The Last Duck Hunter
Malcolm Hutchings"Hutch" takes his first wildfowl.
When we were just leaving school...,when we were still at school I think, the sea walls weren’t like they are now. They were all raggedly taggedly, broken everywhere. And on a Saturday morning, three of us used to meet by the white sheds and walk the walls. Three of us; one at the bottom of the wall, one up the slope of the wall, and one on the top.
Two people sitting in there with catapults. I was with two other mates and I was on the top (which wasn’t a good position), you wanted to be on the slope or you wanted to be on the bottom. The bottom was best as you could shoot the other bank as well. If you saw a rabbit sitting there in a fall, you could knock it over.
But I was on the top, and we were going along gently, moving stuff, whatever was in the grass. A rabbit came hopping along, it would sit and look at you sometimes so you could get a shot at it. All of a sudden I got a flappin’, a flappin’, around me, and out, (it was high water, it happened to be high water at the time on the outside of the wall) a widgeon flaps down, into the water, obviously its wing lost in flight, and he stood on the water, flapping his feathers and making himself all ready for a fight, but it was too late mate, a stone hit on the back head, and that was the first wild fowl I ever killed. When I was still at school, a cock widgeon. That was the first one I ever had.
Hutch describes creeping up on some teal ducks.
It's deadly quiet, except for bird song.
You hear the redshanks, don’t you.
You hear the redshanks piping away, and this particular day I had been in the back of Marsh House. Early morning, low water. Lying there in the punt, waiting for one to come up. It’s deadly quiet. I set myself onto the boat, into this creek, straight. I had the sun behind me. I had wind behind me, what breeze there was, was behind me. And I’m waiting for the tide to take me into the creek slowly. And I lay there, hand over the side of the boat, holding her still, keeping her square. Didn’t know if there were any birds in there, although I approached It as though there was.
And I moved about an inch, maybe two inches forward, because you are only in an inch and a half of water, slipping over the mud. Go a little bit closer, closer, quietly, and as I gradually tracked down I could see far, at the bottom end of the creek, as the mud slid down from the saltholmes, there was a group of teals sitting on the end, perfect, absolutely perfect. I thought ‘piece of cake’ so we gently go, quietly, quietly, quietly, and we are getting close to it, and you couldn’t hear a sound, not a ripple, or anything, keeping that boat dead straight, true the birds, straight in there, quietly, quietly, don’t make a sound. And you get your hand gun ready for a shot, and we get nearly within shot of the birds, and I thought ‘got the gun, everything is alright’.
I’ll go off a minute. Birds, when you frighten them on the creek, they’re up and away, straight up. Boof! -gone.
Well then, back in the boat, quietly moving forward, boat steady, absolutely right. And when I about 10 or 15 yards away, I’ll have them. Then all of a sudden, they went off, like a fan across the top of the water. Not up, but fanned out. And I thought, ‘What the hell went wrong there? What have they done?’ And I laid there, put the gun ready to fire, and I looked up above where the teal were sitting, and there’s a Reynard looking at me. Sitting there at the top. So I gave him one in the face, and he disappeared. Poked the gun, put another shot in it, still laying still on my belly, put another cartridge in, laid there waiting a minute, because birds like to fly about a bit, waiting for a shot. And I looked again and he’s sitting up there looking at me again. And I thought, ‘No you don’t mate’. So I gave him the other barrel and down her went again. I laid there, still waiting, waiting, and then I thought ‘ok well, nothing’s going to happen now. I got up, got out the punt, climbed out of the salting, and there were two foxes laid there, two of them. That was why the birds didn’t fly straight up, if they had gone straight up, they would have jumped straight into the foxes. I hadn’t worked that out. I left them there, two dead foxes, because I couldn’t eat them, so I left the where they were. They were competition to me.
Malcom Hutchings talks with Mick Pratt at The Nose, 2022.
Recorded by Peter Lawes and Alan Hiller.