Are you a recreational pigeon shooter or a serious pest controller?
To be honest it’s probably not a question you have asked yourself, and the only reason I mention it now is because of a few pages I read from one of my old diaries recently.
Some of the entries, from 1972, were as clear in my memory as the day they were written some 40 years ago, but what struck me most was the number of times I went out, and also how small was the average bag.
Admittedly, there were some red-letter days, like the time when I shot 116 over self-sown barley (my first ever 100 bag) but generally speaking, failure dominated the pages.
Comments such as, ‘birds wouldn’t decoy’ or ‘pigeons cleared off after the first shot’ occur with dismal regularity.
Sure, I was only 21 years old and still learning the art of decoying, but I would have placed myself in the ‘recreational’ category, if only for the fact that any time spent with a gun in my hands was not wasted – even if the result was just a handful of birds.
JOB OR HOBBY
Over the years, though, I’ve gradually morphed into being more of a pest controller, though don’t think for a moment that I have any less respect for this magnificent bird or that I value it’s sporting qualities any less.
No, what I have learnt is that there are often times when you simply cannot make a decent bag, – even if pigeons are swarming to a particular field (oilseed rape in January springs to mind.)
The recreational lads will still give it a go, probably pleasing the farmer in the short term, but they’re storing up problems for themselves in the long term by educating pigeons to become ‘decoy shy.’
The semi-pro, however, will bide his time, waiting for the conditions or circumstances to come right, and then he’ll usually kill a large number.
The skill, of course, is being able to recognise the difference and also to spot the situation in the first place, a skill that is only learned through countless disappointments and hours of reconnaissance.
These days, I am quite happy to observe pigeons in my area, without the overwhelming urge to rush home to fetch my gear at the prospect of shooting, say, a dozen or so birds – as would have been the case 40 years ago.
The net result is, though I go out half as many times in the course of a year, I shoot twice as many pigeons.
On the 40 or so days that my shooting mate Paul and I shared last year, we killed over 6,000 pigeons – at an average of more than 150 per outing.
Obviously, there is nothing at all wrong if an individual wishes to spend a couple of hours at the weekend trying to shoot a few pigeons for his freezer – without the hassle of carting mountains of gear and cartridges to some far flung field – and then have the added burden of lugging an extra hundredweight of dead pigeons back to his car at the end of the day.
But, from what I read in the shooting press and from the letters I get, the majority of decoyers do still want those big bags, and are prepared to invest heavily in the latest gadget that might just open the door to success.
FIGHT THE TEMPTATION
The simple fact is, to shoot like a pro you also have to think like one. And that, in all probability, will mean passing up the field you want to shoot on Sunday because that is your day off, even though you know full well the birds only found the field a couple of days ago and need at least a few days to become committed.
Recreational man shoots the field on Sunday and kills 30, pro waits till Wednesday and gets 130.
Clearly, the farmer will have a say in all this, and I’ve known numerous occasions in the past where he’ll insist I shoot a field tomorrow – or he’ll either put out the scarers or that he intends to plough the stubble you’ve been watching – the same stubble that needs just a couple more days to produce a certain 200 bag.
Sometimes the farmer will co-operate with you on this, but if not, you just have to go along with it and make the most of what you have been given. At least you are still thinking on the right lines, even if fate insists on poking its nose in.
KILLS TO CARTRIDGES
A good kill-to-cartridge ratio is also essential for consistent bags as you will not kill big numbers if you only average one bird for four shots. You simply won’t fire enough during the course of an average day.
Now if that means not firing at the 50-yard birds because you never hit them, then don’t fire at them!
Nothing educates pigeons quicker than blasting at them before they have committed properly to your pattern.
This frame of mind is probably encouraged by the modern trend of shooting at birds beyond the accepted range of a shotgun.
People boasting they can ‘regularly’ kill birds at 90 yards does our sport a massive disservice, completely overturning the doctrine that was drummed into me when I was younger.
I’m sorry, but I cannot see the logic in paying a fortune to try and make pheasants fly further away, and then spend another fortune on machines to try and make pigeons fly closer.
My pigeon shooting average has never been worse than 50%, and that’s not because I’m a particularly gifted shot, but in the early days I never fired at birds I reckoned I didn’t have a better than one in two chance of hitting!
This taught discipline and encouraged good fieldcraft; any fool can blaze away at birds within 100 yards.
Today, I still see 50 yards as my maximum range and if I can’t get pigeons inside that distance, then I’m doing something wrong and I’ll try to correct it.
On the rare occasions that I can’t work it out, I’m never tempted to fire at these birds anyway, preferring to leave them alone, uneducated, for another day.
So, what sort of pigeon shooter are you?
A recreational guy, content to rely on luck to put a few birds in the bag – always faintly envious of the ‘fortunate’ few who regularly make large bags?
Or are you a budding ‘pro’ – prepared to learn from your mistakes, plotting the best time to shoot a field, honing your fieldcraft to make the most of every opportunity and constantly improving your shooting skills to the point where you expect to hit the target rather than just hoping?
As big brother would say ‘you decide.’