Money well spent

Shooting Times & Country|June 17, 2020

Money well spent
Paying a guide to put you under geese lacks the joy of finding birds yourself but it can still be a fine experience, writes Jamie Tusting
Jamie Tusting

A couple of years ago, on a rather grey October afternoon, I was trudging around Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis with my good friend Will Martin, looking for the local goose guru. After knocking on a few wrong doors, we found him. Despite a bottle of Scotch as a peace offering, he looked at us rather suspiciously, gave us only a whisper of his knowledge then closed the door.

Disheartened, we went to fill up the car at Engebret’s, a petrol station cum-gun dealer (perhaps the only place in the country you can get a full tank and a slab of cartridges). The £30 we spent on fuel and pick’n’mix led to a far more productive conversation than the one we’d had earlier, and after half an hour of talking geese with Engebret’s owner, we had gathered vital intelligence about the best spots around Stornoway.

Goose behaviour

Despite studying animal behaviour at university, the behaviour of geese remains a bit of a mystery to me. I’m sure there are wildfowlers out there who could major on the flight lines, grazing and roosting patterns of geese, and I take my hat off to them. My experiences to date have depended on guesswork, little snippets of local knowledge, and a large dose of luck.

In Stornoway, the geese graze on the grassland around the estuary during the day. Then, when it gets too dark to see any predators coming, they fly out and roost in the middle of the estuary. But pinpointing them was difficult. It often felt like we were trying to crack a code and unearth the secrets of their movements, using any morsel of information and plotting at length the night before a morning flight, trying to decipher the pattern.

Over the course of a week in Stornoway, we managed to shoot 26 geese between four of us, all of them plucked on the island and taken back to the mainland where they kept us fed for weeks. It was amazingly good fun but there were a few mornings we retreated for a coffee with nothing to show for our early start except cold toes, cursing the geese that had once again chosen a flight path different from the one we thought they’d choose. These failures were followed with more recons and often another fruitless attempt.

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June 17, 2020