Why the pin­tail is Alan’s favourite fore­shore quarry

Alan waxes lyri­cal about his favourite duck – the pin­tail drake – and re­mem­bers sev­eral en­coun­ters with them over the years that have only served to in­crease their ap­peal

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

One of the ever-present de­lights of wild­fowl­ing is the birds them­selves. Duck of the north­ern hemi­sphere have one thing in com­mon: the sheer un­ri­valled beauty of the drakes in full win­ter plumage. Ducks and geese found in the south­ern hemi­sphere have same-sex sim­i­lar­i­ties. Each of our drakes vies for ‘top duck’ in terms of its plumage, yet for me it is the pin­tail drake that beats them all.

A large, sleek, el­e­gant duck, it is grace­ful in flight and un­mis­take­able among its peers. It is truly the grey­hound of the air. It also has the un­doubted bonus of be­ing a su­perb ta­ble bird.

It is more plen­ti­ful in some parts of the coun­try than oth­ers, with north­ern es­tu­ar­ies such as the Dee and the Mersey for­merly be­ing fa­mous for hous­ing large num­bers of these birds. Here in the South East they can be found in good num­bers, but they can be elu­sive and tran­sient.

They are birds of the open es­tu­ary, where they guz­zle on such foods as ma­coma (large salt­wa­ter clams). They love the flooded salt­marsh where the sam­phire seeds lie in their count­less mil­lions.

In my part of the world it would be like go­ing in search of fool’s gold to set out one’s stall to shoot pin­tail. That is not to say that, on oc­ca­sion, my luck has not been in.

It was 1968, and my first sea­son on the shore. That sea­son, a num­ber of ‘firsts’ were bagged – each cel­e­bra­tory in its own way – which un­doubt­edly en­sured that a long wild­fowl­ing ca­reer lay ahead of me.

It was a bright, wind­less morn­ing, and my side bag was empty as I made my way off the shore. A dis­tant line of birds ap­proach­ing caused me to slide into an ad­ja­cent gut­ter, in the event that they passed wide to my right, with only the op­por­tu­nity for a sin­gle shot. A bird fell out of the sky and my first pin­tail drake was to hand; he was an ab­so­lute marvel to be­hold on that sunny win­ter’s morn­ing.

Mostly, my pin­tail have been chance birds, like the two that came at last light to my hid­ing place in a deep gut­ter where the teal were flight­ing through. A pair came through at a rea­son­able height, and it was with de­light that they both proved to be drakes.

There can be few more mys­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ences than be­ing out on the shore in the moon­light when the tide is flood­ing and pin­tail are on the move. The soft flut­ing whis­tle of the drake cuts through the night air and the wild­fowler will re­main on ten­ter­hooks. At such times they can re­spond to gen­tle call­ing; like all duck call­ing,

‘A large, sleek, el­e­gant duck, the pin­tail is grace­ful in flight and un­mis­take­able among its peers. It is truly the grey­hound of the air’

it is not too dif­fi­cult if prac­tised care­fully and not over­done.

I have a vivid mem­ory of one Jan­uary night alone on the salt­marsh. It was bit­terly cold and the tide put a cou­ple of inches of wa­ter over the top of my is­land. A drake was knocked out from a pair that drifted wide of the de­coys.

Later still, at about 1am, with the tide thank­fully be­gin­ning to ebb, a drake called nearby. My re­spond­ing calls brought him right to me. Sud­denly, he was un­der the moon as a great, black elon­gated shape and fell be­hind me with the most enor­mous splash.

One evening the wind blew might­ily from the west and a grand flight en­sued. A teal and a cou­ple of wigeon were in the bag be­fore the pin­tail be­gan to flight, with two aug­ment­ing my bag. But the flight was a dis­as­ter. The gun – al­beit an old weapon well passed its best – jammed re­peat­edly. One of the key re­quire­ments of a semi-au­to­matic is to keep it clean at all times, oth­er­wise sloth will even­tu­ally get its just re­ward! That evening sev­eral pin­tail un­doubt­edly owed their con­tin­ued ex­is­tence to my lazi­ness.

Luck can play a huge part with pin­tail, and never more so than one day when I was out from dawn to dusk. The wind raged and heavy squalls of rain passed through pe­ri­od­i­cally. With the squalls came the pin­tail, with five of them fea­tur­ing in a dou­ble-fig­ure bag.

In my opin­ion, it is a quarry to treat with the ut­most re­spect. Over the years there have been some fab­u­lous bags of duck to my gun, but never with pin­tail. For me, those days are a re­ward for the hard work and per­sis­tence put into the sport.

On such oc­ca­sions a de­cent bag does not faze me. The trick is to know when enough is enough, and on oc­ca­sions the gun has been set to one side with a good bag of duck be­side me.

Many years later, I was for­tu­nate enough to be in­vited to an ex­cel­lent duck marsh. My picker-up took me to a fleet en­sconced within large beds of phrag­mites; he said it was a pin­tail hotspot.

So it was to prove, and when the bag reached dou­ble fig­ures – mostly pin­tail – that was enough for me. He seemed quite put out, how­ever, and said: “It’s your flight!” As in­deed it was!

Alan at­tributes many of his misses to his lazi­ness when it comes to keep­ing up with his gun clean­ing regime

The pin­tail is more plen­ti­ful in some parts of the coun­try than oth­ers

Pin­tail re­spond to gen­tle, in­fre­quent call­ing

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.