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Early morning wigeon decoying

Tom Sykes is in a rock and a hard place when he drags himself out of bed to shoot some wigeon

As I turned the engine off and stretched, I contemplated whether or not I wanted to get out of the car and gear up for wigeon decoying. I was feeling rather tired on a cold, dark morning. I slurped the dregs of my coffee to boost my dwindling energy levels. The numerous days chasing pheasants combined with plenty of early starts means wildfowling can, on occasion, leave me feeling a little fragile and longing for my warm bed as opposed to the freezing cold mud.

Despite that part of me that often wants to hit the snooze button, I regret not going shooting more than I ever regret dragging myself out. With Goose in the car and looking as keen as ever, I mustered up the enthusiasm to get my backside into gear.

The morning’s plan was something a little different from the norm. With very little breeze forecast and low water coinciding with flight time, the main objective was to intercept ducks that were heading back to the river after spending the night feeding inland. The river is one of the main congregation points in these conditions and I had selected the perfect location to set our ambush.

I slung the Bergen on to my back, unleashed Goose from the car and we slipped into the darkness of the graveyard as we headed to the access point. It didn’t take long for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and I could soon make out the stile on the far side of the wooded churchyard. I headed down the narrow path, snagging on the occasional overgrown bramble, before being spat out on to the edge of the marsh. (Read here for more on the best weather for wildfowling). 

Assembling the kit for an early start


Marsh mud

As we breached the sea defences all was quiet, except for the distant coming and goings of early commuters. The distinctive scent of marsh mud filled the air as we adjusted our course to meet the river. 

The river meanders its way through the bulk of the local marshes on its journey to the sea. The chosen spot was still a good mile or more from the mouth of the river, where it hit the great expansion of mud. We arrived at the start of a section of stony ground that led right the way down to the river. 

This location was chosen partly for the stones, which would allow me to assemble my ambush on the water’s edge without worrying about the surrounding mud’s depth and potential danger. I was glad to get the bag’s weight off my back as I stretched and let my eyes pick out the features I knew from previous visits. 

A handy stone makes a base for Tom’s ambush, out of the freezing mud


Wigeon decoys deployed

With my short break over, I soon had an assortment of decoys, nets and poles laid out on the mud in a somewhat organised fashion as I began setting the ambush. Past experience indicated that single-weight decoys on short lines would work perfectly in the shallow water. The stones continued into the river, allowing me to wade out to set the decoys where I wanted them. 

The floating wigeon decoys were soon placed in the calm backwater, not far from the banking, perfectly mimicking the sights observed during the reconnaissance stage of the operation. I retreated to dry land to deploy an additional decoy to complete the lure for any passing ducks, the rotary. One downside to the stony ground is the lack of mud to support the canes. I rectified the issue by constructing a tripod out of canes, elevating the rotary and finishing the spread. 


Single-weight decoys on short lines work well in shallow water the decoy pattern

With that done, I constructed a couple more frames to act as the main structure to help conceal Goose. Finally, with all the preparations complete, I settled in on my perch, a large stone, with the flask and my ‘musket’ as I awaited the approaching sunrise. It was a still morning and the darkness seemed to draw out for a long time. I reflected on how my efficiency in setting up could have gained me extra time in bed. However, I do like to allow plenty of time because it’s better to relax in the darkness with a coffee than have half the decoys in place when the first ducks move. 

The light in the east started to appear, shortly followed by the sound of wigeon high overhead. I called to no avail as the birds passed me and headed further up the river. Undeterred, I sat patiently waiting, despite more ducks following suit. 

I knew I was in a good spot, but there were miles of river for the ducks to settle on. As the flight progressed, more birds seemed to be in the sky, but this time seemed a little more unsure of their destination. With some calling and hoping, I started to pull birds my way. They were barely more than silhouettes, but the distinctive shape and sound were more than enough to see there were plenty of wigeon on the move. 


One shot and some well placed decoys was all that was needed


The wigeon begin to respond to Tom’s call


Utter chaos

As I concentrated on a bunch tracking a flight path up the river, a few ducks caught my attention over the decoys but veered off before I could get into position. It was utter chaos as I tried to watch birds and pick my shots but ultimately I failed to fire a round because I was constantly waiting for the perfect opportunity before revealing my location. The chances started to thin out as I began to regret the decision. I thought the morning would be a blank despite countless possibilities, some better than others. 

The mad flurry was over and I hadn’t fired a shot. The sun was nearly over the horizon and the flight seemed all but over. I poured another coffee and called Goose over from his hide for a debrief when his attention locked on something downstream. 


Goose is concealed by a makeshift screen

A single wigeon was making its way up the river, and it looked like its sights were firmly fixed on the decoys. I froze on the spot, except for my hand slowly reaching for the pump-action. I let the duck fly to about 20 yards away before springing into action. The gun was mounted, safety off, target acquired and a shot rang out at a speed that would make any gunslinger proud. The splash in the water was the icing on the cake. Success. 

On reflection, we can sometimes need that extra push to drag ourselves out of bed on those dark, cold mornings. The plan doesn’t always come together and not all the opportunities are utilised. However, that flight on the stones was still magical, exciting and one to remember. I am certainly glad I got out of bed to experience it.