Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I want to, no, NEED To go to Cuba

Nik with a beast....

Southland & Otago Duck Tour: Day 4 - hunt & home

This morning was our last, and we were to spend it with Josh on a paddock hunt. We arrived at his place and set off to a neighbour’s paddock, where we hiked through a chow paddock and got setup with a dozen full body dekes. A few birds were around, but they were very much focussed on the several large ponds nearby. A pair showed some interest but moved on, so we proceeded to walk up the river we were on. Josh showed us how it’s done by shooting a brace that Tim and I had walked past, including a fabulously coloured greylard hen, which was the icing on the cake.

We went back to Josh’s and cleaned our bag from the previous day and the morning, had a coffee and then hit the road.

The drive back was amazing for the simple fact that wherever we looked, ducks could be seen either loafing in small bodies of water, or feeding on paddocks. The conversation went something like this “Duck”. “Ducks”. “Heaps of ducks”. “Woah, check out those ducks right there”.

We took a slight detour to visit Outram … nothing there, move along... before arriving at the airport and checking in our guns and luggage.

What a trip! Huge thanks to Tim for organising the trip off the back of his work duties, to Josh for his great hospitality and acting as somewhat of a tour guide, and to Paul for sharing his thinking and his fabulous parts of the country.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Southland & Otago Duck Tour: Day 3 - As far south as you can go....

This was an epic day, so probably my memory has failed me somewhat... but anyway, Josh arranged to pick us up at gentleman’s hours, so we had a bit of a sleep in before getting ready. Josh rolled up in his truck, we threw our gear in and off we went. Today we were off to Josh’s family farm which is situated past the Catlins Forest Park. The area is renowned for its remote beauty. We travelled through to the mouth of the Mataura River, a world famous trout stream, stopping for photos of a stunningly beautiful place.

We then headed east, through acres of native bush and finally came to Josh’s stomping ground. We headed up into a pine forested block to jump shoot some hidey holes. There were some beautiful little black water holes, but all bar one were bare; however in one secluded gulley we were able to stalk a pond holding 3 mallards, but as getting near to them without alerting them was tricky we only managed one bird a fine fat drake.

Next stop was a paddock holding a couple of paradise ducks – our stalking attempt was somewhere between a comedy episode and a professionally organised stampede; naturally they got out well ahead of us. Then they did something that only parries can, turning back over us within gunshot range and we dropped both.

Josh drove us out to the coast to visit more ponds which held nothing except for a very stuck sheep which Josh duly freed. As the day progressed we added more parries to the bag before heading back to the homestead for lunch and to hitch on Josh’s dad’s boat – destination Papatowai to launch and head out for a blue cod fish. Josh’s mum had made a pile of pizza bread which we scoffed along with coffee, then we headed off to launch the boat. Again the scenery was nothing short of breath-taking.

Josh expertly dropped the boat into the estuary, which hosted a good number of ducks and other birds then started the motor.

Unfortunately the boat’s jet steering unit was playing up, so after some ineffective fiddling around we retrieved the boat and headed home. After putting the boat away we picked up some field decoys and headed across the homestead paddock for an evening hunt. Josh and Tim knocked down a couple of parries that Josh’s dog Pip put up. They were the only visitors that we had, so we headed back home for a bite to eat and to get warm clothes on; our next mission involved shooting possums, hares and rabbits and we’d be out until late in the freezing night air.

It’s been many a year since I had last spotlighted coons (possums) and it would be more than fair to say that I’m not really a rifle marksman so I lugged my shotgun while Tim manned the .22 Magnum. We travelled on a quad up into the coastal block and before we’d gone 100m Tim had shot 2 hares. That pretty much set the scene, as possums and hares proved plentiful. As we got closer to the coast and out of the bush, the temperature rose noticeably, and so did the number of observable possums. We were able to walk up and shoot them with the light from our headlamps and soon the pile of dead animals was growing. I could see why so much of the bush was damaged, these pests simply hoover up native saplings and kill back trees such as Rata. Not much that we saw escaped, and by my estimate we put down 50 odd possums and half a dozen hares by the time we returned.

Hoons, with coons
The drive back to Gore was too much for me so I dozed on and off after a truly epic day. Funnily enough, when I finally hit the hay, I didn't get to sleep all that well...

Thanks Josh, that day will stay with us for a long time.

Photo credits: Tim Holland and Josh Cairns

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Southland & Otago Duck Tour: Day 2 - An eye for detail

On this morning, Tim had his "doh" moment. We were to drive from Gore to Invercargill to meet and hunt with Paul Stenning. This involved getting out of bed at 4.45am, but somehow he had set his alarm for 5.15am. Luckily Gore has a church bell that dings on the hour and the 5am bell woke him. We scrambled our gear into the car, scarfed down a coffee and piece of toasted crumpet and hit the road.

