run 'bows from the Tongariro fueled my hankering to get down and boom out some casts. My #7 was still over at Coch's place and he was away so I'd use the #4 with a 325g skagit head and appropriate tip. I'd show those fish who was boss. I'd put the fly right in their face. All I had to do was show up....

Show up we did! Layla almost immediately found a dirty old crap left by some mongrel who clearly couldn't be fkd digging a hole. She rolled in it. That wasn't going to stop me. But what did stop me was... I simply couldn't skagit cast. Off-shoulder I could bang out a line one in five times but that was it. I was screwed. I couldn't diagnose what the hell was going wrong. I messed around with tips. I messed around. I fished with zero confidence. By some marvel I managed to bank a couple of really dumb fish. I got some more tugs.. but the whole time my lack of ability was killing me. I sat down and talked to myself. The dog looked at me like I was mental. Some of the best swinging water on the river may as well have been a mud bath for all the good I was doing. I blamed the head - it was the first time I'd fished that combo and it was gonna be the last too...

But still, it was bloody awesome to be out.

Last night Coch and I were heading over to the Auckland Fresh Water Anglers Club to participate in a show and tell discussion on our Patagonian adventure and we got to talking. He'd swung up some awesome fish on Sunday - using the exact same setup I'd been using. He'd banged out good long straight fishing casts all day and was rewarded with some awesome fish. He raved about that 325g skagit. I told him about my abject failure. And that's when he told me about his steelhead adventure on the Santa Cruz - he'd found himself in the same place I'd arrived at and said he was a bit dejected to have pretty much wasted 2 of his 3 days on a legendary river. Jase had picked up a copy of Tom Larimer's Skagit Revolution DVD on his return, and had diagnosed a couple of faults that had hindered him. I've got the DVD now. Lots of practice needed....

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Seasons come and go

I'm not going to do my annual "the duck season's too short" lament, partly because its getting old :) but mostly because its been a great season. I got to hunt every weekend, harvested good numbers of birds, introduced a new prospect to hunting, hunted with mates and family, ate some of the best swamp meals ever... yup it was great.

Matt and I traveled together, arriving at the landing in pretty good time, considering it was a holiday weekend. At the hut dad, Tom and Paul were all asleep and so after waking dad to ask him where the decoys were set up we grabbed a couple of dozen and went out to set up McLennan's which I picked would be a decent bet with a forecast southerly. We got back, had a beer or two with Andy who'd arrived and after lights-out the pup curled up on my bed. Paul was up early to crack on with breakfast and then we set sail. It was cool and I was glad to have my puffer jacket on. Ducks moved in good numbers, but they were high and wide and had their sights set on safer pastures as it were. Our sole chance came when a flock of teal materialised and set up to land - it was only when they were feet down that I could pick their shoulder flashes and called them as spoonies. Matt who thought I was joking didn't fire as the birds got out of Dodge, my 2 shots dropped 2 birds and the dogs took off after them. 

Layla - out and back with a spoonie

After that we shot a single out of a group of 3 that got too close and then another. We pulled out at 10.30 in what had turned into a sunny day. Matt's job was to get lunch ready which he did while I did a bit of a tidy up in the hut. The other guys came back to the hut for the meal and then we had a wee siesta - I was ready to sleep and had an hour or 2. Matt and I had hatched a plan to get out into a hole in the trees for the evening and see if we could attract any birds. We grabbed headlamps, a few rounds each, put vests on the dogs and set off. Ducks were moving all over the place and it was pretty exciting to be in thigh deep water moving our legs to create ripples while the dogs perched on the only dry area on willow stumps. Over the next couple of hours we each shot a couple of birds as they either committed or passed too close and soon it was too dark to continue and the flight wound down. We decided to do the same again in the morning. 

Walking out of the trees from hunting that spot is something I've done dozens of times - walking in there in pitch darkness with no navigation points of reference - well that's a different story! We managed at the first attempt to complete a semi circle and end up about 50 m from where we started, but luckily Matt had his phone  with Google Maps and soon we were back in the right place and in position. Despite the cold, the journey through broken fallen trees, puddles, mud and holes had given me a good sweat on! Soon the sky began to lighten and we again created ripples. Ducks again moved over the trees, seeking safe spots to land and loaf. We took a brace of spoonie drakes that set up high, swung around and then barreled in. Later we took a mallard drake and that bird signaled the end end of the season for us. We got back to the hut and completely shook the place down. Mattresses upturned, dishes done, the stove cleaned out, diary updated.. the season's tally was 318 birds, the best for quite some time and reflective of the duck attracting quality of high waters.

