Under the moonlight.
We start out on the first of September as always to mark the start of the Wildfowling Season 2020, I have done this for the past 45 seasons since my first trip out as a very young boy, I never miss opening day, actually this story starts out on the eve of that season, August the 31st 2020, as always I am as excited as a Polecat faced with a Rat, apart from traditional ferreting that is my favourite Country Sport, its wildfowling that also courses through my veins, those two Country Sports are what makes me who I am, everything else just sort of slots in around them, in this article I will take you along with me on some of the most magical morning and evening flight, with myself as your guide you will smell the water, feel the wind on your face, hear the fowl as they slip air paddles down & get to know some of my Young Sports and my family too.
Like I said we start out on the eve of the start of this season, I just cant sleep, the alarm is set for 3am, as I lay there going over in my mind, have I got all my kit, I have this niggle I had forgotten something, so I get out of bed and check everything for the god knows how many time, all is good and I get back into bed and doze off, then it starts, the dreams I mean, remembering all the seasons that have come before, since my first time when I was a very young boy with my Pappy (grandfather) my ole Dad and my Uncle Dave, even with my own children, remembering all the friends and family that have long since passed, the dogs oh so many great water dogs, the retrieves most vividly living in my minds eye, the adventures I have had the privilege nay honour to have been on with so many great teachers of the art.
I then start to feel that breeze on my face and the smell of the water, the sight and sound of wildfowl echoing through my dreams from monotonous flights back in the sands of time, a 3am alarm, what alarm? I was up and ready with my second mug of tea before that alarm went off, I am always the same for either Traditional Ferreting or Wildfowling, especially if its the first trip out of the season, my Dad said I have never changed even since my first day out in the field at the age of 2 well almost 3, on that frosty cold winters morning on a December Wednesday way back in 1974.
On this morning I had a couple of my Young Sports Ambassadors joining me, one of their Dads brought them along and was waiting for me by the gate, we set a few decoys out just for the ambiance of the morning, well sort of token really, many say the First of September is too early, I say poppycock, its the start of the season, so get out there, the old saying stands here, USE IT OR LOSE IT, now I rarely even load the gun on the early season its more of a case of the just being there for me, this Morning was all about the Young Sports and giving them a passion for Wildfowling with Conservation at their core, so a few decoys out in the pitch black of the early morning waiting for the sun to come up, the moon was full so still bright enough to see, I told the boys to practice some calling and to listen too as the marsh came to life, Young Sports Ambassador Oliver really has nailed the calling down, he is now getting quite good, look for Ollie’s Calls over on face book, both boys were as wide eyed as a kid on Christmas Eve.
The light started to come up with the first rays of the sun rising in the East, we heard the Ghost Riders in the distance, that’s the wild geese honking across the sky, a shiver went down my back, just the sound of geese makes me tingle all over, just like the first time I heard them when I was a young boy, both the boys were like cats on a hot tin roof, then the mallard started to call, so the boys laid it on thick with their Buck Gardiner Double Nasty Mallard calls, 3 mallard dropped right into their decoys, a volley of shots rang out and 2 ducks dropped into the decoy pattern, that marked the start of another great season.
I had a sword of Teal come right past me, as always I was in ore at just the sight of fowl on the wing, I never so much as raised the gun, like I said it was the just being there for me, you don’t have to shoot, I like that choice, I always have a gun with me no matter what Country Sport I am out doing, then its my choice weather to fill the game bag or not, some of the best shots I have ever taken have been with a camera not a gun, this is something I am passing down to the Young Sports, there are too many people who are just blood thirsty, this is not how I was taught, you take from Mother Natures living pantry only what you need, you also put more back than you take out, thus why I say conservation is at the core of all I do, Country Sports in its essence if practised properly is the biggest Conservation Body in the world, but like with all things those few rotten apples spoil it for the whole barrel, so I will teach my Young Sports the right way, good ethics and conservation first, only take what you need for your table, obviously pest control etc there are some exceptions to this, but again with good ethics you can find a balance.
The evening flight was a spectacular one, not a shot fired but wow what a wonderful display of wildfowl on the wing in the distance, that really was one of Mother Natures most beautiful gifts to this ole boy and indeed my Young Sports.
The next evening I went out on my own just myself and Tess that’s Dads springer Spaniel I trained, I wont wildfowl without a competent dog for retrieving and will only raise a gun in salute if I am sure I can retrieve the bird or best, I think its totally remiss of anyone going out wildfowling or even shooting pigeon over standing crop if you don’t have a competent dog to retrieve what you shoot.
