Lady Luck deserts Andy Walbridge and his friends
|It took about 6 hours to reach Kings Lynn, arriving at 14.45. We then drove along the A17 doing at bit of 'name spotting' of famous fowling marshes. There was just enough daylight left so we nipped down to the sea wall at 'Shep Whites', met a couple of fowlers going out and a punt gunner coming in (he had been afloat since 02.00 that morning!). Apart from Brent and waders, very little else was moving.
Unfortunately, because the geese were about in numbers, the local farmers had put out gas guns. Consequently things didn't look too promising at first with most of the geese having moved down to feed on the marsh at RAF Holbeach. However, hope sprang eternal and Dave DePear (the fowler we stayed with) thought that some birds would come back to roost our way.
After a night of fitful sleep we were up at 04.00 and standing on the sea wall by 04.45. We walked along this for about 30 minutes before plunging into the darkness of the marsh itself. At first progress was quite easy, but we soon met the edge of the tide and had to pick our way carefully through thigh deep water interspersed with some nasty gullies. As we only had waders on (Dave wears 'chesties') we had to make several stops to allow the tide to drop back before we could proceed. This inevitably meant that we were still 200 - 300 yards short of our destination when I heard the first 'wink - wink' of approaching pinks. There followed a bit of a scramble to find somewhere to settle down and I found myself squatting in about a foot of water with my right boot sloshing seawater. Then they came at us.
Really, it would be best to end this tale here and just savour the excitement up to this point because I am afraid that things went pear shaped. Literally within seconds of loading up, four geese came out of the gloom heading straight for me. I stayed still until they were right upon me, picked my bird, stood up and swung the gun up from its tail and fired. I can't say how long it will take for the pangs of despair to fade away, but I knew as soon as I pulled the trigger that I had missed behind. They stood on their tails and happily sped away as my second barrel whistled impotently past them. The post mortem will have to wait for another time, but this 'head on' shot is definitely my 'bogey' and I will have to do something about it.
At the time, although disappointed, the game was still on and so I had no time to dwell on the matter before more geese began to approach. It was soon obvious that about 80-100 pinks would pass either just over me or to my right and so I made a decision. Knowing that Kern was to my right, and that in his arms he was cradling his new 4 Bore hammer gun, I would let them go past unsaluted. They flew on quite casually, all pipes blowing, gently slipping from my left to right until they were around 40 yards to the front of Kern. At which point he fired - 3 1/2 oz of Bismuth BB's propelled with black powder. I think Dave described the scene the best when he said it was like a 'hand of flame' that reached up and plucked two geese from the skein. When the remaining geese passed Dave (someway back towards the sea wall) he said some of them were still smouldering! What a moment and one I shall never forget. One bird plummeted uncontrollably with a splash about 25 yards in front of Kern, while the other feathered down someway behind.
Wherever lady luck was that day I can't say, I just know that she wasn't with us. Kern had left his Labrador at home as this is only her first season and he felt she was not ready for this trip. So, when the light improved slightly and the last of perhaps 2000 geese moved away to the east (under five minutes), he moved out to pick the birds. I quickly realised he was having difficulty, and having marked the birds' fall myself, went over to help.
The next hour descended from high elation into dark depression. We searched every inch of the marsh around the areas that the birds fell but all we could find was a single breast feather and a dead drake Teal! (still fresh but quite cold - it had been shot, perhaps the night before). We both felt convinced that the first bird was stone dead but no trace could be found. It is possible that it either dropped or made its way to a gully and went out with the tide, which is what Dave believes, but it will remain a sad mystery. Eventually all hoped faded and we had to accept that the birds were lost. I took a couple of photographs back on the sea wall but I am afraid my heart just wasn't in it.
The rest of the day we spent either on the marsh or on the sea wall watching the geese move around inland. Evening flight on Saturday was very quiet with hardly any ducks to be seen and certainly no geese. At very last light I heard some pinks going out to the roost but the vast majority headed towards Kings Lynn.
Sunday morning found us back out again but as is their way the remaining geese moved off well to our left. That said, a singleton flew pass Dave who dropped it with his second shot and we saw two others moving along the sea wall behind us before we packed up. All in all we both agreed that we had had a fantastic weekend despite the obvious disappointments. The local fowlers we met were friendly and happy to chat with us, the scenery and weather were exhilarating and the geese were as cunning and elusive as ever. Dave and his family had made us very welcome in their home and their hospitality was exemplary.
We shall definitely be back to give it another go.
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