Its now pheasant time.

Monday, May 29, 2017


I don't remember my first duck hunt. I have some vivid memories of walking for pheasants on our old run-off, of dad coming home with quail and ducks, an evening hunt after which I ended up getting sick enough for a stint in hospital, spending time with granddad at the ponds during school holidays... and the first duck I ever shot, a big mallard drake, will stay with me forever. The memories fit together vaguely in a semblance of chronological cadence... but I just can't put my finger on that first hunt.

As happens in our family it is the birthright of our children to become members of our hunting party at the age of ten. Rilee had been to the hut a couple of times and had over-nighted once with Tony's little girl. She'd expressed an interest in coming along but not to "kill anything". So, pre-season we'd gone to our local Hunting & Fishing NZ store to purchase one of their excellent kid's packs containing a bush shirt, jacket, beanie hat, pants, a back pack and finally a pair of binoculars for a ridiculously low price of $100. SWMBO and I agreed that it needed to be a low key introduction to hunting, rather than the full-on experience that goes with the opening and so we decided that the 4th weekend of the season would be perfect. We'd go for one night, hunt a morning and then come home.

Rilee and I did our food shopping and began our preps on Thursday evening, she selected her clothes, got her sleeping bag ready and I made sure that she had warm clothes - the forecast was for rain and quite a bit of it. After a final shake-down it was bye bye to mum and we got going. At the ramp we ran into the Hayward lads, Morgan and Ash and they helped us launch and made sure we got away ok. The tides were again large so the water was well up towards the hut again - and rain was coming. Dad had the hut nice and warm and we were soon settled in. As we prepared for bed the rain started, light at first but gaining in intensity. As usual after a drive I was pretty alert so didn't get to sleep until quite late and my lab seemed equally restless as she wriggled around at my feet. The morning came and the rug rat lay in bed until I'd almost finished cooking breakfast, then she got herself ready for the day ahead. I was feeling pretty excited - hopefully we'd see some birds and that it wouldn't be a morning of staring at the sky.

Hut breakfasts - the best there are!

War paint
Game face - on!

Grand dad and grand daughter in the hut

Boredom is the killer of children's minds, patience is not inbuilt to youngsters. At the maimai we explained firearms safety, got Rilee ready with earmuffs then loaded and were hunting. This late in the season its not light until close to 7am so the first half hour was spent listening to the occasional bird whistle past. Drizzle fell in patches and the occasional breath of wind moved the leaves in the trees. It wasn't until 7 or so that a hen mallard arrived, answered the call and the wake of the jerk string decoys and circled. I took her as she swung behind us and soon Layla delivered the bird, which carried a band on her right leg. The next duck came sometime later, a grey that sprung a sneak approach on us and that required a reflex shot to take. As the morning passed we shot the occasional pair that came by and our bag grew to 6 birds. Rilee served her apprenticeship in the role of "Chief String Puller", operating the jerk string which kept her in the game. By 11 o'clock we were ready to pack up and headed back to the hut for lunch.

Chief String Puller

We'd had a ball, 3 generations of us in the maimai. Good times ahead I think.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Storm front ducks

Summer in the region was in general, crappy. At the time we generally lamented that the 3 days of sunshine we got among the constant rain fronts, were quite nice. There was no sign of drought at all, and in general gave us probably the most perfect duck breeding conditions you could wish for. Roll on to the here and now and a series of floods and king tides events have given the low lying and swamp areas constant fresh water, and this in turn has given ducks vast areas to loaf and to a certain extent feed on seeds and bugs in relative peace.

Dad has been hunting regularly, and getting good bags on a regular basis which is really neat because its been quite hard work in the last few years, and so hopefully some of the belt tightening in terms of season length is now paying dividends with the aid of weather conditions. As they say, "One swallow does not a summer make", but I'm happy to see the increased number of birds in the region and hope that the trend continues.

