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BARNES: Having high hopes Down Under

Paradise duck

The Paradise duck, a species native to New Zealand, is known as one of the most beautiful waterfowl in the world.

About 25 years ago, when I went to film a hunt in Canada for the first time, my guide Brent mentioned to me that he had heard that there was "no limit" Canada goose hunting in New Zealand. For all the years since that time, I had thought about trying to arrange a hunt in the so-called "Down Under" country.

Finally, this past winter, I contacted a guide there and set up a hunt for my son Mark and two other close friends, Brad Peters and Randy Long.

The yearly seasons are opposite from the United States, so we would be hunting the end of June, which would be mid-winter in New Zealand.

We boarded our plane at LAX for the 16-hour flight to Auckland, with a connection to Christchurch. Our guide, James, met us at the airport, and after retrieving our baggage we headed to his place. We had decided ahead to use his shotguns for the hunt, so there was no red-tape delay going through customs, even though it is an easy process if we had wanted to bring ours.

During the ride, all I could think about was what I expected to be hundreds and hundreds of Canada geese I would be filming in the coming three days. To me, "no limit" meant there must be two or three times the number of geese I would normally see on a Canadian hunt – and very few people to harvest them.

After a 30-minute ride from the airport, we arrived at James' home. It was actually two homes on a 2-1/2 acre lot. Ours was a large 3-bedroom with kitchen, living and dining area, baths and office space. Really comfortable for us, and after a great dinner we headed to bed awaiting a 5 a.m. wake-up call.

The next morning, we drove west for about an hour. It was an odd feeling driving on the left side of the highway while winding through a low-mountain terrain before reaching our hunting area. James said we would be hunting in a cattle pasture. I was surprised to hear that the geese actually never feed in grain fields, but mostly in green grassy fields where the cattle roamed free.

It was just getting good daylight when I turned my camera on and followed James over a small rise in the field. I could hear geese gabbling on the other side and suddenly saw about 300 sitting alongside a small, narrow pond about 200 yards long.

When they saw us, they all took off with a great roar of cackling. We quickly set up a stakes and netting blind against three giant tree stumps that were close to the water. To my surprise, James only put out six shell goose decoys, and a few Paradise duck decoys.

Besides wanting to get into some good goose shooting on the trip, all of the guys were anxious to try and bag a Paradise duck. This is a species native to New Zealand and is nearly a large as a small goose. The coloration makes it one of the most beautiful ducks in the world.

With only a dozen decoys out, I thought, "Wow, these guys have it easy down here." I have never hunted geese with less than four or five dozen decoys out. During the course of the morning, we had some single and pairs of ducks work us, as well as a few really small bunches of geese. Late in the morning some large groups of geese came back but were not interested in getting into close range.

The boys ended up with only about a total of a dozen birds, including some Paradise ducks. The highlight was a pair of Black swans that were taken at close range. Yes, swans are a game bird down there.

The second morning, we drove out to a 50-acre lake, where we set a blind on the shore and put out just more than 50 floating goose and duck decoys.

We had a gorgeous red sunrise, and I thought the spread would really pull the birds in. We waited ... and waited.

Two or three pairs of Mallard ducks lit short of the decoys, and finally a pair came by and Randy bagged the drake. About mid-morning a large flock of geese came in and worked us high and far away, but nothing close enough to shoot at. That was it. We never saw any more geese.

We were getting exasperated, and it finally dawned on me: There was no-limit goose shooting in New Zealand because very few people hunt, so the government decided you can shoot as many as you like. And, there are not numbers there even close to Canada and North America. I was discouraged, to say the least.

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