Close en­coun­ters of the furry kind

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

The re­cent frosty spell is draw­ing to a close, with milder fronts mov­ing in from the south-west. Es­cap­ing from work, I me­an­der some tight coun­try lanes as quickly as pos­si­ble be­fore screech­ing to a halt out­side my front door. Once in­side I fly down the cor­ri­dor, dis­rob­ing as I go, for time is of the essence and the first throws of dark­ness are just around the cor­ner. Mo­ments later, with dogs, de­coys, gun, car­tridges, caller and lamp, to­gether with half a dozen things nor­mally for­got­ten, we’re off again. An­other se­ries of me­an­der­ing lanes are safely ne­go­ti­ated be­fore fi­nally pulling up ad­ja­cent to an old rusty gate.

Jump­ing out, I call the dogs to heel for there is a chance an old long­tail may be hid­ing in the cover just in­side. Sure enough, the dogs dive in al­most be­fore I’m ready. Rac­ing around the cor­ner in front I’m just in time to see a large cock bird dis­ap­pear be­tween the trees. A rather hasty bar­rel is loosed in his gen­eral di­rec­tion, fold­ing him neatly, much to my sur­prise. Reach­ing my des­ti­na­tion I place my mag­num de­coys along a shal­low sand spit that dis­sects the river, be­fore re­treat­ing to the com­fort of some nearby sal­lies. All around is akin to a win­ter won­der­land as the pre­vi­ous night’s frost still hangs from the sur­round­ing flora. As dusk be­gins to creep closer so too does a bank of fog. It is now quite sur­real and per­haps even a bit eerie.

Some teal can be heard pip­ping nearby, but just as I re­lax again they ap­pear out of the fog all around. I man­age to miss woe­fully with my first but con­nect with a hand­some drake as they reach for the heav­ens. A brace of mal­lard is added to the bag be­fore a large pack of wigeon flashes past. They dis­ap­pear into the gloom be­fore I can bring my gun to bear, but con­tinue to cir­cle, their melo­di­ous whis­per­ings be­tray­ing their ex­act lo­ca­tion high above. Much to my an­noy­ance they whoosh in to land some 80 yards be­low where I wait. Whis­per­ing sweet warn­ings to my two dogs I sink ever lower for they are now swim­ming to­wards the de­coys. Closer and closer they come, my an­tic­i­pa­tion height­en­ing with ev­ery sec­ond. Be­fore I am about to jump, Holly, one of my springers that is far more at home be­side a roar­ing fire, bolts from un­der the sal­lies. Con­ster­na­tion en­sues, which re­sults in me re­leas­ing but a sin­gle bar­rel. Not sure whether or not I have con­nected, I send Fibi to have a look. She is old, even by Lab stan­dards, but nev­er­the­less dives into the icy wa­ter with youth­ful aban­don, re­turn­ing min­utes later with a lovely cock wigeon.

As I sit day­dream­ing I no­tice a large rip­ple in the wa­ter to my left. Think­ing it’s a mink, I trace its move­ments as it threads its way to­wards my de­coys. Reach­ing the near­est drake, it tries to grab it. By now I re­alise it’s not a mink but a large dog ot­ter, one that is a wee bit dim I feel, for again and again, de­spite my protes­ta­tions, he’s de­ter­mined to lunch on my plas­tic friend. Even­tu­ally I have to get up and go over, for the de­coy is now ly­ing on its side. My furry friend quickly dives only to resur­face some 20 yards away. Once again the dogs have to be re­strained, but this time I’m more force­ful be­cause I don’t fancy their chances swim­ming in such com­pany.

I’m just about to shut up shop when I hear some whoop­ers in the dis­tance. Out of the gloom they come, wave af­ter wave, all to land within feet of where I wait. At one stage there must have been up­wards of 200 close by. Never in my life have I been in such close prox­im­ity to these mag­nif­i­cent birds. A cou­ple of older birds even­tu­ally re­alise my close at­ten­dance, honk­ing warn­ings to the oth­ers while swim­ming down­stream. Most of those gath­ered fol­low them, apart from a few stupid teenagers, who are still try­ing to en­gage some­what with their plas­tic cousins. It takes a lot more ag­i­tated call­ings from the elders be­fore they fi­nally de­cide to swim away.

It is al­most dark now, so I de­cide to pick up my de­coys and leave. Just as I reach to pick one fur­ther out, an un­ex­pected large splash close by causes me to jump. It may have been a fish but I get the feel­ing it could have been my friendly ot­ter. To make mat­ters worse, my torch wanes, only to go dead sec­onds later – great. The small sally plan­ta­tion, which can be ne­go­ti­ated in min­utes un­der nor­mal light, now turns into some­thing of a night­mare. Af­ter 10 min­utes floun­der­ing around I end up back where I started, much to my an­noy­ance. At my sec­ond at­tempt I trip over a wind­blown trunk, end­ing up in a pool of wa­ter which seeps icily through. Fi­nally, much to my re­lief, I make it into the field be­yond.

Twenty min­utes later I reach my ve­hi­cle, and boy am I glad to see her. Say­ing that, I would re­turn in a heart­beat af­ter wit­ness­ing what I saw that night. It is sights such as these that will al­ways drag me from a roar­ing fire, be­cause some day I won’t be able. When this hap­pens I will rem­i­nisce on me­mories such as this.

Ru­pert places his mag­num de­coys along a shal­low sand spit

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