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General > Wildfowling Diary - February 2009
Wildfowling Diary - February 2009
Join the Paddlesdown Wildfowling Team chasing Ducks and Geese on the foreshore

STILL TO COME -  20th February!!

 

19th February

 

Plan for today was to head back round to the South Solway with a big spread of 60 goose decoys to see if we could bring in range the Pinks we’d seen working the back of the marsh a couple of days ago. It was a very early start as it would take us some time to haul and set up this number of decoys. We did have an extra pair of hands in the form of Andrew Walker from Flambeau, we are working with Andrew to produce bespoke Pinkfoot, Greylag and Wigeon Decoys for the UK and he’d come along with us as a non-shooting observer so he could learn a bit about wildfowling.

 

Unlike the previous morning our arrival was not heralded with geese talking out on the sands and as we made our way over the marsh under a heavy load it was silent, dead silent! We worked as quickly as possible to get the deecs set before the sky behind us started to lighten, if there were geese close in on the roost they’d possibly pick up our movement and we wanted to avoid this. We set up a mix of 40 shell geese and 20 or so Texas Rags which looked OK and a decent breeze gave nice movement to the rags and also to a some shells I’d set up on home made Motion Stakes.

 Goose Decoys

  

With all the deecs set up Sam and myself (the two shooters) dropped into a nearby gutter together with Andrew. I sent Stephen a short way up to our left, just under the line a couple of skeins of Pinks had taken a couple of days before.

 Wildfowler cooks breakfast

Teal sneaks in and gets ready to pinch a sausage from Head Chef, Sam!

 

 

Well I don’t think it matters how you try to tell it, the plain fact was there were no geese, well at least no Grey Geese, on the roost and morning flight never happened. We waited on the marsh until noon and the only thing to buzz the deecs was a couple of skeins of Barnacles. During the late morning there had been an interesting movement of Pinks with many big skeins flighting from the West and heading North East – they came over us but nearly a couple of hundred yards high.

 

17th February – evening

 

We headed south from the Solway for evening flight to one of Westmorland Wildfowlers marshes, we knew that a 150 or so Greylags and a handful of Canada’s were feeding up the river and we were confident we’d get under them at evening flight.

 

Walking up the Sea Wall to our chosen place it certainly was not wildfowling weather – flat calm and warm, just like a spring day. We made a few stops to admire the scenery, glass the marsh and also so that I didn’t “heat up” in my Neoprene Chest Waders! Half way to our place a tool in a Helicopter buzzed the marsh and we saw the geese lift from a place just a couple of hundred yards inland from our intended hiding place, they circled a few times and then settled again half a mile inland – would this scupper our plans?

 

Sunset - Young Wildfowler

  

Sam and I decided to split up and as the sun started to set and left him putting a bit of camo net over the fence where the merse met the sand. It was an amazing sunset with the Lake District Hills behind a deep red glow and we spent a few minutes trying to get a few decent pictures for the album before I went on my way. Stephen had come along with us in a non-shooting capacity and I left him to supervise Sam.

 

I carried on a further 250 yards, over a small gutter and then settled down up against the bank edge with Teal tucked in next to me. I put 3 x 3.5” Steel BB’s in the semi and laid my calls down next to me, I’d brought along the new Flambeau Canada Goose Flute for a trial, lets hope it sounds as good to the Canada’s as it does to me?

 

I really didn’t have long to wait before a skein of 30 or so Grey’s lifted from the fields and headed our way, I gave them a call and they turned in my direction. They came on towards me reasonably high but shootable and as they came within range I rolled over so that I could get onto my knees. At the point Teal, unusually for him, jumped onto the bank top and the Geese flared away. I quickly took the only chance open to me which was a long single shot at the end goose and I was over the moon when it fell stone dead from the alarmed skein. Teal almost made up for his error with a fast and neat retrieve of the huge Greylag.

 

Light was still pretty good when I heard the mellow calling of Canada’s so I responded with the Flambeau Last Goose Flute Call. I was probably a bit optimistic as, unlike the Greys which roost close to my hide, the Canada’s flight and roost a way off to my left so I was not really on the flight line. Right enough they showed no interest but I could see that they were heading straight for Sam’s hidey hole. The Canada’s were in two skeins numbering about 60 and probably only 15 yards high as they neared Sam. I watched and just hoped he got a shot and got it right, I knew how excited he would be, the poor lad was desperate to get a goose and he’d put hours in after the birds but I feared that he’d “panic” and fluff the shot. Then it came, the geese flared and I expected to see one drop, the shot rang out, then another shot and then the third but nothing came down – the poor lad must have been gutted.

