Keen wildfowler Tim Bonner doesn’t leave home without his two favourite bits of kit, one an old favourite, the other new.
I would consider myself a fairly minimalist wildfowler, but even those of us who shun boats and punts and carry everything out to the marsh on our backs do like our kit. Duck decoys and rigs that cope with rising tides, neoprene waders, a coat that is truly waterproof, my favourite brass wigeon whistle, and a strong marsh stick are all vital, but my two favourite tools of the trade are a gun and a pair of binoculars.
For 15 years I had been shooting with various semi-automatics as is the norm these days for those who shoot below the sea wall. Three years ago, however, I started experimenting with the new generation of steel cartridges with biodegradable wads which were loaded for normal game guns. I had dug an old AYA side by side out of the gun cupboard and shot some clays before the season began. When September came I used it on the flight pond and when the migrant ducks arrived on the coast I just kept taking out the old AYA. There is the obvious disadvantage of having two shots rather then three, and I am not brave enough to hose the black Essex mud off it as I do with my modern plastic stocked semi-auto, but shooting is much more fun with a proper gun. In the 70s and 80s AYAs were the best-selling guns in the country by far. They may not be fashionable now but they are still just as effective and you can pick them up for almost nothing. I may now be a ‘retro’ wildfowler, but I am a happy one who shoots quite straight.
The second item I would never be without is a pair of binoculars. Wildfowling has, not inaccurately, been described as armed birdwatching. Much of the joy of being on the foreshore is experiencing one of the few really wild places on our crowded island and even on the Essex marshes where I shoot there are extraordinary things to be seen. Fine weather might not be ideal for duck flighting, but there is never a wasted hour on the marsh if you look out and around. I recently acquired a pair of Celestron 10x42 binoculars which are very effective and affordable enough to take on the marsh without worrying about the impact of mud, sand and salt. Through them I have already spent many happy hours watching the waders, wildfowl and birds of prey that make the salt marsh such a special place.
This article was first published in the Summer 2021 issue of My Countryside magazine.