The boys were down for our annual swamp hunt and the early forecast looked promising with a south west front and rain coming in late in the morning on Saturday. I mentally prepared a plan after a quick discussion with Tony where we'd decided to split our forces rather than stack a single pond, partly because a 4 hunter/4 dog combo made management an issue but also because we needed to get dad and his dog into the plan. So the plan was Matt, Tony and dad to go down to Watson's which ought to be protected from the wind and allow the ducks a refuge and the ability to land with wind in their faces, while Chewie ("The Mangrove Yeti") and I would hunt Bollocks. This would put as much distance between the groups as possible so we wouldn't compete for available birds. We met up at my place with Chewie having made a dash from the airport, while Tony had detoured to collect Chewie's gear. We convoyed to the put in point and got what seemed a mountain of gear to the hut in 2 trips. Dad had the fire roaring and the hut warm and the water had dropped from the highs of the previous week. Still, the amazing amount of water that had flowed through was mind blowing. With gear stowed we headed out to set up the dekes for the morning hunt. The night was cold and clear, foreshadowing the cold front arriving the next day.

The boys were up, the fire lit and the show on the road at 5am, right on time. Coffee, bacon and eggs were consumed, warm gear and waders donned, then off to the ponds we headed. There was almost no wind at this stage, so Chewie got to work with the jerk string to create ripples on the pond. As the sun rose we began to be visited by ducks and soon had a few birds down. We got into our teamwork pretty quickly and the old Yeti was on fire, taking his shots really well. I wasn't on fire, missing what should've been mildly easy birds, but we had enough opportunities to keep us both on our toes. My mate got his first ever double on Shoveler and I missed a fantastic photo opportunity as Layla retrieved the lovely drake bird. The weather began to cut up, with drizzly rain coming through in waves - the perfect conditions for water fowling. Birds were moving in numbers now, not all answering our calls but enough that our pile grew. At 11.30 I had to pull the pin to prepare lunch, which would involve heating up some pies in the oven. I got the fire cranking, and washed the morning's dishes while the pies warmed. It wasn't until 12.15 that I emerged from the hut with the lunch, running into dad and Matt who were returning. The cold had got to dad and he needed to warm his core and Matt needed some bits and pieces. I'd stripped off my merino layer which had got damp with sweat while I was out working the dog on retrieves, and I quickly began to feel the chill. I told Chewie that I'd head back to the hut for a thermal layer and was out getting the punt ready when the sky was filled with swirling groups of vocal ducks. It was a sight to behold as small mobs circled us in every direction. This was reminiscent of  'the old days' when mobs of ducks would work in unison on their flight paths. It wasn't until we'd had several such instances that I was able to return to the pond, warmly clad. At that stage we had 12 birds in the bag and then suddenly a flight of 3 Shoveler zoomed in, curved tightly and shot back in front. I fired on instinct and dropped 2 but the third also appeared to be hit as it had flown in tight formation. It zoomed downwards. With a daily limit of 2 per person of these birds apiece, an addition to the bag would be an unfortunate consequence of hunting. Layla retrieved 2 beautiful drakes from the pond.

Chewie then took Layla out to see if he could find the third bird and while he was gone a sudden flurry of bird activity happened - first a brace of mallards came in which I took and then 3 more came in on cupped wings and I took the first 2 easily and then swung on the highest bird and dropped her. She came down with wings set and seemed to level out of her fall at the last second. As I waded across to direct Layla I saw her lying 50m away on the water, stone dead. Chewie was completing his circuit (sans any Shoveler) so picked her up. When he got back we agreed that we'd had a great shoot with 19 birds in hand and one missing in the woods and that he'd go and grab the other guys because for whatever reason the birds were avoiding their spot, pulling out of the 'final' pass at the last second.

Matt came into the maimai while Tony went back to the hut to grab some stuff - the first birds appeared immediately and after some circling Matt took a nice shot on a mallard drake. As he went out to look for his bird, Tony and dad arrived so Chewie and I decided to pack up and leave as this maimai is too small for 3 people, let alone 5. Matt came back with a dead grey duck - our missing bird and we left the guys to it. With 20 of our own birds plus 8 the other guys had shot there was a good pile of birds to be cleaned; we put aside some nice roasters for plucking and breasted out the rest.

Saturday's bag
After a cup of tea we decided to go and move the decoys from Watson's where the other boys had hunted in the morning, to Mclennan's which was also sheltered from the cold sw wind. With that done we stood in the maimai to watch the evening flight and what we saw was unbelievable. At 17.20 the sky began to fill with hundreds and hundreds of chattering ducks, headed inland in a SE direction. Mob after mob filled the sky and it continued until the sky became too dark and we packed up and headed back to base. Dad seemed unsurprised when we reported what we'd seen and mentioned that he'd witnessed it on pretty much a daily basis.

