Ducks Unlimited NZ

Displaying items by tag: Duck Shooting

Monday, 04 September 2017 12:00

Australian Duckshooting - here in NZ

Seasonal Change
The onset of autumn sees not only the change in seasons, it also signals a hugely
exciting time of the year with hunters and their canine companions excitedly make
their plans for the annual ritual of spending time in the field hunting duck, quail & deer.
 
The home team
Duck team - the home crowd:
Chris Thomas, David Macnab,
Diane Pritt, Graeme Berry and
John Clayton.
(Yes, ducks were shot).
Autumn signals the start of waterfowl seasons in three states of south eastern Australia, waterfowl hunting in the Northern Territory gets underway later in the year.
Keen quail hunters spend days assessing habitat in readiness for quail hunting seasons around south eastern Australia. These elusive game birds are Australia’s premier game bird for pointing and flushing breeds of gun dogs. Whatever the views held about hunting by our increasingly urbanised community, the longstanding cultural tradition of hunting game holds an important place in the human ecology.
In 2013 hunting contributed $439 million into the Victorian economy, and that doesn’t include the important work on conservation and management of habitat. Conservation and hunting are intrinsically linked, a fact that has been demonstrated for generations. However this link is not intuitively evident to our urbanised community, where thanks to technology people are more connected than ever before. Yet these same people are largely more disconnected than ever before from the practical realities of how food is sourced, indeed from many of the realities of rural life.
Hunters also contribute to research, and Field & Game Australia has been active in collecting data for several studies. Some programs have run for many years, others are emerging opportunities, such as research into Avian Influenza. The past two years have presented me with very different hunting experiences. While I remain very involved in hunting and related issues, there’s very little time to participate in hunting. The weeks are spent working and liaising with government, agencies, media, and the unfortunate reality that is the anti-hunting movement in a highly politicised environment. The irony is this, in spite of all the drama generated by the anti-hunting activists in an attempt to draw public sentiment; it’s difficult to see where all the anti-hunting effort demonstrates any significant access to habitat or improved breeding conditions.
The facts are that duck hunting in Australia, and in particular in Victoria, continues to grow. The unique public/private partnership created in 1958 between government and conservationists in response to reports that the Pacific Black Duck (Grey duck in NZ), could be extinct in as little as 10 years due to loss of habitat.
Wetlands conservation
This unique private/public partnership created a game licensing system, and the funds from licences purchased by hunters delivered revenue that allowed government to acquire threatened wetlands. These wetlands provide critical breeding sanctuary for native waterbirds, offsetting habitat lost by drainage for agricultural and other purposes, and facilitate legal hunting during the prescribed season – a purpose that is often overlooked.
This important initiative established a network of State Game Reserves (SGR), that today encompasses more than 75,000 hectares of wetlands in Victoria, and there are more in South Australia, for the purposes of conservation, and hunting. The most recent SGR was announced in August 2016, and is the 200th SGR in Victoria and recognises the role that habitat plays in sustainable hunting, as well as the importance of access to public land for lawful hunting activities.
It’s acknowledged by many, although not the anti-hunting and animal rights activists, that habitat, not hunting, is the single biggest factor affecting waterfowl populations. The 2016 duck season provided significant challenges and interference. Hunters were moved off a State Game Reserve on the eve of duck opening because of the presence of blue bill ducks. While these are a rare species, they are however one that demonstrates vastly different behaviour to game species.
Other wetlands were closed to hunting due to the presence of Australasian Bittern, again on a State Game Reserve purchased and preserved thanks to hunters working with government. However that historical approach to delivering practical environmental outcomes in partnership has become lost with the current management approach that defers to extreme precaution, is not based on facts and data, and defers to a strategy that actively avoids any notion of ‘disturbance’ of wildlife. It’s not clear what ‘disturbance’ means from a scientific perspective, I’m pretty sure a fox hunting the wetland fringe creates its fair share of disturbance, yet that appears acceptable.
NZ Hunting
It’s in this context that I travelled to New Zealand’s North Island for my first experience of duck opening “across the ditch.” What a wonderful experience, memorable for so many reasons. As an aside, to hear mention of the Bittern during my trip to NZ put me into a sweat! That there is research into this cryptic bird, funded by DU in NZ, is to be commended. I’m looking forward to reading the conclusions that are reported from this study.
Making new friends and the local customs of duck hunting in NZ made for a very enjoyable experience. The use of maimais was a novel and very comfortable method of hunting. By contrast so much of the Australian waterfowl hunting experience is about being mobile, scouting for ducks and habitat in a vast and largely dry
landscape.
Gamebird Festival
The “Gamebird Festival” is a sensational initiative. We are unable to bring game into the commercial food system in Australia; there are exceptions around the country with commercially harvested game and pest animals. To sit down to professionally prepared, cooked and presented ducks after a hunt is exceptional. Yet it’s also a no-brainer for any hunter seeking to put wild food on the table for family and friends.
I also enjoyed listening to stories of the Friday school bus run before opening day, with students swapping notes with each other about where their family was hunting the next morning. I’m a long time rugby fan and acutely aware of how Kiwis value their rugby, more often than not to my chagrin. To learn that rugby games are deferred on the opening weekend of duck season due to a lack of players is so refreshing, and a practical demonstration of the acceptance of the cultural traditions of hunting. This is a highlight to be celebrated.
The properties I had the privilege of hunting in my NZ trip shared the commitment by hunters to wetland rehabilitation and improvement. Developing and maintaining these wetlands requires real commitment, time, money, diesel, access to plant and equipment. Yes, they provide a wonderful hunting experience. And it’s this hunting experience for a few short weeks each year that generates the motivation and the revenue to create wetlands and reverse the trend in land use everywhere that sees wetlands drained for agricultural or residential development.
The lessons are the same everywhere. Create value for our natural resources, and the same people who seek to use that resource are motivated to ensure its use is sustainable. Field & Game Australia was invited to present at the conference for the Conservation through Sustainable Use of Wildlife. The paper prepared for the conference is available at the FGA website www.fieldandgame.com.au. The conference brought together a huge array of specialists in a variety of wildlife. In addition to the FGA presentation, topics covering game birds were presented by Delta Waterfowl from North America, the UK’s Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust on their fascinating grey partridge projects, and your own Fish & Game. I had the pleasure of spending time with the Fish & Game team during my visit to NZ, and I’m pleased to continue to develop the great relationship that exists between our two organisations.
