Wildfowling: Canada Geese
Published: , in The Suburban Bushwacker: From Fat Boy to Elk Hunter
"Last night, did you chase a large bird through the house with an axe? I ask only as there are feathers all the way up the stairs, and a bloodied axe in the kitchen?"
Two nights before.
It was a cold and windy rain-battered night. On the weather forecast at least, so when I dragged my hide out of bed at Three AM I was pleasantly surprised to find the skies clear and the temperature nudging double figures. Being the city boy that I am it did cross my mind that I'd not need a coat. Yeah right. Putting such foolishness to one side I hopped in an Uber and headed to Shooter's place.
The blogger known as Shooter doesn't live that far from me as the crow files, through the traffic or on the train it takes forever to get to him. But the city is asleep so when the Uber driver woke me to say we'd arrived I must only have been asleep for ten minutes. The other person in the car park is a distinguished looking gent taking a pair of muddy wellies out of his motor. He bears the mark of the new boy or tourist. That's his warmest coat, but its not a shooting coat. We make our introductions and summon Shooter, who arrives at levels of excitement that would shame an eight year old. I'm an enthusiast but I'm nothing on Shooter, he never plays it cool. His enthusiasm is as boundless as it is infectious. Like an armed Tigger, wearing a shirt and tie under wildfowling camo. I'd forgotten how much I like going hunting with him.
We spend the hour and a half it takes to drive north playing trivia swaps, and the Distinguished Looking Gent is kind enough to ask an innocuous question or two about calibres, giving Shooter and myself the chance to re-live the joys of the calibre conversation. Again.
Rugby; home of the ball game, school, and due to the abundance of Blue Lias limestone, cement works. At the time of the doomsday book it was spelled Rocheberie, and is possibly the town furthest from the sea in England.
Canada Geese; surly, begging, aggressive, territorial, constantly shitting, and they make a helluva racket.
6.5 Creedmoor dude! Sharing the wonders of the other rounds of its diameter but, due to the miracle of marketing, available off the shelf. Damn if we don't live in a golden age of ammo!
It was another one of those 'you take the A one-one-whatever towards Effing-Sodbury, until you pass Futtocks End, turn right at the Broken Head, and when you come to a field with a downed Oak blocking the entrance, go two more fields, until you come to the field with the downed Ash, when you see a Post Office you've gone too far, call me I'll be along in a few minutes'
We are significantly early. It is indeed a cold and windy night. One of the other local guides swings by on his way to an unrelated gig, to hang out and let us know our man is on his way. The other guns rock up; an electrical contractor, a man who calls himself a farmer but turns out to be a bio-fuels entrepreneur, and a dude who has fishing lakes. They're in their early 60's, and sport that uniform of the British sporting gent; a mix of expensive new, and dirt-cheap old kit, worn over a shirt and tie, and Green Wellies.
Just as there's enough light to see into the field the guide arrives with two Cockers.
The line of flight is between a massive reservoir and a fairly massive fishing lake. A stern lecture about not shooting Cormorants is issued. It starts to rain. After BoB (brother of bushwacker) Shooter is the most waterproof person I've ever met, he may have been a duck in another life, once the wind turns, blowing the now driving rain into our faces, his spirts soar.
We trudge across the field shovelling shells into our guns as we go, right on cue the honking begins and a posse of Canada Geese take to the sky. Down at the other end of the line someone drops one of them and the day has begun. The next flight takes me by surprise and, my attention re-focused by an easy shot not taken, I drop the lead bird of flight three. To be truthful, given my past record with a scatter gun, I'm so shocked that I forget I've got two more in the tube and let the other Geese within my range fly off unharmed, and forget to reload.
On average Canada Geese weigh in anywhere between 2.5 and 6.5 Kg; moody bastards with an extremely muscular neck and a substantial bill of 4.1 to 6.8 cm (1.6 to 2.7 in) they're a known menace on London's waterways. Hissing a warning, and jabbing with that bill. Shirty as you like.
Dawn has now fully broken and the rain lessens. To my consternation a goose wanders over, on foot. I'm nearest so I walk over and shoot him. A few feathers become airborne, he looks at me quizzically, I shoot him again, seemingly without affect. Click, as I'm reloading he expires.
