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Maiden Moon Trip
Paul Davey

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If you are unlucky enough to have to book your wildfowling trips some months in advance, you will probably, as I do, consult your diary and arrange them around the moon phases. Consideration of what the elements may throw at you, does not enter the equation. I admit that reports of a gale force wind or driving snow sweeping through Scotland two weeks before I’m due to travel have me champing at the bit, but there is simply nothing I can do about it.

If the ‘moon bug’ hadn’t bitten me almost 20 years ago I’m sure common sense would prevail and I would, at least, pick a time when the geese were flighting the right way at daybreak, with a vague possibility of a shot. “ If only you’d been here last week Paul, there were thousands in”. The times I’ve heard that would make a saner man weep, so why do I do it? Well, the excitement of moon flighting outweighs all the disadvantages… If you get it right.

I have spent more time in hope, rather than expectation, in aimless wanderings across the saltings with a clear sky evaporating my chances. It’s not that they don’t flight. I just cannot see them unless they fly across the moon. The frustration of watching geese disappearing like the proverbial Cheshire Cat as they come into gun shot but loose the background illumination must be familiar to many wildfowlers. On those rare occasions when it does happen, a fresh wind with a skein of Pinks streaming over you, silhouetted against a mackerel sky, there is, believe me, nothing to compare.

Now I’ve been out often enough to appreciate an exceptional moon flight. My friend Craig, whom I took on his maiden outing hadn’t. It was ten years ago that we met, by chance, on the Solway. I’d shot with his father and elder brother for some years and was pleased to see the lad following in their footsteps. They unfortunately couldn’t be with him so he’d taken the opportunity and accompanied another fowler Dick. Although not a novice,Dick preferred to spend his evenings reminiscing in the local pub. Craig on the other hand, was keen to go and jumped at the invitation. Although a little green with regards to some aspects of wildfowling, his book read appetite had been whetted, and with the possibility of a goose or two in the bag, he was ready long before the appointed time.

It was two days before the January full moon. When we set off, at dusk, it was already showing above the distant mountains, lighting the eastern sky and casting distinct shadows as we trudged down to the foreshore. A stiff southeasterly wind was sending the light clouds scudding over us. Conditions were near perfect, but would the geese be so obliging? The sound of perhaps two to three thousand pinkfeet, directly in front, four hundred yards out on the tide edge, spurred us on. We knew where they had been feeding during the afternoon. The question was, would they go back tonight? There was always the possibility that they would forsake their feeding ground for another. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time I’d got it wrong… The decision was made. Stick to plan A and hope for the best. We tucked ourselves into a meandering gutter just a few yards apart, loaded the guns with ounce and a quarter threes, and awaited developments. Although we couldn’t see them, it was obvious from the calling that more birds were coming low into the bay from other parts of the estuary. It was difficult to know whether the flight had started and we diligently scanned the sky for movement. Suddenly there was a roar of wings, then the shouts of pinkfeet as they lifted and set off towards us. “They’re up,” I whispered. Hunger, a bright sky and a tide two hours from full, were enough to get the first party on the move.

I don’t have the best of night vision, but even I could clearly see them against the white clouds, the skein going quiet as they neared the shore. The first bunch passed just wide of us. Resuming their calling once they were well inland. Craig, to his credit, had refrained from firing without any instructions from me. I momentarily debated whether we should move position, I’m glad we didn’t. The next lot came straight over us… 30 yards up. How those four shots failed to connect still remains a mystery, the geese flared but sailed on, unscathed. We watched them till they were out of sight, hopping that one, at least, would drop out. It was not to be. What a lost opportunity! The disappointment fortunately, was short lived. Within minutes, three geese, unperturbed by the noise, followed the same line. It can be deceiving, shooting at night. I’ve frequently let them pass; only to look back and see they were obviously in range. These appeared taller but still killable. We waited, with our hearts in our mouths, until they were directly above us and almost simultaneously fired. I can’t say, for definite, if either of us took a right and left, so close together were they flying, but suddenly, all three birds grew enormously in size as they plummeted down with a whoosh within yards of us. It was a moment I will always savour. I only have to close my eyes and I’m there, so vivid is the recollection. Once we had them safely gathered, we managed by moving with the changing flight line to obtain further chances. Luck was certainly with us that night. There wasn’t another gun within a mile of us and we had a free range of the shore. Despite our somewhat abominable shooting we managed to account for a further four geese during the rest of a relatively short flight. With the tide lapping at our feet and the bay quiet we turned back for home. By 8.30pm we were sat in our digs, tired but elated.

Poor Craig. He never realised it was possibly the flight of a lifetime. We’ve spent the last ten years trying to repeat it!

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