First day of the week and our third “shoot “ of the season. Four beaters dropped out at the last minute leaving me with a total of 6 beaters plus dogs. In high wind and heavy showers we shot 38 head, predominantly pheasant but with half a dozen partridge, a brace of snipe, a mallard, 3 pigeon and a rook, unusually for this time of year we saw no Woodcock. Fifty Canada Geese got up from the water meadow between Bransbury and Barton Stacey but flew away on the wind. For the third time this year, we saw Muntjac while driving the wood that runs alongside the river; I had not seen any of these shy creatures in Bransbury until five years ago.
The following day I began the process of replacing one of the bridges over the river, I have three to do before the start of the season. In previous years, I have built all of the bridges from “Green oak” a thirty - foot bridge costing around £500, taking up to 10 days to build and lasting for around 10 years. This year, because of the high price of timber, I have opted to use telegraph poles as the main runners with a deck on top made from Green Oak slats, The telegraph poles will see me out, the oak deck easily replaced after 10 years. With the decision on materials made, the next issue to contend with are the Logistics of getting all the materials on site. Working on your own, jobs like this progress slowly. First task is to get the thirty feet telegraph poles from the field where they lay over a mile away, across a field of rape, down the road, through a ford and along the riverbank. As the bridge is to be a single span footbridge I opted to split a telegraph pole in half. This I did with a chainsaw after taking about ten pounds of metal work off the telegraph pole. I should point out at this point that these telegraph poles were not upright and carrying telephone lines, but had been deemed to have passed their sell by date and had been laid to rest under a hedge. Once split it was a case of man handling the poles onto the back of the pick up. Picking one end up, hugging it and inching it slowly up the back of the pick up; Once in place, lashing it down with ropes, crossing my fingers and making for the river. This process took up the best part of two days.
On Thursday after cleaning the alevins up in the tank, I had to prepare for Duck Shooting in the evening. My employer generously offers fishing and shooting to various charity auctions. I am constantly amazed by the amount of money some people are prepared to proffer in the name of a good cause. A few years ago the bidding surpassed £3000 for a days fishing, while for a days fishing in summer, we regularly reach “four figures” in a Charity auction held in America. On this occasion the two clients had paid a substantial amount of money for an evening’s Duck Flighting. Duck Flighting is one of the most exciting, and at the same time infuriating forms of game shooting; Sometimes they are there sometimes they are not. The aim is to shoot wild duck as they are coming in to roost on the pond for the night, this they do in the last few moments of dusk. It’s an acute test of the eyes as the Ducks come hurtling into the pond in the fading light, to shoot a bag of 10 ducks you invariably need a hundred plus ducks coming onto the pond. The pond has four “hides” in which to conceal the guns, each will shoot differently depending upon the direction of the wind, and therein lies the key – the wind and moon. The ideal night would be with the wind blowing a “hooley” and no moon, the Ducks are keen to get down on the pond, and any sound from shots is carried away on the wind. On a clear still night with a full moon, the Ducks may flight all night, they will circle the pond to check if it is safe to land, and if there is any sound of shooting as they approach the pond they will veer off and head for another pond. If there has been rain in the preceding week, the ducks will favour the flooded fields rather than the pond, in freezing conditions Ducks will seek out our spring fed pond in the knowledge that it will be free from Ice. The predominant species visiting the pond has changed over the time I have been here. Fifteen years ago the bag would have been predominantly made up of Mallard, with Tufties the second most abundant species. Five years ago half the Ducks visiting the pond were Gadwall with Mallard a close second, this year we have shot mostly Mallard. A cold snap will always bring groups of Widgeon and Teal and over the years we have shot Shoveller, Pochard, and Mandarin. It is incredibly hit and miss, and while you are desperate to put on good shooting for people who have been so generous, some things are beyond your control.
Thursday’s weather seemed ideal, high wind with showers; yet at 3.00pm, an hour before we were due to set off, the wind dropped and the clouds parted. With Mark, my employer’s son placing the Guns, I set off with Zebo, my black Labrador, to rouse up a few ducks. Running across part of Bransbury Common we shoved a few off the puddles, and raised a few on the Water meadow above Bransbury, but with the wind gone the ducks were wary off flighting our pond. The Guns did fire over thirty shots for 3 brace of Duck, but the weather earlier in the day had promised so much more.
Once Mark has called time on the shooting it is time to pick up the shot game, and time for the Labrador Retrievers to come into their own. The Labrador was specifically bred for this kind of task. It is pitch black, the dead game could be on the pond, in reed beds, on the island or in the river. With luck the gun will have some idea of the general area in which his shot duck has landed to give you a start, but from then on it is down to the dog. I am particularly blessed with Zebo, He is 9 years old and when it comes to Duck shooting he knows more than me. On the occasions when I am required to shoot I wish I could give him the gun. I would suggest that I am one of the worst shots in Hampshire, Zebo will sit and watch me swing through the line at a passing duck willing me to bring it down, only for it to carry on its way, Zebo shaking his head at my ineptitude.
On this night we only had six to pick, and Zebo and Hector – Mark’s chunky yellow lab, had the job done in minutes. A disappointing night for the Guns, softened by my employers generous offer of another day next seasonOn Friday it rained all day, colouring up the river and raising it to a level that you would expect for this time of the year.