It is over 25 years since I was first
taken wildfowling by Bill. In those days we were young and foolish
and there was a thrill to fowling that was different from anything
else a young town lad might experience. Mostly we went to banks and
small islands in the Thames and mostly we went home tired, dirty and
In those days I
did not have a dog but I was assured by Bill that his little
Springer Spaniel, Ben, would retrieve any ducks that we happened to
shoot. (Yes really - Bill and Ben!) On the red letter days when one
of us did down a duck, Ben would go and fetch it and bring it back.
Until one icy January morning when a
gale was whipping up the sea. Just what I'd always read about. The
very best weather for fowling. It was hard to keep upright, never
mind stand to take a shot but the flight, when it started, was
unforgettable. There were ducks everywhere. I think both Bill and I
fired a dozen cartridges each but, mostly, the birds were just too
fast or maybe it was us who were too slow. Then halleluiah. Bill
connected with a pintail and I shot another bird from the same
little flock. Both ducks fell into the sea and Ben looked up at his
master waiting for the order to fetch.
Meantime the ducks were being blown
downriver, aided by an ebbing tide. Bill gave the command and Ben
bravely plunged into the foaming waves and set of in pursuit of the
fallen ducks. He had no trouble getting to the nearest bird but when
he turned to bring it back he was swimming against the current and
the wind. We watched for a few seconds before it became clear that
he would never make it back to dry land, with or without the
"Get the boat out!" yelled my pal.
Together we pushed out the old pram dingy and Bill spent another
valuable minute trying to get the starter cord for the outboard from
under the floorboard. Then it took 20 or 30 pulls before the
decrepit Seagull sputtered into action. By now Ben was 100 yards
away, still gamely clutching the duck in his mouth.
Well, to cut a long story short, we
did eventually catch up with the dog and haul him aboard.
Personally, I think another few minutes and he would have
disappeared under the waves forever. We even collected the other
pintail. But I had learned a lesson. I would have to get a dog of my
own and he would have to be a wildfowling dog.
The fates conspired to take me away
from the sport for quite a while. The fowling in Saudi Arabia is not
of the best. But when I did return to Blighty and get back in touch
with some old pals, the urge to pick up a gun and head for the briny
was strong. I remembered my lesson, sorely learnt with Bill and Ben,
and I started to look for a dog to accompany me on wildfowling
adventures. That's how I got Butch.
He joined me as a puppy seven years
ago. I wanted a big strong fowling dog so I chose the biggest and
boldest male pup from a litter of black labradors. I wasn't going to
be doing any fancy shooting with him so his training was geared to a
life of duck and goose retrieving. It seemed to me that, way back in
the early 70s, one of Ben's problems that morning was that he lost
valuable time waiting for Bill to tell him to retrieve the duck, so
I taught Butch to go for the training dummy as soon as I threw it or
fired it from the launcher. I reckoned that it would give him an
advantage if he leapt into the water the moment I fired my gun and
got to my ducks before they were swept away.
What I did not know was that my
wildfowling was going to be a little different from that which Bill
and I used to enjoy in north Kent. I now have a huge, strong
labrador that could carry a goose without a second thought and which
goes rampaging out after birds as soon as I raise my gun but,
unfortunately, most of my fowling is now done from net hides on the
saltings rather than on islands in the wild sea. I have also joined
a little rough shoot where we walk up a few pheasants and
Butch has wrecked more net hides than
I care to remember and, indignity to end all indignities, he has now
been banned from the rough shoot after he stormed after bird I
missed and cleared the place of the few longtails it harboured. Stan
had spent weeks feeding the pheasants into our patch and Butch
chased them out in minutes.
Never mind. Next season Bill and I
have decided to go up to Scotland for a few days goose shooting. I'm
sure Butch will come into his own then.
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