So you've had a great session and amassed quite a bag of woodpigeon - but how do you handle the birds now and get them into the kitchen?
Once pigeons have been successfully shot and picked-up, they must be treated with respect; they are a food source and should be handled as such. Different times of year call for different measures when trying to get the birds successfully off the field into the chiller without spoiling.
Eat what you shoot
It is wrong to shoot a good number of pigeon if they are going to be dumped at the end of a day’s shooting. Woodpigeon is fantastic to eat and there is huge demand for it, so there is no excuse for not finding shot birds a home, even if you just give them away to friends and family. You might not receive a lot of money for your efforts, but every little helps and it will go towards the cost of a few pigeon cartridges for your next outing.
Coming off the field
If you shoot a good-sized bag, how do you get it off the field? This will be determined by the time of year and the situation you are in. During the winter, it might be tricky to get any vehicle to the hide and you may find yourself having to walk some distance. Luckily, the cool temperatures (and an absence of flies) are on your side, so it is possible to use a breathable sack such as hessian to carry the birds off en masse. Most hessian sacks and bags hold between 50 to 75 dead birds. you can also take them off the field in this way in early spring.
Once you’re back at your vehicle, you should have crates to hand to transfer them into. If birds are laid out correctly, breast up, a normal-sized bread crate will hold around 25. Don’t over-pack the crates or the birds won’t cool.
When the weather becomes warmer, there will be flies laying eggs and it won’t take long for the birds to turn green. Transporting birds off laid crops is the trickiest job, not only because you can’t get to the hide but also because picking-up is difficult and the weather is usually warm. Though it’s a drag, you should box the birds as you go to try to keep them in the shade and covered, protecting them from flies. Stubbles are much easier because you can often get to the hide, but time will not be on your side in hot weather.
As soon as you’re off the field, get the birds into a chiller as soon as possible. If you shoot a big bag, many gamedealers will come out and take them off your hands straight away.
Back at base
Ideally, birds should go straight into chillers or gamelarders to cool down properly. During the winter birds can go straight into the chiller in the crates you have packed them in, but through the summer months it’s best to lay the individual birds out or hang them so that they cool quickly. If you don’t have the use of a chiller, a shaded, cold stone floor — for example, in a garage — is the next best thing.
Lay your birds out breast up in the winter to cool quickly. In the summer, if it is warm, lay them breast down on a cold floor. If you are unable to get your birds to a gamedealer for a few days put them into a freezer. If you have space, it’s worth investing in a chest freezer. Pick out the birds in best condition and freeze them for your next outing. If you have decided to keep some for your own consumption, let them cool down before breasting them. (Here’s a video to show you how to breast a pigeon.)
In most cases, only the breasts are taken from the dead birds, but this means you have to dispose of the rest of the carcase. This can put people off dressing birds for their own consumption. If you have keepering friends, they will use unwanted breasted fresh carcases for feed or bait for Larsen traps or trying to get that tricky fox. You can also incinerate carcases in an oil drum, which is a good idea in the summer because a fresh carcase will quickly become maggot-ridden. In winter the cooler temperatures will slow the rotting of any breasted birds that have been tied up in a bin liner.
Tom’s top tip for storing your bag
Before you take birds off the field and back to the vehicle, empty their crops. This is particularly important when you have been shooting over any green crop, such as rape, because the meat can become tainted if the bird’s crop is full.