Wildfowling My Introduction.
I had always had a yen for wildfowling since reading the Lincolnshire Poacher at school. Zorro my shooting mate then came over to stay the night and when I woke up in the morning he had read the whole book. I was enthralled, but my Grandfather a Lincolnshire man was full of woe and tales of wildfowlers getting cut off as the tide came in and gully’s filling in behind them and getting lost on the marshes in thick fog and there were a couple of well publicised incidents at the time on the Wash and near Morecambe so I was rather scared and put off. A neighbour was a keen shooter and I often talked to him at his garage behind the house and saw him arriving back with a few ducks etc he had a WAGBI sticker in his car, I remember wondering if I would have one of those on day. Well I guess I do all be it BASC now.
Talking to Garry at work he mentioned he went wildfowling near Southport and I asked if I could come along and watch. He looked at me as if I was certifiable. “You want to come out in the dark walk for miles carrying a load of my kit through cloying mud and lie in a freshly emptied ditch waiting for it to get light and for geese that are probably somewhere else. It’s not the shooting that’s hard it’s the getting under them.”
“Yes” I said, he agreed I could come along but that I would need waders I hadn’t got. So for a while due to mutual other hindrances it did not come off.
Some time later talking to Chris another mate from work, we are a sociable lot, I recon their must be more guns in the ambulance service than the police, mentioned he went wildfowling in Lincolnshire. My years pricked up. I asked about it and he told me there was not much walking and no chance of getting cut off, it was by the Humber. Did I want to come along as a guest and best of all wellington’s would be adequate if I was careful. Sounded just what I was looking for, and there was a good chippy a few miles up the road.
I collected my limited wildfowling gear. Ex army waterproof trousers wellies, Barbour jacket, hat and Lanber o/u. I looked in the box of ammunition that came from my Uncle Sam when his Parkinson’s had forced him to retire from shooting. I was sure I’d seen the words non toxic in there somewhere. The trip was impromptu so there was only a days notice, I found a box of 5’s in tin. Tin, that’s what beans come in, I knew nothing about tin shot only ever having used lead. I guessed they would be ok for ducks. I nipped down to my local gun shop to see what they had got. (see “Local Gun Shop”, for full story) But they hadn’t any. So tin it would have to be. I was outside Chris’s house at a reasonable hour as this was my first time we were going to arrive in day light. As we came off the motorway the sky became inky black and the heavens opened with a vengeance. Stair rods bounced down lancing through the air, wipers struggle to clear the screen. I was not looking forward to a day sat out in this. We both agreed we thought it could rain at home but not often like this. However by the time we reached our venue the sky had cleared and the sun was coming out.
We parked up by the banking and Chris let his Labrador out for a run and a play, he threw a dummy for a bit and she enjoyed the exercise and swam strongly out in a tributary of the Humber for it. From the top of the bank part of the Humber flood defences we could see the marsh spread out in the sunshine. The splashes shone, glinting silver stretching away to the brown fast flowing Humber.
We went back to the car and got our gear on. Chris had chest waders. He had a bag of mallard decoys and he waded out into a splash and unwound the weights and tossed them around the splash. Watching I hoped that walking on the marsh would be a lot less wet as he was having some trouble getting around, especially with the interest of his dog who was having a great time helping. But they looked good bobbing on the water, very encouraging.
Behind us I saw what at first looked like a small football in the water, closer inspection revealed it to be the head of a common seal, I watched it for ages and it obliged with a photo call. Immingham was just down stream and we could see large ocean going cargo ships tied up and hear the distant sounds of heavy industry and the plumes of waste gasses given of by the chemical industries drifted on the wind. Nature, industry and field sports all in coexistence.
Curlew flew around in large numbers once quarry now protected, a nice sight with their characteristic shape and call. A couple of ducks flew out as we arrived but other than that there was not much going on. We took our guns, we were both on Lanber o/u’s. We talked about lead and its alternatives of which I knew nothing but was soon becoming educated in steel, tungsten matrix, bismuth etc. But I had bit of education to impart as Chris had not heard of tin shot. I wonder why.
We had a walk around, the wellie’s were fine which, was a relief and I was enjoying being wildfowling. A few ducks in small groups passed up the river but well out of range and I asked Chris would he put the dog in to retrieve a duck. He replied no, so it was academic anyway, no point shooting something we couldn’t recover, any shots would have to result in the quarry falling on the marsh.
We went back to the car and fished out the stove sparked it up and got a brew on. It was fantastically satisfying to sit by the stove sheltered from the wind waiting for the kettle to boil. The first thing I noticed was the stuff that gets washed up. I need to get into the safety hat business, where do all those hard hats come from. Gas cylinders, plastic drums of all capacities holding god knows what and definitely best left undisturbed, tyres, pallets, rope and that’s just the start.
The pallets would make the basis of a good hide providing structure and some wind protection and there is the temptation to use a drum as a nice handy seat, but what are you sitting on, and when my multiple stone compresses it if the cap leaked you could get your bum burned quite literally. I hadn’t done much shooting lately and just to be out with good company and in my shooting gear, gun near by cartridge belt heavy round my waist, it’s the whole experience and I realised how much I had missed it and perhaps some other things were not as crap as I had thought. It’s all about perspective.
This line of chat dried up with a hot mug of tea and a couple of biscuits, isn’t everything better outdoors. We went back onto the marsh and waddled over to the Humber, what a river it is, about a mile wide at this point the tide was on the ebb and water hurtled past on its brown journey to the sea. A pilot boat was ploughing its quick way up stream to take another load of our exports away.
We settled down in a little eddy cut stoney bottomed bay in the river bank the Humber about eight feet below us and the marsh about three feet height at our backs and waited in case a few ducks flew down the edge of the water.
We chatted watched the boats, ate chocolate and waited for the evening to come. Dog muddy legged and wet bellied resting against our legs.
There was a disturbance above us and an excited chocolate lab arrived, we looked up and Steve was there, he had answered Chris’s post on the internet for someone to introduce him to wildfowling and hence we were there today. We said hello and he asked if I wanted to join the club as there was a space. He was very approachable and encouraging of getting more people shooting and enjoying other avenues within the sport. Later I did become a member and still am today after a couple of years away in another club but perhaps more of that another time. The day went on and the tide went out leaving a deep muddy bank down to the water, a few waders padded about feeding and the odd ducks flew about out of range.
“Brew time” said Chris and we nipped off back to the car, the wind had changed and we settled behind the car this time, occasional people came parked and set off along the breakwater with their dogs most seemed to ignore us, a couple scrutinised these two men in DPM sitting engaged in the dangerous pursuit of drinking tea in the open air.
We packed up and went back on the marsh the light was just starting to fade as we settled ourselves on a bank side overlooking the decoys. We were close enough to chat quietly. Hopefully down in the long grass we were quiet well concealed. Far out over the skitter an owl was hunting up and down in an organised patrol looking for a meal. The light continued to fade, the decoys looked good clear against the lighter water.
Bang, Chris fired, I had seen nothing. “No” he Said “Missed”
Chris had a couple of more shots to no result I began to wonder about my eye sight as I had not seen anything. As I looked round the owl appeared, right in front of me, face to face a yard away we must have both been surprised, he banked away. It was fantastic right up close, me hunkered down in the grass and that lovely silent bird flying.
I whispered what had happened to Chris. The light was going fast now. Bang, splash, Chris had fired again, “Fetch” he said and a big splash as Holly dived into the water, it took her a few minutes but then back she came with a teal. Something very quick that I took for a teal whizzed past me. Bang, no splash. But I felt I’d hit it and I didn’t see it clear the bank against the lighter sky. Chris sent Holly out and this time she returned empty mouthed, he sent her out again and after a lot of hunting and ploughing through the rough grasses and old nettles she returned with a common snipe. Well tin works on something then. By now it was really dark with no moon and we decided to call an end to my first wildfowling experience.
So wildfowling comes in many guises, simple easy days like today and the more arduous, with long marches across mud flats demanding a whole different set of skills and knowledge. It had been great I would definitely do some more.