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General > "The Hunters and the Hunted" another wildfowling...
"The Hunters and the Hunted" another wildfowling experience with "Stotty"
by "Stotty", Paddlesdown Pro-staff

‘The hunters & the hunted’

 

11th October 2009:- In my own opinion, concealment and keeping still are two fundamental things a wildfowler needs to be conscious of if he is ever going to get to grips with his quarry below the seawall. During the season wildfowl develop a keen eye for the human form and the slightest movement of a fleshy face or hand will have them veering away from danger in an instant. It is so often, that in hiding himself well, the wildfowler will encounter nature at much closer quarters than your weekend bird watcher can ever envisage. The wildfowler has no need for a ‘battery’ of high magnification telescopes to identify his species. He will have already recognised the bird by its call, its silhouette or its flight pattern even in the half light of day. We are at one with our environment, absorbed by it and part of it……..The sun had just started to rise to the east of the railway viaduct. A jay ‘looped’ noisily across the estuary, seemingly mocking the world, as it flew towards the marsh gutter that I was crouched in. Vermin, it was, and an intrepid songbird egg and fledgling thief in the Spring, yet admirable in its own way with its powder pink hues and electric blue wing flashes.

Stotty
Wildfowler ready for the shot
The safety catch was thumbed in anticipation but little did I know that another ‘marsh hunter’ was watching it also. On rigid set wings and with a sound of rushing air, a peregrine was descending out of its stoop for strike at no more than 45 yards away. Amazingly the jay took evasive action and hit the salting grass in an untidy heap protesting loudly at its early morning wake up call. A missed strike, but what an incredible sight to behold. The peregrine alighted on the limestone rock face to my left seemingly unperturbed by its exertions. The jay meanwhile, cowered motionless for five minutes before apprehensively returning back across the estuary and to the wood from whence it came. Its future destiny obviously lay somewhere else. While marvelling at being a witness to such a sight, a high pitched “Wheeeeooooo” abruptly rocked me out of my deliberations. A cock wigeon was approaching from somewhere behind me but where? Rapidly scanning eyes picked out a singleton skimming the tide line, its white wing bars reflecting brilliantly against the early morning glow. With my eyes fixed, my fingers were simultaneously scrabbling blindly down the lanyard cord for the old faithful brass wigeon call that had enticed four wigeon into range on the 4th a week earlier. Long single contented Wheeeeoooo’s (the noise that resting cock wigeon make on the water) welcomed the bird just as it crossed in front. It turned straight at me, its neck craning to look to where the sound was coming from. A 25 yard ‘dolly’ of a shot, at a hanging target. Bang. A complacent miss resulted. The wigeon jinked sideways but was instantly folded onto the saltings by the more reactive and instinctive second shot. Rolo was already bounding out to the retrieve. With the bird to hand he retrieved the two empty cartridge cases that the Xtrema II had flung out.  He also likes the aroma of burnt nitro powder! He was never trained to do this but it’s a useful trait he’s acquired for collecting my empties at evening flight.  

 

Mallard tend to flight much later than the wigeon on our estuary and today followed the customary pattern. With tell tale chattering a good bunch of twenty or so had lifted from their nightly ‘stubbling’ inland. Most had flighted further along the salting, a thousand yards away, but a singleton had broken rank and followed the same line as the earlier wigeon. One can often predict whether a bird is likely to respond to a duck call. I often wait until they have ‘gone past’ before hailing them back. This was one of those opportunities. Think about it. All your mates have gone one way and you are suddenly on your own. If you heard a familiar voice behind you there’s every chance you would turn back? Can one balance human logic with wildfowl psyche? I often wonder. The Haydels DR-85 kicked out a pleading comeback note. The drake made his fateful turn and within minutes he too was lying prone on a turf of Puccinellia with a few dust grey breast feathers turning over violently in the wind across the salt marsh grass. Calling is a skill we all should all learn and practice well. Almost as the echo of the shot had faded, another drake mallard was homing in on me from the opposite direction. This one knew where he was going, the call had no effect so I stopped hailing immediately and waited. Wildfowlers Tip: Do not over call. He would cross right to left at 35 yards. The first shot didn’t compensate enough for his sheer speed and he flared upwards and back on the wind, at the shot. The quick second shot was now on target and he spiralled towards the water with a wing down. The third shot folded him dead to make sure the retrieve would be a simple one for Rolo. I always try to make sure that a visibly wounded bird is dead even if it means firing another ‘finishing’ shot at it. A true wildfowler has the utmost respect for his quarry. A diving bird can be awkward for a dog & a prolonged period of swimming in cold water can also sap the strength of your four legged companion. Wildfowlers Tip: Always hunt the tide line with your dog if a bird is wounded and lost over the water. A bird will often make its way back onto land. Two fine drake mallard and a cock wigeon now lay at the back of

Wildfowlers Bag
A good bag & a great days wildfowling
me; a bag to make any morning flight additionally special. Time ticked onwards, a whole hour in fact, during which time I’d been captivated by two pure white Little egrets hunting the tide pools for tiny landlocked fish fry. How adept they are at their profession; another bona fide hunter with a plethora of patience, stealth and lightening reactions, just like the peregrine. It was a flicker of movement and simultaneous rush from a pair of bladed wings that snapped me back into ‘fowling action again as a ‘pinnie’ hurtled past on the wind. It was an automatic reflex that lifted the muzzle swiftly passed the outstretched head, the trigger finger squeezing instinctively to send the pintail crashing lifeless into the surf in a plume of spray. Of the legal wildfowl quarry this species is the most wary and the most elusive yet this one had been brought to the bag by a ‘fowlers basic field craft…. keep down in your gutter, keep your face out of sight and above all keep still!   

 

By Stotty:- ‘Paddlesdown Pro-staff’

 

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