Field & Game Australia 
In our presentation, FGA covered the initiatives we have been busy putting in place. I’ll draw on elements of my presentation to provide the following overview of our initiatives. FGA has responded to this changed environment including making a series of recommendations to the regulator. Our recommendations are based on securing greater commitment to improving wetland habitat for water birds, and an adaptive management model, through greater focus on monitoring abundance with unmodified seasons to standardise and simplify management of our waterfowl populations. This permits the collection of more accurate data for the longterm regulation of hunting.
In addition, FGA is doing the following:
• Addressing the misconceptions and perceptions around hunting through our new publishing and media platform. This includes targeted messages on radio, billboards and digital media, with brand ambassadors telling their stories as “Australia’s most surprising conservationists”.
• In conjunction with Associate Professor Graham Hall from the University of New England, we have identified the need for surveys of key regions and wetlands to gather evidence and data on those wetlands that are consistently important in providing breeding habitat. This aligns with the need to develop a more cohesive approach to gathering specific data relevant to the requirements of game management.
• Conducting, and assisting with scientific research into Australian waterfowl, including hybridisation with introduced Mallard ducks, avian influenza, and Ross River virus.
• Working with government and other authorities to ensure the best practice for sustainable hunting and the improvement and conservation of our wetland habitats.
FGA is also proud of its achievements through its 20 years journey of establishing a recognised environmental trust, the WET Trust. This has created practical conservation partnerships, that are highly valued and delivering great ecological and social outcomes. The WET Trust has developed a model to restore degraded wetlands after 100 years of agriculture, funded by hunters who value the privilege of access.
The Heart Morass, near Sale in Victoria’s Gippsland region, is one of the WET Trust success stories. After 10 years of hunter-led conservation, this wetland has been transformed from depleted grazing land with salinity problems to a thriving wetland with healthy biodiversity and improved water quality. Importantly, it has demonstrated that good environmental projects create great partnerships. A new model of private partnerships to acquire and rehabilitate wetlands has since emerged. This is underpinned by dedicated, local
volunteers.
The issue is whether the multitude of government resources applied to manage our natural environments through parks and public land (including SGRs) are delivering the optimal ecological and environmental outcomes. This can be determined by the response to the question: Is this multi-layer management designed to achieve specific outcomes, or is it an outcome of a broader bureaucratic organisational design? The WET Trust is nearing completion of the first stage of another project, the Connewarre Wetlands Centre (CWC). Near Geelong in Victoria, this project includes construction of a building designed for community and educational use, a feature wetland, and access to the adjoining Lake Connewarre Complex of State Game Reserves, declared in 1983 a “wetland of international significance” under the Ramsar convention.
Success stories in practical conservation such as the Heart Morass and CWC provide evidence that private conservation models with pools of volunteer resources have the potential to deliver great outcomes for conservation. Hunting has other benefits. The Victorian state government has offered $10 per fox scalp in a bounty program that began in 2011. Since then, over 410,000 foxes have been removed by hunters in Victoria. Aside from the conservation impact, one of the most valuable aspects of the fox bounty program is the ability to collect data on hunter activity – raw numbers – that will allow better informed decisions and policy in the future.
Wildlife management
We can’t forget, or indeed ignore, the role of people in the complex equation of wildlife management. People have created this highly modified landscape. People have the privilege of harvesting our natural resources. People today have an obligation to manage the landscape and our natural resources. We also have an incredible opportunity. With access to technology to gather facts and data, we are more connected than we have ever been and can share knowledge and information. That connectivity we enjoy today provides us with access to world best practice in habitat and wildlife management.
Australia provides an incredible landscape and diverse climate that gives us the opportunity to bring these aspects together. However that’s not to say we need collaboration, in fact we need to be wary of collaboration unless it delivers practical results that create a tangible benefit, and doesn’t provide the excuse for people to engage in activism, rather than focusing on real outcomes.
FGA/Conservation
FGA is a hunter organisation but we are heavily invested in conservation, always have been, we want science and public policy that supports better habitat for wildlife and for us – the people in the equation, to utilise. In the Australian context our priority remains on an increased commitment to habitat and water for our native waterfowl. Complemented by the gathering of data and real insight to build greater knowledge of our Australian waterfowl, leads to the opportunity to manage a dynamic population. This is in contrast to managing population dynamics. Underpinned with a cohesive strategy and an adaptive resource management model, that integrates research and monitoring in a systems approach. The opportunity is here to embrace technology such as drones, remote tracking devices, game cameras, satellite imagery of hydrology. However, it is critical that the data collected is designed for the purposes it will be used for; too often we find decisions on hunting in Australia are not based on data designed for game management.
We have the wonderful opportunity that comes with public land access for hunting, a diversity of game species, and a culture of hunting developed over many years that is underpinned with a conservation ethos. In Victoria, game is managed by a statutory authority, a first in this country. And yet we continue to work furiously to maintain the status quo in a highly politicised environment, where decisions are made by bureaucrats and politicians in capital cities. The debate remains fixed on whether to hunt ducks or not, rather than improving and creating more vital habitat for our Australian waterfowl.
I experienced a wonderful visit to NZ for the 2016 duck opening, personally and professionally. My sincere thanks to everyone who made my visit so welcoming. I can still picture those mallards circling the hills beyond our maimai at the edge of a pristine wetland developed by keen hunters/conservationists, watching the birds as they make another pass and waiting expectantly with my fellow hunters and our canine companions.
David Macnab
Published in Issue 170
Monday, 04 September 2017 11:56

