Life in New Zealand
Author: Inventunus

Chapter 3
Duck Shooting

      It’s May 1st. Opening day for ducks. Or rather, closing day for ducks and opening day for a freezer full of dead ducks. A good friend of mine (whom we shall call Bruce), who knows everything there is to know about finding, hunting and shooting ducks, has offered to take me with him this first day of the season. He has 4 dams and countless ducks on each, he tells me.

    I’m an old hand at duck shooting. Well, actually, I’d been out once before this memorable occasion. Another local farmer (whom I’ll call Terry) took me out to the back of his farm at dusk. We stood out in the open and waited for the sun to go down. Which it did. The secret, he told me in whispers, was surprise. “Listen for the flaps of their wings coming down the valley, (rushing late home from work?), and blast them as they fly overhead.” Sounded simple. I let him have the gun the first time though he assured me I couldn’t miss. (We didn’t know each other very well at that point.)

     We waited and waited. Way up the valley I could hear ducks flapping their way home. Terry didn’t move his gun. Must be too far away, I deduced. Louder flapping. Still Terry didn’t move. Now the flapping sounded like a squadron of planes droning overhead. “Hear anything?” he asked. “I think so,” I replied, not wanting to appear too knowledgeable. He raised his rifle. Suddenly six ducks flew overhead. Bang! Bang! Three dead ducks. I was impressed! Two bullets and three ducks.

    Terry must have read my frown and kindly explained that each cartridge held shot not bullets, and that I could get as many as 10 ducks from one shot. And it wasn’t a “rifle”, it was a “shot-gun.”

     My turn. Terry carefully explained how to hold the shot-gun and to watch out for the kickback when it fired. I’d seen the movies so knew all about these.

    Just to be sure of getting 20 ducks with the next 2 shots, I aimed my gun in the air, tucked it well under my chin and got my eye in along the periscope, opening and closing each eye until I found one daring enough to face the sky. The other one stayed tightly closed until this dreadful business was over.

     We waited an eternity. Probably because the late ducks had been wired ahead and were drumming up enough courage to face the gauntlet. Little worry with me, if they but knew! At last, flappings. My gun was already up, though my arms were now flagging and my closed eye was sound asleep!

     Over they came, all two of them.  Bang! Bang!

     Three things happened: 1) the jolt just about knocked my jaw out; 2) the noise deafened me for life; and 3) the ducks did the rhumba, danced their way between the shot, and arrived safely home for dinner - theirs, not mine.

     Terry compassionately consoled me saying it was very dark and it’s harder to hit two ducks than six. Good old Terry.


     Which brings me back to saying “Yes” to Bruce’s May 1st offer. Although I’m a bird lover at heart, I jumped at the opportunity to fill my freezer full of ducks. This wasn’t sport - it was dinner preparation. Once I’d agreed to go, I booked a table at the Sitting Duck Cafe, just in case the ducks on the dam weren’t sitting for me. But what could possibly go wrong? I had the expert, the shotgun, the shot and...I had me. I confirmed my booking at the restaurant!

   My dear friend Bruce told me to meet him at the wool shed at 4am. I obviously misheard the time... No, 4am was right. Next time anyone asks me to get up at 4am to go duck shooting I’ll volunteer the services of my best friend and stay in bed. Bruce pleaded with me to come. He even offered to pluck all the dead ducks - so I accepted.

     The night before the great adventure I dreamed about ducks  - duck farms, duck soup, duck chops, roast duck, Donald Duck... and the alarm at 3.30am saved me from the stupidity of Daffy Duck, though I reckon all of Daffy Duck’s relatives were on Bruce’s farm that morning.

     I crawled out of bed, sleep-walked to the bathroom, sleep-dressed myself in special duck attire (heavy winter woollies) and sleep-drove to the farm. Bruce was there, alert and ready to go. I was up, asleep and ready to climb back into bed. He gave me a good slap on the back to greet me. If I’d had false teeth, I’d have had to retrieve them off the ground. I felt a little like giving him cause for false teeth.

     Down to the back of the shed we wandered where he asked if I knew how to use a shotgun. Initially I confidently said “Yes” but after taking the shotgun from him, tucking it under my arm and accidentally releasing the mechanism, so that it sent out a spray of shot that somehow missed his three prize farm dogs, he took it back and gave me precise instructions, with a laugh. (He’s very good-natured.)

     He explained that each bullet contained a mass of shot and that I’d be able to fell up to 10 ducks with one shot . Since there were 2 bullets in the shotgun I was already calculating how many ducks were going in the freezer - 20 ducks for each dam x 4 dams equals 80 ducks. Liane was going to be pleased.

     We dropped down to the first dam - but since a dam must always be approached from below, we dived into the bush, first climbing over the 7 wire fence (Bruce relieving me of the shotgun), then crashed our way through the undergrowth making as little noise as possible. Last winter Bruce and Philip pruned their pine trees and the dry fallen branches lay in our path, splintering and crackling as we touched them. “Shhh...” Bruce said, though I thought he was making more noise than me. This also happened to be his cemetery for sheep carcasses and so we picked our way between skulls and skeletons, trying not to let this put me off ducks for dinner tonight.

     Ten minutes later we climbed out of the pine tree plantation, wondering why on earth that route was necessary when there was a lovely wide path in front of us. Bruce hushed my thoughts. He explained that the 1st dam was just over this path and did I want to take the shotgun and give it a go? Why not?!  Did he have any last minute suggestions?

