DUCKS IN A DOWN­POUR: Is the wet weather ever good for shoot­ing duck down on the fore­shore?

Con­trary to com­mon be­lief, Alan has dis­cov­ered over half a cen­tury of pur­su­ing ducks that a down­pour isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a recipe for suc­cess – un­less the wind blows too

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

It was rain­ing as I sat down to write this month’s col­umn – some­thing note­wor­thy in this in­cred­i­bly dry sum­mer. Ir­ri­tat­ing too as the car had just been loaded with pi­geon shoot­ing gear! And it caused me to think about the var­i­ous com­ments peo­ple make about the weather, in a na­tion seem­ingly ob­sessed with weather com­men­tary.

“Lovely weather for ducks!” of­ten greets a down­pour. Well no, it isn’t ac­tu­ally – cer­tainly not nec­es­sar­ily good for shoot­ing ducks any­way. And that’s with half a cen­tury of ex­pe­ri­ence to back up my view.

Some of my most mis­er­able and un­pro­duc­tive wildfowling ses­sions have been when sit­ting in pour­ing rain, with noth­ing mov­ing and me wish­ing that it was time to go home. Con­versely, when wind and rain have com­bined, those have been some of my most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences.

Weather con­di­tions are in­vari­ably piv­otal to the prospects of suc­cess in wildfowling – ar­guably more than any other of our shoot­ing sports. Ar­gu­ing about what the ‘right’ weather con­di­tions are can be prob­lem­atic; at least my own mind is made up about what the wrong con­di­tions are!

Septem­ber can be a cu­ri­ous month, and a down­pour in Septem­ber can be aw­ful. Just when you should be sit­ting in the salt­marsh in shirt sleeves the heav­ens open so that you then sit swel­ter­ing in full wa­ter­proof gear; rain drips from the hood and mos­qui­toes that do not seem de­signed to fly in such weather make a de­ter­mined as­sault on the up­turned face. Yeuk!

The one ex­cep­tion that comes to mind was when I pad­dled up as the light was fad­ing. No sooner had the punt left the cause­way than the rain started. It rained cease­lessly all night so that by dawn ev­ery­thing was sop­ping wet, with very lit­tle sleep as a re­sult.

Mirac­u­lously, as the light be­gan to break through, the rain stopped and the duck be­gan to flight. Whether it was be­cause they had been grounded all night by the rain, there is no way of know­ing, only that it was my best ever flight on open­ing day, to

such an ex­tent that I stopped shoot­ing with the bag well into dou­ble fig­ures. That was many years ago.

As re­cently as last sea­son, on a cold Feb­ru­ary morn­ing, I sat through­out morn­ing flight with the rain ham­mer­ing down. The usual cav­al­cade of geese had passed high, wide and hand­some, their myr­iad voices adding some bright­ness to the gloom of the morn­ing.

Noth­ing else moved. The tide came flood­ing in, my de­coys were afloat and still noth­ing moved. Even­tu­ally, hours later, the salt­marsh was left be­hind me, the gun re­mained un­fired and still the rain fell.

Stomp­ing off in high dud­geon gave me cause to re­gret one thing – there was lit­tle or no wind. In wildfowling, one of the bet­ter bets when look­ing to en­hance sport­ing prospects is wind.

Re­call­ing one of the finest ex­am­ples of how ‘no mat­ter how heavy the rain if it is ac­com­pa­nied by a stiff wind all will be well with the world’, al­ways brings a smile to my face. It was many years ago, and the fore­cast was aw­ful: heavy rain show­ers pushed through by a south-west­erly gale. I

needed no fur­ther bid­ding and left in good time for what was bound to be a long and un­com­fort­able walk into the wind.

So it was to prove, for the rain came in vi­o­lent sting­ing droplets, while the wind tugged at my cloth­ing as I walked. Much later, my cho­sen hide­out in a shal­low creek of­fered shel­ter of sorts as the wind raged over­head.

That day fol­lowed a pat­tern of sorts: heavy rain squalls mostly last­ing only a few min­utes; then pe­ri­ods of bright sun­light set in a clear blue sky with scud­ding white clouds; fol­lowed by clouds that raced across the sky with amaz­ing speed, as the next lot of rain came in.

De­spite the rain, it was the wind which was mas­ter of the heav­ens, for it drove rain and clear spells alike. I of­ten think that duck are more likely to move when it is re­ally windy, al­most as though they en­joy the feel­ing.

This was cer­tainly such a day, for duck moved al­most con­stantly. Less so when the rain came through, but oth­er­wise they came bat­tling through against the wind. They came down­wind too, mov­ing at fright­ful speed mak­ing them some of the most chal­leng­ing shots to be found any­where.

There was a good va­ri­ety of duck too: wigeon, teal and the odd mal­lard, but most mem­o­rable were the pin­tail, which came through in ones and twos and oc­ca­sion­ally a small pack of four or five. They were, as al­ways, el­e­gantly re­gal, seem­ing obliv­i­ous to the weather that raged across the salt­marshes.

By the end of the day, ev­ery­thing was wet through, but the weary home leg was made with a sense of hap­pi­ness and sat­is­fac­tion. The pin­tail had been the ic­ing on the cake, and five of those fine birds ac­com­pa­nied me home.

A few years later at a game fair, I stood spell­bound star­ing at a large pic­ture by Keith Shack­el­ton of pin­tail against a stormy sky. There were the dark clouds and the rain slant­ing down; there was the white cloud and the blue sky.

It was a mir­ror im­age of my day on the marshes re­counted above, and it now hangs in my hall. When­ever my gaze falls on that pic­ture, my thoughts go back to that day of wind and rain and flight­ing pin­tail.

Rain may not be lovely for ducks in my book, but wind and rain to­gether can be.

‘Weather con­di­tions are piv­otal to the prospects of suc­cess in wildfowling – ar­guably more than any other shoot­ing sport’

Pin­tail are in the ‘dab­bling ducks’ cat­e­gory of wild­fowl, ob­tain­ing most of their food from shal­low wa­ter by stir­ring up food ma­te­rial in the mud. The pin­tail came in ones and twos, and some­times small groups, re­gal de­spite the buf­fet­ing winds

It may be a chilly wait, but if the wind is blow­ing the chances are it will be well worth the dis­com­fort!

The con­ser­va­tion­ist and artist Keith Shack­le­ton de­picts pin­tail against a stormy sky

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