MIXED BAG: Our edi­tor heads to Scot­land for an epic trip

Geese, ducks, pheas­ant and par­tridge are all on the menu as Re­becca Green joins a team of Guns on a new rough shoot­ing pack­age at Mor­phie Es­tate in Montrose, Scot­land

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

Stum­bling across the semi-frozen fields un­der the cover of the pre-dawn black­ness, I curse my for­get­ful­ness at not hav­ing packed my head­torch, al­though I am grate­ful for the many lay­ers of cloth­ing and the chest waders which did find their way into my bag: it’s late Oc­to­ber and a few de­grees be­low zero here on the east coast of Scot­land, and soon I will be waist-deep in wa­ter in a ditch. A far cry from the heated car seat I would nor­mally sink into on a Fri­day morn­ing, but I wouldn’t have it any other way as to­day I am join­ing a team of Guns try­ing out an ex­cit­ing new shoot­ing pack­age on the Mor­phie Es­tate in Montrose. And first up is a morn­ing goose flight on stub­ble fields just north of the Montrose Basin – world-renowned for its pink-footed geese.

Be­fore we get tucked into our hides, Tom, our host, and Mike, the es­tate head­keeper, have some fin­ish­ing touches to make to help en­sure the hides don’t give our po­si­tion away. The de­coys are then set out in front of us and, hur­ry­ing as the first rib­bons of or­ange brighten the hori­zon, we slip into the hides and wait.

Tom and Mike have done their home­work and know what time the geese are likely to put in an ap­pear­ance, and it’s not long be­fore a ca­coph­ony of honk­ing is car­ried to­wards us en­tic­ingly on the breeze. Even though Tom and I are not shoot­ing from our hide, it’s a sound that sends ex­cite­ment lev­els soar­ing. The temp­ta­tion to crane my neck out­side the hide and see what’s com­ing is great, but I re­sist.

Grad­u­ally, the flame-red sky gives way to a grey Oc­to­ber dawn, re­veal­ing the wa­ter-logged fields in front of us and the de­coys en­tic­ingly po­si­tioned to at­tract the pink-footed passers-by we are wait­ing for. The ‘honks’ get louder and fi­nally I see a huge skein pass­ing over­head, but they are high up and show no signs of stop­ping. Tom ex­plains that of­ten they will cir­cle back around and have an­other look, but not this time – they are ob­vi­ously headed else­where.

The next skein ap­proach­ing is smaller and lower. Mike and Tom use the calls to try and en­tice them in and it seems to be work­ing – the geese cir­cle around once, then again and, to my amaze­ment, start to head in to­wards the de­coys.

“Wait for the land­ing gear,” Tom qui­etly pleas, as per the in­struc­tion that was given to the York­shire team back at the lodge an hour or so ear­lier, while we gorged on ba­con but­ties. But he needn’t have wor­ried – un­for­tu­nately, be­fore any shots are fired, the geese have se­cond thoughts and veer off sharply. Some­thing has spooked them, prompt­ing fran­tic ra­dio ac­tion be­tween Tom, Mike and Mark ‘Scoular’, the spot­ter who’s strate­gi­cally po­si­tioned in a truck at the field edge to give us the head’s up on what’s ap­proach­ing.

The gen­eral con­sen­sus is that it’s the flap­per; the wind has picked up since pre-dawn and it’s now flap­ping rather too fran­ti­cally. Mike’s young

‘The river North Esk carves its way gracefully through the es­tate, mak­ing for a pic­turesque set­ting and of­fer­ing up the po­ten­tial for duck’

son Dy­lan (who’s keen as mus­tard and has been given the priv­i­lege of help­ing out to­day) dashes out to re­move the of­fend­ing pole and ad­just a few of the other de­coys be­fore the next skein pulls in.

Al­most im­me­di­ately an­other small skein comes into sight and, again, cir­cles back around and heads for the de­coys. It’s all look­ing promis­ing, but there’s an over-ex­cited early shot be­fore the birds are fully within range and they exit stage left, tak­ing the other Guns’ chances of a shot with them.

Thank­fully, from then on the ac­tion is al­most con­stant, with skein af­ter skein either pass­ing over or com­ing in to the de­coys, so that each of the five Guns gets some shoot­ing. And with Guns now wait­ing un­til the first bird has com­mit­ted, there’s a chance for mul­ti­ple birds to be picked off. It’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing stuff: the an­tic­i­pa­tion as the geese near, the honk­ing get­ting louder and louder… won­der­ing if they will com­mit or not… wait­ing un­til you feel it’s al­most too late be­fore tak­ing a shot…

By about 9am the ac­tion dries up and the call comes over the ra­dio from Mike to call it a morn­ing. Five smil­ing Guns emerge from their hides with five geese to show for their ef­forts – though it could eas­ily have been more.

The beauty of this new shoot­ing pack­age be­ing of­fered at Mor­phie, how­ever, is that far from be­ing over, the fun is only just be­gin­ning; so it’s back to the lodge to change, have a full English and a brief­ing from Mike, be­fore head­ing off into the es­tate for the se­cond part of the day – the walked-up shoot­ing.

Mor­phie Es­tate

Re­cently ac­quired by Wain­stones Es­tates, Mor­phie cur­rently of­fers 150 acres of arable farm­land, dens and grass­land over which to shoot, with plans to ex­tend this con­sid­er­ably for the 2018 sea­son. The river North Esk carves its way gracefully through the es­tate, mak­ing for a very pic­turesque set­ting as well as of­fer­ing up the po­ten­tial for some duck shoot­ing.

In­deed, if you are into fish­ing, the river is one of the es­tate’s big attractions. Once one of the most pro­lific salmon beats in Scot­land, a lot of work has been un­der­taken to help re­turn this part of the river to its for­mer glory. The shoot­ing is part of a di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion pack­age, led by Tom and head­keeper Mike, both of whom are in­cred­i­bly pas­sion­ate about the project.

“I grew up here,” ex­plains Mike. “I fished this river and shot the land from the age of about 12, so it means a lot to me to be back here now with this fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to re­in­state the es­tate’s sport­ing her­itage.”

There are cur­rently five acres of game cover crop (more will be added next sea­son), and it is in one of these that the day’s walk-up be­gins. The Guns, Tom, Mike and Scoular line out, tak­ing in the fields either side of the cover strip and some wood­land along­side it. Mike’s Ger­man wire­haired pointer (GWP) Rab and Scoular’s dogs, Fern, Moss and Piper (GWPs and a Lab) work the

ground well and it’s not long be­fore pheas­ants are flushed. Un­for­tu­nately, they don’t fly in the di­rec­tion Mike and Tom an­tic­i­pated, so none make it into the bag, but this be­ing the first day of the sea­son it is in­evitable that some strate­gies might re­quire a slight re­think.

The Guns then line out in a stub­ble field ad­ja­cent to the river at the bot­tom of Martin’s Den – a long, steep wooded bank, which the dogs work through. This pro­duces some fab­u­lous sport­ing birds – catch­ing a few of the Guns off-guard, it must be said – but nonethe­less, the bag is un­der­way and with 68 shots by lunch it’s safe to say the team has had plenty of good op­por­tu­ni­ties.

We re­fuel at the fish­ing hut over­look­ing the river, de­vour­ing a de­li­cious rib-stick­ing broth made by Mike’s wife, then it’s back out for the af­ter­noon ses­sion, in which we fol­low the river as it me­an­ders through the es­tate, tak­ing in var­i­ous dens, grassy banks and shrub along the way. It is thrilling to watch the dogs work­ing and com­ing on point; it re­ally adds an­other di­men­sion to the day. The tran­quil Scot­tish land­scape, now glow­ing am­ber in the au­tumn sun­shine, is full of sur­prises: a king­fisher de­lights the group as it darts along the river­bank, shim­mer­ing in all its blue and green bril­liance. There are snipe too, and the habi­tat will surely hold wood­cock when they ar­rive later in the year. We even add a rat to the bag, cour­tesy of young Dy­lan who mirac­u­lously man­ages to spear it with a stick in a drainage ditch! And, of course, there are the pheas­ant and par­tridge – more than enough to give the team some good shoot­ing on a walked-up day of this na­ture. By the end of the af­ter­noon the Guns have a bag of 10 pheas­ant, five geese and one par­tridge – a num­ber which per­haps be­lies the shot count of 85.

The sun is beat­ing a hasty re­treat as we re­turn to the lodge and the en­tic­ing aro­mas of the forth­com­ing veni­son sup­per. But for those that want it there is more shoot­ing to be had: duck flight­ing from nine hides lo­cated along the Mor­phie fish­ings and at two be­spoke ponds at the bot­tom of the beat. One or two of the Guns de­cide they’ve had enough sport for to­day, but four in­trepid souls head out into the gloaming to try their luck.

This isn’t like shoot­ing reared duck, lazily cir­cling a pond at the end of a driven day. This is the real deal: hun­ker­ing down in a hide, wait­ing for mal­lard, teal and wi­geon to come in to roost. As with all wild bird shoot­ing, the con­di­tions play a huge part, and tonight it is too still and clear. Nonethe­less, we come away with three mal­lard for 14 shots (Tom tells me later in the sea­son that teams av­er­age about 35 shots on the duck) – giv­ing a to­tal bag for the day of 19; or­di­nar­ily the ex­pected bag for the day would be around 30-40 mixed head.

With the stars now shin­ing bright in the gin-clear Scot­tish sky, the day’s sport fi­nally draws to a close and it’s back to the com­fort of the newly re­fur­bished lodge for sup­per and a well-earned drink in front of the roar­ing fire.

The Guns all agree that they have been treated to a day of ex­cit­ing, var­ied sport, in good com­pany and at­trac­tive sur­round­ings – and all for a rather bar­gain price. And of course the ben­e­fit of tak­ing a pack­age deal like this is that if on the day con­di­tions don’t favour one par­tic­u­lar aspect, the team can fo­cus on one of the other shoot­ing op­tions in­stead.

Tom and Mike have worked hard to make the day a suc­cess, while keep­ing things re­laxed, fun and in­for­mal, and it has been a plea­sure to see the dogs work so well. Mike is a ver­i­ta­ble font of knowl­edge when it comes to the es­tate, its flora and fauna, and all things shoot­ing, and there’s been plenty of ban­ter along the way too.

This com­bi­na­tion of good sport, pas­sion, pro­fes­sion­al­ism and knowl­edge – not to men­tion the all-im­por­tant fi­nan­cial back­ing – is cer­tain to make Mor­phie a def­i­nite go-to sport­ing des­ti­na­tion and an ideal shoot­ing get­away for a group of mates keen to add a bit of va­ri­ety to their shoot­ing cal­en­dar, with­out break­ing the bank.

The area is world-renowned for its pink-foot pop­u­la­tion

All the Guns got some shoot­ing on the pink-footed geese

Mike and the team keep in close ra­dio con­tact through­out the day

Af­ter a suc­cess­ful point, Rab makes the re­trieve

Mike moves in to flush a par­tridge as Rab comes on point at Martin’s Den

Shoot­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties were plen­ti­ful

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