BLAME IT ON THE WEATHERMAN:
Alan Jarrett explains why weatherwatching is key to success
‘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.