 

I didn’t wait much longer before heading back to Sam, I thought he’d need a chat to help “lift him” but when I arrived he was in good humour and not concerned. Sam was chuffed that he’d had the excitement of the anticipation and the shot and just a bit frustrated he’d missed. He reckoned that his first shot had chucked out a load of un-burnt powder and this had gotten into his eyes and spoilt his last two shots when he’d have expected to settle himself and connect. We sat together for a while until it was to dark to shoot and then headed back to the vehicle on what felt like a summers night which was in total contrast to the snow and deep freeze we experienced the previous week.

 

17th February - morning

 

Today’s cunning plan was to visit one of the less popular marshes in search of the geese, the only problem was that the marsh is no longer popular because there are never any geese there! However we thought that an odd bunch would turn up there and if that was the case the fact they’d not been overshot may mean they’d decoy? We also intended staying on the marsh until mid-day with our decoys in the hope that we’d pick up geese disturbed on the fields or the other marshes.

 

Sam and I readied the Goose Decoys and loaded those up together with our clothing, food and other essentials the previous night so that when the alarm rang at 0400 we only had to grab breakfast, dog and guns. Stephen was travelling up with us and we got away smack on time and arrived on our chosen South Solway marsh well ahead of schedule just over an hour later.

 

Much to our surprise we could hear a fair bit of goose noise out on the sands so prospects were maybe better than we had imagined and that inspired us to get our gear on and head across the marsh a bit earlier than I’d normally have done. This proved to be a good move as putting out 60 goose decoys on the merse to a bit longer than expected. I’d brought a mix of 30 Sportplast and Flambeau Shells and we supplemented these with 30 Texas Rags which moved well on a small breeze and looked good in the half light. Our decoys had been set up in an area covered in a substantial carpet of fresh goose droppings but experience told me these would probably be Barnacle droppings whilst optimism tried to tell me there may be a few Pinks with them! Wildfowlers need bucket loads of optimism!!

 

Sleeping wildfowler

 

With deecs set up Sam. Stephen and myself dropped back into a nearby creek, Sam and I laid back to wait for the sound of geese on the wing. I do prefer to have a hide to myself or just Sam as company but as Stephen is still a probationary member of the club I have to keep him with me so this left us a bit crowded and difficult to conceal. Stephen rather annoyingly spent to much time “looking” and showing his upper body, bobbing up and down, this must have stuck out like a sore thumb and I’m sure that cost us geese that morning. When on a bit of really exposed flat ground like this I’ve learnt to lay down and listen for geese, call them as needed and judge range by sound then only peeping out when I feel they are in range and “committed”. If I want to glass the area with the bino’s or watch birds then I do so by showing as little of myself as slowly as possible and just “peeping” over the top of the gutter.

 

The first lot of Pinks to flight went straight down the main channel and turned in over the RSPB reserve. The second and third skeins sounded like a better prospect as they headed in over the sands but Stephen stood bolt upright with bino’s in hand must have looked like a huge sign saying “DANGER” and it was not surprising when they came off high to our left – I did point this out in my usual subtle way!

 Wildfowler Hiding 

 

 

Those three skeins constituted the main flight off our place and as all went quiet Sam and I brewed up a cup of Tea and cooked breakfast on a little cooker. It was now time to settle in and wait, we had come to this spot as we expected small bunches to be disturbed inland or on other marshes and some would probably “work” our marsh through the morning.

 

The first geese to look likely candidates came up the sands from the East but as they came close their disorganised flight suggested they were Barnacles and as they closed in their yapping call could be clearly heard. Nevertheless we kept low as Sam wanted to decoy them and see them close up and, in any case, experience told me there can sometimes be a Pink or two with them. Those Barnies sailed straight into the decoys and hovered over them which was great for Sam to see and almost as good as the “real thing”. Another party of Barnacles followed them, this bunch numbered about 150 and again they decoyed and hung over the decoys for a while before swinging round and attempting to shit on us as they went over – much to Sam’s amusement they missed us by inches with three “bombs”.

