Duck flighting

The snow and ice in Scotland during these past few weeks have caused chaos on the roads, but for the sportsman it can provide some of the most memorable experiences of the year. All of the ski resorts in the Highlands have profited from this seasonal dump – I’m told the piste at Glenshee last Saturday was the rival of anything the Alps or Rockies have to offer. The only problem was that every Scot on two planks was up there!

I was on a shoot just south of Edinburgh just after New Year when the first snow clouds gathered. Small flakes started to fall just before lunch and by the time we reappeared for the final drive, there were white bumblebees tumbling over the trees and fields. Within two minutes, your cartridge case and gun slip would be hidden in cotton wool.

As the drive finished, our host asked if we wanted to have a go at the ducks. The estate has a well-established splash that attracts wild mallard and teal throughout the season. Some of the Guns opted to drive home before the roads became impassable, but those of us who were staying nearby jumped at the opportunity. There were four of us, all old friends of several decades. If we didn’t see a duck, it would still be a special occasion.

By the time we reached the small pond, lined out with wooden hides, the first mallard were skimming in over the icy water. “Take which ever hide you fancy,” whispered our host, “Let the first ducks land in the water, then wait for them to rise before shooting.”

Ordinarily, we would have struggled to pick up the ducks in the dark, but the reflecting snow bought us some time. Soon, squadrons of mallard and teal were dropping onto the water. They would sit, testing our patience, until the first duck spooked, inviting us to lean out over the hides with guns shouldered. Some duck crossed low like grouse, while others – the teal especially – shot up high like snipe.

A better quartet of Guns would have doubtless filled the bag, but we were happy for our four mallard and a teal (we fired at least 30 shots!), when the last light finally faded. It had been a magical, unforgettable evening; a bonus round provided by the snow.