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WILDFOWLING

Hardy and determined. Man and dog pitted against the wild geese, nature the fickle referee. Snow showers forecast, and the pinkfoot will come in with them on the gales. Sitting out before dawn in the freezing creek, you can hear the goosetalk begin as the huge flocks start to move out - and then the first bird comes within range. Now is your chance, for there might not be another on this wild morning’s flight - the marshes and the foreshore don’t play by any rules but their own.

Wildfowling is the pursuit of wild ducks, waders and geese in their natural habitat, usually using a shotgun or sometimes a punt gun - a huge, boat-mounted shotgun of large bore diameter firing perhaps over a pound of shot at a time. Since the introduction of legislation banning the use of lead shot over wetlands or against specific wildfowl species, many wildfowlers have begun using modern 12 bore shotguns capable of firing non-lead shot such as steel and tungsten.

Wildfowlers may dig a ‘grave’ when out on the foreshore, use an artificial hide, or they may seek a suitable concealed place to sit and wait for the arrival of quarry species during ‘flights’ in the early morning and late evening when birds are moving to and from their feeding grounds. Wearing appropriate clothing suited to the colour and condition of the terrain is vital, as is having intimate knowledge the environment and habits of your quarry. Marshes and the foreshore can be dangerous places without the correct knowledge to navigate them properly; quicksand and rising tides are two of the main concerns.

It is also possible to use decoys to bring wildfowl, especially geese, within sensible shooting range and this is a common approach on farmland where geese travel to eat, much to the annoyance of farmers frustrated at losing grass or crops. In any form of wildfowling, a well-trained gundog is essential in order to retrieve shot quarry.

Quarry for wildfowlers includes birds such as mallard, wigeon, teal, snipe, Canada goose, pinkfoot goose and greylag goose. Unless culling for conservation or protection of crops, shooting large numbers of birds is not usually the aim, and most wildfowlers are content with a single bird or a brace. It is illegal to sell wild geese in the UK, though there are some SNH Goose Management Scheme exemptions, so private consumption takes precedence. The experience of being out in a wild and uncompromising environment at the harshest time of year is both challenging and romantic, particularly as many wildfowlers go out alone except for their dog. Wildfowling is one of the oldest and purest forms of hunting.

There are a large number of wildfowling clubs and syndicates across the UK who control the shooting of water fowl, and it is usually necessary to join a group in order to shoot, especially on the foreshore where shooting may be restricted to clubs. In Scotland, shooting on the Crown Estate-owned foreshore is a public right except in locations such as certain nature reserves. Outwith CE land, shooting rights are usually privately owned and leased out.

SACS has always supported and protected the rights of wildfowlers, who are increasingly seeing their fowling grounds threatened by obsessive professional conservationists who do not understand the deep and emphatic connection that wildfowlers have with their quarry and environment. We are currently involved in supporting Findhorn Wildfowling Association to protect shooting on Findhorn Bay.

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