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

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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”


Ge­orge takes a shot at first light on the first day of the wild­fowl­ing sea­son on the Sev­ern es­tu­ary

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