When pigeon shooting the first, and most obvious, thing to do is find the field they’re feeding on.
Once you have done that, the next single most important step in pulling as many pigeon as possible to your decoy pattern, is the place we decide to locate our hide.
For maximum return it has got to be in exactly the right place. That said, as most pigeon shooters know this is not as straightforward as it seems – because there are always so many things to contemplate.
The most important consideration before anything else is safety.
WHERE TO SET UP
Public footpaths are difficult and sometimes unavoidable. I frequently set up on them, as I believe it’s much safer than shooting over or towards them.
In most cases, you will not see anyone as a great number of these footpaths are used infrequently. When I do see a member of the public approaching I stand up to make myself visible before they reach my hide and, to prevent frightening them, I remove my facemask and greet them in a friendly manner.
They will be pleased to meet you for a chat and in most cases will be very interested and supportive in what you are doing. In all my years of decoying, I’ve yet to experience a difficulty on footpaths.
Public highways though are much more of a problem. Here we must observe the 50ft rule, which is the minimum legal distance we are allowed to fire from a public highway.
This is measured from the crown of the road, and not the verge, which is approximately 17 paces; best make it 20 to be on the safe side. This in my opinion is still too close to a busy road, but perhaps reasonable on a quiet country lane.
However we must not shoot over, or towards, them. If you are forced to set up this close, be aware of potential hazards, in particular horse riders.
The dual carriageway/motorway boundary fence is normally far enough to be safe and legal. Most dual carriageways and motorways are not a problem because of the very wide embankments and distance from the road edge.
Farm animals – apart from horses – are generally not a problem. Bullocks are inquisitive animals and can be a nuisance if in the same field – their favourite pastime is sniffing and kicking over decoys.
Otherwise, stay well clear of the horses – they are likely to spook easily.
Don’t fire as they approach and give them time to pass by before you resume your shooting.
Houses and buildings frequently cause concern.
There are increasing numbers of people moving out from the towns and cities who do not understand farming or the country way of life, therefore we must take great care when shooting anywhere near buildings of any kind.
First, we must consider the noise and wind direction, which will feature in any decision concerning the distance from the buildings. Sound is the main reason for me not shooting on Sundays.
Otherwise, apart from the Sabbath, I believe it’s reasonable to expect that people living in the country should accept all country noises – and that includes crowing cockerels and the sound of gunfire.
Dropping shot is another point we must always keep in mind. Just how far shot will travel after it has left the barrel depends on shot size, type, make of cartridge, load size, and wind direction.
Choke restriction is not involved in the equation. To be safe it’s probably best not to fire towards buildings unless they are at least a quarter of a mile from your hide.
Power cables and telephone wires on farms are usually connecting supplies to the farmer’s house so damaging them could really blot your copybook!
Cables are probably too resilient to be damaged if hit by say, a No. 6, but I always feel uncomfortable shooting close to them – I think that we should give them a distance of at least 100 yards to be safe.
USING A SITTY TREE
The famous pigeon expert, Archie Coates, always maintained that using a ‘sitty’ tree is a definite advantage – this was of course good advice.
Pigeons, especially when cautious, will frequently fly to a lone tree. Hence setting up within range of the tree will enable you to kill them as they approach it. Otherwise, it’s frustrating to watch pigeons heading for a tree which is out of range instead of coming into your decoys.
They will rarely, if ever, decoy once they have settled close to your pattern.
Being directly under the tree is not always a good idea because any birds that land in it will usually be too close to shoot and you will not see them during summer through the dense leaf cover.
In addition, a sitty tree’s branches will restrict your swing when trying to shoot a high overhead target. Another advantage of a sitty tree is that in winter you can loft decoys into it to strengthen the pulling power of your decoy pattern on the ground.
THE ROLE OF SUNSHINE
Most pigeon shooters like the sun to be located behind them when shooting. There are several good reasons for this, but remember that the sun’s position will alter as the day wears on, so prepare for this when building the hide.
First, you will not be hindered by the glare of the sun in your face, especially during winter when it remains low or at its brightest in mid-summer. In addition, you will have the luxury of sitting in the shade keeping you and your dog cool and comfortable.
Being located in the shade will also allow you to use far less cover as incoming pigeons will not see you as they approach from any angle assuming, of course, that you have ample cover behind to block out your outline.
You will also spot the birds sooner from the cover of shade. One of the most important considerations when deciding where to build a hide is, of course, wind direction.
I find the best method of determining the exact direction of the wind is to pull rump feathers from a dead bird, walk out to the decoy pattern and throw a few directly above my head.
Several attempts at this will give a very accurate wind direction. Failing this, I’ll use dead grass or straw, which is far more accurate than holding a wetted finger in the air. Remember that wind direction can often change so be prepared to alter the pattern during the day, especially if birds start to skirt the pattern, rather than come straight in.
A few minor changes to the pattern to take account of the changed wind direction should get things back on track. Setting up directly under flight lines is, in my opinion, the best place to be. However, this is not always possible for the many reasons I have already outlined.
If I can’t get directly under the line I’ll get as close to it as I can. Modern decoying equipment such as floaters, flappers, and especially rotary machines are designed to pull the birds off their flight lines to your pattern.
Finally I do my best to avoid setting up in the corner of a field which has high hedges and/or trees. Again, there are several reasons for this.
One is that pigeons tend to stay clear of such locations in fear that predators such as sparrowhawks approach unseen over and through the tree gaps to attack without warning.
Secondly, you too could also be taken by surprise by pigeons using the same approach.
Finally, your decoy pattern and rotary is not so visible to approaching birds.