As I sit here on the first of September 2013 I just cant keep still the reason for this is I should be on my first evening flight after wildfowl, But alas here in Somerset we cannot hunt Wildfowl on a Sunday, so I have to wait one day longer than most wildfowlers this year.So as I sit here in my chair in front of the fire with my ole black Labrador sat at my heel, she too is as restless as an expectant mother, indeed we are awaiting on the birth of a nephew, as I type thinking ahhhhhh is this another Fowler about to come into this crazy world, The ole dog I am sure knows what today is as for several seasons now she has walked by my side as many generations of her bloodline before here.
As I sit here with the smell of a roast goose from last season cooking slowly in the oven and a fine glass of port in my fist I cant help but remember past season’s and amazing and jaw dropping flights in my beloved West Country, I also think of all the dogs that have walked beside me this year. I wont have my Old Hollie for the first time in fifteen seasons although the last few she just came to sit and watch but with her great granddaughter sat at my heel she now is a chip off the ole block and serves her master well.
Also as I sit here with a tear in my eye, not only remembering my old dogs, each and everyone one of them have left a scar on my heart until we hunt together again. When the great spirit calls me to go fowling in the great estuaries in the sky. I also have a tear in my eye for a fallen comrade, friend and mentor. For it was on this day the 1st of September 2009 four years ago, on his way to wildfowling that my Ole Sergent Marc Ray passed away, on his way home to get out on the evening flight with me and the rest of the boys from the Woodspring Pigeon Shooting & Wildfowling Club.
We got the call from another club member who was not coming that particular night, that Marc had died on his way to us from work, as we were all settling in around one of our ponds that Marc helped build ready for evening flight, just before this call I had said to the lads as I looked to the East, I saw clouds that looked like a ladder going to the heavens and remarked it looked almost heavenly not ten minuets later we got that dreadful call.
That evening flight although a somber one the ducks came in so hard and fast there was nothing stopping them and this day and indeed the evening flight of this day is called the Marc Ray Memorial Flight, and each year as we did with that first flight each one of us fires one shot in remembrance of our fallen comrade friend and mentor. Indeed he too had a real passion for teaching the kids and many of them now fine young men and women that he inspired. I often see them and when I see them making a success of their lives I know Marc in some small way touched their lives and inspired them to do better as he did with me as young man dressed in DPM’s(Army combats).
So as I sit here with the smell of goose roasting, I will relate to you an awwwww inspiring opening days wildfowling with my Ole Mucker Marc, It was the first of September 2008 5am in the morning and a cold wind was blowing a hooley from the South West as Marc and I meet the other club lads down on our moor, I had Hollie/Bracken and Brook at my heel three generations of the same bloodline as the lads drew straws were they were going to go Marc and I got what we call “end post” the farthest outreach on our little moor.
This place in the midst of winter is one of the most inhospitable places you will ever know, but early September it still had all the beauty of late summer. As Marc and I walked silently down to end post on the the river the air was pure electricity and the sound of waterfowl filled the air all around us, Even the dogs were full of excitement as we tucked down deep among the rushes and waited for the firts rays of sunlight to trickle up over the Wraxall and Failand hills to the East.
As we sat there like so many times before I looked over to Marc and gave him a thumbs up as he gave me a wink and a cheeky smile I knew right then and there we were right were we meant to be at that moment and would not want to be anywhere else, As the light came up over the sacred hills like a burning fire just starting to arise from the embers of the night thats when the fowl started to wake up and move from their beds,
I had put six teal decoys out on the river just to see what would take a look, as I got on my duck calls, and as the mallard started to circle us like a dark mysterious shape, you would barely see in this half light,and as the hairs on the back of your neck would stand on end as the whistling wings would take you by surprise as they flicked past us. I gave the come back call, and they turned dropping straight down the river, paddles down slipping air as they dropped right into the decoys Marc mounted his gun dropping the drake cleanly with the first shot, as he swung onto the duck going to our right and folded her with his second shot, I think the smile said it all as I sent good ole Bracken out to retrieve them from the other side of the big river.
Marc says “I like this new gun I am glad you talked me into buying it”. I laughed and said “can I have a go now then”? as we giggled like school boys. No time to sit and wait as more duck were coming our way as I drop a cracking drake green head skirting to my left, But then we heard that sound the sound that makes even a seasoned wildfowlers heart beat like a marching bands drum.
I will try with mere words to describe it imagine the scene the sun is barely up over the Wraxall and Failand hills to the East as an eary mist settling a few feet above the ground and from the darkness of the West we hear that ghostly haunting sound, Like a flute playing on the far off distant winds of night at first way off then getting closer, as my heart beats like a drum and a cold shiver runs down my spine like an ice cube being dropped down you neck. I look over and see Marc as wide eyed as kid on Christmas Day as he sees Santa disappear up the chimney and the dogs all facing forward into the Dark all their eccles standing on end as I whisper I have never felt so alive as I do right now as Marc says me too, What sound I can hear you ask is it that we can hear playing to our very soles out on that lonely desolate marsh well the sound of the ghost riders the wild geese and if you are a passionate wildfowler you will know what I mean,
The honking getting ever so loader with every honk as they get closer I swear I am about to burst then there they were all thirty seven of them we counted as they flew past un saluted just out of shot range, Well we looked at each other and said that will do for us a a brace and a half of wild mallard for the table and a feast fit for a king, We headed back to the truck after clearing up talking of evening flight that evening to come as we sat back at the truck waiting for the other club lads and enjoying a coffee from the flask and watching the most beautiful sunrise over my beloved West Country with our soles fully loaded with heart tokens,
Indeed as all the lads came back they all had at least a duck each, but my Ryan had as always been a lucky bugger a brace of mallard and a teal I think his smile like a Cheshire cat said it all. We all went home for a rest and to prepare for evening flight as this was going to be a special one this was our first time shooting over our new flight pond so the excitement from young and old was simply awesome.
We all met up that evening and got into our hides that we had worked on for the last year and sat back to wait for the duck to come in, I knew this would be a good flight as we had the best part of 100 wild mallard coming in most evenings. But nothing prepared us for what lay before us as Ryan and I started to see the duck in the distance around us we started calling as the first duck started to come in, Within that first hour we all bagged a brace each so we downed our guns and put them in the slips and decided to sit the rest of the flight out and just watch.
Well bowl me over side ways none of us not even the young shots could have dreamed of such a sight, as literally squadrons of duck came to our little pond the air was filled with fowl and we estimated three to four hundred duck came to our little pond that night. All the boys loved the sight and the more Ryan and I called the more they came as I looked round at the other young sports, I knew they were hooked on fowl as their eyes were as wide as they can go and indeed young Josh still to this day dreams of fowl and that almighty flight, Marc leaned over and said “we done it son we have these kids hooked on wild-fowling just look at them!” Now I know many of you will say flight pond shooting is not wild-fowling but to them young guns they were now wildfowlers with a passion for it the rest we can build on.
So as I sit here in my arm chair on seasons eve with my glass of port in my fist with the smell of the goose roasting in the oven, waiting to be devoured and the old dog sat at my heel infront of the fire, I raise a glass to past seasons awe inspiring flights of fowl and old friends and fallen comrades and a season yet to begin as always with a hope and expectation of the best season yet to come and to inspire another generation of fowler’s.
God rest Marc we will salute you as always over the pond always in our hearts and never forgotten old chum…
Photo of the guys, Marc on the left.RIP Mucker…
Remembrance Of A Fowler’s Eve
By The Ole Hedge Creeper
Aka: Rob Collins