The south Island Duck Shooting season finishes next week. Not that I am a hunter. In a post last year (Neglect and Abuse) I highlighted my hunting prowess. It was during the horrific rabbit plague of the 1980’s. My .22 rifle confiscated from me when I was caught shooting in the air instead of at the rampant rabbits. I wasn’t ‘F-ing around‘ as my mates accused me of, I just didn’t like killing things.
Six months later, my friends disconcertion over my lack of fortitude in killing Leporidae seemed to disappear.
‘Roly,’ they suggested – ‘do you wanna come duck shooting at Lake Ellesmere next weekend, its the start of the duck shooting season?’
Of course I did, but the thought of killing ducks left me cold. I mean, I love ducks, both alive and roasted. One of my favourite Sunday activities still, is to feed ducks with child accompaniment or without.
I felt trapped, caught between being a normal bloke – a man’s man – and someone who voted Values Party, a vegetarian, someone who wore frilly knickers and a Caftan.
After much consternation I decided to come clean, to come out of the closet. ‘Guys,’ I said, ‘Guys, I would love to come, but I just don’t like killing things.’
They laughed, they already knew. ‘Jesus Mate, my best friend’ said, ‘we’ve known that for years. We wondered when you were going to tell us?’
‘It doesn’t matter he said, we’re all still mates,‘ they all laughed again.
I felt uneasy.
‘And besides we need someone to pluck the ducks.’
I agreed to go and pluck their ducks in exchange for my share of the catch.
Photo by Hank Shaw
In his Blog Plucking Ducks Hank Shaw shared his thoughts on Plucking.
Plucking a bird is an act very much like unearthing an archaeological treasure. It can be a painstaking business, frustrating, messy and yet, when you are done, deeply rewarding. It is an act of love, in an odd way. You are working hard to bring out the best in your birds.
For me it is a calming process, a task I can zen out on, focusing only on the next feather. Plucking occupies the same mindspace for me as making pasta: Mindless, yet highly focused.
Now, after reading his Blog, I deeply respect Hank and his expertise in this field. But I need to advise my experience was not calming, and I felt I was butchering the poor birds rather than loving them.
I grimaced every time I pushed down on the bird feeling its cold body and internal bits squelching about beneath my fingers. I felt the birds shame as it lay naked before me, its goose pimply skin cold and blood blotched. As one by one the lads bags were filled I wish I never agreed to pluck their bloody ducks. It was a good day for them, a bad one for the ducks. Fifteen plucked corpses lay on the ground by days end. A day which called for a celebration at the pub. But not for me, I told the guys they could have my thee birds and I went home and showered wondering what was wrong with me.
I’ve never been duck shooting again, although the experience has never left me. Just ten days ago I ran into an old friend. The first thing he said, ‘Hey Roly the Duck Plucker, how the fuck are ya?’
If I am going to be remember for anything, being a Duck Plucker is not something I would have chosen.
Lake Ellesmere is about a twenty minute drive from Christchurh. The lake holds high historical and cultural significance to the indigenous Maori population and the traditional Māori name Te Waihora, means spreading waters. It has officially had a dual English/Māori name since at least 1938.