A Picker Up’s Point Of View

Pond Shoot 13 September 2016

As guest guns, pickers up and organisers gathered in the car park the autumn sun was just dropping to the distant skyline. Even so the  temperature on the truck thermometer read a balmy 24 degrees. Thankfully a stiff south westerly breeze was blowing to help it feel a little cooler and keep the biting insects away.

Following a quick introduction and safety brief we were off. Guns to the pond, helpers and their dogs to the surrounding fields to hide themselves in hedgerows and any other convenient cover. The three quarter moon was already up in the east but obscured by thickening cloud. To the west the sun was setting over the M5 in a final blaze of glory. It was with some trepidation we awaited the arrival of the first duck. These guns had bought the flight in the Clubs recent online auction. They’d paid well for their evening and we were hoping to put on a good display.

Soon after we’d all settled in and long before any duck showed the wind dropped and the mosquitos, horseflies and midges arrived. I’ve no idea what it was like for the guns but trying to keep still and undetected by approaching wildfowl was proving difficult for man and dog alike away from the pond itself. Despite the temperature I finally gave in and put a long sleeved jacket on. I’m afraid the dogs just had to put up with it.

We weren’t waiting long and the first pair of duck appeared from the south east. They crossed the pond high, very high I thought and were saluted by a double shot. Unperturbed they dropped a wing and left on the same line they had approached on in an almost unhurried fashion. Not long after a small group appeared from the same direction and this time crossed the centre of the pond. These were a little lower, not by much but lower non the less. Four shots rang out and a bird planed out to splash down on the 10ft river 200yds away. I saw the picker up covering that area leave his position and start to search for it. As another pair approached lower and this time from the east their chatter gave them away as Gadwall. Three times they appeared to cross the pond but not a shot was fired and they finally drifted off towards Clevedon. Not long after a singleton suddenly appeared from nowhere. He flew the length of the pond climbing all the time. A volley of shots rang out but his luck ended as he crossed the final gun. The last shot of the flurry sent him spiralling into the reed filled ditch behind.

Then began a short lull and we were back wondering and hoping that that wasn’t the end. The sun had finally dipped below the horizon and the wind had picked up again. Not as strong as before but welcome non the less. The moon was finally peeping out from behind the quickly dispersing cloud and adding to the last light of the evening. All of a sudden the air was full of chattering duck. I couldn’t see them until two packs converged high, directly over head. As they approached the pond they split again with a small group of 6 or 7 dropping into the pond. Shots rang out and I marked 4 birds down. We were off!

Duck appeared from every and any direction. Some in pairs, some in small packs with a few larger packs of 15-20. The bigger packs appeared warier and took longer and further to circle the pond before committing. At the same time I could see several groups of birds approaching low from the car park, brushing the treetops and dropping in with no chance of being shot. By now our team of guns had their eye in and each pack left one or two of its members behind.

At very last light, almost to dark to see other than in the last chink of light blue in the western sky I heard the familiar whistle of teal. Then all of a sudden they could be heard calling in every direction and a pack of six whizzed low over my head. I lost them in the gloom but the guns saw them and the pond erupted to a volley of shots quickly followed by another. For five minutes or more it was pandemonium. There was a tearing of wings and an odd whistle followed by yet more shooting. I’m guessing the evenings cartridge to kill ratio was somewhat worse than before the teal decided to put on a display.

As the whistle went I’d counted 22 duck down not counting the early bird that had glided into the 10ft. I cast the dogs into the nearby field and reed bed, both immediately returned with duck. The next cast produced a teal from the flooded ditch with another mallard being found much further back than I’d marked it. As I progressed around the field I was happy that I’d collected all that had fallen in my allocated space but kept thinking about that first high bird of the evening. It had crashed into the ditch directly behind the gun and I’m sure it was dead. I knew he had a dog but wanted a look anyway. A quick sweep around the pond and we found it. Stone dead and as stiff as a board! Hard to believe it had been dead little over an hour.

By the time I got back to the car park most had drifted away. The bag was 22 mallard and 3 teal and the guns had apparently been over the moon with their evening. Well done to all involved who made the evening a huge success.

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