Cajun Capers

From New Zealand it was easy over the internet to book some days duck shooting and fishing. However the doubts begin to creep in when you travel all the way to the “Great Wetlands of the South” in this case Louisiana, USA. 
 
The Judge and I travelled to New Orleans by car starting from Dallas, then down the only road that leads into the most southern of the Louisiana marshes the road ending at Venice. The trip down the road had been a revelation in itself, six years after Hurricane Katrina with scars still visible where houses had been washed away, the rebuilding was impressive with all the houses and even a new high school built 18 feet off the ground.
Katrina had almost wiped Venice off the map, but rebuilding had given it a go-ahead feel and our accommodation was like everything else, built 18 feet up in the air. At 5am in the morning waiting, for our guide who was fashionably late, it was a dark and lonely place. The only other person we had seen was the cook at the bar cum restaurant who had made us a breakfast sandwich when she opened at five.
 
Eventually a bearded young man turned up towing a flat-bottomed duck boat. Yes, he was our guide and we should get in. Winston Churchill once described the English and Americans as two people divided by a common language, with this guide it was more of an insurmountable gulf than a divide. Suffice to say he thought we talked funny! From our part he was almost unintelligible.
 
The trip through the wetlands was interesting in pitch dark with no lights. We either went flat out or with alarming severity dead slow. With dawn breaking, the boat slowed again and our guide started throwing out decoys. This must be the spot we surmised. After going in circles for a few minutes we eased into a slot cut in the reeds, a thin screen of stalks kept us hidden from the ducks. “Load up!” came the command from our intrepid guide. Loaded I looked up to see a duck set its wings to come into the decoys, our guide had his head down looking at his cellphone, so I shot it. Our guide exploded from his seat demanding to know “what **** **** *** was I doing?” I pointed out I had just shot a gadwall (type of duck), which was now as dead as the proverbial dodo and was drifting away on the current.
This got a lecture from our guide which when condensed amounted to us only shooting when he said to do so. About an hour later I enquired if we might see any more ducks at this spot as apart from the one I had shot we had not seen another. Our guide explained that he was mystified by the absence of ducks as he had shot limits from this very spot every day so far this week!
 
The Judge at this point went very quiet. I asked if we had a plan “B” as it was not a happening thing where we were. With some muttering our guide started the engine and backed us out of the hide. We helped pick up the decoys and the gadwall I had shot which was hung up on a branch touching the water some hundred metres away from the hide. We were soon speeding through the marshes. In the daylight they were pretty amazing, vast impenetrable forests of reeds occasionally a few trees far in the distance surrounded by reed, narrow channels which suddenly opened up to vast expanses of open water. Almost unbelievably, some of the areas were in private ownership and the duck hunting rights to those areas are fiercely protected. And almost more amazingly, oil pipelines ran from offshore platforms through the marsh to holding tanks many miles inland with marker posts every time they crossed under open water, and there were a lot of them. Birdlife was patchy; on open water areas there were sometimes a flock of birds, spoonbills, pelicans, wading birds and most importantly ducks. They say there are 735 species of birds, fish and mammals that use the Louisiana wetlands.
 
We arrived at a lagoon, which was open to the sea on one side although the sea was probably a few miles away, but I could just see the white water from the waves breaking over rocks or a sandbar. Out went the decoys again and we slipped in between two screens of reeds growing in the middle of the lagoon hundreds of yards away from any cover. This time we were in the right place as there were ducks trading around.
Our guide started calling, it went something like, quack quack quack, “Keep your head down,” quack quack, “I said keep your head down,” quack quack “KILL’EM.” At which point we were supposed to leap up and shoot the ducks, the problem was that with our heads down when we got up to shoot we had no idea where the ducks were, if they were directly in front no problem but if they were to the side or behind us by the time we turned to shoot they were already out of range. Added to that a Cajun yelling “KILL’EM” at the top of his voice flared the ducks before we even had a chance to stand. This happened a couple of times with the inevitable lack of success, the next time our guide called the ducks in range after yelling “KILL’EM” he promptly fired his shotgun in the direction of the ducks.
Enquiring if he was shooting his own birds, he replied to the effect that he was shooting our limit as if he didn’t we would be going home empty handed. The Judge, at this point suggested that our guide might care to indicate just where the ducks were before he yelled “KILL’EM.”
He pointed out the positions of a clock – 12 o’clock in front, 6 o’clock behind, 9 o’clock to the left and 3 o’clock to the right, pointing up he said high, pointing down low. Really the morning had just reached a new low, at least I thought it had, but I was wrong. While we had been discussing how to tell the time some teal had dropped in and were sitting in the decoys about 40 metres away. “Kill em” said our intrepid guide “NO way “, said I, “They are on the water”, “Don’t matter,” says our guide. “Th’re trash birds and it is legal to sluice them on the water.” The teal had at the sound of our raised voices had the good sense to flock off.
 
To be honest after that my heart wasn’t in it, we scratched down enough ducks for two limits with our guide shooting most of the time. The Judge not to be out done was faster than a yelling Cajun and shot well including a beautiful Bald Plate American Widgeon, in full breeding plumage, which our guide informed us was his, as it was the best he had ever seen.
Not being the most intelligent human being I had ever met, our guide had forgotten to count the gadwall I had shot first thing and we were one bird over our two limits. One of the birds was deposited at the bottom of the decoy bag incase we met the warden and we were off back to the dock in time for lunch.
 
We consoled ourselves with a good lunch and some alcoholic beverages and assured each other that the morning was over and fishing this afternoon would be much better with our fishing guide. We arrived at the dock at the appointed hour to meet our fishing guide; nosing into the dock was a sleek 20 foot fishing machine with you know who at the helm. To say the reception was frosty would be putting a good face on it. As it turned out, our intrepid guide was a better fishing guide than a duck-hunting guide and by the end of the afternoon we had almost forgiven him for the morning.
We were fishing for red fish and we got into some seriously good fish. It’s a sad fact that even though we were not taking any fish away with us every legal fish that came on board was promptly knocked on the head. It would appear to be a matter of pride for the guides not to come back to the dock without limits of fish for everyone in the party. In the end we gave the fish away to the people on the dock. After a successful afternoon our feelings towards our guide had softened to the point we invited him to join us for a beer or two at the bar by the dock.
He refused!
 
Graham Gurr
Published in Issue 170