The UK's only dedicated gundog magazine
As rumours abound of the number of mallard being released on game shoots, Alan Jarrett recounts some of his memorable encounters with this humble, ubiquitous duck
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Whenever I watch an American duck ‘hunting’ (as they call it) video, there invariably seems to be a preponderance of mallard. Greenheads, as they are affectionately called in North America, are a waterfowler’s delight, such are the huge numbers of this ubiquitous bird to found on that continent.
I have enjoyed the delights of shooting mallard there in Canada, and have been amazed at the sheer numbers to be seen. Flocks in excess of 100 are not uncommon, which is of course beyond the wildest dreams of us here in good old Blighty.
Lying prone among goose decoys on some prairie stubble field is a good way of seeing mallard up close as they bomb the decoys in great swirling, stuttering packs. Fire the first shot and they scatter in all directions, giving some splendid opportunities for fast and furious shooting – that is until the bag limit has been reached, usually around eight.
In this country, unless dealing with released mallard on a driven shoot, we would be lucky to see more than half a dozen in a flock, whilst most of the time they are to be found flighting in pairs. The one blessing with mallard is their wide distribution and their wide-ranging diet, which means they can be found almost anywhere.
Whether on a village pond; a secret splash way back in the marshes; a driven shoot; or ranging far and wide over the foreshore of the estuaries, mallard are to be found wherever there is water and food to be found. Long may it be so!
The prompt for me to choose mallard as my theme for this month is the paucity of partridges! Few if any partridges are finding their way to this country from the continent, and that has apparently led to some of the commercial shoots turning to mallard as some sort of substitute.
Believing rumours is often fool’s gold, but the old saying there is no smoke without fire is often true. The rumour in these parts is that 10,000s of mallard have been released as a make-weight for the lack of partridges, although of course the sport on offer will be very different to the low-flying birds often whipping over a hedgerow in the traditional partridge manner.
In some ways, we are all hoping the rumours are true, for some of those mallard would inevitably find their way to the shore, thereby augmenting the sport we wildfowlers have on offer. Time will tell in that regard.
Many mallard have fallen to my gun since my first ever duck – that was shot alongside an inland river in Kent on 6 September 1968, and the memory is still as fresh today as it has ever been. Mallard are not the mainstay of my sport, but are always a welcome addition to the bag. A few memories stand out for me, and in each case exemplify the varied diet of these birds. It is not for nothing that the mallard is arguably the most numerous worldwide of all ducks; they will scratch a meal where ever one is to be found, and sometimes in some surprising places too.
It was a sunny September day and I was alone with the dog in a great sea of browning marshes. The grass was unkempt in places, with thick tussocks from which we periodically kicked out rabbits, whihc were in abundance here. Clouds of crane flies rose from the grass as we walked.
Eventually, a pair of mallard rose from the dry grass for one to tumble back to the ground. Over the next hour, several mallard rose from the grass, although no others were secured. They were feeding on the prolific crop of crane flies, and would no doubt be as fat as butter as a result.
A few weeks later, on that same marsh, the dog and I were tucked down out of sight beside a narrow ditch from which mallard had been disturbed on more than one occasion. The ditch was full of ripening sea club rush, and there was food aplenty for the hungry birds. On the far side of the ditch was the marsh boundary, marked here by a high chain-link fence, Great care would need to be exercised in order to avoid anything dropping over the fence and thereby becoming irretrievable and as a result wasted.
At the gloaming, mallard, mostly in pairs, came dropping over the fence to the ditch. There were a lot of mallard that evening, and even though they were widely scattered along that long ditch enough came my way for me to get five and return from the marsh very happy with the sport enjoyed.
By way of complete contrast, I had gone right up the shore for the evening and moon flight in search of wigeon. It was an ideal scenario, for the tide had recently left the saltmarsh, leaving everything wet and squelching, with the water gurgling out of the creeks as it made its remorseless way to the estuary and thence the sea.
Nothing came at evening flight, with the only wigeon going over two gunshots high with all bands playing as only wigeon can. Long after the whistling and growling packs had departed, it was good to sit there in a narrow side creek hoping against hope they might return, even though it was likely they had gone on to feed elsewhere.
It was one of those glorious winter moonlit evenings, and as the moon continued its rise out of the eastern sky the whole panorama before me became mesmerising as the light changed, with a still breeze nudging white clouds across the sky. It is one of those occasions when it really does not matter whether a shot is fired or not.
Eventually, a pair of mallard passed wide to my left, and as they lost height to on their journey down to the slushy edges, they responded to my calling and came right to me. A few minutes later another pair did exactly the same and there were four plump mallard to accompany me home.
But it was not over, for during the next 30 or so minutes three more mallard were duped by my calling and joined their brethren beside me. Seven mallard was enough to carry back along the shore, and with that we headed for home. Whether it is the swirling packs of mallard over a Canadian prairie, or these same birds coming to a dripping saltmarsh edge, the enjoyment can be immense. Mallard driven to the Guns is one thing, but finding them for yourselves in the time honoured way is surely the pinnacle of our sport.
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