     First, he said I’d better take the shotgun since that was fairly essential. I grabbed the shotgun and Bruce gently pointed the shaft away from the line of his body. “Now” he continued “when you’re ready, leap over this 7 wire fence, run across the muddy path thus catching the ducks completely by surprise and, as they take off, let go with both barrels.”

     It sounded a cinch - until I looked at the fence. Me leaping over fences at the best of times is a sight to behold. Holding a loaded shotgun at the same time was tantamount to disaster! I asked Bruce if there was a Plan B? He couldn’t see my dilemma but thought that if I quietly climbed the fence, I might still hold the element of surprise.

     Recollection of outdoor confidence courses swept my mind, especially the impossible rope ladders - legs and arms flailing in all directions. But over I went and with a thump and a bump, landed safely in the mud on the path and after some tricky footwork (not unlike tap dancing) managed to remain upstanding. And not a duck had moved!

     I  ran to the side of the lake, gun at the ready, for the 20 ducks about to drop into my lap... Silence...

     I looked over a calm, peaceful dam. Where were the ducks?! Who’d told them it was May 1st?! I felt robbed. But then - a noise... Two ducks came floating out of the reeds on the far side, looked at me, looked away, looked back... I was wondering if we were all spectators on the Wimbledon Tennis final. Didn’t these ducks know I had a shotgun!

     Now, Bruce told me never to shoot ducks unless they’re flying. I couldn’t see the point of his argument because if you want ducks in the freezer surely you could get them any way you wanted them. And these two ducks seemed a healthy target right at this moment. But I respected Bruce’s wise advice. He’s usually always right and I trust him implicitly.

     The problem was - how to get these 2 ducks to fly? I thought of retracing my steps, then charging the dam yelling “The charge of the light brigade!” or something similar. But I suspect these two ducks were more intelligent than me because while pondering these scenarios, I let down the shotgun. That must have been the cue because the two ducks got airborne before I could sight them again.

     The Wild West cowboys could shoot from their hip and I reckoned that 8 years of Saturday afternoon movies at the Crystal Palace in Mt Eden must have given me some credence in that department, so I fired in their general direction with both barrels.

     When the foresters come to mill the pine forest near this dam, quite a few pines will need to be de-metalled. At least the wooded area won’t be littered with duck bones on my account. At the sight of both barrels flying, Bruce leapt the fence in one swift action and was at my side in two seconds flat asking “How many did you get, Murray?”

     “You mean trees or ducks, Bruce?” I replied as I watched two ducks fly lazily away towards the horizon.


     On to Dam No 2.  Bruce is the eternal optimist. Offering condolences, he suggested there were several unforeseen factors mitigating against me on Dam 1: 1) there were no ducks to speak of (which was most unusual for this time of year); 2) my quiet nature and love of ducks meant the ducks sensed no danger and stayed put; 3) my slight inexperience put the ducks ahead of me on a comparative ratio of 250 to 1.

     At the next dam Bruce proposed Plan B. (Thankfully there was neither bush to creep through nor fence to climb.) This time I would rush at the dam, yelling, with my shotgun horizontal at chest height, thus panicking the 100 ducks and I could blast away at them in their confusion.

     Up I went. All went according to plan until the 10 or so ducks saw me and took off. Then I panicked! The shotgun flew round and I let blast with 2 barrels again, without actually sighting any one duck in particular. When the sound of the shot ricocheting round the farm had died down, the only thing lying flat was my pride.

     On to Dam 3. This was the one. There were always ducks here, Bruce said. I still believed him! It was harder to get up enthusiasm this time but after a good ride on Bruce’s farm bike I was totally fired up (and a nervous wreck too).  Plan C came into operation here. I would walk very quietly up the gentle grassy slope, crawl over the top, kneel, take aim and fire.

     The one large drawback we discovered was that the field happened to be full of bulls this morning. Bruce bravely volunteered to side-track the bulls while I took out the dam full of ducks - what a matador!  Leaving him to it, I sneaked up the fence line and at the foot of the last slope, took a few deep breaths, bracing myself for my moment of glory.

     I crawled over the top... I couldn’t believe the sight, after the first two near empty dams. A dam chocka full of ducks. Dozens and dozens of them. For a brief moment I was reluctant to disturb so peaceful a scene. Then in a blaze of colour and the flapping of hundreds of wings, the mass took flight. I wish I’d had a camera not a shotgun! How could I miss? The 1st shot went straight into the heart of the mass. For the 2nd I actually lined up about 6 ducks and fired. I expected ducks to be falling like flies out of the sky. Bruce raced up (with bulls close on his heels) and we looked and counted...

     Not one dead duck.... He looked at me. He grinned. He laughed...I thought, ‘Only I could fire 2 barrels of shot at 100 ducks and miss the lot.”... I laughed.

     There’s not much left to say.  Obviously the word was out and Dam 4 being not far from Dam 3 was completely skint of ducks. Our Plan D had been to casually walk down to this dam from above, say hello to the ducks and ask if any of them minded playing “run the gauntlet”.  But there were no ducks to ask. As we walked wistfully away, a lone duck appeared in the sky heading towards us. I casually asked Bruce if it was worth shooting at. He told me not to bother because seeing us, it would soon change its course.

     I watched it until it was directly overhead. Either it was blind, or was on a suicidal mission...or it had heard of my expertise on the shotgun. I thought about blasting it out of the air but on second thoughts realised all I’d probably do would be to seriously wound Bruce and I.

     We waved to the duck instead and...Bruce shouted me to the Sitting Duck Café.


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