That evening Chewie prepared cheesy duck burritos and we ate like frenzied Labradors. personally I was stuffed so had a little nanna nap which became a full on night of sleep with Layla curled up beside me. Poor little thing was shattered and suffered some cramps. She'd burned off a couple of kilos since the start of the season despite getting extra food and has worked hard all day every day in the field.

We got on the road a bit later on Sunday morning and arrived at the pond right on shooting time. The wind had dropped and it was cool so I was glad for a down filled jacket but my toes were telling me a story. We didn't expect too much but in 3 hours managed 8 birds under bluebird conditions, a decent return on more of a fishing than hunting day.

The Swamp Yeti

Thursday, May 18, 2017


It was good to be getting out of town. Paul and I were in the truck, listening to his beloved Blues actually (cough cough) winning a match and traffic was light. We moved through the early evening at good speed in ideal conditions. Right on full time we pulled into Waitomo, where the radio signal pretty much ended and we set off up the twisty road to Craig's. The boys were in good form when we arrived, this year both Jethro and Hendrik would be absent due to other commitments so the hunting party would be Craig, Mick, Mitch, Paul, Andy and me. Craig's brother Mike would tag along also, and on the hound front we were well represented. After a leisurely breakfast over which the morning's hunt was planned we got our gear together and headed off. The plan was for the party to comb the cover crop with dogs on leads to avoid pushing the birds too hard. We arrived in convoy and as quietly as possible exited the vehicles, and moved off. Layla was pretty excited and pulled against the lead - she's still young and ever eager to get into it. At the edge of the paddock and before we'd spread out, birds began to break, most hitting the air - I sort of felt that we'd been properly busted. I ended up at the top 3rd of the paddock with Craig and Mike on my left and a cock burst out in front of me. I dropped it and released Layla but she missed it on the first and second passes and in fact we never tracked that bird cleanly - Mike later said he saw it pick itself up and run. I got Layla back on the leash and we continued the walk. By the far end of the paddock we had a few birds down, but knew that we hadn't really covered the territory all that well so turned to sweep back through with dogs off the leash. Layla made me proud by working to hand command and pushing out several birds that tried to sneak through the cordon. Mick took one beautifully and we doubled on another that wouldn't have ended up a particularly nice eater. Back at the cars we had a quick count up and had 9 birds in hand, and one that needed following up on the far side of the river.

We'd move back around the farm and circle back on the opposite side of the river running through the farm, pinching back so as to cover the river edge and pressure the wounded bird. We split and Mitch soon shot a hare that ran our way and that Layla retrieved, after which we neared the river. Craig's dog Max soon pinned the missing bird which cackled as the dog approached and was quickly caught up and retrieved and then we moved through to the bird release point. I missed a cock bird that put a tree between us and only a shot or 2 rang out - we were definitely doing it hard for birds.

Back home for lunch after which a siesta was declared. Andy, Paul and I weren't really tired so we set out earlier than the others (Mike had limited out already) to hunt towards the southerly breeze. Layla pushed a bird early which I got but from there on it was all a bit dreary - we were hunting in cool shadowed gullys  in a cool breeze - not ideal for sun loving pheasants. It was an hour before my little lab got hot on a scent and snookered a bird into a patch of low scrub from where his choices were limited to sit and get caught or JUMP! which he did. An easy shot, that was my limit bird. We decided to head back into warmer climes and from the top of a ridge spied the other guys' car. Moving down through a swamp area that always hold birds proved fruitless again - I heard a bird jump but saw nothing in my circumnavigation of the bog. We heard only one shot from the others. We back tracked through some territory that holds a few birds and again the cupboard was bare - this was more like late season! I took Layla to cover some bush edge ans saw Craig coming my way so we'd managed to converge. Either Andy or Paul fired a couple of shots so maybe at last we were onto the birds? All I know was that with the distance and territory covered we were certainly not hunting where the birds were hanging out.

Afternoon bag

We drove home to hang the game in the chiller and the bag consisted of 15 pheasants, 2 pukekos and 2 hares. Craig mentioned that there was a mob of pigs uprooting one of his paddocks that his dad wanted rid of. While we had a cup of tea, Andy flew his drone up the ridge-line towards the top of the farm and after a few minutes reported that the pigs were emerging from the bush.

