I remember my first time. I was huddled in the hollow of a fallen tree. Hidden from view, patiently waiting. I was alone, I was nervous as a school boy on a first date. I expected it to all go wrong. All go wrong in the sense that I’d likely to return home empty handed. It had already happened for a few weeks prior. When I’d got the chance, I’d been slipping away to the waters edge of the lake, laying in wait, but nothing came. Would this day be any different. My confidence in my ability was waining.
This day however would be different. It was only a few years ago, so I recollect it well enough. Just like now, Autumn had returned. The leaves reflected a different hue and the winds blew in cool and crisp.
On this day I had everything set. Like a good scout, I was well prepared. I had a thermos of home made soup. Some crusty bread, water and plenty of warm clothes. I had a box of shells and a brand new Spanish made Lanber, under and over 12 gauge scatter gun that was decorated with a detailed engraving of northern geese with leafy borders.
The morning turned into midday, not a waterfowl to be seen. It could have been boring for some, but the quietness and solitude where exactly what I needed at the time. Hours passed slowly, like drift wood on a river. I found myself questioning my ability to go through with the task at hand. I was nervous for a few reasons. Firstly I’d been against duck hunting since my early years as a result of seeing the yearly massacre that duck hunters were responsible for. The anti-duck hunting movement was in full swing in the 1980′s and 90′s and as a consequence I’d seen plenty of horrible footage on television. The images of hundreds of ducks shot with semi-automatic shotguns for sport, well it plain haunted me. But I was different right? I was hunting something that was natural. Something that had zero human intervention, other than the timing and duration of the hunting season. These birds I was hunting for food were born free. The ducks would have a few clutches over spring and summer, and by autumn the new birds were at adulthood and thats when hunting was permitted. It made sense to me. It sure as hell made more sense to me than factory farmed poultry.
Here I was, having returned to country living, and right at my door step was an animal that had not been raised in horrid factory farm conditions, it had not been treated with antibiotics nor had it been transported and packaged. It was as real as I could get. And it made a good change from the rabbit I was hunting so frequently. It was in my mind, a real seasonal treat. I once a year event.
Taking a break in my reflection, I’d pass time with a sip of the heartwarming soup, made from the last of my autumn zucchini. Time passed. Then it was in the early afternoon, that a flock appeared from the east, slightly out of view at first but it was their noise that got my attention. Closer and closer they came, close enough for me to see what species they where. It was clear they were Pacific Black ducks, one of the most common in this region. I’d recently passed the Waterfowl Identification Test held by the then Department of Sustainability and Environment, and as a result I’d been issued with my ticket for the season. Prior to the test one had to study all the birds in flight, and be able to recognise their call. With this information I was well prepared to identify the birds within seconds.
As the birds came into range, I selected one, took aim and shot just mico seconds in front of it. Bang! The shell exploded with a spray of shot. A hit, and the bird dropped in to the water, lifeless. I ran to the water, my jeans became soaked wet (this was prior to me owning waders). I was not going to let this bird get away after all that effort, so into the cold water in jeans I went. Dripping in lake water, I retired to my hollow log encampment to asses the bird. In my hands was the most beautiful creature. I cried. I may have just had some lake grit in my eye though.
My emotions ran a mix of joy and sadness. Just like killing a rabbit I was thankful for the meat I was about to receive. But somehow this was far prettier than a soft furred cotton tail rabbit. On the wing sat a set of bright emerald feathers that shimmered in the light. The detail in the head was more beautiful up close than what I’d seen in pictures and paintings. It’s hard to explain, I mean I’d just shot this bird and now I’m saying it’s beautiful? It almost doesn’t make sense. But there it was, bloodied and beautiful. It was everything about eating meat. Reality. No bullshit. It was the uncompromising reality of life and death.
I hung that duck for a few days and eventually plucked it, and made a roast duck risotto (which has become an annual favourite especially with the kids). The meat is very rich and can be used sparingly, let me assure you, it’s delicious. There’s is no mistaking that it’s the taste of Autumn.
Back in present day and the season has returned. Once again I’ve been hunting alone. I walk the fields where I’ve permission to shoot, and I stalk the dams. I crawl up the embankments, I figure my shot and if there are birds around there is always a chance I’ll walk home with a duck under my arm.
So far I’ve bagged a few black ducks which have been stuffed with a garlic and sage butter and slow roasted whole. I’ve processed every morsel of that rich meat and it’s been getting the paella treatment with ingredients like eggplant, parsley, thyme, jalapeño, smoked pimenton and manchego cheese. It’s such an easy meal and very much celebrates the flavours of autumn. It’s food that makes sense. The peak season wild duck meets the peak season vegetables from my back yard.
This type of food, this type of living is what I’ve aspired to for so many of my adult years. It totally makes sense to me to live this way. I have a multitude of reasons that drive me, but none of them involve bloodsport or trophy hunting. Living with what nature provides is how I’m supposed to be living. I know to some my approach may seem archaic, after all it’s 2014 not 1814. I know I’m not going to save the world by taking this approach to food and to life, lets face it I’m just one man feeding his family the way he believes is right.
But to me it’s much more than that. This is who I am. This is what I was dreaming of when I was a child growing up on the farm. I always wanted to become a man that resembled a pioneer, living off the land, living with what one could get their hands on. A pioneer facing new challenges and flying by the seat of their pants. Thats who I’ve become. Thats who I am.
I also have to accept that my role in life now comprises of two things.
Firstly to live with nature. Secondly, to communicate that journey.