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Wildfowling for Geese and Ducks

Wildfowling for me brings back many happy memories as a young man of 14 years old with my 3 inch chambered single barrel B.S.A. Snipe with a box of Eley Alphamax No 4 on my first wildfowling trips to the Medway as a member of the Kent Wildfowlers with my friend Guy Hodgson. Later at the age of 18 years I joined the Spalding Wild Fowlers and went with my other friend Ron Hunt. Both of these men were my shooting mentors and although sadly no longer with us, they have left me with some wonderful memories to look back on and a passion I have today and love of the country field sports that I can share with others. Real wildfowling must not be confused with inland duck or goose shooting. I think it is important to remember that wild fowling was not always a sport. In the days when food was hard to come by and the life of the working man was very hard. A wild fowler was a professional person who shot ducks and geese and sold them for money, as they were a source of  food.

On the wetlands and particularly on the fens around the Wash in Linclonshire, fowlers would go out in long flat bottom punts with a large caliber punt gun attached to the deck. These men were know as punt gunners. The gun itself would have a barrel possibly 6 to 9 feet long with a bore of 1 to 2 inches in diameter and fire 16 to 20 onces of shot.

As you can see from the picture on the left the fire from the muzzle of a punt gun is quite awesome. This punt gun belongs to Jonathan Coats who live on the levels in Somerset and it is used when the conditions are right. Jonathan is a true sportsman and wild fowler and is passionate about these larger wildfowling guns.

Having a punt and a gun like this carries a very heavy burden and  responsibility for it care and maintenance, as it is part of our

 sporting heritage that is being slowly lost and as they are not being used they are going into disrepair.We can all see things like this at show or in a museum that are out of use but to keep one maintained well enough to take out and fire is a tribute to the owner. Also, this is a muzzle loader, so it must be take to dry land to reload, it is not just a matter of putting another cartridge in the breech of the gun. Now that we have to use non-toxic shot, the cost of firing one of these old guns is about £30 per shot just in the cost of the bismuth alone. Cost effectiveness is not a consideration, otherwise you would not do it.

However, most wildfowlers shoot from the land and walk out on to the wetlands or Marshes. Many wildfowlers who shoot on the coast like to use at least a 3 inch chambered 12 gauge. This is due to needing to use a larger shot size than the normal 6 and 7 shot used by the game shooters. Most wildfowl are shot at longer ranges and therefore the larger pellets carry the required energy further. As a young man I always used BB as this was the only shot to bring down a goose! As I became more experienced and spoke with other wildfowlers, I learned an important lesson. One night in a public House I had the privilege to meet the late Mackenzie Thorpe “The Wild Goose Man” That night, one or two men from the London area, were plying him with whisky, (it was an expensive night) to find out the best places and what shot size was best for geese. After quite a few whiskies he told them his secrets. Find out where the geese are going and get underneath them. As to the cartridges, “Well, I have always found the ones that go bang and lead comes out the end are the best!”

What a very wise man. Do your field craft, find out were they are flying and if they are in range for the cartridge you have in you gun, it should bring them down.  I got to know Makenzie in the next few years and I was so pleased to have known him. He taught me how to call Pink Footed Geese with out a call using only my voice and it is very effective.

Today, I only use No 3 Bismuth shot for all my wild fowling. It is better in terms of foot pounds shock impact, to hit a large bird with several No. 3 that one BB. Unless the BB hits the head or a vital part of the birds anatomy, it can fly on possibly mortally wounded. As you may be aware, netted geese have even been found with .30 cal rifle rounds in the bodies.

Wild Fowling is a sport for people who can take the rough with the smooth. It is a sport where you can get very cold, wet and still shoot nothing at the end of a very a long hard walk often in sticky deep mud. It is the type of sport that needs perseverance and commitment. Many men give it a try and give up because the rewards are more often than not hard to get. I was really lucky to be on the trip when Pam a very keen lady shooter dog handler and wildfowler shot her first goose. In the picture bottom right Pam with her goose. I will always remember the skein flying over and hearing the guns report and hearing, “Yes” as the pink foot spiraled to the ground. Pam and Robin Marshall - Ball who’s friendship and company I am privileged to share. Both true sportsman and would support the philosophy that  it is not the size of the bag but the quality of the day.