While the sound of the flapping wings gets closer, hidden silhouettes vigorously raise from the dark to throw their nets right up into the air. The scene takes place on the hill over the Kamoike pond, a well-known wintering spot for many species of migrating birds in wintertime. The duck hunters always operate around dusk, when sparse groups of wild mallards leave the wetland to go feeding in the nearby resting rice paddies. Stretched in wooden sticks and put together in shape of a Y, the hunters’ nets are called sakaami, which can be roughly translated into “raising net”.
Although wild duck meat is scarcely eaten nowadays in Japan, it has remained very popular in Kaga as the area’s hunters managed to keep alive this traditional method of duck hunting for more than three centuries. Involving the hunters in taking direct measures to preserve their environment, avoiding weapons and strictly self-limiting the catches to three hundred animals per year, the sakaami duck hunting is regarded as playing an active part in protecting the local ecosystem. This wise use of natural resources by hunters have been widely praised, and the wetland was registered as a Ramsar Site (Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat) in 1993.
Along with the snow crab, duck cuisine is one of the popular winter culinary assets of the Kaga area. Non-domesticated, eating mainly grain, which is the secret of the ideal balance between the fat and the meat, the ducks are caught empty-stomached and without any harm. The rich taste of the duck meat is enhanced by local dishes such as the Kaga-Jibuni, a thickened stew with flour-coated duck simmered with seasonal vegetables and wasabi. It is also advantageously served either as meat balls or thin-sliced boiled in a hot pot with seasonal vegetables and mugwort or buckwheat soba noodles.