Alan Jar­rett ex­plains why weath­er­watch­ing is key to suc­cess

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

‘Freez­ing con­di­tions do in­vari­ably en­hance sport­ing op­por­tu­nity, which means keep­ing an eye on the weather fore­casts’

One of the en­dur­ing myths of wild­fowl­ing is that the worse the weather, the bet­ter our sport can be. It can be and of­ten is true, but that does not mean that you should only ven­ture out if the weather is foul or cold (or prefer­ably both!). For all that, cer­tain weather con­di­tions do stir the blood, and will make any self-re­spect­ing wild­fowler hurry to the gun cab­i­net and off to the shore with dog at heel.

Freez­ing con­di­tions do in­vari­ably en­hance sport­ing op­por­tu­nity, which means keep­ing an eye on the weather fore­casts as they come through. Gaz­ing at the weather map as the pre­sen­ter drones on means look­ing for cer­tain things. Tight iso­bars mean wind, wide iso­bars mean high pres­sure, and blue ar­eas on the map mean frost at least and freez­ing con­di­tions at best. Blue on the Con­ti­nent means freez­ing con­di­tions there, and thus the like­li­hood of a quick hop across the North Sea for the birds in search of warmer climes.

The low coun­tries are stuffed full of duck and geese. Large num­bers of teal, wigeon, pin­tail and white-fronts are scarcely dis­turbed in Hol­land un­der the con­trol of the ‘greens’ whose pro­tec­tion knows no bounds. Yet, when the pold­ers of Hol­land freeze over and the fields turn white, many of those birds come to us. Even if the in­flux is of­ten short-lived, there is ev­ery like­li­hood of im­proved sport – so long as any freeze is not too pro­longed.

In­vari­ably, freez­ing con­di­tions on the Con­ti­nent are repli­cated here, although not nec­es­sar­ily to the same ex­tent. What we need is enough of a freeze to en­sure that our shal­lows and ditches are iced over so that, as a re­sult, birds have to de­camp to the shore where the ebb and flow of the tide en­sures open wa­ter for them.

My me­mories of such im­proved sport are le­gion, while the mod­ern range of warm and wa­ter­proof cloth­ing gives the wild­fowler ev­ery chance of stay­ing both warm and dry. I am cur­rently test­ing the Brown­ing range of Grand Pas­sage cloth­ing, and very good it is too!

How­ever, hav­ing the right con­di­tions is only part of the story. You still have to lo­cate the birds

and, more im­por­tantly, have the where­withal to take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties that you cre­ate for your­self.

One win­ter it was a case of watch­ing the weather fore­casts from the warmth and com­fort of my liv­ing room. The Con­ti­nent had turned blue a few days be­fore, and now the south-east was locked in heavy frost, mean­ing that re­newed op­por­tu­ni­ties might be avail­able. The re­sul­tant trip out to the estuary was made in high an­tic­i­pa­tion. All the ditches were frozen, while a cut­ting south-east­erly came in off the sea. Even as I walked out, odd birds were mov­ing, which boded well for the tide flight it­self.

In the end the cho­sen is­land was well back in the salt marsh. It was a small is­land which lay along­side a straight, deep creek, and past ex­pe­ri­ence told me that this could of­ten be an area the birds headed for as the tide flooded. With a sharp on­shore wind, there was ev­ery chance that birds would be driven into the salt marsh to seek shel­ter. That, added to the nor­mal de­coy set-up, gave real cause for op­ti­mism.

And that is ex­actly how things turned out: wigeon in the main came in high from the sea be­fore turn­ing back into the wind and drop­ping down in search of a place to land. Many of these birds de­coyed with con­fi­dence, as did teal and the odd pin­tail, which fol­lowed the creek in from the west.

Once the tide was into the spartina grass the shoot­ing was fast and fu­ri­ous. A steady stream of teal came down the nar­row creek, and many could not help but pass within range, even if they did not ac­tu­ally pitch to the de­coys. The wigeon came in sin­gles and pairs, and at times in packs of up to a dozen strong. My shoot­ing was good, and soon a large bag de­vel­oped – one of my best ever.

By the time the tide was on the ebb and the birds had stopped flight­ing, enough was enough any­way. With a pile of birds to carry off, there was no room in the ruck­sack for de­coys or hide, and these had to be tucked out of sight within the salt marsh.

Two days later I was back again to col­lect all my gear, and to try a sec­ond tide flight. By now the worst of the frost was over, the wind had eased and no wigeon came in off the sea. How­ever, teal still fol­lowed that nar­row creek down past my is­land, and an­other dou­ble-fig­ure bag en­sued. This time it was a more mod­est, if won­der­fully ex­cit­ing, af­fair and there was plenty of room in the ruck­sack for duck and gear on the re­turn jour­ney.

Now my win­ter rou­tine is al­ways the same when study­ing the weather fore­cast: look for those tell­tale signs of wide iso­bars which presage high pres­sure and of­ten frost; but most of all, watch for the east­ern edge of the weather map and signs of a blue Con­ti­nent.

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