We had worked exceptionally hard all winter long, trying to keep up to 3,000 pigeon off the rape crop throughout the freezing cold, damp, and cutting north-east winds. Yet, despite our efforts, larger areas of rape had been reduced right down to the ground, though once nitrogen had been administered and the pigeon had moved off, it quickly recovered and the result was a very acceptable harvest, for which we received due thanks.
So, on to harvest time. After a long wait, I received a call from the farmer informing me that he was about to spray off the crop to kill any remaining growth in preparation for harvesting in a few days. Approximately 10 dayslater, he called again to say that he had completed three of the fields with two more to go. Two days later, I did the usual reconnaissance to see if the woodies had started to feed. As expected, though it was mid-afternoon, they were there in fair numbers, and my two shooting friends were keen to join me the next day.
Location and luck
We agreed that we should start at about 2pm as the forecast was for another scorching day. The pigeon may have fed early in the day, but would, as usual, retire to the woods to digest their breakfast in the shade until mid-afternoon. At the agreed time we parked in full view of four of the five fields, which, to our surprise, had been topped low to the ground to promote the rotting of the stubble. This meant it was easier for the birds to forage, and that our decoy patterns would stand out against the golden landscape. Another advantage was that it was easier to walk on, with less danger to the dogs? feet.
My two friends decided that they would prefer to take a field each at the top, indicating that I should go to the bottom to cover the bigger patch. I?m sure they thought that I?d drawn the short straw, as they could see that there were more birds on the ground at their end. However, it?s not just location that?s important but skill and luck, too. I drove down to the fifth field and was pleasantly surprised to disturb a flock of about 500 from round a large ash sitty tree halfway along the lower boundary. The area around this tree had been well used, with the ground and brambles splashed extensively with their droppings. Experience told me this would be the best place.
I chose a spot under the high hedge, well within gun range of the ash tree and from where I could see the pigeon approaching from both sides and the front. Also, I could spot any ramblers on the footpath before they reached me. The wind direction was perfect, coming past me from left to right. The sun was behind me for most of the time. It was pleasing to hear the sound of a now rare turtle dove as I cleared the undergrowth for the hide floor. My hide was then erected and everything put in place, including my gun and ammunition.
The decoy pattern
The next task was to set out the decoy pattern, not simply to get the pigeon within range, but also to funnel them in as near as possible for the biggest bag. I?d planned that with the wind being fairly strong I could persuade them to fly in a straight line from right to left past the hide for nice crossing shots.
I paced out 25 paces directly from the hide with 25 shell decoys. Taking 10, I dropped one every second pace as I walked upwind to the left of the hide and positioned them roughly facing into the wind on their pegs. Returning to the start, I repeated the exercise to the right, continuing the straight line, this time dropping one every third pace past the ash sitty tree, and again positioned them on their pegs.
Next, I took three floaters (bouncers) with defrosted birds and stationed the first downwind of the decoy line, the next further round to face the sitty, and the third still further round to face towards where I?d planned to locate the rotary machine. This was to funnel them from the right along the line and to draw them into the pattern as they flew wide of me towards the field above mine. I then positioned three of my gliders (cradles with wing extensions) along the decoy line, ready for the first few freshly killed birds. Two flappers were positioned at the upwind end of the line, both fitted with defrosted birds. Finally, I located the rotary closer in at about 15 paces from the hedge with another pair of dead birds.
Ready for action
Back in the hide, with the gun loaded and a final adjustment to the camouflage at the front, I was ready for action. I sat for about 10 minutes before the first target appeared in front and to the right, coming high towards the ash tree. It banked round into the wind and flew up the line to drop close to the outer flapper, knocking one of the half-shell decoys off its peg.
This was a good indication of what I could expect during the next few hours. I?d discovered several years ago that pigeon like to follow a line of decoys ? I know that they don?t feed in this manner, but it works. Others flew directly to the tree and were dropped before reaching it. The most rewarding part of the day was to watch so many on a flightline crossing my front, suddenly banking in to fly back towards the tree or to follow the decoy line past me on their way to the flappers and rotary.
My two friends were enjoying a reasonable day, but they were not having as much success as I was. I?d got it right once again with a mixture of being in the right place at the right time ? plus a measure of skill and luck.
The score was 73 and two old crows that had been fooled by my single flocked imitation bird further out from the pattern. Another bonus was that a couple who were walking their dogs past the hide stopped for a chat and asked me whether I was interested in shooting rabbits. It turned out that they were from the adjoining farm and invited me to shoot corvids, pigeon and rabbits on their 100-acre farm.