Tess and I nestled down in some reeds next to the river, no decoys just field craft, my calls the gun and 6 cartridges and me, we sat there completely submerged in Mother Nature, a kingfisher came and sat on the post next to me and was gone as fast as it came, swans, coots, moorhens past us by none the wiser I was there, I heard a ripple and slowly cast my eyes across stream, there was the big dog otter hunting the margin’s, a wondrous sight to behold I telle watching old Tarka himself go past, again he was none the wiser we were there as the wind was in our favour, a barn owl quartered the field after voles etc, all this happened in complete silence not a human word was spoken, but Mother Nature sang the most beautiful spiritual song to me, I was quite contented to go to sleep right there leant against that post by the river, like I had done so many times before.
As the light fell I could hear those Wild Ghost Riders echoing across the marsh, then I saw them they were coming right at me along the river, the dog looked like she was on charge with her batteries almost full ready to go, they came right over me not twenty yards up, I did not even raise the gun, nor even close the breach, I was again in ore at the sight and sound of these magnificent Ghost Riders, my senses fully awake watching them fly by sounding their horns as they came and went in that fleeting moment, the dog did not seem so pleased, I did not need a goose for my table, I still have one in the freezer from last season, so I wont replace it until that one is gone, probably for Christmas Dinner.
We don’t have many geese round these parts so I harvest them very conservatively, I then started to hear Teal and Wigeon going past high over head, they were heading for the big splash in the flooded pasture just over the way, their whistles and pips talking to my very soul as their whistling wings played an enchanting tune of far off distant lands, I heard a chuckle of mallard in the distance, so I got on my double reed call, a bit of a lazy hen with a few feed chatters, then there they were, they circled me so I chuckled again on my call, this time I flicked a little grain I had in my pocket from feeding my pheasants, this made a rippling effect like ducks feeding in the margins, they saw it alright, in they dropped slipping air paddles down wings set, as they sort of froze in the air I mounted the gun, came up through the green head, tail, body, beak, bang, he dropped to my shot not 20 yards away, the hen already on her way down tried to gain height, but to late I was already on her, I swung through and she folded to my shot, I sent Tess on to retrieve my Fresh Wild Mallard that I had just harvested from Mother Natures Pantry, she did so in fine style, there were more coming our way but I was happy to watch them fly by, I had all I needed for my table, the night fell and Tess and I left the marsh none the wiser we were there, all I will say the plum sauce went beautifully with those wild duck and I and the dog were stuffed after eating them.
A week or so later a couple of novices persuaded me to take them out and show them the ropes, have you got a competent dog for retrieving was my question, Yes came their answer, he is mustard and we have a young dog in training too they said, well I got them out on an evening flight, I put them in position with their decoys, I went a little ways over, more so as a viewing station rather than to shoot, they shot at duck way out of range, this is the sign of a very poor wildfowler or indeed shooter, by the time I had got back to say stop shooting at wildfowl out of range and well give them some stern advice, alas a brace of unfortunate mallard had been dropped on to the far bank of the river, I only say this as the dog that was supposed to be mustard was not, it was as about as much use as a chocolate fire guard, in actual fact it was scared stiff of the duck, I could hear lots of shouting at the poor thing that had no clue what to do as I walked over to these poor excuse for Country Sports practitioners, couple that with throwing the young dog in the water several times, until it retrieved the dead duck by accident more than anything else, I packed them up very early, lets just say I wont be having them out again with me, they are a disgrace to the sport, like I say rotten apples spoil barrels.
A few nights later I took one of my top Young Sports out wildfowling as a guest of a friend in South Somerset, he has some wonderful splash ponds and flooded grass areas, they had literally just cut the maize too, Young Sports Ambassador Harry was so excited, Harry is one of those young men who really gets it, he has great ethics and is keen to learn, we set up a few decoys for evening flight and tucked down into the reeds to await the wildfowl, we chatted like a couple of old friends, he told me of some plans for his wood working, oh if you want to see some of this lads amazing artisan wood working skills look for Woods By Harry on Face Book, then I heard it the distant chuckle of Mallard, Harry started calling on his Buck Gardiner Double Nasty mallard call, like a dream they dropped into the decoys, paddles down, wings set, whiffling on their way in, Harry mounted the gun swung through and nailed a perfect right and left right on the button, both duck were retrieved by my Dads Springer Spaniel Tess, the one I wrote about in my gun dog training article for Eley Out Doors, there were many more duck flighting this night and it was a pleasure to watch them, I asked harry how many do you need for the table, he said two for him and one for his grandad, another pair dropped in I said take just one more then and he did with his second barrel in fine style, he missed with the first shot, swung through as it flared and dropped it cleanly with his second shot, even if I say so myself that really was a cracking shot.
