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
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