A young Ru­pert takes a trip up the chal­leng­ing, heather-clad Knock­meal­down moun­tains with his father, but it’s not the usual hill-dwelling grouse that are the sub­ject of their at­ten­tions on this par­tic­u­lar hunt…

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

Many, many moons ago, when I was but a wee fel­low, my dad and a col­league of his de­cided to try their luck at a cou­ple of small ponds they had found way out in the depths of the Knock­meal­down moun­tains.

The pre­vi­ous week they had been out in search of a grouse or two when they hap­pened upon a few small bog holes lit­tered with mal­lard feath­ers. All of these bog holes (four to be ex­act) were within 10m of each other, with none more than 12 feet in di­am­e­ter.

I knew I wouldn’t be al­lowed to go along with them on a school night – even ask­ing was a se­vere waste of time – so I de­cided to play the game bet­ter than I had on pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions.

Thurs­day night had been ear­marked as flight night, so from Sun­day on­wards I was as good as gold. Tim­ber was chopped, plates washed, home­work com­pleted un­usu­ally early, and, if I re­mem­ber cor­rectly, I even had a go at a spot of iron­ing, un­der su­per­vi­sion of course. Thurs­day evening duly ar­rived; my home­work was com­pleted in good time, as I kept a keen eye on Dad’s ev­ery move.

Be­fore long he ar­rived in the kitchen with his gun un­der one arm, a box of shells firmly gripped in the other. He passed by with­out even a side­ward glance, slip­ping into his wellies in the pantry be­fore ex­it­ing by the back door. That’s the last bloody time I’m do­ing any chores around here, I re­mem­ber think­ing, as I sat crest­fallen by an old pine ta­ble.

Sec­onds later he stuck his head round the door and asked, “Well, are you com­ing or not?” with a large grin creas­ing his fea­tures. So much for be­ing clever! I was as ob­vi­ous as a barn door, when I think back on it.

Jump­ing into the car mo­ments later, I was even more de­lighted to see my sin­gle 20 in close at­ten­dance. Dad had been craftier than I’d thought, but I wasn’t com­plain­ing.

Reach­ing our des­ti­na­tion, fi­nally, we started the long trek across the pur­ple mon­stros­ity in front of us. Some time later, just as my legs were start­ing to com­plain, we reached the wee ponds. I flopped into the heather, ex­hausted – I wouldn’t have been so en­thu­si­as­tic if I’d known be­fore­hand that we had two miles of knee-high heather to ne­go­ti­ate on route. Once my breath­ing re­turned to some­thing akin to nor­mal­ity, I re­alised that we

‘For 10 min­utes or more no­body said a word; the still­ness of the place was spell­bind­ing’

were in­deed in a very spe­cial place. The views all around were ma­jes­tic; the sky was start­ing to turn that lovely red-gold colour as the day be­gan to fade. An old cock grouse of­fered a rous­ing cho­rus be­fore he re­tired for the night. For 10 min­utes or more no­body said a word; the still­ness of the place was spell­bind­ing.

Just as I started to en­ter dream­land a smudge on the horizon caught my in­ter­est. Ris­ing ef­fort­lessly from the val­ley way be­low, it grew larger as the sec­onds passed. My ini­tial in­ter­est was not mis­placed, for I soon knew ex­actly what it was. The first bat­tal­ion was on its way. The oth­ers had also spied the source of my in­ter­est and we all in­stinc­tively crouched lower in the now waist-high heather.

It seemed to take an age for them to draw closer, but then again they did have some 10 miles or more to travel. My ex­cite­ment height­ened on re­al­is­ing that not one, but sev­eral packs were air­borne, all at dif­fer­ent stages on their jour­ney. I placed sev­eral car­tridges in the heather be­side me, for it could have be­come fast and fu­ri­ous in a few min­utes.

Skim­ming the heather a few hun­dred yards in front, some 15 or more mal­lard made a bee­line for where we sat wait­ing. At the last sec­ond they banked to the right, dis­ap­pear­ing be­hind a small hillock, be­fore reap­pear­ing be­hind. A mad scram­ble en­sued as we turned to fire. I turned so fast that I fell back on my butt, be­fore re­leas­ing a way­ward bar­rel into the night sky. The oth­ers had more luck as they plucked three from the fast-de­part­ing fowl.

The shots didn’t seem to frighten their col­leagues, who glided in from all an­gles. I man­aged to halt a cou­ple in be­tween some woe­ful misses. For 20 min­utes or more the ac­tion was fast, at times hec­tic, and then, like turn­ing a tap, it was all over.

Re­triev­ing mal­lard is no easy mat­ter, a fact that Monty the springer would vouch for if he could talk. I made the mis­take of try­ing to pick one that was ly­ing belly up in the mid­dle of one of the pools, quickly dis­ap­pear­ing to my waist in cling­ing mud, and hav­ing to be pulled to safety.

To cap it all, some clever clod had left the torch back at the car; my brownie points, gath­ered so care­fully dur­ing the week, were quickly dis­ap­pear­ing.

The fi­nal tally of 21 mal­lard and a soli­tary teal were rich re­ward for an event­ful evening. I must ad­mit that I could not lay claim to more than a cou­ple, for my shoot­ing was bru­tal at best, an empty box of car­tridges bear­ing tes­ta­ment to the fact.

The jour­ney back to the car was hor­ren­dous, due not only to my for­get­ful­ness, but the weight of the ducks also. We all fell on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, but even­tu­ally made it down, the sight of a wan­ing moon shin­ing brightly on the roof of our ve­hi­cle was one of the more wel­come sights I have wit­nessed over the years.

In the in­ter­ven­ing years we have flighted that de­light­ful spot on a few oc­ca­sions, but to lit­tle avail. Never be­fore or af­ter has more than a hand­ful of duck come to dine, as day turned to night.

That par­tic­u­lar night is one of those oc­ca­sions that is stored deep in the mem­ory, to be called upon pe­ri­od­i­cally while sit­ting day­dream­ing by a roar­ing open fire.

Ev­ery now and then oc­ca­sions like that will present them­selves: when fowl, weather and sur­round­ings all com­bine to pro­duce some­thing mem­o­rable. They are few and far be­tween, but it is the pos­si­bil­ity that will for­ever draw us back.

Re­triev­ing mal­lard is no easy task!

The mal­lard came glid­ing in from all an­gles

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