The hounds of heaven
Shooting Times & Country|September 23, 2020
The hounds of heaven
Even after 30 years of pursuing wild geese, the thrill to get under these magical birds remains as strong as ever for Simon Garnham
Simon Garnham

On the first day of the new season, my wildfowling mucker, George Avery, and I watched skein upon skein of greylag and Canada geese flighting off the stubbles. The geese were drawn, seemingly irresistibly, to three huge inland lakes just down the Essex coast from my home.

These gravel pits are still quarried and as such are off-limits for shooters. They cover an area of about 40 acres and are an ideal resting place for the great grey armies that fill the skies like the “hounds of heaven”, as the incomparable Denys Watkins-Pitchford, aka BB, described them.

George and I have permission to wildfowl over a nearby tidal creek, which runs for about a mile and a half parallel to the gravel pits some half a mile to the south. Many of the skeins passed overhead and we estimated that well in excess of 1,000 birds were using the quarry area when we watched, awestruck, on 1 September. Most birds approached the inland lakes from out to sea but some seemed to be using our creek as a waymark and we noted the lines.

Our flight on the first was excellent. Mallard, teal and wigeon all sped along the creek, providing testing sport for us with our 12-bores and light loads. But the real thrill was in seeing the geese. They curled across the sunset and silhouetted themselves against the huge September moon. Goose fever hit hard and we resolved to return with something heavier and befitting of the ultimate wildfowling quarry as soon as we could.

So it was that on a breezy autumn afternoon we met again on the sea wall, George with his Browning Gold 10-bore semi-auto and I with my Basque 10-bore side-by-side, both with 3½in chambers. Using Gamebore’s Mammoth 42g tungsten matrix No 3s, we felt reasonably well equipped, knowing it to be a hard-hitting and effective load. The price per cartridge is a useful reminder not to shoot at anything on the edges of range, which, given the heights of some of the skeins we’d seen earlier in the week, was worth remembering. At somewhere approaching £5 per shot, it made economic as well as ethical sense.

The sun was touching the edges of the western horizon as we picked our way along the base of the sea wall. Inquisitive Red Poll cattle greeted us, which we were able to return to the correct side of their fence and apply a running repair to the barbed wire. Redshank, dunlin and plover picked over the dropping tide line and, from the far side of the creek, a motor boat drifted in to shore in the last of the rapidly falling water. All was quiet.

The afternoon’s breeze calmed, settling the waters and slowing the distant wind turbines.

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September 23, 2020