 

Geese into the decoys

We had heard a bit of shooting on Border and Newton suggesting a few other lads had stayed on with decoys and this seemed to have moved the geese around as a couple of skeins came from that direction and headed our way. They were pretty high and did not look like they’d decoy but directly overhead they may give Sam a shot. Sam was tooled up with 3” 40g Hevi Shot 3’s whereas Stephen and I only had 3.5” Steel BB’s which would run out of energy. I managed to persuade Sam to give me two of his Hevi Shot loads which I slipped into the semi but it proved to be in vain as the geese were just too high to take a sensible shot and they went on unmolested but at least they’d got the heart rate going.

 

The next lot came from inland, a skein of about 20, and these looked very promising as they came on in a haphazard manner. I gave them a call and they turned before setting their wings for the decoys and glided in just 10 yards off the ground. As usual Stephen had been stood up and as the geese headed in he messed about moving his gun and settling in. About 60 yards out and set straight for the deecs they crossed the end of our creek and this left us exposed for a short time and they obviously saw the movement and out came the warning call and they flared away – very, very frustrating. However it was a valuable lesson for young wildfowler Sam, he’d seen for himself how to decoy and call the geese and the how a lack of concealment or a little movement could destroy the good work.

 wildfowler and decoys

 

Late morning I had headed back to the motor to get some more food and left Sam and Stephen to move some decoys around a wee bit. As I headed back to them I could see 3 Pinks heading straight into the deecs on set wings and only 20 yards high. Sam and Stephen were stood in the deecs with guns close by so I shouted and blew my goose call to get their attention. Stephen saw the geese but rather than dropping down and staying still he ran across to the creek and this told the geese just what they needed to know as they flared away – a good opportunity wasted. When I arrived back I gave them my traditional bollocking – always make sure one of you keeps lookout and if birds come don’t move.

 After morning flight - wildfowling

 

We stayed on the marsh with the deecs until one o’clock and though we saw a fair few geese none attempted to decoy. Some dropped into a field a couple of hundred yards away just over the back of the marsh and it proved impossible to tempt incoming geese away from their mates. Having decided to pack up and arrived back at the vehicle the usual thing happened – a skein of about 50 Pinks came in low and flew straight over the gutter we had just left…..

 

The plan was now to have a drive round the marshes to see what might be about and then head down to the Kent Estuary for evening flight. Travelling around the marsh we saw plenty of Barnacles and a few Pinks mixed in with them, I noticed that this year there seemed to be more white Barnies that usual? Now it was off down to the Kent for evening flight, but that’s another story..

 

 

16th February

 

Stephen and I had planned a morning flight on the South Solway and it was his turn to drive so it would be my turn to sit back and relax! I’d readied all my gear the night before so as soon as Stephen arrived at 0445 Teal and I were ready for the off.

 

We had a good run up to the marsh and going by Car rather than my Landrover saved us 10 minutes which was just as well because as we arrived at the marsh others were turning up so that meant Geese! We had a quick chat at the motors and that confirmed 5-6000 Pinkfeet were in which was a substantial increase on the last time we’d shot this marsh 2 weeks previously.  Apparently the geese were flighting early which was good for me as I needed to be home by 10.00 to collect Sam from a friend’s house.  We headed straight out and into small creek just back from the main channel and the other guys headed down to our right.

 

It was an overcast morning, light dawned slowly and unfortunately there was very little wind to encourage the geese to fly low. At first light the lapwings started to move followed by flights of gull heading inland. The first Pinkfeet started to flight fairly late, they were roosting way back on the Scottish Side of the Solway and they made the long flight low over the sands. However as they reached the channel of the Eden they started to rise, and rise until they were generally well out of gunshot. They flighted in over the high bank, across the marsh road, over the sea wall and then rained down into the fields just a fairly short distance behind us. An initial small flight gave way to the main flight and what a sight as skein after skein swarmed in low over the sands before organising themselves into battle formation for the risky journey over the waiting guns. Today they all but had the beating of the 8 or so wildfowlers who lay in wait, I heard 2 or 3 shots down the marsh and saw nothing drop although I heard later that Eddie Nixon, an exceptionally good wildfowler & goose shot, had dropped one with a single shot from his Greener 8 bore. Stephen and I didn’t get a shot but we were privileged to see a fantastic flight so that made it worth while

 

15th February 2009

 

This morning it was back to the scene of the previous day’s excellent flight but this time 30 minutes earlier and kitted out with 26 shell goose decoys in a Flambeau Square Bottom Decoy Bag. I’d also brought along one of the new Flambeau Canada Goose Flutes for a trial run, we’d tried it at home and we rated it very highly and found it far easier to use than rumour had it. Sam and I had sorted it so that I carried the Decoys, Hide Net and Hide Poles whilst Sam took the food, cups, mess tin and cooker in his bag, between us we had a pretty heavy burden and I had a fair old sweat on when we reached our spot.

