There is something deliciously exciting about rising before dawn and heading West to hunt. To be the first to walk across the dew covered fields towards the banks of the River Shannon. All the world is still asleep and missing the magic that is about to unfold.
This morning was bright with no wind. It would not be a good one for decoying. We were prepared for a morning’s walking through the flood pastures and six foot high elephant grass that grow in swathes along the Shannon. The ducks, we hoped, would be feeding in the shallow waters among the reeds.This type of shooting is hard as the marshy ground along the river bank pulls relentlessly on legs.
A dog that will keep to heel, has a good nose, (as most retrieves will be blinds beyond the reeds) and can work on their own is invaluable. This morning, Winnie was the dog for this job.
After all the anticipation and build up over the last few weeks first mornings’ can almost be an anticlimax. The full flush of migratory birds has not yet descended on our shores from northern Russia and we also knew that by going out on the second of September we could be dealing with skittish ducks that had been rattled by the previous day’s onslaught.
Our first approach held promise. As we discussed the merits of whether or not to climb over or under an electric fence a batch of about thirty mallard rose from the bend in the river…we cursed our hesitation, hastily fired off a couple of very ambitious shots but watched in dismay as they scattered and flew on down river. This was to be the pattern of our morning. Plenty of duck and plenty of missed opportunities…but every once in a while everything falls into place and all those misses are instantly forgotten.
Winnie worked well. She is a pleasure to have for this type of shooting. Her first retrieve of the morning was a perfect warm up for any to follow. The bird rose nicely from where it had been feeding in the flooded meadow and curled out over the reeds. One shot and she fell cleanly among the rushes from where Winnie retrieved her efficiently .
It was the final retrieve of the morning, however, that makes you realise just how valuable a dog is for this type of pursuit. We had, by now been out for over four hours and were headed to a spot that Emmet had seen geese on last season. We parked just short of a slipway, jumped the gate and quietly moved along the bank to the far end of this small lake. To our right was a bank of high grasses, which rose above our heads and formed a four foot barrier between us and the water. Nothing was moving. We reached the end point of the lake and surveyed a pool among the rushes that birds had been feeding in. Again nothing….then suddenly there was a splash and a quack and two mallard rose from the water. Shots were fired and one bird brought down beyond that bank of tall, tall grass.
Winnie had been with me, the far side of the ditch and although she heard the gunshot she, like me, had no vision on where that bird had fallen.
The boys had a rough mark.They reckoned she had dropped about thirty meters out beyond the bank of grasses. I gave Winnie a line through the grass and off she went. It was like lifting a curtain and letting it fall. We, on the bank, could give her no guidance. She was going to have to use her nose and her initive. Experience, hopefully also,would tell her there was a bird in open water. After a couple of minutes I could hear her coming back through the reeds. Her breathing told me that she may be carrying something and then she emerged through that curtain of grass with a fat female mallard in her mouth. My sweet, sweet girl.
As we made our way back through the cowfields, conversation was mixed with laughter and banter about what could have been and what should have been and what was. We had worked hard for our brace of birds but that will surely make them taste all the sweeter…