SHOOTING TIPS: Wildfowling camouflage.
Whether we learnt to shoot at an early age or came to the sport later in life, we have all been taught to conceal ourselves from our quarry – principles that apply to wildfowling as much as they do deer stalking, vermin shooting or pigeon decoying.
Camouflage coats, caps, gloves and even waders are now a common sight across every foreshore in the land. As well as keeping us warm and dry, they also help cover our skin and give a similar tone and shade as the surrounding environment.
But is camouflage really necessary?
Many wildfowlers still choose to stick to plain drab colours in preference to the image-printed outfits that originated in the United States.
Flick through old wildfowling books and you will come across images of men in plain dark or light coloured apparel which would appear to stand out from a mile away.
While there’s no doubt camouflage can help make concealment easier, history shows us that positioning, keeping movement to a minimum and breaking up our outline is far more important than the type of camouflage patterns we wear.
On the marsh, getting into a position where we are lower than our background reduces the chance of approaching birds spotting our silhouette.
Conversely, anyone who sets up on high ground will not only have their outline projected against a backdrop of sky or water, any movement they make will be spotted in an instant.
Digging pits into the marsh is one way of keeping out of sight but this practice is rightly banned by many wildfowling clubs as the holes can be dangerous to grazing livestock which might fall in and become trapped.
Although they make fantastic hides to shoot from, a pit is very time consuming and labour intensive to dig.
And on top of that they have to be bailed out every time the tide covers it, or if it fills with rainwater.
The next best solution is to make a shallow scrape against the side of an open gutter or channel with a small collapsible spade of the sort you can buy cheaply from most Army and Navy Surplus stores.
A scrape of this sort is quick and easy to create and it does the job of getting you low down and out of sight.
It’s important that the scrape allows you to manoeuvre out of sight into a comfortable position to shoot from, and not trying to hide at the last moment when fowl are heading your way.
The other beauty of a scrape is that it keeps bank erosion to a minimum.
If there are no (or few) suitable gutters on your marsh to get down into then a net hide may be the only option left for concealment.
If so, pick the colour of the net very carefully – go for something as light as possible and avoid old military-style nets like the plague because they are often too dark and stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.
The lightweight nets available to us today are less susceptible to rot, dry quickly and are much more compact than the military ones.
The only downside I can find with modern nets is that because they are so light, they are more susceptible to being blown around in the wind.
And as wildfowling and strong winds go hand in hand, this will invariably prove to be an issue.
The answer is to prop up the net hide with a set of purposebuilt adjustable poles with a ‘V’ shaped notch in the top, which can be easily raised or lowered depending on the chosen location.
Many people find hazel sticks or bamboo canes an effective and cheaper alternative because should they break or be left behind then it’s no big deal.
Whichever ones you choose to use the netting needs to drape over the poles and not be strung too tightly, which will make the edges look sharp and unnatural.
Too slack and the wind will have it flapping around and spooking birds.
Some flights can last many hours so if you are planning on staying in the same location it’s worth getting the hide right at the first time of asking.
For a start, be sure to allow sufficient space for your dog and any bags or equipment you’ve taken.
There needs to be a balance of available space; not too much to make the hide an ineffective, gaping hole but enough to be able to manoeuvre in.
Attaching marsh vegetation where possible will give the set up a more natural appearance and help merge the net into the surroundings.
The golden rule with net hides is to always look through the netting where possible, rather than over the top of it, keeping as still as possible until the final moment that the shot is taken.
It may sound obvious but it’s amazing how often even the most experienced ‘fowlers get excited and raise their head in order to get a better view of the birds.
Doing so only scares them away.
Carrying, setting up, adjusting or re-positioning a net hide can hamper operations and, worse, reduce the time you spend shooting.
So now, in many situations, I wear a 3D leaf oversuit.
I reckon it’s a sensible compromise.
The one I’ve bought is the Jack Pyke LLCS ghillie suit in a greener ‘English Woodland’ pattern that matches the colour of marsh grass tussocks a treat.
The suit works almost like a portable hide with its frilled jacket and balaclava hood breaking up the unnatural outline of my head and shoulders when I pop up above the marsh top.
When investing in suits such as this, go for a slightly more ‘generous’ size so that it will fit easily and comfortably over your usual waterproof clothing.
My suit also comes in handy out of the wildfowling season and has more than earned its keep when deer stalking, airgun hunting and pigeon shooting!