Magic on the foreshore
The first day of the wildfowling season is no Glorious Twelfth, says George Downing — it’s even better for those who love the sport
As the engine fell silent, Wigeon looked up at me sharply from the passenger footwell, her ears pricked, her eyes expectant. The green glow of the digital display on the dashboard read 04:30. Our last wildfowling trip on 20 February had marked the end of the 2016-2017 season and the start of a long summer of rest, punctuated only by a few days of pigeon decoying and rough shooting. But the wait was over: 1 September had finally arrived and we were once again venturing out into that magical place between high and low water, between day and night, where and when the wildfowl flight.
Much of my wildfowling is done with only Wigeon by my side, but today I was joined by photographer Sarah Farnsworth, whose remit was to commit the morning to film and capture some of the essence of wildfowling on the foreshore. The conditions seemed good as we pulled on waders and shouldered our respective equipment. Good for photography that is, for the night sky was full of stars and the wind barely moving the tips of the rushes.
When it comes to fowling, the best conditions are often the foulest; a strong wind or perhaps a snow squall. However, as we began the half a mile or so walk along the coastal path, a thin veil of mist hung above the low water channel beside us.
This far up the estuary, a short distance from Westbury-on-severn, the river Severn is only perhaps 100 yards wide at low water, stretching out to around a quarter of a mile at the top of the tide. With high water having passed earlier that morning, there was no concern of the legendary Severn bore catching us unexpectedly. This phenomenon has been a blessing to me in the past as it disturbs birds with its wake, sending them fleeing up river to seek out more sheltered areas and, on occasion, providing the chance of a shot.
We arrived at the location I had previously identified as a likely spot to find a duck where a nearby dyke empties out into the edge of the river. Despite only being a trickle, such fresh water outlets often draw in ducks that use it as a place to freshen up away from the salty foreshore.
Drawing in the duck
After negotiating my way down the steep, rocky bank separating the reedbeds above and the muddy estuary floor below, I arranged a couple of strings of decoys which might just pull a duck closer, should we see any. A vast spread of decoys was not necessary — the effect I was aiming for was simply to draw any duck we might see a little closer, away from its usual flightline along the centre of the river channel, to just within range.
Orion’s outline was fading fast in the growing glow of the eastern sky as I settled down on the water’s edge and started to tune myself into the noises of the estuary at first light. I hoped the great huntsman might bring me some luck, as surely
I would need some on this beautiful but inauspicious morning.
While 1 September is the start of the wildfowling season, it is a far cry from the fanfare of the Glorious Twelfth. In contrast, the foreshore may seem a quiet place at the start of the season, devoid of the whistles
“When it comes to fowling, the best conditions are often the foulest; strong wind or a snow squall”
SHOOTING TIMES & COUNTRY MAGAZINE • 17
George takes a shot at first light on the first day of the wildfowling season on the Severn estuary