Though I love all the pigeon-shooting seasons, November and December are my least favoured and certainly the most difficult. The birds that were split up over spring and summer have now reassembled in large flocks of between 300 and 2,000, moving around as a unit, using several feeding grounds).
The large amounts of rape grown gives them a table in nearly every other field, making the pigeon shooter’s job of pest control a very difficult one. There is no easy fix to shooting flocked-up pigeon in the winter.
Though I would often set my sights on 50 to 100 a day, at this time of year I am now thinking more along the linin November and by December it can be too high for pigeon to feed, leaving the birds to concentrate in fields where the rape is less developed.
This year the problem for farmers and shooters alike is that there has been so much rain that the rape plant — the pigeon’s main winter diet — is on ground that is completely saturated. This, along with an excessive slug population, has produced backward rape in many areas, which hasn’t got away, so there are many fields left for the pigeon to feed on.
Sometimes, though, the weather conditions can prove to be more favourable for shooters. For instance, a strong south-westerly wind is always helpful, especially now, as it splits up the flock a little more and gets the birds on the wing. Frosty mornings with no wind can be very difficult for pigeon control, so you do need to choose your days carefully.
In addition, the abundance of rain has meant a very difficult wet drilling season, so many fields may be left in stubble — this year there are more than I have ever seen. In most cases these will now be left alone over winter and drilled with a spring crop when they have dried out.
If there is some corn remaining in these fields, the pigeon are sure to find it and, as I have discovered over the past few weeks, this can provide some good shooting. Ask the farmer to let you know when the pigeon are present. That way you can get a day’s shooting in before the flags and bangers go on to the field, which also benefits the farmers.
Remember pigeon like to gather in small woods, copses or spinneys before feeding, especially in the winter. If these happen to be in or near the rape field and there’s a good wind behind them, you can often get a reasonable bag on the downwind side. In winter they leave the wood to feed just after light so you need to be out early.