Shooter "What are you doing? Why didn't you wring his neck?"
SBW " Have you seen the size of the fecker? You fight him."
This is Britain, there's no real wilderness, so we end up sharing all but the Highlands with others. Given our location its only a matter of time before that most pompous of hobbyist's the Twitcher appears. Glaring his disapproval though his binoculars. Annoyingly there's now another pedestrian goose, wandering off, ever closer to disappearing into a tangle of brambles at the far end of the field. Eventually the Twitcher tires of watching a bunch of grey-beards standing in the rain thinking about breakfast and toddles off. Shooter and I set about depriving Mr Fox of his dinner. I'm no keener on tangling with this one, and shoot him. The first load inflicting what looks like a moral wound, the goose indignantly waddles away, the second load looks to separate his head from his neck and he slumps to the ground. As I pick him up, his wings give a couple of spasms and I take a nice shin-strike, renewing my conviction that they are an extremely dangerous animal, not to be tangled with.
While Deer Stalking is a solitary activity, the interactive element taking place online after the event, Flighting and Walked Up have a social side to them. Certain conventions are to be observed. I'm feeling a bit under dressed as DLG and I are the only ones not wearing a shirt and tie. There's a whole raft of ritual and expectation that I'm only dimly aware of, taking place in a hierarchy of situations, this is the informal end of things where 'safe' and 'wasn't an arsehole' will do it, at the next level there are fines for not having enough cartridges and other infractions. You must have the right gun, 'right' isn't defined by price, my agricultural semi is fine for Pigeon, Geese and Ducks, but unthinkable for Pheasant and ground game. They all seem to aspire to shoot Side by Sides, but actually shot Under and Overs. Their Understatement game is strong.
Over an impromptu breakfast of porky and chocolaty snacks the fellas review the sport of the season.
The chaps are extremely cautious about who they'll shoot with, safety comes first, then there's the correct way to make any displeasure known.
Shooter and the Guide have been on this very ground a week or so before, with a group of clients both of them wish to swerve. Alerted by the bragging 'that time you shot me' conversation and then Muzzle-Swept, Shooter had quietly beaten a retreat to the car to watch, gun in slip, from a safe distance. The guide complements him on this wordless communication. This is a tribe anyone can join, or at least think they've joined. Somehow imagining they could sweep this massive breach of etiquette under the carpet the group have nominated a new voice to make a subsequent telephone booking. A very small and self-policing world.
Re-waterproofed by caffeine, chocolate and pork. With the dogs released from the truck bed we walk the cover crop fields to see if we can put a few birds in the air. A couple of championship Rabbits break from a spiny, once out of shotgun range they turn and pause to chalk up the experience, funny how they never do that when I've got a rifle.
After a pub lunch we work another crop. This ain't no dusty prairie, the crop grows almost waist high and every leaf seems to hold a cup of iced water. The gang are divided, we've got a couple of waterproof over-trouser wearers, I'm in the Breeks subset, and then there's the guide and Distinguished Looking Gent toughing it out. Pheasants clatter to the sky, I drop a Hen but the Partridge elude me. Shooter drops a brace and as we meander towards the cars a skein of Greylag Geese climb in an expanding Vee, the straggler crumples in a cloud of Steel shot.
We're losing the light, but elect to stand in a pointless line waiting for a never to arrive flight of ducks. Its time for home.
When the conversation is good the drive back is all too short, DLG tells us about he and his wife's trekking adventures, and an abortive hunt for buffalo in Tanzania. Shooter and I do a quick round of 'one rifle to rule them all' and all too soon were wishing DLG an early happy crimbo and waving him off.
I've now got: Four Canadians, A Greylag, three Pheasant and Shooter has given me three ducks from earlier in the week. It's a big ask for an Uber driver, but The Northern Monkey is afloat not too far from Shooter's yard so I lure him off his sofa with offers of Goose dinners and he collects me, only to find himself embroiled in a substantial plucking session back at mine. Where we were to learn a new truth from the wild food lifestyle.
If you shake a lot of goose down and feathers until they become airborne, you'll easily be able to tell which of your kitchen surfaces need de-greasing.
PS my go to guy for wild food recipes has several belters on his blog
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