By Alastair Balmain
Friday, 19 March 2010
Put two or more pigeon shooters in a room and you’ll soon have a lively discussion about which radical piece of kit works the best at drawing in the grey squadrons.
FUD pigeon decoy review.
When two small cardboard boxes containing what looked like a dozen steamrollered pigeon arrived in the Shooting Times office from the chaps at www.decoying.co.uk, we felt obliged to test whether the latest piece of kit — the FUD decoy — really does pull in the birds.
Gracelessly but memorably titled, the name belies their no-nonsense origins in Australia. New on the shooting scene in the UK, they have already caused a bit of a stir among pigeon shooters and wildfowlers with many drawn to the latest gadget and others dismissing them as just another novelty.
A clever fold-up decoy design (FUD), they are available as a compact two-dimensional flat-pack interpretation of a wide range of birds including pigeon, teal, mallard, various types of geese and even blackgrouse.
As I got my hands on the pigeon decoys and followed the instructions, they quickly opened out to reveal a passably lifelike three-dimensional interpretation of Columba palumbus.
TIME TO TACKLE THE PESKY PIGEON
With reports of pigeon numbering into the hundreds decimating the remains of a small covercrop of maize and kale on a shoot on farmland in North Dorset, last week Shooting Times photographer Paul Quagliana and I headed out to set up a hide.
The first advantage of the FUDs became abundantly clear as I slung my kit into the back of Paul’s car. Where I had popped a dozen decoys, a hide net, binoculars, an optimistic number of cartridges and a spare jumper into a small 25-litre rucksack, Paul’s traditional pigeon kit —including shell decoys just in case — was lying on the back seat stuffed into an enormous army surplus kit bag.
The FUDs’ compact design clearly offers a size advantage, but would they fool the pigeon?
As we drove up the track behind the covercrop, a mass of at least 150 pigeon lifted from the small spinney we were set to use as the backdrop for our hide.
We took this as a good omen, since evidently the birds were in the area, and our spirits soared as the prospect of a red-letter day and vast numbers of pigeon banished thoughts of the biting wind.
We quietly walked up a line of newly planted broadleaf trees in their shelters, noting the clear evidence of pigeon feeding hard on the kale alongside.
Quickly we set to work, placing out a horseshoe-shaped pattern, with the FUDs pointing roughly head into the wind at the edge of the kale strip. We placed the decoys tactically around a feed hopper, which the shoot manager will continue to fill for his gamebirds well into the spring.
Carrying a number of decoys clipped into their handy plastic belt loop, putting them out was straightforward — though not quite as quick as throwing down a shell decoy.
Thanks to their design, once the FUD is in the ground you can position it in a variety of ways, setting some of their heads and bodies down in a feeding posture and others in a more upright and alert standing position.
WILL THE BIRDS BELIEVE THE FUDS?
Standing back to admire our handiwork, the result appeared impressively lifelike to us and really did suggest a group of pigeon filling their crops. Though the FUDs don’t stand up to close scrutiny — what decoy does? — from a distance the silhouette the pattern gave was convincing.
So convincing, in fact, that just as Paul and I were settling into the hide, six or seven pigeon came flaring in from behind us, evidently duped by the photorealistic printing and the mixed postures of the decoys.
Good news for us, since the theory of the FUD had shown itself to work in practice just moments after our arrival — even if my gun was lying broken and empty on the ground next to me and I was still tweaking the hide poles.
As we hunkered down behind the net, it looked to us as if a big day was a cert. So we waited for the rest of the birds to follow those early pathfinders.
And we waited a little longer.
In the distance we caught sight of a murder of crows living up to their title — more than 30 of them barrelled and rolled around just above the ground in the grass field out to our right.
Closer inspection revealed that they were haranguing and attacking a fox as it crossed the open ground, finally getting respite as it made the sanctuary of the field hedge.
The spectacle made for fascinating viewing, but still no pigeon dropped into our decoy pattern. A group of eight roe fed quietly, unperturbed either by our presence or by the commotion created by the crows.
Meanwhile all about us chuckling flocks of fieldfares and starlings hustled around in great packs, getting ready for the off.
The scene was one of bucolic perfection, but it was lacking one key element.
A CONVINCING CON
Then suddenly out to our left a solitary pigeon appeared, not too high but still well out of range. Would it be drawn in by the newfangled gadgetry?
Undoubtedly. Performing a deliberate change of course, the pigeon came closer and closer, obviously seduced by the prospect of a feed among friends.
Forty yards, 30 yards and then it was right in the pattern, looking to settle down among its expanded rubber foam brethren. Quickly I raised the gun and took my shot. Naturally I missed, but the point was proven.
The first pigeon we had seen to shoot at had been sufficiently conned to come in from quite a distance. And it wasn’t the last. Over the next few hours, while there was plainly no risk of the barrels getting excessively toasty, Paul and I were able to take 20 or so shots at pigeon and crows drawn in by the allure of the flat-pack FUDs.
We even managed to connect with some of them. What was truly remarkable, however, was that of the few pigeon we did see only a small number — those that were particularly high and distant — were able to resist the temptation to see what was going on down on the ground.
So is the FUD the next big thing in pigeon shooting? They have their advantages — the compact, innovative design and photorealistic appearance being the key ones — but equally they have their disadvantages.
How do you raise them higher than their red ground spike will allow when the crops grow up? Is the printed pattern too dark to catch all the birds’ attention? Are they robust enough? The pigeon shooter has always been a resourceful soul, however.
No two kit bags are the same and the problems are largely surmountable. Already the Internet is alive with suggestions on how to improve the decoys — the obvious ones being to paint your own white flashes on the wings and attach a hook to allow the use of a lofting pole — so really there is no fundamental difference between the FUD and any other decoy ‘customised’ by the keen pigeon shooter.
While Paul and I might not have had a red-letter day, as a practical experiment to see whether the FUD is up to the job, we certainly had an interesting time.
No pigeon shooting day is ever guaranteed, but on this one we’d achieved our objective and shot some birds over the latest piece of kit.
The decoys had been a success, and as we packed up our gear, brushing the last of the clay soil off the spikes, we bumped into the farmer.
“You should have been here yesterday,” he said, “the ground was lifting with them.”
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