Have you ever been wildfowling?

Christopher Graffius

Christopher Graffius

Executive Director of Communications & Public Affairs Christopher Graffius has been BASC’s director of communications since 2001, joining after four years as deputy director of press and publications at the British Council. Christopher, who enjoys shooting, fishing and wildfowling, is responsible for the organisation’s media department which includes press relations, political affairs, website and publications.

1st September; the start of the Wildfowling Season. Ever been wildfowling? I mean proper coastal fowling after duck and geese below the high water mark.

If you haven’t you’re missing out on some of the best shooting in the UK and some of the most magical experiences you can have. Details of how to give it a try are below.

BASC began as the Wildfowlers’ Association of Great Britain and Ireland and fowling remains at the heart of what we do. It was the wildfowler naturalists – men like Peter Scott and Jeffrey Harrison – who formed the ethics of the sport. To aim for a clean kill, to eat what you shoot, not to take too many and to care for the habitat of your quarry. These are the foundation for the ethical standard for modern shooting.

Wildfowling is the only branch of shooting to produce a literature – try the books of Denys Watkins-Pitchford, who wrote as “BB”. “Tide’s Ending” and Dark Estuary” capture the beauty of dawn and dusk over the marsh and I can never read his poem “Tide’s Ending”, without feeling a shiver down my back.


See where those leaning poplars stand
Along the far sea wall?
That is the outpost of the land,
There is the end of all,
Geese in skein, and the sound again
Of their clanging bugles blending,
Samphire scent, and a great content
In the place I call Tide’s Ending.

Follow the sheep tracks’ winding thread,
Drawn deep the dawn wind blowing,
All the world is grey and dead,
Only the tide is flowing,
Curlews call from the dim sea wall,
We’ll take what the gods are sending,
The first gulls come, the flight’s begun
In the place I call Tide’s Ending.

Mark yon wheel of the Bar Point light
Uneasy in the gloaming,
Timid spark in the womb of night,
Guide for a curlew’s homing,
Whistle of wings and ghostly things
Beyond all comprehending,
Tang of the sea, and a soul set free
In the place I call Tide’s Ending.

BB  ‘Tide’s Ending’ (1950)

Fowlers have talked up the physical challenge to the point where it can put people off. Don’t be deceived. Fowling comes in many shapes and sizes from the close cropped marshes of the west coast to the mud of the east. Yes, you’ll get muddy, yes there’s some climbing in and out of gutters and possibly a fair bit of walking.

The weather could be rough, fowlers often yearn for hard weather, but any reasonably fit person properly dressed shouldn’t have a problem. That’s not to minimise the risks.

Tidal marshes can be dangerous places, so go with an experienced fowler until you know the area, can identify your quarry and can act on the information in a tide table.

You don’t need a specialist fowling gun – such as a semi-auto patterned in camouflage or an unfeasibly large bore. The gun you use for game will do the job. On some marshes a light 20 bore can be the favoured gun because it’s quick on teal and wigeon flighting like grouse down the gutters. Remember your non-lead ammunition. The fowling clubs have ensured that the laws banning lead shot for wildfowl and over wetlands are enforced so that compliance around the coast is close to 100%.

That’s not all they do for conservation. Sanctuaries for the birds, marsh clean-ups, preserving flashes and the habitat for wildfowl and wardening the marsh. Wildfowling takes place on some of the most protected sites in the country and wildfowlers contribute to their preservation.

What will it cost you? If you joined a club – and most fowling is controlled by clubs – a few hundred will buy you shooting from 1st September to the 20th February. Go for a fowling trip as a BASC member on the Wildfowling Permit Scheme and an outing could cost you as little as a tenner. It’s the best value shooting you can find.

Recipes for what you bag can be found on the BASC website – but bagging birds is only a small part of the experience. If pursuing a wild quarry in wild places floats your boat. If you’ve never seen the beauty of the saltings in a winter’s dawn or leant back and watched endless skeins of geese honking away as they fly, then you’ve missed the cream of shooting.

Why not give fowling a try?

Click here to find out more about the BASC Wildfowling Permit Scheme

If you’re still undecided we have a selection of videos on our YouTube channel which are sure to inspire you.

Find out more about wildfowling