Flights of fancy

Have you considered adding a flight pond to your shoot? Glynn Evans explains how you can get started, and the value they can bring to a shoot

 

Ponds come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s a larger pool, a small splash of only a few square metres, or the gentle meander of a stream – they all have potential to be fed to attract wild ducks and produce an exciting addition to a shoot as an evening flight pond.

 

Flight ponds don’t have to be large to be a valuable addition, and they can make good use of otherwise unproductive ground

Flight ponds don’t have to be large to be a valuable addition, and they can make good use of otherwise unproductive ground

The basics of feeding a pond are simple. Personally, I start with about half a bucket of grain and spread a little on the water’s edge, then scatter the majority roughly ankle deep in the water. Over time, once ducks have ‘discovered’ the feed, I feed solely in the water and adjust the amount. If it is all gone the next day I feed a little more, if there is some left I cut back on the amount for the next time I do it. I would aim to feed every day in the afternoon, roughly about an hour before I would expect the first ducks to appear. This will push off any ducks that are already on the pond which, over time, encourages them to rest elsewhere and to flight back later for feed. If I know that I will not be able to get to a pond for a couple of days I might feed more heavily to ensure there is some food there, but the more frequently a pond is fed the better. Simply tipping a load of food in is a mistake, as it not only encourages rats, but will encourage the ducks to stay there for a few days, clear it up, and then fly out elsewhere looking for more.

The favourite food of ducks is probably barley, but they will eat almost anything; split peas and tail corn are both suitable. Potatoes are an often-quoted favourite for ducks, but real care must be taken if you want to feed potatoes, as they can pollute and taint the water. Any used should be fed on the bank, not in the water itself.

If my ponds freeze, while many of the ducks will go elsewhere in search of open water, I continue to make sure there is some food available for any ducks still using it. During this period I would not shoot the pond, or any others which were frozen, as I think it would be unsporting to do so.

There are plenty of different ways to tell if the pond is being well used apart from the obvious amount of feed going, such as a few downy feathers on the water or certain weeds being nibbled. The best way, though, is to observe the pond from a distance and note the number of ducks that arrive and time that the flight starts. One of the beauties of ducks and flight ponds is that you may have kept watch a few days previously and seen dozens pouring in, only to have a flight a day or so later when there will be hardly a bird. There are many variables; the moon, tides near the cost, disturbance elsewhere – but that is sport for you.

Give careful thought to where you will situate your hide, depending on the direction the ducks come in

Give careful thought to where you will situate your hide, depending on the direction the ducks come in

At some ponds there may be no need to build a hide; merely standing in a few rushes would be enough. But I like a proper hide as it has distinct advantages. Built well, it provides a proper screen from incoming birds and can be made comfortable with seating – I find being comfortable aids accurate shooting. As a keeper I can position a hide in the correct place so anyone going to that pond knows exactly where to stand. If it is a large pond with the opportunity to host more than one gun, hides can be used to control the safe angles of fire – though this does not negate the need for a full safety briefing.

While a hide must be in place well in advance of any planned shoots, I would never build anything other than a temporary hide until I am confident it is in the right place, which only time and

Using features like trees or the far bank will let you set some distance markers

Using features like trees or the far bank will let you set some distance markers

experience can confirm. Even on an experimental hide I use a basic timber frame with posts, then cover it with materials that blend into the surroundings. Once I know it is in the right place, I can make it more permanent. A hide should be big enough to screen a gun and possibly a companion, although there should only ever be one person shooting at a time.

Thought needs to be given any seating and flooring so that it does not become slippery, and do not forget the dog – it will need to be able to exit swiftly for a retrieve but also needs to be able get back in, and its comfort and wellbeing must be factored into construction.

Those fortunate enough to have a flight pond will be able to pick the right time to have a flight. On a blustery, cloudy night the ducks will tend to sweep in, and the wind will often muffle the sound of the shot. However, on a still, sunny evening the opposite is true.

When I take a gun to shoot at a pond I like to arrive a good hour before we expect to fire a shot, and if any ducks are already on the pond we do not shoot at them as they fly off. If the gun is experienced then I will generally show them the hide and leave them to it, but if not then I will stay with them to give a little advice and guidance. However, it is important not to get carried away and sit there chatting, as noise carries and can spook any ducks circling round before they come in.

Making sure that the gun is comfortable, I advise them to set some distance markers in their mind for later as it gets dark, such as a tree or the far bank. We focus on where the duck will come in from and present a sporting but killable shot. When there is a more than one duck I try to get them to pick one of later birds. Hopefully, if they are successful and take it, they may have time to get another chance at one of the others before the rise and flare. Provided it is safe to do so then we would shoot and dispatch a wounded duck on the water. If not, I will send my dog straight away and dogs soon learn to mark a splash. A powerful torch is very useful to have about you after dark to make sure all the quarry is collected.

I will keep a count of the bag by putting an empty cartridge to one side for each shot bird, as it is easy to lose count with packs of ducks coming in. I always finish before the ducks have stopped coming in, and I always try to give a pond sufficient rest between flights – I tend to leave them at least a fortnight.

Basic timber frames can be used as temporary hides, and made more permanent once you know it’s in the right place

Basic timber frames can be used as temporary hides, and made more permanent once you know it’s in the right place

Different ponds may attract a variety of duck species, so it is important to be able to identify what is coming in to yours to make sure it is on the quarry list.

No matter which home country you are in, lead shot is not allowed to be used at a flight pond for waterfowl, either because of the quarry species or location. If you let a gun flout the law with regards to lead shot then not only they, but you and the estate, risk prosecution. Ignore this law and the loss of lead shot for other forms of shooting will become a real risk. There is currently a campaign to promote and publicise compliance with lead shot legislation, and I would advise getting to grips with the law and your responsibilities under it if you’re planning on developing flight ponds in your area. You can find the campaign at www.leadshotcampaign.org.uk.

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