While I don’t usually like to shoot my own pond until later in the season so that I can be sure of wigeon and pintail, some ponds nearer the coast can have great sport much earlier on with mallard and teal. Last night, I was invited to shoot at a pond just over a mile inland from the Solway Firth and three miles west of Brow Well, where I used to shoot pink footed geese as a fresh faced teenager. There were already some large clouds of pink footed geese gathering over the water as I drove the car through Dumfries and down along the coast road, looking over to Criffel where we had the big fire in March. I’m told that the heather is coming back strongly, and while I haven’t been back up yet, other members of the syndicate say it looks promising for the future –
Anyway, the pond we were due to shoot was accessed through three wet, rushy fields, and we walked them up with dogs on the way out. As expected, there were several snipe, but all rose too far infront to give a real chance of a shot. It was Scoop’s first attempt at walked up shooting on strange land, and it was quite impressive to see how seriously she took it. She’s no longer a puppy, although she couldn’t resist hoovering up a great dollop of sheep shit when she thought I wasn’t watching.
Once at the pond, we settled down to wait in the rushes. It was hardly a pond at all – more of a mushy, flooded sore in the field. Where there wasn’t water, there was mud, and where there was grass, it concealed a treacherous gel of mud and water. A pretty uninviting spot for human beings, but total paradise for ducks. The narrow moon rose up over the invisible sea, and the flat ground stretched off in every direction, the level horizon being broken here and there by willows and birches growing out of the ditches along the margins. The huge bulk of Criffel loomed over us from the other side of the Nith as the first stirrings of activity took place over the pond.
Snipe began to pass overhead, high up and skreiking noisily. Some headed out to sea, while others seemed to look curiously at the pond as they passed. With a hair raising whizz, one skimmed past my ankle and fluttered invisibly to a standstill on the mud of the pond. Another blurred past Scoop‘s ear and joined the first. During ten minutes, thirty or forty snipe had come scything into the pond, and not one of them had been more than a foot above the ground as they passed me. It made for quite an exciting experience, like being shot at with tiny feathered bullets. While I knew that they would never be so clumsy as to hit me, I did raise an eyebrow after feeling the air move on my face as one passed particularly close.
Just with the last spark of daylight, the duck began to come in. For ten minutes, the gloom was packed with whirring, whistling shapes. I brought down two mallard and quickly reloaded while Scoop pounded into the sloppy mud to pick them. Then a small party of teal came hissing over my shoulder and I just caught up with one as it turned against the silver moon, folding him up and bringing him down to earth with a bump. I fired several other shots and managed another teal, but it was more than enough just to feel the birds slashing by just feet away.
There is a true magic to flighting duck, and it’s probably the most electrifying type of game shooting. It demands the best of every human sense – hearing being so crucial that your ears become antennae in the darkness. The rushing, frantic bodies stir up a frenzy as they race and soar through the night, and as they pass nearby, the silhouettes reveal themselves for a fleeting second that would shame a pheasant. The only thing missing last night was the spine tingling growl of wigeon coming in to land – while there was no shortage of teal, the only duck I heard calling was a mallard, who “creeped” hoarsely as it passed high above. There’s more to come for this winter’s wildfowling season, but it would be hard to imagine a better way to kick it off.