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Storm Flight
Bill Jarvis recalls the flight of a lifetime

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As a comparative latecomer to the wonderful sport of wildfowling (mid 30s before I caught the bug), I made a point of undergoing a programme of self-improvement by reading every book that I could on the subject. Before long I knew a little about a lot. I had a fair idea of what type of gun to use, how to select ammunition, what clothes to wear, the importance of having a good retriever and I was even becoming reasonably proficient at telling my quarry species apart from the protected duck and geese.

The other thing I learned was that to really experience the cream of wildfowling, one had to be out on the marsh in really foul weather. Without a gale, the experts assured me, the geese would fly too high and the ducks would spot me a mile away. Add some sleet and sub-zero temperatures and the prospects might improve even more.

Well, I began to achieve moderate success. Maybe one outing in three would be rewarded with a bird in the bag. I even started to travel more widely to try to find better conditions or brighter prospects. The Solway was my traditional stamping ground and the grass always seemed greener on the marshes a bit further afield. I even booked a week with a guide on the east coast in an attempt to improve my luck.

But wherever I went, I inevitably seemed to find calm dawns and balmy dusks. In my first decade of fowling I never, ever, experienced winds above Force 4 or 5 and rarely did I tread a frozen merse.

Then, one day a couple of years ago my luck changed. With a close fowling friend I had arranged a few days away to try some of the estuaries known, I believe, as the Northern Firths. Having contacted a local wildfowling club and been told where not to go (but nothing very specific about where to go!!!) we chose a week in late November when, we felt, both geese and wigeon should be in the area.

Days 1 and 2 went fairly well according to expectations. We explored the marshes in daylight and tried to intercept the flightlines at dawn and dusk. Our bag of three wigeon and a mallard between us for 4 flights seemed OK and we were thoroughly enjoying the experience of exploring new territory. But for Day 3 we decided to make a concerted effort to fins some geese. The previous afternoon was spent surveying the surrounding farmland looking for feeding geese. We did locate some sizable flocks and tried to calculate where on the shore they might be roosting. For our evening flight that day we chose a likely section of foreshore and we discovered that we had chosen well. Skein after skein of pinkfooted geese flew over our position - at least 5 gunshots high - on their way to roost in the estuary. Not a shot was fired but we did agree that, on our final morning, we had to try the same place and hope the birds would be a lot lower at dawn. Certainly the tide would be higher at sunrise and that might bring the geese a little nearer the shore.

That night, when we left the local pub to return to our lodgings, there was a fresh wind blowing from the north-east. By the time we awoke at 5.30 am next morning, it had developed into a full-scale gale. The wind buffeted the car mercilessly as we drove round to the north shore of the Firth and standing upright to don waders and waterproofs before setting out on the march was far from easy.

Eventually we did get out to our positions and found that our camouflage hide netting was worse than useless in the gale and we simply had to seek out some vestige of cover on the shore.

We waited and waited. Dark clouds delayed dawn and we were feeling pretty wind-chilled by the time the action started. But when the geese came, they really came. Skein after skein battled against the wind as the flighted over the foreshore. Many could not have been more than 15 yards above the marsh. It was an amazing sound, albeit the accustomed sound of flighting pinks was obliterated by the howl of the wind.

There were only two small problems. First, 95% of the geese were either too far to the east or too far to the west. Second, when a skein did come within range, our shooting was way off target. Whether the wind was disturbing our aim or whether the geese battling against the gale were just such unaccustomed targets, I do not know. The sad fact of the matter is that for an expenditure of 8 cartridges between us, my pal and I accounted for only one goose.

But what a morning! At last I felt I had earned my fowler's stripes and could hold up my head amongst others of the craft. Needless to say, there has not been another similar opportunity since that day but hope springs eternal.

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