Full Marks
Shooting Times & Country|September 25, 2019
Full Marks
Connecting with a bird is tough enough but marking where it falls — particularly if it’s pricked — can be even harder.
Richard Negus

I attended the pre-season meeting of one of the wildfowling clubs of which I am a member. I find these occasions an unexpected joy. Important topics are discussed. Reports from the club’s wardens on the general wellbeing of the flora and fauna, ponds, splashes and sea walls on their patch are given. This minutiae of marsh, mud and wildfowl is for me, and the other ruddy-faced brotherhood of the foreshore, the very essence of being. One topic briefly debated from a question raised by a member was: “Should having a dog be a mandatory requirement for those shooting?” After a brief discussion it was agreed that on some parts of our club’s land it was essential, but in others it was permissible to shoot without.

For those who do shoot without a dog it was universally agreed imperative that shot birds were properly marked and picked as quickly as possible. Marking birds while wildfowling is no mean feat. You are largely shooting in the gloom or under the moon. The weather will (with luck) be foul, horizontal sleet and a gale for preference.

This combination of low light and precipitation plays tricks on the human eye, particularly when judging distance. Allied to this we frequently have the waving seas of reeds, tracts of tidal mud or plains of samphire and ooze on the saltings. These places are by their very nature devoid of obvious features. So how do you mark a downed duck or a grassed goose effectively?

The more you practise, the more accomplished you become. It is imperative therefore to build a depth of knowledge in wildfowl behaviour, both while they are in flight and when they are shot. This will boost your ability to mark your birds effectively.

My chief area of expertise is that of the ‘blank day’. Therefore on those rare occasions when I am in the right place at the right time — and I remember to shoot straight — I am more desperate than most to ensure I mark what I hit, and know where to send my dog to retrieve my bird.

Last season I shot on one of the chains of drained marshes that border the Acle Straight near Great Yarmouth. I spent three hours of tantalising yet fruitless waiting while the pink feet in their massed yodelling ranks flew like wreathed smoke far away to seaward.

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September 25, 2019