 

Sam places Goose Decoys
In the half light Sam sets out some of our Goose Decoys

It was still pitch black as we set up and sorting the heads and stands for the half dozen styles of decoys we had proved to be a pain in the backside but we got by with time to spare. We chucked a bit of net over an old fence and propped a bit more up with some short hide poles to give us a bit of cover if the geese came straight at us from the main channel. All looked good so we settled down to wait, a heavy sky meant Dawn was slow in coming so we may have a longer wait today?

 

The call of Greylags and Canada’s behind us on the feeding grounds suggested that the birds had stayed on the fields all night and as light increased so did our disappointment – we could see the geese on the fields and it looked like they had all stayed out there for the night.

 

Young Wildfowler
Sam enjoys a warm drink and a hot Burger from the Portable Stove!

We gave it an hour past the time the previous days flight had ended and nothing looked likely to happen but we hoped the Greys may come back over to the main channel for a “wash and brush up” so we decide to give it another hour. To kill time we got our little cooker out and boiled up a couple of “Burger and Beans” Army Rations for breakfast and drank a welcome cup of hot chocolate. Usually you expect the smell of food (or a loo break) to bring in the birds, somehow they know how to catch you off guard, but this would not work today. Food eaten we decided a walk up the marsh might stimulate some action but that didn’t work either. The only answer would be to pack up – that always makes the birds flight!

 

Sam collects the Goose Decoys
Sam picks up the Goose Decoys after morning flight

Sam and I started to lift the decoys and right on cue two dozen Greylags came in high and set their wings for our decoys, with us stood in the middle. We ran back to our hide and dived for cover but the damage was done and they turned away and dropped into the fields behind the Sea Wall. We continued to clear up all the decoys and took a few pictures to prove that you can get 2 dozen goose decoys in a Flambeau Square bottom Decoy Bag. As we headed to strip the hide down Sam shouted “Goose!” and we dived for cover. I looked round to see Sam stood in the hide with a big grin on his face as he pointed into the sky – at a Cormorant! Clearly he’s developed a Wildfowlers warped humour.

 

Goose Decoys and Decoy Bag
Yes, Sam can get 26 Goose Decoys, stakes, 2 Hide Nets and Hide POles in that Decoy Bag!

I’m not sure why but the walk back with a heavy load is always twice as hard as the walk out so we had to stop and rest twice. I think the pause was partly a subconscious hope that we may see, or even hear, a goose but no luck.

 

The ride home turned up a few good things, 6 Pinkfeet on a field just down the marsh lane then several hundred Grey’s dropping in close to a little used bit our Club’s ground and last of all a fantastic little Burger Van on the side of the road!

 

 

14th February 2009

 

Sam and I had laid a plan to get under 600 Pinkfeet that we had been told of by a friend who lives close to one of the Westmorland Marshes. The night before we checked our gear – calls in pockets, cartridges ready, flask cleaned, permits checked, hide net and poles into the Rucksack, Camera, Phone, Cash for diesel, map, waders ad all those other bits a wildfowler needs for a morning flight. To save time in the morning we loaded up all of our gear with the exception of our guns, I’d take my 3.5” Semi and Sam would be sticking with his 20 bore that has bagged him a fair few geese.

 

 

The alarm went off at 0430 and it was a struggle to raise Sam but I did eventually and we were on the road by 0510. A totally uneventful drive saw us land up at the marsh gate 50 minutes later and it looked like we may have the place to ourselves. It looked to be still pretty dark so to kill a bit of time we dipped into the flask and had a Hot Chocolate each. There was a noticeable lightning in the sky far earlier than we expected so it wasn’t long before we slipped into our chest waders and wildfowling jackets, lifted our rucksacks onto our bags and headed off down the sea wall with our guns over our shoulders.

