James Haskell goes duck shooting
‘The beauty of being in New Zealand and away from friends, family and business commitments is there aren’t too many other distractions. I am either playing or training with the team, indulging in one of my hobbies like MMA or for once I am finally getting some time to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes – shooting.
I documented my first trip out with Andrew Hore, where we went rabbit shooting off the back of a truck. As you may recall, imagining the etiquette to be the same in NZ as it is in the UK, I turned up, as it transpired very-over dressed, in my best MUSTO gear and tweeds and subsequently gained the nick name “Blaster”. So when my phone rang 10 minutes after landing back in New Zealand from South Africa, I answered and found my self invited to go duck shooting. I had the weekend off so I thought why not.
The invitation came by way of Andrew again, but as he was away still in South Africa, it came under the auspicious of his younger brother Charlie. From start to finish it was an amazing experience.
I managed to just about navigate my way to Ranfurly, which is an hour and forty minute drive outside Dunedin. I arrived late Friday evening, having stopped to ask a bemused police man where the hell I was and how to get where I was going, as it wasn’t even on the map!
Having eventually found the place – I would say it was in the middle of nowhere but that would be suggesting the place was easy to find! Charlie kindly organized some much welcome food and then no sooner had my plate been cleared, I was shown to a small army hut down the bottom of the garden where I would be sleeping. To be fair it was far better than it sounds and actually, it was bigger than my old house in Japan!
My alarm split the still freezing night air at 5.45am the next day – duck shooting starts early! This time I dressed in what I thought was more appropriate gear for the NZ, shooting set, although I drew the line at cut-off shorts and flak jacket! In fact I have to say the samples I had been sent and which I had thrown into my bag at the last minute, of MUSTO’s amazing new shooting thermal under-layer, turned out to be an absolute Godsend in the freezing conditions. A couple more layers over the top, with my favourite MUSTO quilted jacket to finish. There are some things an English shooting gent can’t be without!
Eight of us grouped around for a hearty breakfast, I say hearty, if I ate it every day I’d have a heart attack. Sausages, bacon, lots of eggs, white toast, brown toast, mushrooms, and tomatoes you name it. I hope the Highlanders Nutritionist isn’t reading this!
It was then straight out into one the coldest mornings I have ever experienced. Thanks MUSTO for those thermals! Having never been duck shooting I had very little idea of what to expect. The closest thing I had ever come to it was watching those archetypal American Duck shooting characters in the movies, decked out to the nines with bird callers, hats with long silly ear flaps and all seated in boats. Luckily Charlie Hore knew I had no idea what I was doing, so took me under his wing, excuse the pun; putting me in the hide with him, or a MiMi as they call it.
All of us were spread out in various hides along the length of a large pond, two to each MiMi. I was given a camouflage face hood and hat, as apparently ducks are colour blind and anything white, like one’s face, really shows up.
It was now 6.50am and all was very quite. Everyone’s guns were at the ready, steadied and pointing out over the icy pond. A low fog hugged the water like an anxious mother grips a child. Ducks were flapping, calling and feeding all around us. The pond was scattered with decoys. Living up to my new sobriquet of Blaster, I was very eager to start shooting something – anything – but was sharply told you can’t shoot a duck whilst it is on the water and you can’t start shooting before 7am.
Just as I was reflecting that maybe despite the clothes, there was indeed some shooting etiquette after all in New Zealand, the big hand on the clock reached 12 – 7am!
Well all hell let loose – the boys started up with their decoy calls, and the air was immediately filled with ducks and flying steel. From 7am til 8pm at night it was a non-stop duck demolition derby. With only breaks for food, change of MiMi or the occasional call of nature.
We did manage to stalk some other ponds on foot, which was incredibly fun. I was called when it got too dark to see! Birds, bullets and banter had been the order of the day. For every good shot there was a cheer, for every over- zealous use of the 8 shot capacity of the shot guns, banter rang out across the lake. Some of my favourites were exquisitely timed, just as ducks seemed to fly out of a maelstrom of shells un-harmed “That duck must have had a Kevlar jacket on”. “You would be better off throwing the gun at the bird the way you shoot”. “Tell one of the ducks your best joke and if you’re lucky he might commit suicide”. It went on like this all day. Bolstered by a couple of early, lucky salvos, I have to say I was one of the main culprits.
There was more shooting the next morning for those keen to get up at 5.50am again. Of course thanks to my secret thermals I wasn’t fazed by the freezing conditions so I was up and raring to go. However being the “junior”, most of the morning was spent with me in a pair of waders, strolling out into the pond to collect handfuls of dead birds and now obsolete decoys. This morning the ducks appeared not quite so eager to land on what yesterday had appeared to be a tranquil lake, which had then turned into Operation Desert Storm just as they had lowered their landing gear to settle on its calm waters! That didn’t stop the lads using their callers and various bird luring tactics, to coax a few birds down. It was good, but not as wild as the previous day.
It was then onto the job of plucking and breasting the 190 ducks that the eight of us had shot. I am told it was a farm record! We had two types of ducks to deal with; Mallards were to be plucked, Parries to be breasted. I was given, as you might have expected, the job of chief plucker! Well as much fun as the shooting had been, plucking is the direct obverse! Some two hours later all that remained was 80 bald birds and a pile of feathers.
If I thought the plucking was bad, the birds then had to be be-headed, de-winged, de-legged and have all their remaining feathers burnt off with a blow torch. Then the denouement – the removal of bottoms and internal organs! Being a novice I indulged in every area, and my over-active imagination ran away with me on the beheading part, imagining I was the cloaked figure of the executioner in years gone by, shouting abuse as I cut the duck’s head off for unseen crimes. The axe was very quickly taken away from me and I was back on the gutting line!
The whole weekend was another amazing Kiwi experience. The people where great, the ducks were eager to get shot and the banter never stopped. I now have a freezer full of fresh duck, which I have no idea how to cook, but when your missus is a chef there is some hope! Watch this space for some of Francesca’s kitchen recipes…’
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