LESSONS LEARNED:

This month Alan tells two cau­tion­ary tales from his early sea­son wild­fowl­ing mis­sions. Even an ex­pe­ri­enced wild­fowler like him makes the odd rookie mis­take, and still learns new lessons on ev­ery trip

Sporting Shooter - - Contents - Alan Jar­rett is chair­man of the Kent Wild­fowl­ing & Con­ser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion and au­thor of sev­eral books on wild­fowl­ing

Even Alan makes mis­takes now and then

Septem­ber is when it starts. Al­most six months of sport lie ahead, with the wild­fowl­ing sea­son start­ing in balmy late sum­mer and end­ing in those grey win­ter days of late Fe­bru­ary. The sea­son is a long and fas­ci­nat­ing cam­paign, with many twists and turns along the way. Chal­lenges come and go as the sea­son un­folds and the move­ments of wild­fowl vary in re­sponse to time and tide.

Septem­ber and the early part of the sea­son seems an easy time, and in some ways it is. The salt marsh is green and vi­brant – a stark con­trast to the storm-bat­tered land­scape left be­hind last Fe­bru­ary.

The tem­per­a­ture can be op­pres­sively high, with winds warm and sooth­ing; but be­ware, for the early sea­son can fool you as eas­ily as the harder days of win­ter can.

For me there are draw­backs to early sea­son wild­fowl­ing which can out­weigh the ben­e­fits. Early morn­ings and late evenings can be tir­ing, while any amount of heavy walk­ing can re­duce you to a ball of lather!

Mos­qui­toes can haunt the marshes in clouds, and woe be­tide the wild­fowler that ven­tures forth with­out a gen­er­ous layer of ‘jun­gle-strength’ in­sect re­pel­lent. Even those days of wind and rain won’t al­ways keep them at bay.

Sear­ing hot days can of­ten turn into chilly nights. The dawn will find the marshes drip­ping wet with dew, while a low mist will on oc­ca­sion make life in­ter­est­ing!

How­ever, none of this is de­signed to de­ter you from early sea­son wild­fowl­ing, rather the re­verse, and also to en­cour­age bet­ter prepa­ra­tion.

Two of my out­ings spring to mind, where more thought and bet­ter prepa­ra­tion would have made for a more en­joy­able time. The first was on 1 Septem­ber, while the other was with Oc­to­ber just around the cor­ner.

It had been a fear­somely hot day, and ven­tur­ing out for a tide flight re­quired the min­i­mum amount of gear to carry: thigh boots and wa­ter­proof trousers of course, but apart from that noth­ing more than a camo shirt.

The gun may as well have been left at home for all the use it had been! But it was a de­light to be out again: to watch the salt marsh flood; to see the teams of waders hur­ry­ing to and fro be­fore the tide; to spy the odd grey mul­let as it nosed into the creeks.

‘A sop­ping wet salt marsh meant there was no prospect of ly­ing down for a snooze, so I chose to lean back against my wad­ing pole’

Warm, still days can quickly turn into cold, breezy evenings so it’s well worth tak­ing along some ex­tra lay­ers to put on when the tem­per­a­ture drops and the wind gets up.

It was high water at dusk, which meant not go­ing home for an­other three hours. No duck came my way and, as the light faded, a tiredness came over me, no doubt caused by a 3am start that day.

A sop­ping wet salt marsh meant there was no prospect of ly­ing down for a snooze, and even­tu­ally I chose the un­con­ven­tional op­tion of sit­ting on the edge of a small creek, lean­ing back against my wad­ing pole!

Cat­nap­ping like this was un­com­fort­able and ul­ti­mately very cold. My choice of at­tire, which had seemed very good com­mon sense un­der the burn­ing rays of a mid­day sun, now seemed like ul­ti­mate folly.

Much stamp­ing about and grumpi­ness pre­saged the ebb tide, and it was good to get go­ing again, with my blood cir­cu­lat­ing and some warmth cours­ing through my body.

The sec­ond out­ing came just be­fore Oc­to­ber and there was the hope that a few mi­grants would have ar­rived. A tide flight on the outer salt­ings would be worth a try, and lessons learned all those years be­fore made for bet­ter prepa­ra­tion.

The weather was sur­pris­ingly fresh, with an un­sea­sonal stiff north-east­erly breeze blow­ing into the es­tu­ary. Once onto the salt marsh there was time to take stock, and a quick scan with the binoc­u­lars seemed to in­di­cate that there were no other wild­fowlers present.

Due to the wind di­rec­tion, it seemed log­i­cal to opt for a small bay at the far ex­trem­ity of the area, even though it would mean a 45-minute hike back after dark – but it was a trip well known to me and, as such, was no dis­cour­age­ment. In the end, my low hide was built so that the wind would be com­ing in from the rear. A small ‘flock’ of four teal de­coys were de­posited in the spartina grass, where the tide would lift them an hour or so be­fore dark­ness. All was set. Even though my fleece and light­weight coat kept me warm enough (the weather was not cold enough for a muf­fler), be­fore long the wind was blow­ing down the back of my neck. At length the tide was into the spartina and the de­coys bobbed se­duc­tively. No duck moved, but it was com­fort­able enough in the hide, apart from an in­creas­ingly cold neck! At last, a pair of teal came in from the es­tu­ary and cut wide of the de­coys, los­ing one of their num­ber as they flipped up and over the salt marsh edge. The day was a suc­cess. Be­fore long a sin­gle bird came low over the tide and boldly to the de­coys – an easy shot and some swim­ming for the dog.

Dark­ness be­gan to creep in. The tide reached its peak and the ebb be­gan, but noth­ing else moved, save for a few waders far out over the tide.

In the gath­er­ing gloom a pair of teal swung into the bay, but dropped into the spartina some 80 yards away. After a while they swam close un­der the salt marsh edge pre­sent­ing the op­por­tu­nity for a stalk.

Be­hind the hide the salt marsh was barely 20 feet wide, but by keep­ing low it was pos­si­ble to get up to where the teal had landed. They flushed at un­der 30 yards, break­ing right and left, and it was straight­for­ward to get them both.

It was a happy wild­fowler who headed off at the fall of the tide with four plump early sea­son teal. Not an­other shot had been fired in the whole of the es­tu­ary and it felt good to be alive.

But for the sake of car­ry­ing a muf­fler weigh­ing no more than a few ounces, I had a badly cricked neck for al­most a week. You learn some­thing ev­ery trip!

The sim­ple ad­di­tion of a muf­fler to your kit bag makes long waits in the hide all the more pleas­ant if a chilly wind starts up

WITH ALAN JAR­RETT

Alan’s teal de­coys do the trick even­tu­ally!

The late sum­mer start to the wild­fowl­ing sea­son means balmy weather and mos­quito clouds – it doesn’t last long though

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