Hunt Diaries – Duck Shoot

Brig (Retd) Azam agha, Islamabad

The boy looked at the fast receding duck for a long time till it vanished across the river into darkness. From desperate and imbalanced fluttering of its right wing, it seemed as if it was hit badly and could not go far. He looked back at his decoy spread and started another search pattern into the sky, now helped by the fast approaching light of a wintry dawn. The river Ravi was flowing past and was abnormally full of debris that day. Thick clouds of winter mist was still clinging to the water’s surface and was reluctantly giving way to the approaching warmth of the sunrise. In the brightening dawn more of the sky beyond the U bend in the river was becoming discernible, and faint lines of waterfowl in the far distance could be easily seen. But all the birds were apparently crossing the river about 3 miles downstream from where he was sitting in his small but effective blind.

He had carefully selected this point on the river after leaving the pakka road leading from Niaz Baig towards the ferry crossing at the river. The spot was a small but elongated pool hardly more than 50 yards in length and a few yards across. It was nothing more than a puddle left by the receding river, and was a common phenomenon in the month of December when most of the river water was diverted by Indians controlling the flow into Ravi. As he was critically watching the decoy spread for improvements in the pattern, a shadowy movement was observed from the corner of his eye. Suddenly summoning all his hunter’s instincts he raised his gun towards the cause of his attention, and while he was doing so he espied the dark green head with quick wing beats of black and white attached to a large body flaring out hardly 40 yards from him.

The much-coveted Mallard was calmly following the river, when it’s keen eyes spotted a raft of ducks enjoying an early morning dip in the apparently safe and placid water off the main river. As it approached within gun range however, it realized the mistake but far too late for it to successfully avoid being shot. It dropped stone dead to a snap shot of number 6 Shaheen at hardly a range of 25 yards. It hit the water at almost same speed at which it was flying and immediately started to drift away with the fast flowing water. The boy could not believe his luck at having connected with two male mallards so early into his shoot, but was dismayed by only injuring the first bird and apparently loosing the second to the deep and fast flowing Ravi. Determined not to loose at least this one so close to him, he jumped out of his blind while at the same time discarding his heavy jacket and boots and running after the bird with his gun still in his hands. He gritted his teeth and took the shock of ice-cold water while at the same time realizing that he was still holding his gun, which might prove a hindrance in case he was required to swim. But there was no time left for turning back to deposit the gun on the riverbank due to fast receding silhouette of a very dead bird. As the water reached his chest level, he was hardly a few feet away from the duck, and could almost touch it with the muzzle of his shotgun. Throwing all caution to the early morning breeze, he plunged into still deeper water and started to dog-paddle towards his prize. Despite the hindrance of his gun and almost freezing water, he succeeded in retrieving the bird and reaching the safety of his blind.

With natural vigour of a young body, the initial cold spell was overcome, and even the wet cloths started to become warm. But now a steady wind started to blow chilling him further, and also clearing away the remnants of mist from the water. This wind brought with it a sweet and warm smell of ‘dab’, a kind of elephant grass, which grows in abundance along most of our rivers. As the weather grew warmer and sun came up, the chances of any more ducks coming over started to diminish. At around 9’o’clock, he got his breakfast of ‘Alu Paratha’ out and started to enjoy his meal within confines of his blind. At the back of his mind was the time honoured Shikari myth that the quarry would somehow appear when you start indulging in such non-serious activity as having your meal while waiting for the birds. But on this day, even this failed to produce any more ducks, and with a heavy heart he started to collect his decoys for return crossing of the river in his one-man inflatable boat.

He reached for an overhanging branch of a nearby bush in order to haul himself up on the steep bank, while at the same time trying to balance the rickety boat, but in the process he tripped and the boat got out from under his feet. His headlong fall was broken by the thick vegetation on this side of the river, but the commotion created by him caused a sharp fluttering noise in the bushes next to his hidden motorcycle. He immediately thought of a black partridge scampering about in the bushes and got ready for a quick flush. As he moved further to investigate, a big male Mallard suddenly jumped out from beneath his feet and tried to take to the air but one of its wings was so badly broken that it could hardly cover five yards. With adrenaline kicking in, the race was on. He threw away everything in his hands and dove after the injured duck. It was after a great difficulty that he managed to get hold of the duck and placed it next to the first one after slaughtering it. This bird was fully mature and dwarfed the earlier Mallard.

The thought of showing these two male Mallards to Aaji kept him warm and in good spirits on the otherwise boring return journey. He had just turned 15 in November 2014.

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