I didn't have any appropriate ammo but Mitch did - a packet of 20g buckshot. I grabbed 4 shells and pocketed them. Andy had an iron sighted .30-06, Paul a scoped .243 and Craig his 12g with buckshot. I truly didn't think that I'd fire a shot. We drove in Andy's ute up the steep track to near the airstrip and then climbed out. The wind favoured us and after a quick walk we spotted not just a few, but maybe 15 pigs in the paddock ahead. Craig quickly led us down into the bush where we covered ground before climbing up through the fence line on the edge of the paddock the pigs were in. Light was falling and the animals were spread out ahead of us. The largest pig, a grey boar was active and at the extreme edge of the group of animals. Paul was given the task of shooting him, and on his shot we'd need to be ready to shoot animals running towards cover - the bush behind us. When Paul fired the big pig squealed, and his cast turned and ran. Straight at us. I moved past Andy on my right to cover the edge and focused as two 50-60 lb pigs ran at me. I dropped the first one head on, and the second turned sideways before collecting a load. They both dropped on the spot. I opened the gun, fumbled in my pocket for the other shells and then realised that the empties were both hung - neither had ejected due to malformation or some other reason. As I fumbled to extract the empties the big pig - Paul's boar - ran to my right and hit the fence line to freedom. Finally I got a shell in the top barrel and with no time to load the bottom barrel took aim at a black boar running off to my right. At the shot he squealed and then tumbled as Craig took him down. We estimated that the action had taken no more than 15 seconds from first to last shot being fired. We had 4 pigs down immediately in front of us, Andy dragged another back from up to our left and Paul and I grabbed the furthest pig off to our right.

Craig went to see if he could track Paul's pig while Andy went to where the pig had been standing to look for blood. Soon he returned - we'd need to bring one of the dogs back in the morning. With the pigs hung in the chiller we got back to the house for a dinner of goose burgers - the best type of burger there is!

It would be fair to say that we packed a bit of revelry into the evening!

Sunday morning dawned fine and cool with a slight frost. Paul dawned foggy and unable to speak. With the dogs fed and watered we got around to making breakfast. With Axel the GWP aboard we convoyed up to the pigalanche site where Mick and Craig took the dog down into the bush. Mitch, Andy, Paul and I worked the area over looking for blood, I couldn't find any evidence that the big pig was hit, yet Crag who's experience is vast was firm in his view that it had been. So they continued down a steep bush gully while the rest of us drove back down to meet them at the bottom. Mitch and i were in my truck with Andy and Paul behind us when a big black boar - not the pig we were tracking - cut across the track in front of us. It was in no hurry and we had no guns aboard. Rookie error. So he ambled up and over the ridge to our left while we lamented our lack of foresight.

We met the boys with the dog at the bottom of the steep hills and they reported that Axel had bailed a pig - probably the big blackie.

The morning's pheasant hunt was a walk back through the cover crops with moderate success, after which we headed back to base. With plenty of game to process we had a good session ahead of us.

The freezer is restocked.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

3 awesome days: Duck hunting 2017

In the weeks leading up to the opener there'd been 2 flood events; one having been the largest flood event ever, as Cyclone Cook dropped unprecedented rainfall on the Hauraki Plains. 2 weeks ago, dad and I had gone to the duck hut to tidy up the mess and it was substantial, with plenty of gear washed away and a bunch of stuff overturned.

Flood waters on farmland with the swamp in the foreground

There was still water running under the hut at that stage so we knew we'd be guaranteed a good old mud-fest for the shooting season. Our maimais are built up so while they were affected by the flooding, it was only minor - we'd be able to hunt. In the days leading up the chatter amongst the boys grew as it does and excitement levels began to peak. I'd be hunting with Matt who'd be having his first opening in the party and we'd be going into our furthest pond, which is pretty much the most competitive as far as that goes, with several very large bodies of water nearby which get stacked with decoys. With the weather looking fine (again!) and still, and lots of water around the place still, I wasn't too sure if the birds would be dispersed, but what I had seen when dad and I inspected the flooding was the huge number of birds pitching into flooded areas they'd never otherwise use.

Our ponds
I arrived at the hut on Thursday evening before the Saturday opener, mostly to avoid a crowded Friday afternoon boat ramp but also because a power of work needed doing. Dad, Greg and Daryl were already in residence. Our first Friday task was to put the decoys out on the ponds which we got done before lunch, after which I went and picked up Matt while Daryl began to repair one of our landings which had sustained flood damage. With Matt sorted only Tom, Paul and Andy were to arrive and they got in later in the afternoon. Adding to the human element we had a healthy pack of hounds with my Layla, Matt's Zulu (2), Dad's Zulu (1), Andy's Keira and Larry's Tonga on loan. It would sure be cozy in the hut! Ducks aplenty moved overhead as hunters began to setup for the morning and disturbed birds from their haunts. Unusually, I slept really well that night, which isn't normal for me, but I was happy to escape the season's eve insomnia that normally grips me.

After a sold sleep and large breakfast, we were on our way. Matt and I were still getting our gear into the maimai when the neighbours in the Corner Pond fired their first shot, 15 minutes before legal shooting time. After that it was a bit quiet in our area so I told Matt I'd get out and switch on the electronic decoys. Long hard experience has taught me to take my gun when going on small expeditions, as anything can happen and this time it did - after I'd waded ashore Matt called out and as I looked up a large bird folded above me - geese! I upped and fired and brought a bird down as Matt dragged down another. Holy cow! We'd taken our first ever canadas and Matt had killed the first with his first ever shot as an official member of the party. Interestingly, I'd shot mine with #4 steel which is decidedly on the small side. My day was made.

Matt with the bag

Swamp geese!
We giggled (or at least I did) and fist-bumped. The morning was fine and clear and soon the shooting was happening with hundreds of shots booming out across the wetland. We chipped away at birds as they came into range and they soon piled up. Matt shot really well and I felt ok  considering it had been a while between excursions with the gun. At midday, Paul appeared with our lunch, comprising B&E pie and cold drinks. He reported that most of the party had limited out and that on the whole things had gone swimmingly. We ate our lunch in the sun then resumed our watch for birds, finally finishing with our 20th bird around 2pm under sunny skies. We spent the afternoon kicking back before going out to watch birds flying into the ponds for their evening roost. Andy had gone for greenheads only so was the last to finish up and it was a healthy 90 ducks and 2 geese that hung under the hut that night. We had our annual AGM that evening after a meal of goose and venison nachos, a few drinks and then kicked back.

Sunday, saw a shuffle of hunting pairs and ponds. I was odd man out so hunted alone for the morning and had a ball, limiting out early. Layla worked her butt off and I was stoked with her work. Later on Matt and Daryl came to join me, as they were a little quiet on their pond, so I would call for them. Andy who'd gone back to the hut flew his drone out and was able to capture some really neat footage of some incoming ducks, including the retrieve. The boys shot well and at lunchtime came in to help with cleaning the birds which we did in record time. Matt was keen to get out and finish his limit which was achieved late in the afternoon.

Paul, Tom and Andy left in the afternoon leaving Matt, Greg, dad, Matt, Bill and I still in residence. That evening Daryl excelled himself starting with sauteed goose breast and following with an excellent duck ragout on mash - simply outstanding nosh. After the others retired, Greg, Daryl and I sat up talking, drinking and maybe even singing :D before hitting the hay after 1am.... and I had breakfast duty.

Caption required?

Layla - knackered

I really didn't think I'd be in shape to hunt on Monday morning so when the alarm went off I shook my head a bit, fed the dog, got up (or was that the other way around?), made breakfast and we set off. Bill was injured so stayed back, leaving me to hunt Puru,dad and Matt on McLennan's and Greg was with Daryl on Watsons. I wasn't expecting much yet birds began working immediately and I quickly accumulated half a dozen mallards, all drakes, and a drake shoveler. If groups of more than 3 birds appeared I just didn't call at them at all, given the other guys had collectively a dozen shots between them against my 3. Mid morning I decided to walk through the drowned willows and soon Layla brought me back a wounded mallard drake - her work was really solid with a few minor faults to iron out. As I stood against a backdrop of willows, a pair of mallard dropped straight in on me and I took them both. I wandered further and then decided I'd had enough and walked back to my pond with 3 birds on my belt, and one to get for a limit. That bird came soon after when I dropped a mallard drake. Matt and dad came by and reported 17 birds down, they'd had a fine hunt also and the Greg/Daryl combo were doing well also.

Monday's bag
Matt and I decided that in light of having finished our limits we'd head back to town earlier than planned. I have to say that we'd concluded one of the most enjoyable 3 days of opening that I could remember.

Traffic was light on the motorway and all too soon we were home. Roll on next weekend and the pheasants.