I see on the television news that the duck shooting season in New Zealand is in full swing. Pictures flash across the screen of grown men and their children, dressed in camouflage gear that they should be donating to those who need it in Ukraine. There they are hiding from unsuspecting ducks in mini-forts, called mai-mais. These days mai-mai construction is not to be taken lightly. Auckland Waikato Fish & Game has put together two resources on “Mai-mai Construction Guidelines” and detailed “Mai-mai Construction Plans”. Eyad’s Honours degree in engineering will be vital should he ever want to shoot some kiwi ducks.

I’ve never understood the appeal of this annual shoot-a-thon. Mind you, I have only been duck shooting once. Not that I minded the shooting. My preference was for wild goats, pigs, opossums and deer. I paid for two swimming trips to Australia by selling the carcasses and skins of that sort of shooting to a Wairoa butcher. I guess that made me a semi-professional hunter.  

So why am I so anti duck shooting? Well, the one occasion I did go duck shooting was pathetic. Let me tell you about it.

A very prominent Wellington civil servant and his family were friends of ours. One school holiday they came to our place to experience some rural adventures. Duck shooting had begun, so that of course had to be included.

The day dawned absolutely freezing. But three horses were saddled-up and we set off with my stepfather and the civil servant proudly holstering our family’s two shotguns. It took about an hour to reach our Pohataroa Station lake mai-mai. I crept inside and began warming-up thanks to my mother’s Thermos of hot chocolate.

That was about 7.00am. Well, we sat there for five hours until midday. Any ducks were at 30,000 feet, far beyond even my father’s sophisticated guns. Five hours and not a sole duck was in the slightest danger. The Pohataroa Lake was as peaceful and deserted as when we arrived.

I however was freezing. I felt like a block of ice. When would this torture end? Finally, the adults made a decision. It looked like this Saturday was not our lucky day. What! You reckon? At last, we were on the horses again, heading home. But then just after we had added to our discomfort, riding across a not-so-shallow section of the Ruakaturi River, my stepfather noticed about ten ducks on a flat field below the Pohataroa Station farmhouse. The civil servant and my father went into full hunting mode. Off the horses and crawling toward the quietly grazing ducks. Barely ten metres away two blasts rang out and one duck fell. The others began to waddle up the hill to the farmhouse. Yes, you have it right.

My stepfather and the government’s most high-profile bureaucrat had murdered one of the farmer’s domestic ducks. Panic? You have never seen the like. Two grown men sprinted back to the horses with their dead duck, and we set off at full gallop for home. All three of us could have won the Melbourne Cup.

That afternoon I was given the task of plucking the murdered bird. I have never seen so many pellets in one bird. Clearly both shotguns had found their mark.

The following day, Sunday, our families sat down for lunch that featured the produce from our day duck shooting. My mother had to supplement the duck with a second bird bought from William & Kettles grocery store in Wairoa. I made sure my meat came from the William and Kettles’ bird. The risk that I’d missed some pellets in the other duck was way too high.

Duck shooting was not the end of our illegal activity that week. We took the civil servant trout fishing. My stepfather had a favourite spot on the Hangaroa River that usually yielded a good size fish. Sure enough our friend had only been casting for a few minutes before a huge brown trout swam slowly by. Try as he might, casting his fly inches away from the trout, the fish was not interested. For half an hour, cast after cast, was being ignored.

Finally, this pillar of Wellington society grabbed my father’s rifle and fired it in the direction of the unsuspecting fish. The bullet never hit the fish, but the shock waves were enough to stun it and cause it to float upside-down to the surface. Faster than Michael Phelps, our friend was in the water and had the stunned fish in hand. Tomorrow’s lunch was clearly going to be, and was, a small slice of Hangaroa brown trout.

Of all the years I spent hunting over the Te Reinga hills, I never had a week like the one when Wellington came to the country. It put me off duck shooting and fishing for life.

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