Editor Pete Carr reveals how any small neglected pond or flood can be turned into a productive flight pond
Flighting duck on inland ponds and splashes cannot really be called wildfowling proper; in essence it would be better called tame fowling – especially amongst the die-hard longshoremen who look on their sport between tides on the estuaries and firths as the pinnacle of the sport. Nevertheless inland flighting is still fowling, and what great sport it can be. When it works well a lot of sport can be had, and managing your own ‘bit’ of water is a most enjoyable experience. Evening ‘ducking’ has been a big part of my sporting life and most shoots, from the small acreage walked-up farm shoot to the sprawling great estates have numerous odd wet holes, or field corners that flood, and many of these have the potential to be developed into flight ponds.
The old adage ‘small is beautiful’ is appropriate when considering flight ponds, and many a small spring pool or winter splash can produce a lot of duck over a season. As long as the water is shallow and the area quiet during dusk and the dark hours duck will come if encouraged with a sufficient and regular food source. In many situations, major machinery will not be necessary, as a lot of wet corners can simply be scraped out with the aid of a tractor bucket and a bit of spadework. The prime requirement is depth; at least one side of the pond must be no deeper than two feet and the bank sloping so smaller dabbling ducks such as teal can feed in the shallower side.
Cattle meadows or landed grasses that flood in winter are often a great draw for wigeon. Never miss an opportunity to feed these areas, even small water flashes may prove to be productive.
A pond that is disturbed during the day is an advantage; the object of the exercise is to shoot duck on evening flight. It’s no good if they choose to roost on the pond during the day and take their fill at leisure. If your potential pond is in a quiet area, it is best to regularly move the ducks off in the morning on a regular basis, to encourage them to return on duck.
2. Vermin control
At night the pond must be a safe haven, free from vermin. Disturbance from mink and foxes will quickly ruin a pond’s potential. A surprising number of duck will visit a flight pond if regularly fed and if the fowl suddenly stop coming, it will most probably be disturbance by vermin or over-shooting. Check the wet ground on the pond’s edge – mink and fox feetings will be apparent if they are working the water and some time will have to be put in to bring the culprits to book. Prevention is better than cure of course; regular trapping, snaring and shooting will keep these predators at bay.
Little and often is best, start feeding as the harvest begins in August, stubbles and the split grain to be found there encourages resident ducks and their broods to start flighting and they will soon find your fed ponds.
Barley is the best grain to feed as much of it will float to the sides and be easily found. Wheat works too but barley is best. Frosted potatoes are great a little later in the season (local fish and chip shops are a good source of potato peelings, the duck love them). Crab apples are relished by the dabblers too, indeed I used to shoot a small pond that fed itself thanks to an adjacent crab apple tree, all that was needed was an occasional push of the piled up fruit into the shallows. Once the ducks start to feed regularly you will be able to gauge how much to give, especially if using grain. Ideally feed every morning – this will help prevent the fowl from using the pond as a daytime roost too ie. flushing them on arrival. The trick is to give them enough but not too much as this will only encourage rats. Feathers found on the water will give you an indication of visiting species, the amount of food disappearing will of course offer some idea of how many duck are taking advantage of your offerings.
The season opens on the first of September. Flights should be established and duck hides built well before the season starts so the fowl become used to them, and these should of course be built with the prevailing wind in mind (duck will always land into the wind).
If the wind is in a different quarter on a shoot night, then some improvisation will be in order, but remember duck will notice anything out of the ordinary. Never push a bad position; if the wind doesn’t favour shooting a particular pond give it a miss and wait for a better evening.
Equally, still evenings are a waste of time, especially if the duck have been shot a time or two. They will just stack up warily at a great height until they get bored and eventually peel away. It’s better to wait for a windy evening.
Never shoot more than once a fortnight and always leave before the flight is finished. Leaving the latecomers unmolested will help to maintain a regular flight and build the visiting numbers back up.
The use of two or three decoys may give a bit of confidence to the early incomers but the advantage lessens as the darkness draws in. Anchor them separately and spread them a bit but keep to one part of the pond – a string of ducks in a row looks unnatural.
Unless you are a great duck mimicker you can forget about calling, as you will scare them into the next parish. The only exception is with widgeon: the small metal disc call is great, just don’t overdo it. Wait for their whistles and just answer them.
A word of caution regarding ice: as the season progresses you will have to contend with icy conditions. Ponds with some waterflow will remain open for longer, but don’t push it with gundogs. It goes without saying that all duck shooters should have a competent retriever on hand, but a duck just isn’t worth a drowned dog. If the pond ices up, carry on feeding along the pond edges, albeit sparingly. The duck will come to rely on your offerings and may well need it in icy weather to survive.
Finally, take care to remain within the law. Lead alternative ammunition must be used in England, but north of the border is a different story. Do your homework and ensure you are shooting legally.
Much pleasure can be derived from creating and managing your own flight pond. There’s nothing like the piping of teal, the whistle of a cock widgeon or the whiffling of wings heralding the arrival of mallard in the gloom – but always remember safety first.