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The Mixed Bag
A great day's sport with Matt Valentine

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"I don't know what you're gonna shoot coz there's no geese." Not altogether what I had wanted to hear as I made the final preparations for our pilgrimage to Lancashire after geese. This weekend had been a year in the planning and geese or no geese we were going. Ken had been keeping a close eye on the movements of the 20 or so thousand Pinks which over wintered on the bay this season and they had been feeding well inland where they had been unmolested and were flighting well wide of our stomping grounds. Our last visit was two years ago, almost to the day, and then as now we chose to go for the full moon with the intention of spending as many of the 48 hours we had in the field.

And so it was that Shaun, Lee and I met Ken and my dad at half eight under a bright full moon with little cloud to see our quarry against. For an hour we strained our ears for the faintest murmur of goose music and were not disappointed. Out of nowhere five thousand Pinks streamed back to the marsh beautifully etched against the moon and what cloud there was. A truly unforgettable sight which brought on a huge bout of "Goose fever" and set my heart racing.

We waited for the tide to see if it moved any geese as we could hear them cackling on the shore as they were pushed closer to the sea wall. The noise subsided as the tide turned and no geese flighted so we went to our beds at one in the morning to dream of geese, happy to have seen and heard them after a long absence.

The following morning we were up an hour before we needed to be, kitted up and ready to go long before Ken picked us up. We built our hides and set the decoys out with great anticipation but the conditions were against us. The day was still and mild, and we were sure that the body of the geese had never flighted back to the marsh.

Flighting time came and very little moved. The few geese that came off the marsh took a different line and were well wide, then suddenly half way through the flight the small skeins began to trickle our way from inland. Disturbed by inland game syndicates making the most of the closing weekends of the season they began drifting back to the marsh.

A skein of a couple of hundred heading for the marsh took one look at the decoys and set their wings. Turning in front and gliding back towards us they seemed to hang in the air for an age. Two landed not twenty yards from the hedge and began walking around amongst the decoys, Ken shouted to us to have a go, we jumped up and picked our birds, three dropped dead and two others were pricked and came down in the pit field. I set off running before they had hit the floor shouting to Lee to come with me (at 15 he was far less likely to collapse in a heap). I picked the first and sent Lee after the second which had made it to the next field, still geese were coming in and I dropped another which they had missed back at the hides. Lee and I raced back to our hides as geese appeared from all directions.

We were treated to an hour of excellent sport, several skeins came beautifully to the decoys, wheeling in front and gliding back towards us on set wings accompanied by a deafening cacophony of magical goose music.

With several birds in the bag and with geese still streaming back from inland we packed up the decoys and left them in peace. We had talked about this trip for months and as I reflected on Kenís words from the previous day I thanked the extraordinary slice of luck which resulted in the welcome pull on my shoulder of a heavy game bag.

After breakfast back at the farm we headed inland to some land Ken has the shooting on for an afternoon rough shooting with the chance of a pheasant or two in the brambles around the duck pond. It was a mild still day and we studied the field at the back of the farm and planned our assault. Lee and I circled the field to come at the pond from the far end whilst Shaun covered the near corner and Ken took the place of his injured spaniel crashing through the rough to flush any pheasants. A cock broke wide and I dropped it in the next field, my shot flushed a mallard and a pricked goose got up from next to the lagoon and Ken dropped them both with a stunning shot right and left. Another cock broke cover and headed low towards the farm directly at Shaun, for a moment It looked like they were going to knock each other out but the pheasant veered wide, passing within 10 yards of him.

After this interesting interlude we walked the remains of a couple of stubble fields slogging our way through the sponge-like black peat, flushing a couple of snipe and the odd partridge as well as adding a hare to the bag. By the time we had arrived back at the car we were all ready to drop so we headed back to Ken's for a beer before the evening flight.

We'd had a fantastic day already but the evening flight promised great things. We had two splashes to shoot and had heard a good number of mallard and Wigeon the previous night whilst under the moon. It is unusual for us to have an opportunity to shoot duck so late in the season but a combination recent heavy rain and continuous feeding by Ken presented us with an eagerly anticipated opportunity.

We were all in place by 5pm and the flight started the moment we settled. The mallard flighted first, coming off the marsh in small bunches, and the wind was blowing straight at them, perfect conditions for the evening flight. Some circled once before dropping in, filling the air with the whispering of wings and staccato chattering. We had some fantastic sport, fast and furious shooting and for a while there seemed to be mallard everywhere. The mallard flight stopped as quickly as it had begun. There were dozens of shelduck which circled about our heads, seemingly undeterred by the shooting they appeared out of the gloaming like oversized mallard Then from nowhere and directly behind a bunch of shelduck a pack of wigeon whistled in front of me, they came so quickly that Ken hadn't seen the and shouted "Shelduck!" as I fired. I dropped a mature cock wigeon in full plumage and found a second later, after that we were treated to a spectacular flight of Wigeon. For half an hour the air was filled with the enchanted whistling of these most endearing of birds. We strained our eyes to pick them out in the darkness for it was raining and the heavy cloud obscured the moon. We shot seven before the flight ended and the air fell quiet but for the occasional call of a lapwing flopping by erratically in the darkness.

So ended a fantastic day, the final bag included pinkfooted geese, mallard, wigeon, pheasant and a hare. We headed back to the farm for a roast dinner, a few beers and an open fire. Ken had looked after us well and through his hard work and more than a little luck we had enjoyed an excellent day's sport. The months of planning had come together perfectly to produce a day we would never forget, and we still had the morning flight to come....

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