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Goose shooting: Decoying over stubble

Goose shooting.
“Pinks expected in huge numbers – just before the new moon – get here quick,” said the message. We mobilised immediately.

Plans were drawn up and finalised, timetables and weather forecasts were checked and re-checked.

Munitions serviced, cartridges bought and specialist camo gear chosen to suit the operational terrain.

Nothing could be left to chance. Our only worry was the transport.

It was far too risky to fly – we’d never get through security armed to the teeth like this – there was nothing for it, we’d have to take the long drive north and take our luck at the border.

As the sun began to drop on a chilly autumn afternoon we loaded the vehicle and set off. Luck was on our side.

We evaded every surveillance camera enroute and even the police seemed uninterested when we stopped for refuelling.

At 21.00 hours we slipped over the border – we were in. We rendezvoused with our local guide within the hour.

We would billet at his quarters for the evening, finalise our plans and get some decent scram before a well-earned sleep.

Alarms were set, reveille at 04.00 hours. Keeping low in the hide as the geese are spotted.

Those brief few hours before getting our heads down were invaluable for the team.

Our man on the ground knew everything there was to know about our intended quarry and he could provide in-depth information on the suspected whereabouts of our targets – where they were now and, more importantly, where he expected them to be in the morning.

Timing was crucial, we needed to tab in under the cover of darkness, get set up for the ambush, do the job and get out asap.

Early next morning, with barely enough time for a hot wet, our convoy set off led by our expert guide – the man we’d got to know the previous evening as ‘Dave the Goose.’

In shooting parlance Dave (the goose) Virtue is a legend in the borders, a shooting agent par excellence. Since shooting his first goose as young teenager, he’s been hooked on wildfowling.

Dave is always on hand to help get the geese over the Guns.

But that’s not the only aspect of his 40-year’s worth of shooting experience.

As well as goose guiding Dave also offers days shooting duck and pigeon, along with numerous rough shooting outings that usually offer between six to eight species of game in the bag, including teal, mallard, snipe, hare, woodcock, pheasant, pigeon and rabbits.

Dave can also arrange full driven days if required.

To cap all that, he is an accomplished stalker and regularly gets clients onto Roe – over a wide variety of terrain utilising conventional stalking and high seats – and they shoot on average six medal class bucks each year.

Dave is fortunate because he never really has to overshoot any particular area within his patch – not surprising with over 120,000 acres at his disposal, principally in the Scottish Borders, East Lothian and Northumberland.

“With so much land to cover, much of my ‘spare’ time is spent on reconnaissance. Guests pay to shoot a specific quarry and it’s my job to know where they are, whatever the season or time of day,” says Dave.

“Most shooters that come to me know that guiding is not an exact science – all game and deer species move around, they’re truly wild after all – but that doesn’t mean clients will put up with hours of driving around in a truck while I’m looking for something for them to shoot.”

“We’ve got plenty of wild game in the area so shooters don’t have to be lucky – spoon fed birds are definitely not in our portfolio!”

“My job is to get guests in a position where they can get plenty of shooting, be on hand to offer advice if necessary, and then let them get on with enjoying the day,” he added.

The recent flooding caused near disaster on the way to our destination. One of our vehicles bottomed out on a track that had literally been washed away by the storms.

Frantic attempts to push it out failed miserably, stuck fast; it was hard down on its axles. Desperate minutes were wasted while the 4x4s pulled out the stranded vehicle – time was against us now as the glow of the morning sun could be seen just below the horizon.

Finally we were there. Grabbing guns and cartridges we struggled through the barbed wire fencing towards our vantage point.

Simultaneously, we utilised any available natural cover to enhance our net hides, while Dave set decoys in what seemed a random (but actually well planned) pattern – we were ready for action.

Just six hours ago these stubble fields were full of feeding geese.

The pinks would see the decoys, but hopefully, not see us lying in wait. The rules of engagement were simple.

No orders, fire at will. The briefing of the night before came to mind – keep well down, keep dead still and watch through the net to see the incoming birds.

Choose ‘your’ bird and only move at the last moment to fire. The system worked well – the incoming hordes were thinned out considerably and all the squad got some shooting.

Asked later about the number of geese that had come over the decoys – albeit the vast majority at 1,000 feet plus – Dave reckoned it was probably around the 2,500 mark.

The skeins of geese coming over were huge.

A spectacle that needs to be seen to be believed – and the noise was incredible!

Morning flight over we retired back to quarters for breakfast, gun cleaning and drying of clothes.

Revitalised we all looked forward to the evening flight – only to find our group had been betrayed – by the weather!

The most sophisticated intel available to man was, to put it simply, completely wrong.

Solid downpours of monsoon proportions replaced the light drizzle forecasted.

Dave slipped out, almost unnoticed for a recce.

The fields he’d chosen for our evening sortie had become lakes! Everywhere was flooded.

The pinkies were nowhere to be seen. They’d moved back to take the higher ground, obviously waiting for another chance on another day.

There was nothing for it, we needed extra rations for that evening, and so it was off after flighting pigeons. Twenty or 30 birds in the bag later, we tucked into the freshest pigeon ever tasted.

The following morning we had just a few hours before we were due to leave so we had one short, last chance to give the quarry a hammering.

We’d moved position, trying to get an edge on the situation, but the pinkies were still nowhere within range.

Odd scouts came over us, drone-like at high altitude, but nothing committed to land.

Nothing came within range of our dug-in positions. They were too well fed.

Fortunately, though, where the geese feared to tread, the duck came in big time.

(L-R) Colin Watts, Brian Kelly, Charlie Rawlings, Liam O’Connor, Dave Virtue, Flick, Mick Hird, Steve Moore and Tweedy (David’s young assistant).

Fast and furious they came in from all angles – muzzle loaders and semi-autos alike were kept more than busy.

And then it was over. We re-grouped – packed the kit and were away.

It was hard not to look around as we drove south. One thing for certain though, we’ll be back!