During the last decade or so, I’ve seen the local crow & vermin situation getting really out of hand.
Even without the wholesale dumping of town foxes, there’s now a ridiculous amount of carrion crows, magpies and other undesirables threatening the breeding attempts of our game and songbird populations from dawn till dusk.
It makes you wonder how anything survives, let alone attempts to hatch and rear a family!
Just a couple of mornings ago, I was woken at first light by a tremendous blood curdling shrieking and squawking somewhere in the garden.
Peeping out through the landing window, though barely light, there were three carrion crows in the Scots pine, right in the middle of an argument, and only ten yards from the window!
Though easily in shot, by the time I rushed downstairs, rooted out the four-ten and found a couple of cartridges, it was just too late.
The dispute obviously settled, off they went, drifting unhurriedly out of the garden and over the hillside to float down all too safely right in the centre of the field.
As regular readers will know, I’ve been out of action for a while, but with life hopefully beginning to get back on track, I hate losing any opportunity that comes along to have a shot or two, especially at vermin. There’s a lot of lost time to make up for.
Pigeons were largely a waste of time this Spring, in fact, things had been decidedly quiet on the rape all through the cold winter months.
Almost everywhere, good growing weather during the autumn had caused the crop to shoot up in leaps and bounds well before any bad weather set in, and with so much of it around, successful outings were few and far between.
This, coupled with the fact that a massive acorn and berry yield in the autumn provided wild food in abundance, meant there was little need for the pigeons to stray far from their roosting woods.
For weeks on end, the oak and beech woods were full of them, and surprising amounts clattered up from beneath every roadside oak, their numbers spread far and wide – and thinly – instead of congregating into the huge, tight flocks that normally cause havoc wherever they go.
This time around, I can’t remember seeing the rape crops survive an entire winter in such good condition.
ENJOYING THE BLESSED FREEDOM
Out of action for several weeks, I only just managed to catch the tail end of proceedings before the crop grew far too tall.
In normal years this can often be the best time for taking a few decent bags, but even then, this year the results were pretty grim.
Personally, after several weeks confined to a hospital ward, it was great just to be sitting alone in a pigeon hide, enjoying the blessed freedom of the open air, overlooking the decoys with just the chance of a shot or two.
With the 28-bore still out of the question due to recoil, I had to content myself with the four-ten.
The problem was, even though the birds were beginning to take an interest in the rape, there were no less than eight fields of the stuff in the immediate area – virtually every other field – and time and again after a fruitless wait I disturbed the local flock on the way home, a frustrating amount gorging themselves on one or other of the unguarded bits.
There seemed to be no real pattern to their movements, the flock liable to switch venues at the drop of a hat, and even when left un-shot, they were hardly ever to be found on the same piece two days running.
With no regular feeding pattern established – a necessary requirement for successful decoying – you’re on a hiding to nothing.
Lying fallow, the field adjoining the garden had just been coated with cow slurry prior to ploughing, and it always proves a great attraction for scavengers.
Normally extremely wary, the only way I stood a chance would be an ambush at first light, but well away from the houses.
A prominent spot on the far slope halfway up the hill looked just the ticket, especially as half a dozen were congregated there later within easy range of a convenient hawthorn bush.
Having to rise early to catch the dawn, to save time setting up, I carried the hide and gear over during the late afternoon, covering the net and stakes with a thick layer of dead bracken and grasses, while leaving a hole just big enough to shoot through.
After twenty minutes it blended invisibly into the bank – with sharp-eyed carrions, it needed to!
You have to get everything right first time, for whereas pigeons would almost certainly fall for an ambush again a few days later, not so the carrion, which are quick to catch on and slow to forget.
HELP OR HINDER?
A thick fog enveloped everything as I set out up the hill just before dawn – but would it help or hinder? I was a bit short on decoys.
Normally I freeze a few for future use, but this time all I could muster was a couple of flocked plastic dummies, plus a stuffed bird minus its tail.
Hopefully it would be enough to do the job in such poor light.
I took the flapper along, ready to rig up as soon as a fresh bird became available, which often proves deadly to corvids by adding that vital, eye-catching movement, and provoking enough excitement to overcome their natural caution.
Settling down in the hide, below the hawthorn branches it was dripping wet, and with visibility down to twenty yards or so, the only sign of the quarry was an early bird or two squabbling in the distant trees along both sides of the field. For a long time, nothing came.
Suddenly, I had an extra decoy! Keeping my head down and peeping through the screen of bracken, I’d seen nothing as the bird had somehow slipped in silently and unseen.
Right now it stood upright, alert and ready to fly, but keeping my cool I raised the gun slowly, and just as it sounded the alarm and lifted vertically, the four-teen put a stop to its croaking.
It was a nice easy start to the day, the bird barely 15 yards out and hovering almost at a standstill.
It collapsed in a great puff of feathers.
The bird went straight on the flapper. Setting it close to and facing the stuffed bird, the flapping resembled the ‘begging’ of another to be fed.
It certainly livened things up for a while. The next two floated over the hedge and swooped down without a thought, back-pedalling over the flapper once in range, croaking furiously, and sweeping in to mob the pair on the ground.
This helped to build up a convincing decoy picture, and when the drifting fog allowed, began to draw in a few passing birds from quite a distance.
With the sun lifting higher the fog gradually thinned. The decoys now looked attractive, standing out well, and every 20 minutes or so another crow or two would come croaking across the field.
Of those that turned up, most were tempted to investigate, though the odd one or two suddenly began to swerve off in panic before making themselves scarce.
WORD HAD GOT AROUND
What turned out to be my last visitor came in without a sound, a single shot taking it amidships just as it touched down.
Though attracted easily at first, later birds were beginning to sense something was not quite right, with all movement ceasing directly the sun broke through.
Then, even the occasional bird turning up in sight veered off at distance. Though I could see nothing wrong with the set-up, they obviously did.
The fog had helped, but word had quickly got around! At least there were nine pests less to trouble the nesting birds.
The moderated four-ten has accounted for a magpie or two in the early mornings, but these are easier and more effectively dealt with via the Larsen trap, if you can find somewhere safe to hide it from prying eyes.
(It’s nothing unusual to discover the decoy let out by some kind, misguided soul who obviously prefers predators to songbirds!)
On the squirrel front, I’ve almost annihilated the local population of greys, and I’m eating them as fast as I can.
Though they’re a pain to prepare, especially skinning out cleanly, they’re certainly in the top ten of my favourite meals. Better late than never!