Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Duck hunting hassles

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Natalie Krebs, @ outdoor life, The Buloke Times

Opening week of duck season in Victoria resembles the dove opener in Texas. Many hunters make a social weekend of it, camping out near the gentle dirt roads that ring many of Victoria’s shallow wetlands.

Australians have a dedicated overlanding and camping culture. They cook a leisurely breakfast and then simply wade out into the marsh a few hundred yards to pass-shoot ducks. These lowkey setups make it easy for casual hunters to have a good time, and convenient for activists to interfere.

At Wooroonook

So when a procession of 40-odd cars pulled into a public field beside Wooroonook Lake just after 7 a.m. on opening day, the hunters camped there reacted in one of three ways. Some bailed, packing up to flee the protestors.

Other hunters pivoted to scout nearby waters. If anything good can be said for all the protestors choking Victoria’s shallow wetlands on the first day of duck season, one hunter told me, it’s that they bounce birds around.

A scant few groups decided to stay for the circus. To leave would be to give the activists exactly what they want, explains Nicole Mouzakis, who was camped at Wooroonook with her husband, three daughters, and inlaws.

That’s how the Mouzakises spent the day dealing with protestors, who had erected a small town of tents complete with a fleet of siton- top kayaks, triage stations for injured ducks, and portapotties.

The protestors in turn attracted a steady stream of TV broadcasters, politicians of varying allegiances, game wardens, local police, and Field and Game Australia staff 

Name-calling

“An older gentleman had walked into the water [and] went up to my father-in-law and he started [verbally] abusing him, calling him names, calling him a ‘fat pig’ and saying that he can’t shoot and he’s missing,” says Mouzakis, who reported that protestors also yelled at her, snooped around their camp, videoed her children despite laws against photographing minors, and even followed the girls into the woods when they needed the latrine.

“It is intimidating. But we’ve got to stand our ground. If they intimidate us, they’re going to destroy generations of hunters and family gatherings.”

When activists didn’t get a rise out of her father-in-law (Stefano Mouzakis is missing one ear and enjoys messing with people by pretending he can’t hear them), they moved on to her uncles-in-law, calling them “murderers.”

“They were saying the uncles were pointing [their shotgun] barrels at the protesters, which they clearly weren’t,” says Mouzakis. “The protesters were hurling abuse at the shooters. And the shooters were doing nothing wrong.”

Mass-shooting

Guns are a frequent touchstone in the battle over hunting in Australia. Hunters also contend with the added responsibility, and often stigma, of firearms ownership in an anti-gun society.

Following a mass-shooting in the state of Tasmania in 1996, Australia imposed a mandatory national buyback of nearly all semi-auto and pump actions; most duck hunters today use over/unders. Strict firearms ownership laws are a major reason you don’t see more duck hunters getting into fights with antis at the boat ramps.

“[Protestors have] nothing to lose,” Leen says. “If we [hunters] lose our cool, we can lose our licence, we can lose our firearms. We’ve got everything to lose. So we’re at a distinct disadvantage where we can’t tell them what we think.”

Mouzakis hunts quail, but neither she nor her two younger daughters have passed their WIT or gotten their duck licences yet (the minimum hunting age in Victoria is 12, with restrictions). All three were required to follow the same regs as the antihunters: They weren’t legally permitted within 25 metres of the water except from 10 a.m. to 2 hours before sunset, nor were they allowed to touch or handle any ducks. So Mouzakis spent much of her time restraining active young kids who are eager to hunt with their dad and don’t fully understand why they can’t.

This delighted the Wooroonook protestors, who repeatedly reported the family when the girls drifted too close to the water. They also went so far as to break out tape measures to establish those boundaries, and to ensure hunters’ camps were the minimum regulation distance from the water.

“Activists are getting very desperate because they know that hunters have well and truly woken up to the fact that they cannot do one single thing that even looks like crossing the line,” says Glenn Falla, who spent his opening morning reminding hunters to toe that line at a neighbouring lake, instead of hunting with his own dad, as he used to. 

The Buloke Times 2 July 2024

This article appeared in The Buloke Times, 2 July 2024.

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