Tonight, Barry Jane will cook ducks he shot. It could be his last supper of this kind

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Key points

  • Victoria’s 2023 duck hunting season has started, albeit it’s a month shorter than normal this year.
  • About 11,000 licensed shooters are expected to hunt ducks this season.
  • However, the number of hunters has reduced and support for recreational shooting has dwindled in recent years.
  • The state government is holding a parliamentary inquiry into the future of recreational native bird hunting.
  • It’s possible the inquiry will see Victoria join Western Australia, NSW and Queensland in banning duck hunting.

Tonight, Barry Jane will eat duck for dinner. On the first morning of this year’s Victorian duck shooting season, the keen hunter caught four birds – three wood ducks and a teal –
at Wooroonook Lakes near Charlton in northern Victoria.

He will pluck and gut the duck carcasses, stuff them with pears or oranges, cover them in blackberry jam for flavour, wrap them in aluminium foil and put them into an earth oven full of coals to cook for a couple of hours.

Duck hunter Barry Jane with dog Billy at Wooroonook Lakes.Credit: Joe Armao

The 76-year-old, who grew up in Charlton but now lives in Melbourne, has enjoyed hunting ducks on the network of wetlands and lakes that dot the area since he was 16 years old. But Jane believes this year or the next could see the end of legal duck hunting in Victoria.

“We’re not sportsmen. We don’t shoot ducks for sport, we shoot ducks to eat,” he said. “All the restrictions are on, and it looks very much like this might be the last year that we have [it] if the greenies and whoever else get their way.”

He might be right. In February, the Victorian government announced it would hold a parliamentary inquiry into the future of recreational native bird hunting while allowing a reduced season – a month shorter than usual – to go ahead this year.

This announcement mirrored South Australia, which is also holding an inquiry and allowed a 2023 hunting season.

Barry Jane plucks his catch.Credit: Joe Armao

While Jane says he shoots ducks for food, the same can’t be said of all the 11,000 licence holders expected to go shooting this season.

On the other side of Wooroonook Lakes, animal welfare volunteers on Wednesday found a number of ducks that had been shot dead and not collected by hunters, which is illegal, including three threatened duck species – two Australasian shovelers and one hardhead.

Wildlife Victoria has sent eight staff to a temporary veterinary marquee at Lake Buloke, also near Charlton, to treat wounded waterbirds.

“We should be focused on attending to animals that need us, not animals that need us because they’ve been deliberately shot by humans,” executive director Lisa Palma said.

“We don’t shoot ducks for sport, we shoot ducks to eat,” says Barry Jane, who plucks and cooks the birds he catches.Credit: Joe Armao

Public sentiment has moved against duck hunting. Research conducted for the RSPCA found 68 per cent of metropolitan residents and 60 per cent of regional Victorians oppose it.

When announcing Victoria’s inquiry, outdoor recreation minister Sonya Kilkenny acknowledged the issue of duck hunting in Victoria had become “increasingly contested”. She said “deeply held” views on the subject had prompted the government to establish the legislative council committee to examine recreational native bird hunting.

On the shore of Lake Buloke on Wednesday morning, animal rights advocates from the Coalition Against Duck Shooting far outnumbered hunters at campsites at the fringes of the lake.

Dressed in fluorescent vests and carrying flags, the protestors walked near the water’s edge to scare birds away. Only a few gunshots rang out from the opposite shore.

Laurie Levy, Coalition Against Duck Shooting campaign director at Lake Buloke on Wednesday.Credit: Joe Armao

Almost 40 years ago it was a very different story. Laurie Levy, the veteran director of the coalition, first came to the lake when the hunting season opened in 1996, when there were more than 10,000 duck hunters at the one wetland.

“It was a frightening place to be,” he said. “In those days, duck shooters could use semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns. Birds were falling out of the sky everywhere.”

Levy has high hopes for the outcome of the inquiry.

“The Liberals will never support a ban, so it’s up to Labor. And I feel we’re close … this may be the last shooting season, which would be terrific.”

Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania are the only remaining Australian states to allow duck hunting, with the practice banned in Western Australia in 1990, NSW in 1995 and Queensland in 2005.

Not everyone agrees duck hunting could soon end.

Alongside the animal welfare protesters at Lake Buloke, a small group from the Sporting Shooters Association of Victoria said they had visited hundreds of shooters at wetlands in the surrounding area.

“They’re just really happy to be out here and enjoying their cultural traditions,” said development manager David Laird.

The association will make a submission to the inquiry.

“We’re confident that when all the facts come out, rather than misinformation and the emotion … they’ll find that hunting is very much a legitimate activity. It should have a really good future.”

On Tuesday, the inquiry committee visited Lake Connewarre near Geelong, to observe the first day of the season.

“It’s important for us to see firsthand how the recreational hunting season operates,” committee chair Ryan Batchelor said.

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