Wildfowling, shooting and conservation

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Wildfowling is the pursuit of wild fowl in wild places. As a shooting sport it is unique in that success depends more upon the wildfowler's knowledge of the habits and habitat of his quarry than upon his marksmanship skills. It is, however, more than just a sport. For those of us who have responded to the call of a wild estuary, fowling can become a way of life, a consuming passion which leads us relentlessly to seek a better understanding of the birds which inhabit the land and water beyond the tideline.

In the eyes of many folk, the wildfowler must appear to be a very strange individual. Whether he sets out on a mild October morning, battles against the gale of a November storm or endures frozen fingers in late December, the longshore gunner is privy to a world which is known to only a tiny proportion of 20th-Century mankind. The marshes and saltings below the sea wall, especially in mid-winter, constitute one of the last remaining areas of true wilderness to be found in this crowded country. When the rest of the nation is asleep, a solitary wildfowler can experience a communion with nature which is well-nigh impossible in any other setting.

Not only will he share his world with a rich multitude of genuinely wild fauna, he will encounter weather conditions which would send most of his compatriots scurrying for sanctuary. To be successful at his craft he must learn to read the natural signs - wind, tide and moon - and become thoroughly familiar with the topography of his chosen estuary. Dawn and dusk will become as significant to him as "News at Ten" is to his city-bound brethren.

All the fowler's senses play their part in revealing to him the full wonder of this environment. He sees dark storm clouds scudding across a slowly lightening sky. He hears the ebb and flow of tides and the myriad calling of dozens of species of shore birds. He smells the iodine of estuarine vegetation and tastes the salt spray in the air. All of those combine to fill out the mental images which colour his anticipation as each new season draws nigh and they are all part of the memories which sustain him through the days when his gun is safely locked away in its cupboard.

Each and every wildfowling expedition is an adventure during which new problems arise and new solutions are found. In this way one's knowledge progressively expands with the result that the novice gradually transforms into an accomplished sportsman. There are less-experienced wildfowlers and more-experienced wildfowlers but there are no experts. The span of a human life is too short for any individual to acquire a monopoly of fowling truth; so let the man who thinks that he knows it all put away his thigh boots and take up golf or clay pigeon shooting instead.

It is, therefore, with a sense of humility that this book has been compiled. In Part I, I have attempted to recount a selection of personal wildfowling tales which I hope will begin to illustrate some of the fundamental principles and practices of the sport. If the accounts of geese flighting over a windswept foreshore serve to fire the imagination of the novice I will be well pleased; should more proficient fowlers feel that they have learned anything new, I shall be delighted.

Part II has been written in more conventional style with a view to providing a thoroughly up-to-date text to which wildfowlers may refer for information concerning their quarry, their guns and cartridges and many other aspects of their craft. Much has changed in recent years, especially in terms of the legislation which determines the species which may, or may not, be pursued. Ethics and codes of conduct are also subject to continuous updating as fowlers become increasingly conscious of the need to conserve both quarry and wildfowl habitat. The lead which has been taken by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation is one which must be firmly followed by sportsmen throughout the country.