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Cherry Gardens
Owen Martin shoots Canadas on the South Downs

David, Malcolm and I arrived at Tom's at 6.00 a.m. to find the doors locked and the lights off. We bumped into Geoff, Tim and Roy who would also be joining us for the morning flight. After managing to wake Tom and next doors dog, much banter was had over a cup of tea.

With the dawn creeping over the South Downs we headed out across Tom's garden and out onto the stubble. The Geese had been feeding on the two stubble fields that total about 140 acres. They slope down from a large wood at the top of the ridge and are separated by a tall hedge. About half way down a small coppice of ash trees and blackthorn juts out into the field. Tim and Geoff went to intercept any geese crossing the hedge below the coppice with the rest of us spread out along the hedge up towards the wood.

I stood looking out over the downs, the fresh morning air perfectly still. We were experiencing an Indian summer, hardly wildfowling weather but we mustn't complain. It was a perfect example of a mackerel sky with sun shinning pink on the underside of the cloud before making it's appearance over the horizon. I wondered up to chat to Tom, offering him some No 3 Tungsten Matrix to try before making my way back to my position.

Tom had timed it to perfection, within 15 minutes the sound of geese had me squatting to scour the horizon through a hole in the blackthorn. Then suddenly a skein appeared to my right over the corner of the coppice. David scored with a single shot as the rest of the skein made their way out over the field. Roy had apparently forgotten to take off the safety catch. The skein gradually turned a full 180 degrees without gaining any real height and returned to their roost over the wood at the top of the field. A second skein made its way over the watercress beds and disappeared behind the coppice. A volley of shots could be heard but we would have to wait for the result. As the watercress beds are spring fed they never freeze and hold a number of snipe when we get a cold snap.

Within minutes the next skein of about twenty-five was on its way, this time over Malcolm. Malcolm fired twice and a single bird plummeted to the ground. Tom signalled the approach of yet another skein this time I could see that they were heading straight for me. Moving out into the field some 20 yards so I could take them out in front, I crouched with my heart thumping. They came over the hedge slightly to my left 30 yards up, standing and focusing solely on the head of the end goose I swung and fired. Its head folded backwards as it fell from the skein; quickly adjusting I took aim on another bird now starting to go away. The same result and my first right and left at Canadas.

I have on a number of occasions had two with three shots but have the terrible habit of missing with the first barrel. This is probably due to not swinging or poking at them. The hectic twenty minute continued, a lone goose called as it crossed the stumble towards us. I was reluctant to shoot another, as I didn't fancy picking three geese. To my relief it was heading for David who was motionless on his custom-made swivel seat. He rose and fired. The goose glided down on the stubble close to the coppice. David the night before had told me that he might not be able to make it as he had a bad back, this didn't seem to hinder him as he legged off like a gypo's lurcher. Managing to finally tame the beast we decided to call it a day.

Walking back to Tom's we examined our bag. Both David and myself had one old bird and one tasty young one. Malcolm's however was the largest gander I have ever seen. Gathered outside Tom's back door discussing what had been a memorable flight, two skeins about thirty strong passed over head just yards over the top of the chimney. We had left just at the right time allowing the later birds to come into feed, even when standing in the kitchen, further skeins could be seen with wings set as they crossed the hedge and dropping in.

After sharing out the birds as best we could and thanking Tom for organising a great morning flight, we all dashed off to work. Just when I thought things could not get any better, I picked up a redleg partridge that was lying in the road. It was still warm and not knocked about. One of the lads who left earlier must have hit it, but I won't take the Mick too much! Arriving home that evening I sat out in wood behind the house and picked the goose. We invited Tom and Gordon for Dinner on Sunday and had it with all the trimmings before crossing the road to the pub to exchange tales of stubble and saltings.