Having a GPS unit proved worth its weight in gold and we were soon through Mataura, Edendale and then onto the outskirts of Invercargill. Paul was waiting patiently when we arrived, and after greetings and kissing the ground just outside of his garage (my god, what a waterfowler's paradise) we hopped in his truck and set off.

We drove out into the countryside, discussing anything and everything duck hunting. Paul was quite forthcoming with descriptions of when where and how the local ducks interact with the environment and food sources and giving a quick rundown of how the day's hunt would progress. We would start on a pond that he'd developed in conjunction with a local land owner, then depending on time and the size of the bag we could look at some farm settling ponds a little later.

Soon we were opening a farm gate off a quiet stretch of road, and crossing the paddock with headlights on low beam. We approached a berm and pulled up. We unloaded the car and walked over the berm to the pond's edge, in the headlamps it appeared to be a long narrow waterway with shallow banks for ducks to rest on. The mud at the water's edge gave away that the ducks had been using the pond. We took several bags of Paul's fully flocked decoys over and set them up in 2 groups of floaters, with full body resters and feeders on the pond's edge.

The maimai itself was a comfortable dug out with room for 3 and our gear, surrounded by high grass. We were fully concealed from behind and and front and had a good breeze from directly behind us. Paul briefed us that the first visitors were most likely to be spoonies and to take them before they got below the hills in front or they would be lost to view. We waited as the darkness lifted - the ducks we wanted would be moving after first light and right on cue a pair of spoonies wooshed in, alighting before we saw them. As we stood they took to the air and I dropped one of the pair on the far bank. Over the next few hours we enjoyed one of the most interesting hunts that I for one had enjoyed; with ducks appearing in singles and pairs the tally grew nicely.

Paul told us that the morning's ducks had fed in a range of spots and showed us the crop contents of one bird that had fed on oats.

He was quite insistent that there was no need to over call these birds, they'd respond to low balls, greetings and feed chuckles. So it proved, only once were we reduced to high ball and hails (which brought in a pair from quite some way off).

We had a few misses amongst the hits but by 11.00 we had 20 mallards and a spoonie down.
The mai mai

At one stage a large hare came into range, and with Tim and Paul both firing, he was added to the growing bag. 

Paul called the morning at 11.30, and he let out Brook, his Lab bitch to retrieve while we picked up the (individually wrapped and packed) decoys. Brook picked up all but 2 birds, one a lively drake that made his escape downstream, the other a hen which took to the air as Brook approached. Then we broke out the cameras for some shots of the bag. It had been a brilliant hunt.

Happy tourists
Tim & Paul - happiness is a bunch of mallards

When we got back into Paul's truck, I immediately noticed how tidy it was. Everything was in its place, no dust had settled on any surface and it was really well appointed.
He asked if we felt like jump-shooting a settling pond, and if we did well maybe we could round out our limits. "Yup" was the answer, so we set off. Arriving at a farm we drove down the race and as we approached the pond, ducks jumped off the bank and swam out into the middle. There were maybe 15 ducks on the water as we went past and parked 200m away. We discussed the best approach to the pond and as we did, another 20 or so ducks simply set their wings and dropped in. "Remember, we need a dozen, so 4 birds each" said Paul. At the designated point, we split up with Tim and I going upwind and staying low, while Paul moved downwind to put the birds up. When he'd made his point of attack he jumped up and ducks simply filled the air. All I remember is dropping ducks in slow motion, point, pull, point, pull, point, pull... until my mag was empty and I had 5 down. I had time to load another shell as a single got up and both Paul and I put it down. A quick count up revealed exactly 12 birds! Perfect. 3 limits, 3 happy hunters.

Settling pond ducks
As we picked up our birds, we noticed maybe a hundred or so ducks circling and then dropping into... what?  A quick drive revealed some sort of flooded pit on the neighbour's property, and the ducks were simply piling in their. You could see the cogs ticking in Paul's head as he worked out a new hunting location.

Driving back to Invercargill, Paul discussed how many of the local ponds were developed in conjunction with Fish & Game, and how F&G interacted with the community. I asked about some of the local identities such as Mike Hartstone, and Paul gave us a run down. As we entered Invercargill, Paul mentioned that he'd show us his estuary setup. And man, what an estuary it was, simply mind blowing. Although not many ducks were in residence (it was calm) the potential was obvious.

Back at Paul's we sat down for a coffee and then Mike Hartstone came around, soon we had talked through game regs, poachers, F&G politics, steel Vs. lead.... no topic was spared. Then it was time to clean the bag, and as we breasted the ducks in Paul's spotless garage talk turned to the flocking and painting of decoys. Paul showed us his early prototypes, right through to his impressive field decoys. Everything had its place and was in place.

Before we said our farewells, Paul invited us to shoot with him and his mate Murray the next day, but we already had plans so sadly we passed on the opportunity. And that ended our fantastic day with Paul, a man with an eye for detail.

