Wildfowling Guides for Goose Shooting

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Wildfowling Guides - Good or Evil?
A curate's egg situation, suggests Eric Begbie

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When I resurrected Wildfowling Magazine as an online publication and started the Wildfowling Discussion Forum to complement the magazine, I anticipated that the Forum might attract the attention of some rabid antis and, in consequence, get a few abusive postings. "OK," I thought, "I'll just have to be vigilant and quickly delete any unsavoury contributions."

In the event, there have been very, very few posts from antis. The vast majority of the contributors to the Forum have been serious wildfowlers from around the world (our poll showed that 56% come from UK, 9% from Ireland, 28% from North America and 7% from elsewhere). There have been many highly informative threads, lots of pertinent questions and a good dose of humour.

Sadly, the few abusive postings that did appear came from within the fowling community itself and virtually all were from British goose guides. In fact, I re-titled one thread "Goose Guide Wars" because a perfectly genuine enquiry from a potential client resulted in three guides slagging each other off in the most perverse terms. Quite how they imagined their immoderate language would endear them to potential customers I fail to appreciate. On a couple of other occasions I had to delete threads for the same reason.

What such public displays of spleen do, of course, is risk soiling the good name of wildfowling. They also give a plentiful supply of ammunition to the traditional fowlers who would like to see all guides banished from the face of the Earth.

I have only first-hand experience of three professional guides in the UK. Over the years a enjoyed a few flights with Willie (whose second name, I am ashamed to admit, I have forgotten), who worked out of the Lomond Hotel near Loch Leven in the early 1980s, with his successor, Mal Kempson, who has moved several times between the Lomond and the Well Inn along the road, and with Gavin Hunt who guides "real" wildfowlers on the merse of the Solway.

My only other experience of "professionals" is in Canada where I have hunted ducks and geese with Tom Kennedy in Nova Scotia and Gary Carriere in Saskatchewan. As in the UK, most of my waterfowling in North America has been "freelance" - scouting an area, knocking at farmhouse doors and seeking permission to hunt.

What those experiences did do was bring me into contact with a large number of sportsmen who use guides or outfitters. It is very easy to conclude that guides have spoiled things for local fowlers or that money has corrupted sporting ethics but the other side of that coin is that they have opened up the sport to many visitors who, otherwise, would have found it difficult to get get under the ducks and geese. I think that it is fair to say that for every client who complains about being "ripped off", there is another who talks in glowing terms about his experiences with a guide.

My advice to anyone considering using a guide in the UK is quite clear - don't even consider a guide who is not BASC registered unless you can get genuine personal recommendations; don't consider any guide who makes exaggerated claims of success - it is too easy to mention the week when a party shot 50 geese and ignore all the other blank flights; and, finally, do not go with unrealistic expectations - an average of one goose per man per day is more than enough. The guide who promises more and the client who expects more are a combination courting disaster and disappointment.

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