Pigeon shooting: Pigeon decoying tactics.
This is a busy time of year with pigeons. When you’ve got them dodging between several bits of rape in a small area, it’s more a matter of damage limitation than making a substantial bag.
At this time of year the plants’ tender shoots become far more palatable, but if they’re nipped out by woodies, the growth of the plant will be stunted and the eventual seed yield will be lowered.
The birds might be hitting every rape field around just now but after being chased from pillar to post during the winter they are understandably wary and difficult to decoy.
It’s exactly the same now as it was this time last year when I couldn’t find time for a full-blown decoying session on each and every bit of rape – in fact, none of the fields really warranted it, as in their present highly strung state, everything was sure to fizzle out and go dead after an hour or two’s shooting.
How best to tackle these birds then?
Luckily my job allows flexible hours, and I can work half the night if there’s a real need to catch up after a pigeon outing.
To keep everyone happy, the decision was to cover – or at least try to cover – just about everywhere by the following weekend. I’d start first thing on Monday.
This dawned dull and windy after a good deal of overnight rain. Downed a quick breakfast then took an early stumble along a sticky headland with the 28-bore, rotary, net hide and a few fresh birds.
Luckily I got there just in time to have the decoys set out and ready for action as the first pigeon scouts ventured from the roosting wood two fields away.
As they had been left relatively undisturbed for a while, things looked quite hopeful, and if I was to make anything like a bag during the week, this was it.
Split up by the wind, several birds bit the dust – or rather mud – at first light, some surprisingly keen and almost throwing themselves at the rotary.
A few of those that didn’t passed overhead well in range, or curled round to a nearby ‘sitty’ oak.
I’d brought plenty of cartridges in case it lasted, but as expected, everything ground to a halt just after the sun lifted clear of the wood.
The flock simply winged off to the next rape field 400 yards away where they really started to pile in – but that was someone else’s problem!
A search of a pithole well upwind brought the total to 42, a better than expected start.
A quick recce of the likely spots on the way home revealed another hungry bunch queuing up near one of ‘my’ fields just along the road.
Several had gathered in the larches bordering a narrow pine belt, turning up almost constantly for a while. It might be worth another quick session at sunrise – in a day or two.
Even by mid-morning it was still dull and misty but in spite of the conditions I was guarding the rape again with the 28-bore, this time just a couple of fields from home.
I let the first lot have an early snack, watching a few small bunches arrive at first light from the top of the garden.
An early feed might encourage them to return later, but with the wind having died down, I was not expecting too much. A couple of hundred were getting stuck in beside a thick thorn hedge – plenty of hide cover – plus half as many again waited in the oak trees bordering a nearby pasture.
It was a waiting game for both sides, with long intervals between short bursts of action, but to make up for it, those that did pay me a call decoyed well.
Annoyingly, new arrivals often went first to the nearby oaks, but spread about, they were liable to drop into any one of them.
Had I thought of it, I’d have staked out a few prominent white bags below the trees to flutter in the breeze, thus narrowing down their choice.
Perhaps next time? The session ended with 27 around 2pm. At least this kept the crop clear for a while.
Dawn broke clear, with a light breeze – and very cold! I had a long walk across the open field in the dark, the air stinging with the remains of a late frost.
The copse was only an acre or so; a narrow, isolated island of mainly larch and Scots pine noted earlier.
The nearby rape field had been difficult all winter – hence its poor growth – the tree belt mainly used as a lookout spot; a place to gather together and weigh up the gas guns, before the keener ones finally drifted out to feed.
Left undisturbed, this movement would start a chain reaction, and soon the whole lot would drift down in a non-stop line.
Decoying the field had proved futile. After a couple of shots everything disappeared for a while, leaving me faced with a cold and seemingly endless wait as birds inevitably went through the same routine of building up in the trees again.
To try catching a few out first thing, I took the moderated .410 and a set of lofting poles, as there were always birds visible in the trees throughout the day.
A lofter or two would add to the ‘picture’ they expected to see on arrival. The overnight frost was not ideal pigeon weather.
Even the lofting poles were white with it and almost sticking to my hands, but after ten minutes or so of frozen fingers I had four flocked decoys standing out well against the bare larches.
Drifting in from nowhere, the first small bunch almost caught me out, but a muffled cough from the .410 brought a tail-ender crashing through the larches in a trail of feathers.
Drawn to the treetops, I managed several shots just after dawn.
They soon caught on, but anything is worth a try, and this time the extra effort at least doubled the bag.
A couple had wedged stubbornly in the pine boughs, but luckily were quite low and easily poked out with the lofting poles when clearing up an hour or so later.
There were only 14, but a nice bit of shooting and everything safely picked.
Stuck to the .410 for another dawn start. Things didn’t go well at first. It was far too calm, but after jiggling about with the pattern, the breeze picked up and they took more notice of the flapper, not shying off so much.
The shots were testing, nearly all singles, but I shot reasonably straight, waiting for those that circled the pattern warily to come closer.
The .410 with 3’’ cartridges, can be a surprisingly effective – and quiet – tool for the job. I picked 32.
After a wet and rough morning, the wind fizzled out – not a good sign. Only a field from home, the plan was to waylay birds on their way back to roost.
In fact, I was quite a distance from the main roost, the clump of ash trees on the hilltop more of a haven for stopping off, rather than for birds getting their heads down.
But which gun to use?
The .410 was possibly the best in such calm conditions, but the ash tops were tall and quite thick.
It needed something that would give a bit more blast through the twigs without losing too much of the killing pattern, so I opted for the 28-bore.
There was more breeze on the hilltop, making it difficult to loft a few flocked decoys among the swaying branches. It was damp and raw as well.
Disturbed by an odd shot or two in the distance as the first birds sought the shelter of the woods, the bunches circled, the lofters just enough to give the all clear and persuade them in.
Some curled away – as usual – but there were enough moving around to keep me on my toes and one or two turned up very late. I called it a day with just enough light to retrieve the decoys, wandering home at dusk with 17 strung on the game carrier.
Allowing birds to settle in before shooting and taking them on so regularly went against all my decoying instincts but the moderated gun certainly cut down on disturbance.
As you can see, there were no enormous bags and nothing spectacular in shooting these small fields, but all in all, the week’s plan worked a lot better than expected.
It was also hugely enjoyable, trying to make the most of each situation as it came along.
Adding everything together, 132 for the week was a good result in my book.
I now had the peace of mind to catch up on work – I’d done my best.