As the days wane, the nights close in and the trees don their vibrant hues, a chill creeps into the air. Not the bite of wintry blusters, but just a nip to let us know a new season is at hand. As autumn approaches, my mind switches from the highs of summer deer stalking to the buzz of getting stuck into our local duck haven.
Before the start of our wildfowling season, there is work to be done. We release around 150-200 mallard (already 8-10 weeks old) straight onto the pond in early August, which primarily helps to supplement the birds we take from the wild over the course of the season.
The 800 acre farm shoot consists of a, stream fed, 1.5 acre pond, surrounded by arable fields and a further half-dozen or so smaller flight ponds; many wild duck nest in and around the area, so there is a natural re-stock as well. The farm is part dairy and part arable, nestled in the heart of rural Staffordshire, edged by the tiny river Blythe, we are fortunate that there is a large ‘raw water’ reservoir within a couple of miles. This attracts and maintains large numbers of wildfowl throughout the year; offering us the opportunity of some great sport with mallard, teal, tufted, widgeon, Canada geese and Greylag being our staple. For our guests, friends and family, no matter how experienced a shot, our pond offers an exciting challenge for a winters evening!
We feed our ponds regularly from when we put the reared ducks out, right through the season until the end of January, with potatoes left out in one of the bays to see them through February cold snap and on into spring. The ponds naturally attract neighbouring wild duck and geese and it is these that we shoot from early September, with our reared stock becoming part of these as they mature and become more testing in flight into October, November time. The Greylag geese in our area are non-migratory, originating, it is rumoured, as reared and released birds from Cumbria over thirty years ago. These have thrived with the reservoir and surrounding arable fields being perfect for sanctuary and adjacent feeding. There numbers increase each year as well as over a thousand Canada Geese, meaning much sport can be had on the stubbles of late summer harvest (if the farmer doesn’t turn them in too quickly) with our decoys and goose calls. These early morning flights are a bonus to us, and if all goes to plan, can be really exciting; as they hunt for their breakfast, skein after skein of Canada’s and smaller groups of greylags come in. It can be all done and dusted after an hour, and if we have been lucky we may have a handful to share amongst the guns.
Food to feed the fowl!
Depending on price and availability we generally feed wheat on our ponds to the initial reared duck, this is supplemented with ‘gleanings’ from the back of the grain dryer, which could include wheat, barley, rapeseed, beans etc. Also as cold weather starts, we tip rejected potatoes into the bays around the ponds and once they have been frosted over a few weeks and begin to ‘mush’, the wildfowl go mad for them! The amount of feed we put down for the reared birds tends to attract large volumes of wild ducks. Initially, wild mallard and tufted duck and by early November we start to get my favourite – the Teal!
Banter and Birds Over Bag!
With the many commercial shoots that get so hung up about bag over birds, a night’s shoot on our pond isn’t measured by the end bag, but rather the like-minded company it was spent with; as long as the guests enjoys themselves, that’s the biggest reward in our eyes. We take pride in inviting family and friends; from total beginners to the more experienced sporting shots, many a ‘first bird’ has been taken on our ground and discussed further at the ‘local’ afterwards!
The wet, wind and cold is the perfect recipe for frantic fowling on our ground. We shoot it every 2-3 weeks depending on what is coming in and normally account for 250-300 duck per year. We normally shoot it the last few hours of daylight, but earlier on in the season, as the ducks return from stubbling out on the fields, we may shoot it early morning at first light.
In general we do not shoot it much after the Christmas period as birds are already beginning to pair and we feel we have had our sport.
After carefully watching the weather (the dirtier the better) we meet at the farm, normally four guns, and check out the wind direction. This will govern which way we will approach the ponds in order to get an initial flush off. It’s quite informal and if all goes to plan we may get a brace or two per gun, after this we quickly get into the permanent hides that we’ve constructed and sit patiently (hopefully) for the flight to begin. Here we wait until my father, Owen, blows the whistle or until it’s too dark to shoot. If he thinks we have had enough shooting, we will finish early and let the rest of the ducks come in.
We then pick up any birds out on the water and surroundings, before retreating to duck hut for a hot drink and burger – cooked by our master chef, Rob Warren! For the geese, we usually use a pattern of about 30 mixed ‘full shell’ decoys around the edge of the pond and goose calls to encourage the enemy to come take a look.
Gear Of Choice: