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Duck shooting at Cefngwyn Hall, Ceredigion

It was 5pm on a stormy November afternoon as I crouched low, waiting for any signs of incoming ducks in the gloom. I was accompanied by Llanelli Scarlets prop forward Phil John and Cefngwyn Hall owner Charles Grisedale, so we were able to keep all angles covered. We were holed up in a bunker-like depression on a small peninsular on one of the many ponds here and, with water all around, it certainly seemed like a good spot to lie in wait for the much-vaunted evening flight. And so it proved. After less than 15 minutes of waiting the first mallard started to appear, their silhouettes surprisingly easy to make out in the post-sunset sky. As incomers came ever closer I think I would have been tempted into an early shot without Charles’ advice in my right ear: “A bit tall still, just wait and there’ll be plenty more.” And how right he was. Before long a pair of mallard came directly overhead and Phil, to my left, popped up and killed the first outright, leaving me to bring the second down. With both birds in the bag it seemed like an ominously good start.

Situated just a mile from the coast, Cefngwyn has been shaped into the ideal habitat for wildfowl.

For the next half an hour the birds poured back in to the ponds of this remote part of west Wales and I had the privilege of watching a front-row forward displaying considerably more hand-eye coordination than is usually associated with his kind. With remarkable consistency he and his three-inch chambered side-by-side kept dropping left and rights into the lake around us and, by the time Charles called time, he had achieved this feat at least 10 times. I can’t say I hit the same level of consistency, but nonetheless I dropped enough to walk away happy in the knowledge I had done justice to this exhilarating opportunity.

Owner Charles Grisedale is an ardent advocate of duck shooting.

Afterwards, as the whole team convened in the darkness it quickly became clear the flight had been a universal success. It was a special shooting treat that simultaneously touched some deep hunting instincts and provided breathtaking action. It will live long in the memory.

Devoted to duck shooting

Cefngwyn Hall lies a few miles south of Aberystwyth and just a mile or two inland from the dramatic and beautiful Ceredigion coastline. It’s a long drive from almost anywhere else in the UK but, if you are after special duck shooting, then it is more than worth it. The evening flight we experienced came at the end of a full day of driven duck shooting, during which our team of 10 guns was challenged and often beaten by a series of fast and clearly wild birds. And the stormy conditions only added to the enjoyment of the day.

Charles Grisedale has always been fascinated by the creation of the right habitat for shooting and he has spent a large part of his life moulding this piece of land into shape for that purpose. He explained the background to the shooting here: “I came back from college in 1975. Prior to that I had worked as a farm student in Oxted. In both places I had seen pheasants and thought that we could introduce them here. So, armed with The Amateur Keeper by Archie Coats, and with a ready supply of bantams, I started off. But pond digging had always been an interest, and I dug my first when I was seven, using my pocket money to buy the necessary supplies.

“During the 1970s and 1980s, in the black spring months, I would dig more and more. And before long the ponds and shoot outgrew a single syndicate and I sold my first duck shooting day in 1984. In the 1980s and 1990s I also dug many others throughout the county, such was the demand for shooting. This was before partridge shooting in the early season became as popular as it is now.”

Wild at heart

Duck shooting can stir mixed emotions among the shooting fraternity, but there is no better example of how well it can be done than here at Cefngwyn. Yes, some of the birds are reared but, as Charles explains, that does not mean they are tame: “We only shoot on my land now with 25 pools and a five-acre splash, spread over around 400 acres.

The ducks, however, use pools and lakes over many thousands of acres, returning home for a feed at night or spending the day here. The secret is not to overshoot them and not to shoot too close to their pool.

Experienced dogs to locate the fallen quarry are a must in tricky wetland areas like those at Cefngwyn.

“One thousand plus are wild-reared here, and we release too. They’re released as early as possible – no older than five weeks old. They naturally become wild, as there is always food, and the day after release they already swim away from you in panic. By August we only feed in three places as they are on the wing.

“And I think it is fair to say that most fowl passing through Wales call in here at some point. We feed through until March – more than 150 tons of barley a year. But I am always extremely careful with the genetics of the breeding stock, inspecting each male and female duck for perfect wild colour characteristics, which has to help in their flying ability.”

Masters of the skies

Commercial duck shooting it may be but it’s clear that Charles is interested in far more than just turning a profit. He has a genuine twinkle of excitement in his eye when putting the guns in position and is always on hand to share experiences and answer queries. And most visitors will have plenty of those because this is quite unlike any shooting they will have experienced.

It is predominantly a mallard shoot but we saw a few teal on the day and it doesn’t stop there: “We have shot up to seven different species of duck in a day and the last time I tagged ducks some years ago, they were shot in locations as varied as Dublin, Anglesey, Somerset and Gloucester.

“I would say to the critics of reared duck shooting: you have every reason to be circumspect – I would not lift a gun to some I have seen on shoots. But those types of shoots don’t buy ducks from me because they complain they fly away too quickly, and I would not sell to them. Pheasant keepers like to count their birds every day. Not a good idea with duck, as they should be masters of the skies.”

Leicestershire gun Matt Knowles takes on some high altitude, fast moving wild mallard.

An attractive price

A big attraction to many teams is the slightly unusual pricing structure at Cefngwyn Hall. It’s a flat fee of £500 per gun for the day, regardless of bag. On my visit the final bag was 350 mallard and four teal between 10 guns – that’s just over £14 a bird. There are 20 days a year and the evening flights don’t start till November when the clocks have gone back and more birds spend the day away from the ponds. Charles said of his pricing structure:

“I love watching a sharp team, and one should relax on a shoot day and not worry about overages. The best team this year shot 475, while some struggle to get 150. They are not easy.”

One reason the price can be held down is that laying on a duck day is not as labour intensive as a pheasant day. Behind the scenes here is the work of headkeeper Dafydd Lloyd. And then on shoot day there are four top pickers-up with experienced dogs, which is absolutely essential in these wetland areas where the dead birds are hard to spot with the human eye. Also included in the price is the catering provided by Charles’s wife Elizabeth, who feeds everyone in the eponymous Hall. And there is no shortage of demand for the ducks at the end of the day, with all of them being taken by a local game dealer.

For more information on the duck shooting at Cefngwyn Hall email: [email protected]

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