Alan prefers to walk the fore­shore alone th­ese days, but it hasn’t al­ways been so

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

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

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