NOTES FROM IRELAND
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…
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