We don't ask for a lot as wildfowlers.
Apart from praying for an abundant supply of geese and ducks in the
right places at the right times and hoping that, more often than
not, our aim will be straight, the only other thing that we demand
from the fowling gods is some really filthy weather.
All our most vivid fowling memories
seems to involve gale force winds and stormy seas because, quite
simply, those are the conditions that produce the most successful
and exciting sport. Couple foul weather with difficult terrain,
oozing mud and racing tides and we are faced with an environment
which presents a multitude of hazards to the unwary waterfowler.
Regrettably, hardly a season passes
without the newspapers reporting the deaths of fowlers who have been
trapped by advancing tides while shooting on the foreshore.
Conditions on the estuary can change rapidly, each locality having
its own particular quirks. This is one reason why it really is
prudent for fowlers to spend some time during the close season reconnoitering
their local marshes so that they might become familiar with every
gully and creek. Experience cannot be built up overnight and each
wildfowler must tread with the utmost caution until he has come to
terms with his chosen fowling grounds.
The greatest danger comes from the
threat of being cut off by the tide while far out on the marsh.
Especially on expansive saltings, there is a tendency to
underestimate the speed of the tidal flow and it must be constantly
borne in mind that the flatter the marsh, the greater the race of
Tide tables are, therefore, an
essential part of any coastal fowler's equipment. What is equally
important is to appreciate the conditions which will render the
printed tables inaccurate. A gale from offshore can bring the time
of high tide forward by a full hour and can raise its height by
Retreating in front of a freak tide
is bad enough but the situation is ten times worse when plowtering
through glutinous mud. Add some fog and things really become scary.
So, quite simply don't go out on the mud until you have developed
the skill of moving through it and make sure that you have your
compass with you and that you know how to use it. It's no use knowing
which direction is north if you don't know in which direction the
sea wall lies! Take your bearings before going out.
GPS and Mobile Phones
Even better than a compass is a GPS
receiver that uses satellites to plot position with great accuracy.
Use this to plot your waypoints on the way out to the tideline and
reverse the route to find a sure way back if conditions do turn
really nasty. Modern GPS handheld sets are now very inexpensive but
still give them protection from the elements by keeping them in a
waterproof poly-bag when not in use.
Another modern piece of equipment for
the longshore gunner is that curse of modern society - the mobile
phone. While I thoroughly despise the weirdos who carry one on every
drive of a driven game shoot, we should not be so proud as to deny
their value as a safety aid when wildfowling. Just one word of
warning. While you might need to use the mobile phone to summon the
coastguard in a real emergency, never, never, never give your phone
number to anyone. After all, if someone close to you is expecting a
baby, you don't want to receive a call from the maternity ward in
the middle of morning flight. Anyway, hospitals don't encourage
visitors who are wearing muddy waders and carrying shotguns!
Take care and have a safe season.