 

Right away we could hear Greylags out on the mud near a bend in the river but no Pinks to be heard. The Greys actually sounded very close to our intended destination and it would be difficult to get close without disturbing them so we dropped down the back of the Sea Wall so that we had a bit of cover during our approach. That was all in vain though as the moment we tried to cover the last couple of hundred yards from the Sea Wall to the bank edge the Greys lifted from the mud down to the main channel a hundred yards away. They had now dropped into a bad spot for us as it left us 100 yards to the side of the flight line we thought they’d take and an approach to get under them would likely only cause disturbance. We decided to stick to our original plan and we set up behind a bit of old fencing over which we draped a bit of Sand Coloured Army Net.

A Goose in the bag 

Sam and I had barely settled in when we heard the call of Canada Geese out across the mudflats and to our right. I gave them a quick call and an answer came so we struck up a bit of a conversation that appeared to encourage them to head my way. Light was still not good and Sam was now in a bit of a panic, he could hear the geese, they were closing in very fast but he couldn’t see them as they came out of the shadow of the hills on the far side of the estuary. “Where are they?” said Sam, “Bloody close, so get ready” I replied – I knew they’d be on us in a flash. Then there they were, half a dozen geese 10 feet up and hurtling our way. “You shoot first” I told Sam and I readied for a shot behind as they departed. Sam lifted his gun and one goose flared, I swung through another and it tumbled out of the sky as the Steel BB’s struck home, I fired again and missed and then my third shot went off with a huge “Bloop” accompanied by a soft recoil and a huge flash of flames from the muzzle and the breech. “What’s happened Dad” said Sam, “I’ve had a blooper” I told Sam. I was covered in soot and had all sorts of rubbish left in the barrel but never mind I had a goose! Luckily I now carry a Pocket Pull Through so I was able to clear my gun barrel and just as I finished another group of Canada’s came into view. I managed to get one cartridge in and this time as I fired there was a huge bang, a flash and horrendous recoil from what appeared to be another “duff” cartridge. I checked my gun over and all appeared to be OK but I noticed the empty case was badly split with a bulged head.

 Wildfowler and dog

 

With some reservations I loaded up 3 more 3.5” loads and I’d only just done this when the next skein came past me. I lifted the gun onto an easy target and “click” – a misfire! I was not very happy! I’d had these cartridges laid around for a while and sprayed them a time or two with a well known “Gun Oil” to stop them rusting so I could only conclude this had penetrated the primers and damaged them? I had a new box of cartridges in my bag so I dug these out and set my old loads to one side.

 

 

A good flight continued and I was given two more easy opportunities at Greys and Canada’s but I was now in horrendous form and missed shots I usually take with ease. I’d like to put it down to a knock to my confidence and some hesitation after 3 duff cartridges but I suspect it was just plain bad shooting, it must happen to us all at some time?

 

One or two bunches of Greys moved about the back of the marsh and some came close enough to raise our pulse but no chances were offered. Most interesting was the sight of a single Snow Goose in amongst the Greylags. Rather than a white Greylag is was a genuine Snow with jet Black Wing Tips and the easily recognisable high pitch call – a proper wild snow, maybe not, an escapee from a wildfowl collection, probably?

 Wildfowlers Breakfast!

 

 

With the flight apparently at an end I suggested to Sam that we put the kettle on, yes that’s right – put the kettle on! I’d stuck one of the tiny Web-tex Cookers, a pan, a bottle of water, cups and hot chocolate in my Rucksack – it was all compact enough to fit in a side pocket. Brewing up occupied us for 10 minutes, it gave us time to see if anything else might move and it presented us with a few moments to sit back, “chill” and talk over an enjoyable but somewhat frustrating flight. Then, with no more action looking likely we tidied up, packed away and headed back down the marsh to the vehicle. No sight of the 600 hundred Pinks but a great flight of Canada’s and Greys on the foreshore to reflect on.

 

Early February 2009

 

The first couple of weeks in February saw me putting in time on the English Side of the Solway. I’d set my sight’s on 4 or 5 moon flights in early February but I eventually only managed a couple of moon flights and an evening. I did have high hopes of a goose but in the end I had nothing anywhere near me and I only actually saw one small family bunch which came off very low but 100 yards wide.

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