What A Long way to
travel, I must be mad. I was heading to Aberdeen from Yorkshire. It
was a duel purpose trip that was planned sometime previous to drop
of a car and visit family. But really I wanted to take the
opportunity to get on the marsh back home. I began wildfowling at
the age of 18 when I was becoming too old to keep blagging shooting
at the very generous Deeside shoot I used to go beating on as a
teenager through to going to University in Aberdeen. I did not have
anyone to teach me wildfowling so for me, it was a case of trial and
error. There were also no wildfowling clubs or permit schemes on my
local marsh to formally meet others. So having spent many years
getting to know the Ythan estuary, visiting it in summer and winter,
studying the wildlife and crawling through the Tarty burn to reach
those Teal year in and year out, it was a source of discomfort that
I an now truly landlocked and living in a urban sprawl.
My patient wife was travelling north in our new car while I was
leaving later with the estate to be returned and the dogs. I had
just taken delivery of the new “Buck Gardner double reed Mallard
call with instructional CD”. Its just as well the missus was in
another car. By the time I got to Newcastle I had found out how the
hen Mallard has a variety of different calls but they are all based
on the basic “quack” and by the time I was driving past Forfar I
knew how to call Mallard drakes, Wigeon, Teal and pintail with my
free 6-in-1 whistle. I was very excited. I travelled north of
Aberdeen to my parents to collect the beast and then back to the
in-laws where a warm bed was waiting.
Three hours later it was time. Up. Hot tea. Walk the Dog. Put dog
and kit in car. More tea. Shake head. Start car. It was late
September and by the time I got to Ellon it was and hour before
sunrise. I headed on to the north shore of the Ythan near the bird
hides. I was first there, but not for long, soon a loud pick-up
arrived. These were old friends, we could not remember each others
names but we re-aquaintened ourselves with each other and swapped
stories. They told me about the local geese movements and I informed
them that the mallard and Wigeon had been calling since I arrived.
It was cold so we got back in the cars. Soon my shooting buddy Blair
called, he was coming with his stepson Byron and our mutual friend
Stevie. When they arrived we all put on our waders and grabbed the
kit and went off to the mud.
It was a rising tide so there was plenty time to get ready. We put
out some teal and Wigeon deeks and dug in. Blair and Stevie had
their dogs, Cassie and Sam respectively. My pup had not been
introduced to the gun yet so he stayed in the car.
The sun started to rise about 5.30am, but we saw nothing. By 6.30 am
it was very bright with clear skies and a calm breeze. A few crows.
The Ythan crows have been subject to intensive study due to their
uncanny ability to learn new skills. Some have learned to compete
with the Oystercatchers by taking bivalve molluscs and dropping them
on rocks to open them to get the rich and tasty goodness inside.
Pretty smart these crows.
We saw the odd pigeon but all the duck we saw flew high, and I am
sure we could be seen on this bright morning despite the head to toe
wetland cammo! So we blanked. Disaster. All that way for a walk! My
wife will laugh and laugh and worst still, she then has ammo to stop
me going out in the evening!
But she didn’t try, not hard anyways, as by 3.30pm I was on my way
back to Ellon. But this time on my own and I went to the other side
of the marsh. To my favourite bit. The Tarty. The Tarty is a small
burn which becomes a deep meandering channel before it reaches the
Tarty basin where it opens out into a large shallow mud bath before
emptying into the main River Ythan channel. The Ythan usually
produces something. If the weather is very harsh, the ducks will be
there. If it is mild there will be snipe and the odd mallard and the
geese always fly over at dusk and dawn.
Tonight was mild, very mild. I had left the car on the hill and
started to walk down to the marsh. I was half way there when I
realised I had forgotten my new duck calls. I thought about leaving
them but then I thought about what might happen when I get on the
marsh. I would be sorely disappointed if it turned out I needed
them! So I took off my jacket and decoy bag and put down my gun and
headed up the hill back to the car. Deuch, my 10 month old black lab
was a bit confused as he was expecting a longer sleep before I got
back. I collected the calls and locked the car and headed back to
the marsh, albeit a little sweatier than I was before.
When I finally got down to the marsh there were a few squeakers.
Aside from their mum the pheasants which were testing my wits, and
patience, as they erupted from my feet were all tailless and flew
only a few yards before settling and running into over. As I
approached the flood pool at this end of the back of the marsh my
heart was pounding. My head was receiving visions of a pair of
Mallard bursting from the reeds and giving me a proud roast dinner.
Nothing. But there was water in the pool and it did look like a good
spot. So I started to throw out the deeks, but as I did five Mallard
flew over, saw me and scarpered. Gutted I was. Gutted. I jumped into
the reeds and called. I thought long and hard about what Buck
Gardner would do and still no luck. Gutted. I waited for about half
and hour, it was still light so I thought I would take a walk. I
knew I was alone as you can see anyone approaching the marsh from
any direction so going for a walk is very safe.
I walked over to the burn and crossed it. There was a few snipe but
all were out of range. Then as I met the burn again a big fat snipe
broke to the left and out over the burn. As he swung back towards my
side of the water I swung past him and sent my 32grms of bismuth in
his direction. He was good, very good. So good in fact, that he got
away! As the report sounded I looked behind me and about 40 teal
were up and circling, but they went back on the water immediately.
They were further up the burn in a no-go area. Hmmm. But flying out
away in the opposite direction were four mallard. I did not have my
decoys as they were on the splash. I got down in the reeds and
called my heart out. My first call was a loud come-back call, as
Buck said, to get their attention. But they ignored me. He then said
that if the ducks are flying away you have nothing to loose so let
rip. So I did. And the Mallard turned! I then acknowledged this by
using the greeting call. Buck said to use the “Three Blind Mice”
method. This is to sound “Three Blind Mice Quack Quack” into the
call. I sounded this greeting twice and a few quacks and gabbles.
The Mallard set their wings straight for me. No deeks! I was amazed!
As the four approached I let go of the call. I was using my left
hand to call, with the calls held round my neck; this left my right
hand free to manoeuvre the gun. I invested in a Beretta Xtrema
wetland camo shortly after the lead ban in Scotland. I was unsure
about whether I could afford anything but steel and thought it was a
good gun. She is good, and so versatile. On clays, pigeons, duck or
geese she can fire any loads without any problems and she is so easy
to clean. One Mallard broke off to the right of the others. My
target tracking had picked her up before I could realise that the
other three were still close together to the left. She approached me
head on and slightly to the right, as she began to curl down towards
the water I raised the gun, swung only just in front and pulled the
trigger. I was using paper case bismuth special loads from York
guns. Normally bismuth is too expensive but York Guns sell something
called Bismix, which means that they are cancelled orders from Eley
that York guns can sell on for a discount. Since starting to use
them I am so pleased. It can do anything lead can do. I just had to
keep the paper cases dry!
She dropped dead. I turned my thoughts onto the others but they were
too far to the right and behind now.
I collected my bounty, she was gorgeous, a fat young hen Mallard.
And without deeks I had called her using skills learnt the previous
evening on a CD that came with the Buck Gardener call. Was I
smiling. You bet. And as for Buck Gardner, that man knows how to