Morning Story: The aim is fun, ducks' a bonus

By Mark Story

It'd been too many seasons since my last duck hunting expedition. too many seasons since my last duck hunting expedition.

Until the weekend I'd forgotten how much I missed it.

On Saturday my sons and I drove to a coastal property to stake-out a hilltop dam in Central Hawke's Bay.

A quick peek over the top lip showed at least half a dozen ducks going about their business.

My boys clasped their ears in the knowledge that thunder was about to break the pastoral silence.

The water-top exploded with fleeing grey ducks.

Two thuds into the shoulder and a bird deserted his flying formation and landed lifeless in the middle of the dam.

I was cheesed-off. This was irretrievable. I circled the pond's tree shelter looking for something ridiculously long to bring it in with.

I wasn't fetching a duck - I was fetching dinner. Long before ascending the steep hill I'd already singled out a new recipe to try. But to no avail. You see dams aren't tidal. Nor to my knowledge do they have currents. My kingdom for a spaniel.

So we dug in.

Flax bushes and small karo trees were the perfect natural hide. We waited an hour before hearing what sounded like a small typhoon overhead.

Much to my disappointment, 19 giant Canadian geese descended with their landing gear down, hitting the water with a collective "shisssssh" as they broke the water like a fleet of amphibian planes.

My boys giggled gleefully at the clueless gaggle. We could have bagged three of them with one shot, so close did they swim to our flax hide.

But these weren't the target quarry. Besides, who needs plastic decoys with this lot peacefully preening themselves in full view of other overhead fliers.

Two smaller fowl materialised from the fading light. I trained the muzzle on the front bird, hoping to time the shot so the duck would fall anywhere but the water. At the 11th hour it let out the lifesaving drone of paradise shelduck. Damn. They're perfectly legal of course, but they're also perfectly endemic. Seems rather amiss to bowl a bird that exists nowhere else on the planet.

My trigger reticence in the face of the gamebird buffet in front of us made my boys a little edgy. I'd talked up the hunt all week, only to become a conscientious objector in the course of an afternoon.

"Hunting sometimes means not pulling the trigger," I said. That righteous line met with a rolling of the eyes.

But the outing was already a success.

There's something magic about taking kids out of their digital-dominated, Skype-filled heat-pumped environment to the chill of the elements, sitting on old thistles, blissfully bored in full knowledge a target may never eventuate.

I kept their energy levels up with Barley Sugars. The crunch of these between teeth, the breakers' roar and odd thud of duckshooters on adjacent stations was the evening's soundtrack.

Darkness closed in.

A whistling of small wings caught our attention. This was the right species. I waited for their ever decreasing circling to come within range, mindful again to not drop them over the dam. Despite firing both barrels, occasioned by a flash of flame from the muzzle, the two flew off into the ether.

In the dark flaxbush I could make out the whites of the boys' teeth.

That was excitement. Not to mention the first shot sparking an explosion on the dam's surface as the panicked gaggle and two shelducks fled the scene.

We trudged back down the hill by torchlight, negotiated an electric fence in the dark and arrived back at our shearers' quarters.

While frying sausages for tea, I again offered a righteous line, something along the lines of not needing a kill to enjoy hunting. This went down with only slightly less derision.

Their hunting maturity will materialise one day - as will my first attempt at Heugh Fearnely- Whittingstall's duck breast with pineapple, chilli and soy.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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