When shooting ducks is a family affair

Daniel Wake and family. Photo by Julius Dennis
Activists say that the family man is gone from duck hunting in Victoria. However, a Bairnsdale shooter in his late twenties sees things differently. Julius Dennis reports.

Anti duck-hunting activists say the sport is unethical with an aging population and the founder of the Coalition Against Duck Shooting (CADS), Laurie Levy has referred to it as “the uncontrolled slaughter of native waterbirds”.

Daniel Wake doesn’t see it that way. The 28-year-old Bairnsdale duck hunter says only a small number of hunters act inappropriately. “They’re the ones that ruin it and give these activists the ammunition they need,” said Mr Wake. “If they’re ruining it for us, we pull them up.”

The issue was raised in State Parliament recently when Greens MP for Prahran, Sam Hibbins, asked the Premier if this would be Victoria’s last duck hunting season.

Mr Hibbins said that in the first weekend of duck shooting season many threatened species, protected ducks and other waterbirds were killed. Mr Andrews replied that the government would not be taking any further action against duck hunters in the foreseeable future.

The hunting season began in March with hunters pulling their triggers 20 minutes early, causing dismay among anti-duck shooting activists and uproar from Greens members in government.

Opponents say the family man is a lost demographic for duck shooting and hunters “are having trouble recruiting younger.”

Mr Levy said  duck hunters make up only 0.4 percent of the population in Victoria and are generally older males.

While he acknowledges this, Mr Wake says that when he hunts it is generally with a quite diverse group and for many, is still an inter-generational activity.

“Most of the crew that I go hunting with are my dad’s age, and then their kids who are my age,” Mr Wake said.

On the topic of the diversity, Mr Wake and his wife, Tashi, say that while it is a male-dominated sport, there are females who enjoy hunting as well.

“I’ve been to the duck shooting camps and there are husbands and wives and kids, they’re all there and the wives are into it too,” said Mrs Wake.

The couple said that they can hardly keep any ducks for themselves.  The meat generally goes to friends and family. “Most of my stuff goes to friends because they are like, ‘have you got any spare duck?’” said Mr Wake.

Even the youngest members of the Wake family get involved, including three year-old Liam.

“He loves to clean the ducks,” said Mrs Wake.

“Yeah, he loves it. He’s always taking the feathers here, there and everywhere,” Mr Wake added.

The Wakes say it gives the children perspective.

“We have already explained that we have lives and die but that’s OK because then you have another life,” said Mrs Wake.

Some question the accuracy of bird identification by shooters who are often hunting at times of low visibility. Mr Levy and CADS want to see the implementation of an accuracy test for shooters before they receive a licence if a ban is not to be brought about in Victoria.

Hunters have to pass a waterfowl identification test before they are given a hunting licence. However, Mr Levy has issues with its effectiveness. Unhappy that threatened waterbirds were shot on opening weekend of hunting season, Mr Levy questioned the accuracy of hunters.  “If they’ve sat the waterfowl ID test, how come so many threatened species were illegally shot?”

Mr Wake admits that for beginners it can be hard to ID birds, but says the skill comes quickly.

“The more experience, the finer things you pick up… even if it’s in the dark I can pick them out quite easily even when I’m not hunting,” said Mr Wake.