Alastair Robertson: Like pigeon, ducks come out of nowhere

Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod

Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod

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Jist shoot it – now!” bellowed Ian Robertson (no relation) into my left ear as a teal shot past.

Such was the vehemence of his command that I did what I was told and down it came. To say he was becoming weary of my lamentable performance on his duck is an understatement. But then it turned out he treats just about everyone with the same dead pan rudery.

“Member of the wide-awake club then, eh?” he chaffed on entering my hide just as two dozen widgeon hurtled past unnoticed.

This was in September when we had to be up at 5:30am to get out onto the ponds next to Loch of Strathbeg between Fraserburgh and Peterhead on Scotland’s north-east shoulder.

The duck – teal, mallard and wigeon – come in from the RSPB Reserve next door, a particularly satisfactory state of affairs. Were it not for the RSPB looking after the ducks there might not have been enough for us to shoot.

Ian had scooped out three ponds from the coastal bog next to Strathbeg on the edge of an old wartime airfield at Crimond his uncle had acquired. (Jim Clark won his first Formula One race on the airfield racetrack in 1956).

The duck shooting is said to be among the best in Scotland if not Europe. But my goodness you have to be quick. Like pigeons they come out of nowhere from any direction and usually from behind. But unlike pigeons they come under cover of semi darkness.

Our host, Mark, had briefed us in advance not to shoot swans and explained how in the half-light they could be distinguished from geese by their flight, a certain undulation of the neck. And he waved his arm about in what I supposed to be a swan-like manner. “Aye, an’ they’re white,” snorted Ian gleefully from behind his hand.

I had no idea what to expect of the shooting other than I had been told there was “nothing like it.” Which was true.

When the ducks started coming, they came in waves, hundreds and hundreds, for more than an hour, dropping out of nowhere, flaps down, and scattering in all directions, back over our heads at the first shot or hint of danger.

Ian strode about with his spaniels picking up duck having previously cautioned us against raising so much as an eyebrow or the ducks would spot us and vamoose for ever. It seems spaniels are OK. Dawn broke and the duck gave up.

“Now then,” said Ian. “I’m off to get the pickup. You can sit on that bench there and reflect on your shooting.” And he pointed to a rusting object in the grass. “And there’s a shovel over there.”

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