Nothing stops Sally from joining duck hunt

By Roger Moroney -
AIMING HIGH: Sally Wenley and her brother, David, will be looking skyward this morning in the hope the ducks will do a fly-by. PHOTO/GLENN TAYLOR HBT141566-02
AIMING HIGH: Sally Wenley and her brother, David, will be looking skyward this morning in the hope the ducks will do a fly-by. PHOTO/GLENN TAYLOR HBT141566-02

The pursuit of the duck when the hunting season arrives has always been in the sights of the Wenley family of Havelock North, with father and son having scanned the skies for the mallards and greys for many a year.

As has daughter and sister Sally who first started heading for the maimais when she was only 8.

"I've always been a shooter," the 44-year-old said as she prepared to return to the family's shooting spot on a dammed pond at Maraekakaho today.

But there was a time when the shooting stopped and life took a new path.

She was 17 when, in her own words, she took her last steps.

That was on February 17, 1987, when she hopped onto a bus and "galloped down the back" to take one of the best seats for an outing with schoolmates from Woodford House.

Sally Wenley had been sports captain of the school and that morning had run the hills of Havelock North before returning to breakfast and the planned picnic.

Her last memory of that day was the excited chatter and laughter competing with the loud music being played.

The bus left the road and crashed down a bank, killing the driver and two teachers, and two of her schoolmates.

Her spine was shattered. She was paraplegic and spent six months in the Burwood Spinal Unit before returning to the family home in Maraekakaho.

But while physically her life had been turned upside down, her resolve to "get on with it" and move on was undaunted.

She went to EIT and later Massey University where she completed a BA.

"It was three years of new friends, partying and fun. I adored dressing up for any do. At one party a guy picked up my wheelchair and tipped me on to the ground as he thought I was a nursing student and too 'normal' to be in a wheelchair."

She later went to broadcasting school in Christchurch and took on a job as an intern at TVNZ.

"I met my husband when I was interviewing people on the street about fuel prices for a news story. He asked for my phone number so I gave him my business card."

They married in 2006 and she and Dave now have a 5-year-old daughter, Georgia.

The wheelchair has not got in the way of motherhood, working as a freelance journalist, international travel or, like today, pursuing the duck.

"I like having a go; getting amongst it," she said.

Going duck shooting with her dad Peter and brother Dave was always exciting as a child, and by the age of 12 she was shooting a 12-gauge.

Some time after the crash she was taken clay bird shooting by some mates and was happy to handle a 12-gauge again, although it led to some seating adjustments.

"I had a blast with the 12-gauge but the recoil was so strong I went straight over backwards in my chair. But the only thing hurt was my pride," she laughed.

At Massey University she took part in shooting competitions, both small and large bore, and after moving to Auckland took up with friends who would go clay shooting at Waiuku on the west coast.

"I wasn't too bad. I hit more than I didn't."

She said today was a special occasion, as she had bought a new gun, a Weatherby 20-gauge which she had a few practice shots with a couple of days ago.

"I'm so excited," she said.

"It's my first gun and I've also got all the new gear and a new duck caller. It came with a DVD on how to use it and my husband and child are sick of hearing it."

She added that the duck calling skills may be vital, as fine weather is forecast and the ducks will accordingly be flying high.

"We want low cloud."

She and her brother, Dave, will head out with some cousins for the dawn start to the season and will take up separate "possies".

"I'll be in my Argo, a six-wheel drive off-road amphibious machine which also acts as my maimai.

"I'll have a camouflage net over it like a poncho."

Will there be some rivalry over who gets most?

"Haven't thought about that. We'll see."

At the end of the morning the group will retire to an old woolshed on the property for lunch, and hopefully later a spot of plucking and gutting.

"I enjoy preparing them - smothered in red wine and slowly cooked."

She added that the prospect of coming across the occasional piece of shot was well covered.

"One cousin is a dentist so if you get one in your teeth, he'll sort it out."

Meanwhile, Hawke's Bay Fish and Game's breeding season has been a success, with "a good number of young birds" found during its mallard banding programme.

Plenty of rain throughout March and April has topped up the water levels of ponds and rivers, which is the good news for hunters today.

The not-so-good news is that the weather is set to be fine and clear throughout the Bay, which is exactly what keen duck shooters do not want to see as it means the prey will be able to fly high.

Low cloud is the hunter's friend.

A Fish and Game representative said paradise ducks were plentiful in the area and some groups claim to have spotted more than 300 birds.

"The big numbers can be attributed to favourable weather conditions and farmers growing good crops."

Hunters were advised to ensure they were up to date with rules and regulations. The dos and don'ts are all listed on the Fish and Game website and were issued in the 2014 Game Bird Hunting Guide given out when licences were bought. "If you're unsure of anything, please contact Hawke's Bay Fish and Game to clarify the issue," the representative said.

"Hawke's Bay Fish & Game Council treats breaches of the regulations very seriously in fairness to all the hunters who do stick to the rules."

Police were also advising hunters to strictly enforce firearm safety as well as personal safety and said hunting and alcohol did not mix, so the warming dram or two of liquor was not a good option.

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