Trusting the Met Office, I made a snap decision to attempt a wigeon flight this morning. The weather has been so dire throughout December that I have failed to get down on the merse so far, and with Christmas rushing in, I needed to seize my moment. Sure enough, the forecast predicted a clear dawn which would run to heavy, battering rain by nine o’clock.
I arrived at seven thirty to find a few dozen wigeon already afloat, standing offshore and silhouetted by a pre-dawn glow. Venus blazed in the East as I crouched down in a brisk, cold wind and listened to the duck moving around. Seven or eight teal dropped in just down the creek, and twenty more passed by against the stars before I could get the gun to my shoulder. The cocks bleeped and the hens brayed with shrill, hoarse laughter as the first crows started to wake up. It is tricky to shoot this Solway backwater at high tide, and the creek lapped at my feet as I pressed back into the shelter of a fallen ash tree, waiting for a chance.
As it got lighter, redshank began to move up and down the mud and fleets of wigeon came swimming around the bend to mill and squabble, leaving dips and eddies in the salt water. My moment came when a pair of teal slashed past at head height like driven grouse, and I made a hash of the reload on my old pump action so that I only managed a single shot. The pump action fires any cartridge I choose to load and it has been an excellent companion since lead shot was banned, but in the heat of the moment the pump always feels clumsy and is easily forgotten. I find myself reaching for a second trigger and tend to end up bungling the whole process.
At the sound of the shot, a swirl of birds rose up from a wet hole on the far side of the creek where they had been hiding out of the wind. Curlews, redshank and a few greenshank coasted away inland, and a body of wigeon skimmed away over the wet grass, whooping and shrieking. Over the next half hour, I threw away a few more chances and ended with a crow in the bag as the first drops of rain started to fall.
Exactly as the Met Office had predicted, the sleety downpour began in earnest at nine o’clock, by which time I was on my way into town to see the butcher about a fry-up.