Long before I discovered the Dee
Marshes, I spent two years in Antarctica where our issue of cold
underwent an evolution of modifications to combat the environment.
Within weeks we’d sewn
windproof fabric onto our headbands to stop our ears freezing. We’d
tied our gloves to a neck harness to stop losing them (and our
fingers) and double sewn our anoraks to stop our bodies freezing
(after seeing the result of a 70mph, 8day blizzard on the clothing
‘as issued’). Also the prime rule of keeping warm was tempered by
the first rule of polar exploration: - ‘don’t sweat’ because sweat
can later freeze and very unpleasant that is, at minus 50 Celsius!
I have found the same evolutionary
process at work since becoming a Wildfowler on the Dee. The bland
requirements of equipment (listed by our club chairman) has scope
for infinite variation to achieve the purpose of keeping warm when
it’s cold, dry when it’s wet and on almost every walk to distant
flashes; cool when it’s hot from the exertion.
My waders are a prime example. At first
I had some heavy rubber thigh waders which preferred clinging to the
mud than to my thighs. I ditched them (used for marsh guests now!)
and moved to chest waders. They became almost as wet on the inside
as the outside due to perspiration. I modified them (out with the
sewing machine again!) to waist waders but they’re almost as bad.
I’ve now settled on some very lightweight thigh waders that are
superb and probably the cheapest on the market. These are the best
for the Dee.
Apart from the environmental determinism
that requires the maintenance of a survivable human microclimate I
think some items in the list of clothing required
need to be explained in detail so that new recruits can avoid the
unpleasantness that I endured.
Clothing needs to be both waterproof and
quiet – the rustle of a waterproof collar against the brim of a
nylon hat is totally useless when trying to listen for the whistle
of approaching wigeon.
Hats need peaks to keep hoods clear for
wide vision. Hoods are vital to keep the neck warm and a good way of
stopping rain penetrating at the neck
A vest is important; the best (in my
humble opinion) being of string which hold in the warmth and can
easily be vented by undoing the shirt buttons. These like wool
shirts are as rare as ducks teeth in the world of high tech
Trousers need to be light and warm. If
they get wet through perspiration you’ve got the wrong sort!
A pint or two of hot tea (all
wildfowlers carry a flask) requires that the clothing selected
should also have the benefit of secure but efficient below waist
fasteners, another not often listed disadvantage of chest waders.
Out on the marsh waiting for flight, the
very real problem of an unprotected and potentially wet posterior
that can result from sitting down while wearing thigh waders is
solved by adding a pair of waterproof shorts (cut down from rain
trousers) to the ensemble.
A square or two of foam ‘kipmat’ is also
a great comfort to the nether regions and weighs practically
nothing. This beats kneeling in the mud. (As all the old but
sometimes arthritic wildfowlers recommend) Here again I’m thinking
of making a minor modification determined by experience of recent
gales. If it’s windy an un-tethered kipmat can blow a mile away.
I don’t want to carry the weight of pegs so I’m experimenting with a
shaped insert to fit inside my natty waterproof shorts so the mat
moves when I do! (A skirt would be a better design for this
attachment but there is a limit to the humiliation I can take from
my laughing family, let alone fellow wildfowlers!) Perhaps a
waterproof kilt is the acceptable answer – I wonder which Clan has
In addition to all this; it is necessary
to carry a small flock of weighted decoys,
a shotgun, a belt of cartridges, a torch, compass, maps, permits,
whistles, as well as a spare pullover, so the need for at least an
80 litre rucksack is paramount. It must have wide shoulder straps
and a waistband to pull tight and high to support the weight of all
that gear. (Let alone the weight of a couple of 16 pound geese,
hopefully at least once in the season - close to Xmas would be
nice). With the addition of the Geese the first rule requires even
more space in the rucksack as the first rule of Polar exploration
comes to the fore and clothing has to be removed and carried in the
rucksack to keep cool when walking off.
I carefully and literally weigh up all
the equipment I use on the marsh. For example I like to set up a
small cammo scrim to break up my outline but can save almost half a
kilo by carrying just a net to which I tastefully add some marsh
Resplendent in all this gear I also need
a stout wading stick, possibly the most important safety aid for the
It also serves to hold up the cammo net and other useful purposes
known only to wildfowlers.
The same Darwinian rules have been
active pertaining to almost every item of clothing I now wear for
the marsh and although (due to the need for concealment) I look like
everyone else out there, I am effectively a unique species with
clever adaptations for survival. I expect other wildfowlers are
still evolving similarly.
Currently I’ve been working on a blind
that entirely hides my shape under a huge goose decoy. This is so
effective that it even fools other wildfowlers. The doctors say that
most of the pellets will have to remain in my backside until they
work their way out naturally! Nature is wonderful but it needs to be
tempered by a little common sense and evolution steers us to many a
To advance and evolve we need to reveal
what we have discovered. Each generation should not be destined to
learn the hard way, and in the case of wildfowling the cold and wet
way. We must pass on our knowledge.