WILD GOOSE CHASE

For farm­ers, the sound of an ap­proach­ing skein of Canada geese spells trou­ble, but for Owen Beardsmore it sig­nals the start of one of his favourite pe­ri­ods in the shoot­ing cal­en­dar

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Honk, honk, honk!’ The sound of ‘goose mu­sic’ is re­turn­ing to the fields of the Mid­lands as skeins of young Canada geese, now strong fly­ers, are taken out by their el­ders to for­age the late-sum­mer stub­ble fields. The Trent Val­ley is blessed with dozens of man-made lakes that re­main af­ter 30 years of gravel ex­trac­tion. Although un­sightly while in op­er­a­tion, the re­ward is that the huge ar­eas of wa­ter have now be­come nature re­serves and leisure fa­cil­i­ties. Most of these gravel work­ings were ad­ja­cent to the River Trent which serves as a nat­u­ral flight line for many wild­fowl, and in par­tic­u­lar Canada geese, whose num­bers through­out the area have steadily in­creased over the past years.

With an es­ti­mated pop­u­la­tion of 190,000 in the UK, we have our fair share of this species and some great sport can be had in the name of crop pro­tec­tion, sup­port­ing the local farm­ers who suf­fer ex­treme dam­age to their win­ter crops as a re­sult of the geese.

Decoying the geese onto the stub­ble fields be­fore they are ploughed or scar­i­fied can be an ef­fec­tive way of man­ag­ing an early sea­son cull. In the 1990s, li­cences were granted for ‘egg prick­ing and oil­ing’ to try to re­duce the Canada goose num­bers. This had some ef­fect but for the past decade noth­ing has been done lo­cally and goose num­bers are ex­pand­ing at a dras­tic rate, and the dam­age large num­bers can do to agri­cul­ture, plus the health hazard the fae­ces cause in pub­lic ar­eas such as parks and golf cour­ses, has re­sulted in them now be­ing given pest sta­tus. Dur­ing the month of Au­gust we start our re­con­nais­sance and study the flight pat­terns of the geese as they leave the lakes and head out, skein af­ter skein, in search of food.

A group of us share our in­for­ma­tion and wait over a few days for num­bers to build up on a par­tic­u­lar field that is get­ting their at­ten­tion. Our best flights are nor­mally in the morn­ing as the geese are keen to get in to feed and the young birds are the first ar­rivals.

We will set our pat­tern of de­coys, de­pend­ing on the wind, in front of the blind with nor­mally 15-20 birds, all with a gen­eral ten­dency to be head­ing into the wind, but never sym­met­ri­cally. We place the feed­ing and sit­ting de­coys in the

mid­dle with a few out­liers walk­ing to­wards them; hope­fully this is where the ar­riv­ing skeins will join the pack and present us with the fairest shot as they com­mit to land.

Dawn breaks quickly in early Septem­ber and, if our ‘re­con’ pays off, not long af­ter first light the sound of geese calls can be heard. Noth­ing com­pares to the dis­tant call of a pack of geese and I al­ways think this is a sound the hunter has lis­tened to for cen­turies with the same ex­cite­ment. We take po­si­tion in our hides and await – with some an­tic­i­pa­tion and the adren­a­line pump­ing – the hope­ful sight of the first birds break­ing the hori­zon, look­ing for their break­fast.

Hits, misses and memories

Some flights are fruit­less, some we take a hand­ful of birds, and on a few oc­ca­sions in the sea­son we get a flight to re­mem­ber. Dur­ing one such flight last year I re­ceived a call from my shoot­ing mate, Gareth. “We’ve been watch­ing this field for the past few morn­ings and the geese are pil­ing in. The farmer has been moan­ing at me and we need to get some shot!”

“Say no more,” was my re­ply, and we hatched a plan of where to meet the next morn­ing. I have shot geese since I was a teenager but I must ad­mit I am still as ex­cited at the thought of a de­cent goose flight as I was back then. We meet the next morn­ing and Gareth and keeper Craig com­mu­ni­cate the plan. An­other few Guns would also be set­ting up a few fields away as there had been sev­eral fields of late wheat stub­ble that had been get­ting the birds’ at­ten­tion. We ar­rived onto the field in dark­ness and placed our pat­tern of de­coys in the head­lights of our trucks. All was set and the light breeze gave us a pointer as to which di­rec­tion they would come in from. The wind was blow­ing across us right to left so we set our pat­tern slightly to the left. Geese take off and set­tle into the wind so our ex­pec­ta­tion was that they would ar­rive from our right, and were set to land 20-30m in front of the hide. As they es­caped, Gareth was fur­ther to our left to also get a shot.

Craig and I both had our trusted semi-au­tos and Gareth was ready with his faith­ful Miroku 3800. All of us were us­ing steel shot, so we re­ally did need to make sure of our kill range.

Dawn broke but no geese were in sight, just a few ducks flit­ting about and plenty of pi­geons, but no sign of a Canada. The sun started to break and af­ter what seemed like an hour, but was prob­a­bly only half that, there came a dis­tant ‘honk… honk’. We tucked our heads down into the hide, Craig and I shar­ing a pitch and top shot Gareth 50m up the hedge to pick off the birds af­ter we had al­ready shot. We all started call­ing on our goose calls, en­cour­ag­ing the birds to our pat­tern. “Here they come!” shouted Craig as the first skein flew along our hedge line, straight into the de­coys… per­fect! We waited for them to com­mit and set their wings and then it was ‘up and at ‘em’. Both of us picked out birds fur­ther down than the lead goose, us­ing the head as a tar­get and judg­ing our lead. Skein af­ter skein fol­lowed reg­u­larly ev­ery few min­utes and for a good 40 min­utes we had a steady flow and took some good birds. Dur­ing any break in the ac­tion, we would col­lect any shot birds and place them belly down­wards in the stubbles, adding them to our pat­tern; there is no bet­ter de­coy than a real bird. My old Labrador, Molly, did a fine job of pick­ing a few long birds that had made it to the hedge line. We did a quick tally and we were sur­prised to have al­ready shot over 20 birds. “Time to pull the de­coys,

You can watch a video of this goose flight on the Sport­ing Shooter web­site: http://bit. ly/2fL8f4L

boys!’’ I shouted. We had had enough sport for one morn­ing and even as we moved about the field more geese were ar­riv­ing to feed.

We rang the other boys that were a few fields away and dis­cov­ered they had also had some good shoot­ing. We all met up and shared the bag, ev­ery­one look­ing for a young bird to eat by bend­ing up the up­per mandible (the top of the beak) – if it’s a young bird the mandible is soft and will crack; if it’s an old bird it will not bend very eas­ily.

Noth­ing is wasted as any birds that are not re­quired by the Guns are do­nated to a local butcher who uses them in game pies later in the sea­son.

Septem­ber goose decoying re­ally is a spe­cial part of the shoot cal­en­dar for me and I can’t wait to get started in the next few weeks!

Noth­ing beats a real bird, but un­til there are some in the bag, de­coys like these Sil­losocks come a very close sec­ond. Turn to page 35 to read Owen’s re­view

Tucked into the hide, Owen waits for that tell­tale ‘honk­ing’

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