TWO’S A CROWD:
Alan prefers to walk the foreshore alone these days, but it hasn’t always been so
Wildfowling is characterised as a lone sport. Legendary tales abound of the tough, lonely figure roaming the shore in search of his quarry; even today that remains a reality, although it becomes increasingly uncommon to see that lone figure. For me, this has always been one of the intrinsic attractions of the sport: it can be carried out in isolation, with nobody else to blame for failure, or to thank for success. My most enjoyable days are invariably when out alone, being enthralled and captivated by the wonder and mystique of some of our wildest places.
That is not to say that there have not been close wildfowling pals over the years; indeed there have been periods when most of my shooting was done in the company of others. However, over time that changes, with people moving on or, in some cases, passing on.
Now, 50 years on, my wildfowling is in one of those lone phases – intentionally so, as that is my choice. Days alone with my thoughts and reflections are, for me, soothing and therapeutic.
In my early wildfowling days a small clique of older shooting pals took me under their wing and introduced me to the delights of the shore. Without them, there is no way of knowing whether the sport would have captivated me at all.
They were great friends, encouraging me, and at times tolerating me as wildfowling became a complete obsession which they did not share to the same extent.
One of that group was a similar age to me, and we shot together on the shore for many years after the older men had fallen away. Eventually he moved away from the area, but he still pursues wildfowl and we keep in touch spasmodically via the wonders of the internet.
We teamed up with two brothers which meant that at any time there would be up to four of us in our party. We had some wonderfully memorable times together for a few seasons, but again eventually drifted apart.
One day that remains firmly in mind was many years ago when my job entailed working shifts. There had been a grand freeze-up, and as such an ideal opportunity to get a few duck.
Going straight from night shift to flight is never the best plan in the world, and when three of us eventually met as arranged in the early afternoon, I already had a bag of duck. After a 45-minute hike along the muddy shore I was pretty well wrecked, but nonetheless struggled through the flight.
My bag of four duck made me top Gun, which was not noteworthy in itself. However we only ever seemed to have a single rucksack between us, and as we had an agreement that he who shot most carried the entire bag, this task fell to me.
That return trip carrying a double-figure bag of duck was a nightmare. I lost count of the number of times I fell in a muddy heap, but received little sympathy for being out all day and shooting so many duck!
‘There have been periods when most of my shooting was done with others. However, over time that changes, people move on, or pass on’
It was all good-natured enough, but back at the car exhaustion took hold and it was good to sleep all the way home. That night sleep came readily, but all was set for the next day again come morning!
A few years later I had a friend who was completely hapless when it came to wildfowling, to such an extent that he was considering giving it up. As such it was important to get him a duck, and some pools where I had the shooting was the place where one could be virtually guaranteed. We waited for a windy day and, on arrival, sure enough duck were tucked in against every sheltered bank.
Experience told me where the best chance of a successful stalk lay and I duly gave him the opportunity with instructions to wait for 15 minutes to allow me to get round to where disturbed birds often crossed in their dash for safety. Eventually there came two distant shots, but when we met up he had missed his chance and remained duckless!
Not to be beaten, a couple of weeks later we tried it again. This time he was positioned ready for the flighting birds, while it was my job to put the birds to flight. Fortunately some of the fleeing birds made right for his ambush, and again there were distant shots. Sadly when we met up again he was even more downcast having missed again.
So down the years there have been a variety of wildfowling pals, some of whom remain firm friends to this day even if our sporting paths seldom cross. It is all a matter of personal choice.
There are some – my wife included – who think the shore is a place with the sort of hazards that should encourage you to go in company with others. She has a point. But after all these years it is up to me to remain happy and safe, to bring home a bird or two and to prefer my own company when I choose.
Some wildfowlers enjoy shooting with company...
... others, like Alan these days, prefer to go it alone