Richard Brigham recounts two extraordinary shooting experiences in the fog and reveals how reduced visibility can be both help and hindrance.
The plan was to try a couple of hundred woodies feeding on high ground above my house, but under what were almost white-out conditions it would now surely be a waste of time. Having waited all morning for the murk to clear, I could at least give it a look, though there was no point in taking the decoying gear. Expecting little or nothing, I set out early afternoon with nothing more than the gun and a bag full of cartridges, simply to get out, see what was about and hopefully get a consolation shot or two.
Unusually at this late hour, visibility was still down to rather less than 30 yards. It was a real pea souper, but aiming for the top of the hill, directly within sight of the ash clump where I had planned to put the hide, the dark silhouettes of several pigeons could be seen hunched up amongst the bare top branches. An occasional flutter of shadows low over the field told of a few more out feeding 20 yards from the hedge, but as yet nothing appeared to have seen me.
Just before getting within range, a bird drifted out low. It was an easy start, leaving time to pick another as the rest clattered out, struggling to pick up speed on fog-dampened wings. Collecting both, a third was added as it curled back in towards the treetops, obviously confused by the thickness of the fog. The rest of the bunch had not gone far, some appearing to have simply dropped to the first safe treetop looming out of the fog.
Moving no further than the next tree almost doubled the bag, both easy shots as they circled aimlessly, all sense of direction gone. There was also a clump of tall oaks nearby – possibly there would be others skulking in the treetops? There were, and another careful approach brought me well in range, taking a rather unsporting sitter from the topmost branches and another as the rest scattered out. Quite unexpectedly, the impossible conditions seemed to be paying off in terms of sport and by the time I returned to the clover patch, more birds were already waiting.
After that, I tried the distant hedge. The tallest trees were full of them! It was easy shooting, great sport and the tally began to mount, in fact everywhere I went, odd ones and twos were skulking along the dripping hedges, with bigger bunches grouped together in the taller treetops.
I must have walked miles that afternoon, pursuing the birds until dusk closed in and called a halt, by which time several little piles of birds had been stashed conveniently at pick-up points. The results of an extraordinary one-off afternoon’s shooting were many more birds than I could carry in one go, and totally unexpected. I only wish I’d set out earlier!
There was another outing, when thick fog again lingered throughout the day. Hoping to bag a goose, and after a couple of failed attempts, I had just one last chance. A few birds grazing over-wintering stubble were my final hope and I needed to be out well before first light, but waking up to countryside completely enveloped in thick fog set me wondering whether the geese would even take to the air under such awful conditions?
Half an hour later, huddled in a dripping wet hedge below last night’s flightline, I was still wondering. Visibility was down to 20 yards at most. Nevertheless, as the sky began to lighten, the greylags moved, though passing by without giving me so much as a glimpse and landing some distance behind me. Several small groups dropped in, including the odd Canada, but though sounding close, goose voices carry a surprisingly long way in fog. Even by listening intently, it was impossible to pinpoint the landing spot. Feeding flocks are certainly more wary in fog, with lookouts constantly scanning the horizon for danger, and in any attempt at getting close, they’d certainly spot me first. Any hint of danger would immediately cause a mass exodus in the opposite direction, thereby ruining any chances of a shot.
There was no other way. Betrayed by an occasional cackle, at a guess they were somewhere near the centre of the field, well clear of cover. After creeping 50 yards, a line of grey shadows eventually loomed out of the murk, but was it my quarry or just a trick of the light?
Focusing hard, an occasional slight movement confirmed it, but getting any closer would mean a belly crawl. Prepared for a soaking, I dropped flat, held the gun in front to keep the muzzles safely clear of the ground, and using toes and elbows to inch forward, made a bit of progress. It was painful and slow, but soon there were about 40 or so greylags in sight, with several more spread out right across the field, including those on watch.
When the lookouts fed, more heads came up to replace them, ensuring a constant check was kept on their surroundings. Hardly daring to move, I could only hope to be mistaken for just another patch of harmless thistles in the poor light. Soon, shivering with cold, it was time to pause for a rest, my neck and back beginning to ache unbearably.
Right then – and from out of nowhere – a single goose whiffled down almost on top of me! Spotting each other, the bird back-peddled frantically in the air, fighting to regain speed as I struggled to my feet. Stiff with cold, luckily an easy shot found the mark, the flock erupting in a deafening roar of wings and cackling shrieks from all around. There must have been a couple of hundred! Without knowing it, I had apparently stalked in right amongst the gaggle.
Hastily reloading on one knee, I scanned the air, the gun held ready for anything that might turn back. The calls grew fainter, until a sudden thrashing of wings came from behind as a small bunch fought to turn off quickly. Well in range, and still quite low, it was easy to swivel around and pick one out – almost stationary – the shot taken directly as the gun came up. It fell just yards from the first, hitting the stubble with that satisfying thump of a stone dead goose. Job done!