The next trip out was with my Ole Dad and his springer spaniel Tess, I now have a young Cocker Spaniel called Goose, he is in training and only now 7 months old, I brought him along for the experience and to just sit and watch Tess work as well as get used to all the sights, sounds and smells of the marsh, I was graciously invited to go shoot some flooded grassland alongside the marsh, Dad was invited too, I would not of gone otherwise, you see I don’t yet have a competent dog yet for the retrieving, like I say Goose is only a young pup, Tess is fully trained, I know I trained her and at 3 years old I must say she is brilliant, but alas she is not my dog, she is my Dads, you know I really find it so remiss of people not having a competent dog if they go out wildfowling or indeed shooting pigeons over standing crops, I wont go on about that here as I wrote about it in my last article for the magazine, Dirty Pigeon Shooters.
So there I am with my Ole Dad sat behind our duck blind, decoys out and dogs sat to heal, Goose had his New Jack Pyke hunting coat on to keep him warm, Tess insisted on getting in the pic with Dad and I, Dad’s first shot was a wood pigeon that came flighting out of the grain barn across the field, I do have to go back and deal with a pigeon problem in that barn but that’s for another day, the light started to fade and the first whistling wings were heard over head, I started calling very gently, I didn’t want to blow the duck into another County, sometimes less is more especially when it comes to game calling, a mallard turned in from way off, I gave a few clucks of the feed chatter and in he dropped in, wings set paddles down, Dad mounted, one shot he was on the water belly up, Tess was sent in and she retrieved it in fine style I might add, we saw lots of duck that flight and Geese in the distance, just as we were about to retire for the evening a brace of mallard dropped right in unseen, as they lifted Dad mounted swung through like a well oiled machine, both duck fell belly up in the decoys, I sat there as wide eyed as I did as a boy watching him shoot, he just makes it look so effortless, this was one of those Father and son memory moments, he just looked at me and said are you going to take the dog out to retrieve them or not boy, nothing changes there then, I have been the TV remote and game retriever since I could remember, I would not have it any other way.
Tilly that is Goose’s Mum, we have rescued her too, she is coming along very nicely, the pair of them are little scamps too, Cocker spaniels what characters they really are, I spend a lot of time now just sitting and watching quietly with these Cocker’s, sometimes I call wildfowl so they get used to the sounds, I let them watch the ducks and geese drop in and fly over without raising a gun, I have never trained a cocker before, but I believe this brings a steadiness to their training, also for me like I said its the being there to just sit and stare, although I always have a gun with me, now days I enjoy the spectacle of it all I suppose, the becoming one with nature, if I do choose to take some bounty from Mother Natures living pantry, I do so, with a clear mind and good ethics, something I memorised many years ago as a boy from inside The Shooting Times front cover, it was from King George the VI, I think, it read, the wildlife of today is not ours to dispose of as we please, we have it in trust, we must account for it to those who come after.
I am also in Sporting Gun again this month, well sort of, its from a letter to the editor, I must thank Stuart Baker for writing in, I am glad you enjoyed the September Issue of Sporting Gun and their bio on me, your words are too kind mucker, but as always I do my very best to teach and inspire not just the Young Sports but all, I truly believe that old school teachings, ethical best practices with conservation at its core, really is how it should be done, as I always say education is the key, but in many cases like the rotten apples the old saying stands, you cant educate pork and you cant put brains in a billiard ball, I will say folks go buy the Sporting Gun its a brilliant read, Matt and his team do a great job to produce such an all round Country Sports Magazine.
I hope you enjoyed my scribbles as much as I enjoyed writing them, the full moon the last couple of months have been fantastic, but now I await the November Moon for with it comes the migratory fowl and the marsh will be alive with quacks, whistles and honks of far off magical distant lands, I may then take something for my table of indeed the Christmas Feast.
Stay safe and well one and all at this ghastly time of our second lock down, keep your chins up for The Wildfowl are Coming On The November Full Moon.
Whistling Wings Under The Moon Light Part 2
By The Ole Hedge Creeper