Fridge full of duck....
Photos courtesy of Tim Holland

Southland & Otago Duck Tour: Day 1 - Arriving

First I have to thank Tim, who provided the impetus for the journey - thanks mate. I grabbed Tim from his place pretty early before heading off to catch our flight to Dunedin. I'm not a fan of Qantas, but their Jetstar service was awesome, the check-in girl not even batting an eyelid as our shotguns went onto the conveyor. The flight was smooth and uneventful, and soon enough we'd claimed our baggage and guns and were into our hired car for the drive south west. As we passed lake Waihola, the sign posts for he Sinclair Wetland appeared... and I made the comment of the week "Hey Tim, I thought the Sinclair Wetlands were in the South Island...". Um yeah, ok so a 2 hour flight is not exactly jet lag inducing, so we'll leave that one right there. We turned off the main highway and drove around the back road to the wetlands, and it was almost like Mecca to 2 visiting waterfowlers.

We got back on the road, destination Gore. Having arrived, we went up to see the NZDA's pet stag in its enclosure, a fine young 12 pointer. Quite neat to have deer in the middle of town I reckon. Then down to Shooter's World to pick up ammo and other necessities. The afternoon passed and we were soon on our way to meet up with Tim's mate Josh, for our first hunt on the Mataura River. Josh had kindly arranged a hunt on a backwater near to a well set up maimai. As we approached the backwater, ripples gave away the mallards in residence. they rapidly departed (no chance for a shot) and we set up some decoys on the backwater in preparation of the evening flight.

Tim & Josh

Masses of seagulls passed up and downstream, along with the occasional irregular flight of ducks in the distance. As we called at a passing bird I heard the woosh of cupped wings as a bird came in to the heavy willows of the backwater and remained hidden. It departed soon after but soon we had a bird circling and I dropped it with my first shot. Success! We were on the board.

The evening passed way too quickly, and we picked up the dekes and made our way back to Josh's car for our return trip. It really felt quite surreal shooting ducks in July, but after all, thatr's why we had come down, to take advantage of Southland's extended season. After a relaxing meal and a beer, we went back to our unit to prepare for day 2 - to be spent with reknowned waterfowler Paul Stenning.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Who cares?

Hunting flighting geese on a full moon is a high risk punt at the best of times. With no weather to speak of, just an unmovable high pressure we knew were were up against it element-wise. But damn, I needed to hunt, and so did Matt & Andy. We had Eddie along as well, for his first taste of goosing. In my Friday night anxiety to leave the city I got away too early and got caught in the tail of the traffic; not exactly gridlock but it did add 45 minutes to the travel time. The Chiefs Vs. Crusaders match was at the half way stage by the time I got to Andy & Christa’s place; and almost completely finished by the time I’d grassed my blind. We headed down to pick up Eddie, then went out to scout the geese and set the decoys. It was cold… barely 3 degrees. We headed for a peninsular and there were geese everywhere on the mud and harbour around us. They didn’t seem to be scarpering so we had reasonable hopes that we’d get a fly by.

Next morning we met Matt at the farm gate and set out to put out his dekes. Then we lay back in our blinds waiting and waiting…. and waiting. We were visited by a pair of paradise ducks who sat in our spread 5 metres behind us making parrie noises, and were there for at least 20 minutes before they took to the air. A harrier hawk came over 30 yards up and didn’t bat an eyelid, so our camo passed inspection! A brace of pheasant played around in a paddock several hundred yards away. But not one goose came passed. Even the ones honking behind us moved quietly away. At one point a farmer several km’s away put up a small flock, but they flew away from us. And that was it, as we said to Eddie the time spent lying around waiting is made up for when even just one goose sets its wings and comes in. So we called it a day early and went out to stalk some geese that Eddie knew about… but the geese knew about us too and disappeared well out of range. We parted ways and then moved on to part 2 of our mission, to burley up and catch a silver trivially on fly.

What a stunning day to be out on the water! We anchored Andy’s boat in several metres of water and deployed burley. I rigged the old Scott S3S #10 (overkill? Yes…) and began casting. Several hours and a multitude of very small kahawai later and our burley was depleted… no sign of Mr. trev…. However it was nice to be casting again after such a long time. A 0 or 1 weight would have been better suited to the catch, but you never know what might swim past… after that we decided to have a nosey around and see if we could find the geese. In one small bay we found 100+ birds and they took to the air, heading towards where we’d been set up in the morning…

Another fantastic day. Not much to show for it in terms of catch or kill, but who cares?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Outfished again

Took the Justin Bieber Fan Club fishing for a few hours on a brisk but pleasantly flat Auckland day. I got to play with the burley bomb and retie rigs while she outfished me 10-1. We kept a small but legal snapper for her dinner. My live bait didn't play ball at all; I wanted a John Dory but ended up hooked to the bottom several times. JBFC is getting pretty good at this fishing lark, and as mentioned before, for a 5 year old has a heap of patience.

Awesome few hours on the water; god we're lucky to live in paradise.