MARK LEWIS INTRODUCES HIS NEW SERIES OF ARTICLES - A COOK ON THE WILD SIDE
It all started in early spring with a lambing call from a local farmer who was loosing lambs to Charlie. After a couple of nightly visits with lamp and rifle the problem was quickly solved and the farmer was overjoyed, to the point where he offered me more permission for rabbit and corvid control on more land which also had on it a pool, which I could also shoot on…RESULT!
So a few days later I went to reci the land and the pool to see what if any sort of wildfowl it would attract. The first thing I did was look for signs of life on and around the pool. If the obvious duck is not at home I look for tracks and signs of feeding around the shallow areas, prints, feathers, coloured up water, etc. Where the pool is situated? Next to a road, a river, or other water course? Possible flight paths and wind direction. I look for obstructions natural or manmade things that can form natural hides or, places a hide could be put if permission is given.
Now duck and goose shooting in England and Wales runs from the 1stSeptember through to the 31stJanuary (extending to the 20thFebruary on the part of the sea shore covered by the ebb and flow of the four ordinary tides between the springs and the neaps)which gives me a few months to get things sorted.
After checking with the farmer to see if its okay to put up a hide, I then looked for a suitable position. Somewhere with the best advantage point where the ducks will enter the pool, preferably with the prevailing wind behind me and also the opposite end to were the sunsets, to make the most of the light for longer and so the ducks can be seen coming in as it starts to get darker. If a hide cannot be made out of the natural material that is already around the pool I will make one out of straw. At the end of the season I will either burn or break it down into net bags and put in the water around the pool to help stop the algae growth, green water and blanket weed growth throughout the next year. There are so many nutrients within straw as it slowly breaks down naturally in water.
Camo hides can also be used but I find that they can blow about in the wind and can put ducks off from flighting in. If the pool is to be shot throughout the season then I find a more permanent structure that the ducks can get familiar with, a much better option.
After finding a suitable place to erect my hide, at the one end of the pool I looked around for other features and places to make a stand, running down the one side were reeds under over hanging trees. I cleared a path out so I could stand within the reeds in chest waders, another great position when not too cold or frosty.
With all the preparation done and only a month to the start of the season it is now time to think about feeding. There are lots of different feed that can be used for wildfowl. I prefer barley but you can use wheat, potatoes, grass seed, dried peas etc. If you are using potatoes or any cereal ask the farmer to make sure that they have not been dressed ready for drilling as these can release chemicals and acids into the water harming fish and pond life, also care should be taken to avoid excess feed being left in or around the pool, as it encourages pests such as rats and may also lead to the degradation of the water quality.
When first feeding the pool I will normally put down two buckets, spreading the feed in the shallows over a 25-35 yard area. As this pool is fairly large I will also feed in a couple of places, the shallows in front of the hide and down along the opposite side to the reed beds. Don’t just put the feed in one place, ducks like to move around and dabble. Plus the more places you can feed the more ducks you will attract and hold. I will then leave it for a couple of days or so then return to see what has gone.
If nothing has gone I will leave it a few more days. Then when the feed starts going I will cut back slightly, generally a 10litre (2gallon) bucket of barley per 100 duck per day is sufficient. But additional feeding may be needed again in severe weather conditions and if necessary on top of ice. Next I will put the decoys down on the pool on lines and weighted down, some people only like to leave these on for a few weeks until the ducks start taking the food but I leave them on until the end of the season( I will explain why later) I will now feed the pool for the 4 weeks prior to the start of the season, I will then find a good vantage point away from the pool to sit for a couple of evenings and watch to see what is coming in, at what time and how many.
After the clock has struck 12 on the 1stSeptember, D-day I checked the weather and moon phase for the coming week so I can work out what day is best to shoot the pool. I must say I cannot wait for the opening day of my new pool, I have invited my good friend Nigel Merchant who will be acting photographer and also John a friend who accompanied me on a resent wild boar hunting trip to Croatia. While Nigel prepared the ingredients in the back of my Nissan Navara it was down to myself and John to bring home the bacon(or duck as it were). John was in the hide that I had made a couple of months earlier which by now was looking well weathered and quite natural and I was tucked down in the reeds. Just on the edge or darkness they started to flight in. John was the first to shoot, one after another they started coming in, shots rang out, adrenaline was flowing, after what seemed a short time it was all over. I sent out my trusty cocker, Jasper to pick up what had been shot. I picked up all my empty cartridges and we made our way over to Nigel for a tally. John accounted for 3 ducks and myself 8. What a great start to the season.
After toasting our fallen quarry with a big glug of Plymouth sloe gin from our hip flasks I set to with dressing some ducks. Thirty minutes later the smells coming from the back of my Navara were infectious. Myself, Nigel and John sat down by the pool for our feast of duck in port, red wine and cherries with whole grain mashed potato, pak choi and a bottle of Marques De Caceres Blanco Rioja…An extreamely well made fresh ,fruity style wine from Viura grapes.no oak, just bags of ripe fruit with a vibrant and clean finish .What a perfect end to the start of the new season. Quality fresh food and wine cooked once again, in the company of friends, in the great outdoors, what more could you ask for?
It is good to come away letting a few ducks come in without being shot. This does not always happen if darkness falls, but its where your decoys that have been left on the pool come into play the following day, by pulling in more ducks. After the excellent food and campfire banter Jasper was sent out again to check for missed fallen birds while we checked for spent cartridge cases. I then fed the pool and we were on our way homeward with full bellies and game bags.