Pigeon shooting – Decoying on stubbles.

After their summer break from the rape fields, the pigeons were now back on the crop, this time clearing up the stubble.

They’re gluttons for the tiny black seeds, and with luck, far more co-operative than when shredding its rank winter leaves.

The only fly in the ointment was a big roosting wood adjoining the stubble, which the flock used as a base.

Normally, shooting this close to home soon sets the alarm bells ringing, and rattling off a few barrels, even with the 28, can easily clear them out, ruining the potential of a promising day out.

This was obviously another great opportunity for the four-ten!

This great little gun’s already seen plenty of action, but I’m still like a kid with a new toy whenever I pick it up and nowadays, whenever stealth is required, it’s certainly the most fun I get with my trousers on!

As yet unshot, an expanding flock had been swooping in to hoover up the spilt seed.

A third of the crop, ripening later than the rest, still stood at one end – not, I might add, retarded by constant pigeon attack – but down to poor germination.

Possibly an area of different soil didn’t suit it. Mistake number one was arriving late. Delayed by a customer, I was itching to make a start, spending a limited amount of time sussing them out.

Hoping to shoot from the boundary ditch, it threw me a bit to find a good-sized bunch working tight against the uncut area right in the centre of the field, piling in where the stubble was shorter. They stood out from miles away – as would the decoys – the hedge now deserted and looking way off line.

BLENDING IN

The hide net stood out against the yellowing stalks. Staked just in the edge of the standing crop, it took several armfuls of thrashed rape stalks to gradually blend everything in.

I finally got it right on the outside, but once inside, everything felt a bit cramped.

Adjusting a reasonable sized hole to shoot through, bits of the roof kept collapsing at each puff of the freshening breeze.

Surfacing for a look around, I noticed the flapper was behaving rather strangely – hardly surprising with an amorous woodie right on top of it!

At least the decoys were convincing and the pigeons keen – but that particular one soon grew tired of getting no response.

It made off in a hurry… as I rummaged around desperately trying to find a cartridge!

Loaded up, it was claustrophobic in my igloo-shaped nest. Hunched up like a heron and balancing not too comfortably on a three-legged stool, after a few minutes my back was screaming and the ‘tucked under’ foot already going to sleep.

The length of the moderator wasn’t helping in such a cramped space, and any movement was uncomfortable, sending a trickle of rape seed down my neck to work its way into some quite unmentionable places.

Worse still, though the pigeons had begun drifting back, instead of curling round into the wind as expected, most skimmed in very low from behind, swishing directly over my head to present awkward rear end targets.

PROBLEMS WITH THE SET-UP

A certain amount of rebuilding was necessary each time I nipped out to set up shot birds, but turning to take them approaching over the crop just wasn’t an option.

The road hedge was far too close, and in its ripe and fragile state, anything dropped in the standing rape would be strictly out of bounds. Blast!

The pigeons were co-operating, but from the shooting point of view, the present set-up was unworkable.

The far hedge – where I’d planned to start – suddenly seemed a far more attractive option.

Quite a few were now trekking along it, and others passing over high would probably be lured in. I hate moving once the return flight gets under way, but if I really wanted to score, a fresh start was the only answer.

A light and unexpected shower settled it. While the pigeons skulked in the wood waiting for it to clear, I took everything down, lugged it across the field in two journeys, and laboriously put it all up again, cursing myself for getting it wrong and wasting precious shooting time.

There was no-one else to blame; if I’d taken more time choosing the right place to start with, all the stress and frustration, not to mention effort, would have been avoided.

Nevertheless, as the drizzle cleared and the sky lightened up, the dining table was laid out afresh, the magazine primed, and the finishing touches put to the hide.

The stubble was much taller here, and at first nothing seemed too keen on the decoys.

Elevated well above the stalks, the dead birds certainly stood out well – but were they just that little bit too prominent and unnatural?

Ramming the cradles in left them just peeping over the top. The display was far less noticeable, but with the flapper doing its work, they soon cottoned on to the more natural looking ‘feeders’, and the set-up did the trick.

SUCCESS AT LAST!

This was more like it. Able to swing the gun at last, it was easy to clip them down at close range. Most arrived head-on or crossing – just the job.

Adding plenty of fresh birds to the pattern soon presented a prominent blue patch – highly visible from above – against the stubble. Even the tall, passing birds began to home in, closing their wings and hurling themselves earthwards in awesome, free falling dives, opening their flaps to brake and circle in.

Great! During the first busy spell, I lost several birds while picking up. It’s surprising just how often it happens.

Awaiting a short break, you look right, look left, and then right again – nothing. Not a pigeon in sight.

Dashing out – inevitably – just as you break cover a couple of easy woodies suddenly appear from nowhere, right on top of you!

There was a rather gruesome discovery among the pick-ups. A single, taken nicely overhead, had crashed heavily into the stubble beside the hide.

Colliding with a particularly tough rape stalk, it was speared like a kebab, the stalk passing right through!

pigeon shooting

Examining it closely, it must have hit the stalk at exactly the right angle, ending neatly skewered like a spit roast.

Luckily it was dead in the air.

HELPFUL DOVES

A constant trickle of stock doves began turning up for a feed. Favouring small seeds, one or two were always hovering over the decoys, circling endlessly and occasionally fluttering in to land.

Though annoying at times, at least they were drawing attention to the set-up by adding that extra vital bit of movement, pulling several wayward woodies into the decoy area.

It became almost thundery, with the occasional drizzly shower bringing everything to a halt – but immediately the sky lightened again the woodies poured in, floating out high over the woodland oaks, curling wide downwind and beating steadily back towards the hide.

You just knew they were coming every time. Spot on.

Just as everything was going to plan, a combine suddenly roared through the field gateway, obviously to finish off the rape. Surely it was too damp? Hmm – apparently not.

pigeon shooting

With two trailers in its wake, it started straight away, gobbling up the remains of my earlier hide on the first circuit. Pigeon traffic now slowed to a dribble.

With the combine thrashing away in clouds of dust and noise, many peeled away after no more than a cursory sweep around.

.410 CENTURY

Holding the same line from the wood, advancing specks grew bigger, but though looking good just before starting their approach, the roar of the combine coming round yet again was enough to push them off course.

Despite the long waits I hung on, using the occasional burst of action to clock up another century for the little gun before the flight stopped as heavy cloud rolled in.

There were fallen birds either side of me in the hedge; the pick-up was a painful task amongst the vicious tangle of summer brambles, but easier in the sugar beet behind.

Taking half a dozen rows each time, up and down, I don’t think I missed a single bird.

This covers the area far more thoroughly than haphazardly searching for individuals.

The combine was swallowing the last swath just as I was leaving. Freshly shed seed lay everywhere.

With any luck, the pigeons would be back well before the cultivator came along bury it up. And so would I!