|Meg Saves the Day
from Fowler in the Wild by Eric Begbie
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Where the dunes narrow and meet the shore of the outer estuary, a
little reed-fringed depression in the sand fills with water at
each tide. One morning, many years ago, two members of the
wildfowling club arrived at the spot and discovered more than 200
geese having a wash and brush-up in the shallows. Although the
phenomenon was never repeated, that small tidal lake became known
as the "goose pool".
The sandhills overlooking the pool provided an ideal hiding place
for a waiting gunner and, if the pinks were roosting far out on
the flats, their flightline might be directly over his head.
With that possibility in mind, I had risen very early and taken
Meg from her kennel. Under the harsh sodium lights of the quiet
village streets nothing moved and we travelled eastwards along
deserted country roads. In the market town the first signs of a
new day were beginning to show. A squad of cleaning ladies waited
for the caretaker to open up the ancient oak doors of the school
and a mailvan stood outside the post office, its exhaust
billowing white in the cold morning air. Another few miles of
empty highways and then we met a sudden flurry of activity as the
nightshift spilled out of the mill at the head of the river.
Turning down the narrow forest track it was with an element of
selfish satisfaction that I noted no other tyre marks in the
glistening covering of hoar frost. Around the gamekeeper's
cottage sleepy pheasants perched in the conifers like fairy
lights on a Christmas tree but those birds aroused no sense of
excitement on a morning when the pursuit of a nobler quarry was
Stars still twinkled brightly in the clear black sky as I
released Meg from the back of the car and swiftly climbed into overtrousers, wellingtons and a warm camouflaged jacket. Then,
checking that there was an ample supply of cartridges in my
pocket and that the car doors were securely locked, I whistled
the dog to heel and strode out along the well-worn path through
the dunes towards the shore. Only the merest breeze ruffled the
long coarse grass and, with the better part of a mile still to
walk, the faint strains of goose talk greeted my ears.
Spurred on by the welcome sound, I hastened my pace and allowed
Meg to hunt ahead as we progressed. Twice she put up rabbits from
in front of her nose and stood, stock still, watching them bolt.
The thought may have been entirely fanciful but I credited the
fact that she did not give chase, as she normally would have
done, to some knowledge on her part about the real purpose of the
When, at last, the goose pool was reached, I crept cautiously
over the sand to find a hiding place in the reed fringes. The
eastern sky was just beginning to take on an indigo hue as, with
Meg now keeping very close, I settled down to await dawn.
Although the pinkfeet were fully 400 yards out on the flats,
their music seemed to surround me and, anticipating an excellent
flight, I guessed that there must be upwards of 1000 birds on the
Without a strong wind or stormy sea to disturb their leisure, the
geese were in no hurry to leave the foreshore that morning. Ever
so slowly the world lightened and the estuary came awake. The
first birds to move were herring gulls which travelled silently
landwards, no doubt to seek out and follow an early tractor
ploughing the barley stubbles. Then, singly and in pairs, crows
descended upon the shoreline, their raucous cawing rudely
disturbing the tranquil scene as they searched for morsels
amongst the seaweed at high water mark. When the golden orb of
the sun poked above the far horizon, woodpigeon came out from the
forest and dropped down to the sands to replenish the supply of
grit in their crops before departing inland again for their
Still the pinkfeet did not move. At one stage a sudden movement
of Meg's head caused me to look behind and I simultaneously sank
lower into the reeds and gripped the gun tighter as three
long-necked shapes registered on the periphery of my vision.
Before the safety catch had been slipped forward, however, the
birds revealed themselves as cormorants. How often, I wondered,
had those evil-looking fisheaters caused a wildfowler's pulse to
quicken in vain?
I remembered other mornings when, under similar conditions, it
had been a full hour after sunrise before the geese rose from the
shore. My vigil that day might have been equally protracted had
not a helicopter from the nearby airfield appeared in the sky. It
is a strange matter that the fowl are able to ignore jet fighters
streaking over their heads but become greatly disturbed if a
whirlybird approaches within half a mile. Protesting noisily, the
huge flock took to the air and, like a dense dark cloud, headed
low over the sand towards me.
Conscious of the adrenalin affecting my heart-rate, I crouched
low, trying desperately to attain invisibility in my sparse reed
haven. Then everything seemed to go wrong. With the first birds
directly overhead, I sprang up and pulled the trigger. Missed!
Swinging on to another goose I pulled again but the firing pin
fell impotently on to the primer and the cartridge did not
detonate. Birds were streaming over my position as I fumbled to
remove the dud shell and insert another round into the upper
chamber of my gun but, in my haste, I dropped the cartridge into
the water at my feet.
By the time that I had succeeded in reloading, the skein was well
out of range and I muttered a string of curses at the lost
opportunity. Then I noticed that Meg's eyes were still firmly
fixed on the departing pinks and, following the direction of her
gaze, I saw one of the birds falter and begin to lose height.
Without waiting for a command, the little bitch took off and
raced out of sight into the sand dunes. She was away for fully 10
minutes and I had removed the cartridges from the gun, buckled it
into its sleeve and was considering whether to set out in search
of her when she re-appeared over the crest of the nearest dune,
clutching the fat goose in her tender jaws. It is a cardinal rule
of wildfowling that, whenever one appears to suffer an
inexplicable miss, the birds should be watched vigilantly until
they are out of sight. A wounded goose can carry on flying for a
considerable distance before dropping from the skein and, if it
has been hit, every effort must be made to retrieve it. That
morning, in my dejection, I had failed to abide by the rule but
Meg saved both the day and the bird.
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