Last winter there were several large flocks of pigeon feeding on our shooting grounds, but now there are often none to be seen. Pigeon normally pair off in the spring and start to feed on the drillings in smaller, more manageable groups.
At this time, when you see 200 to 400 birds feeding you are in with a good chance of a decent bag. I normally reckon on shooting about a third of what I see at the height of feeding time. This year shooting over the drilling was good because birds were easily visible on the bare ground and if I had my maps and the right information from the farmer, they were relatively easy to track down.
I followed the drill like the pigeon. My only difficulty was that there was too much drilling at once. As the land dried out everybody was making up for lost time. On one occasion I saw more than 20 farmers drilling spring barley on the same day.
Though the crops were two to three weeks behind owing to the continuing cold winds, nature is great at adapting. As the rain and the sun came together, so did the necessary growth spurt. Earlier this year, I predicted that the abundance of backward rape would cause problems to pigeon shooters throughout this season. Even in early June the backward areas were still providing many options for the birds. The birds also had the unusual option of redrills where spring rape has been sown. In addition, there were new buds and ivy berries in the woods and hedgerows, as well as the chickweed, which has flushed on the set-aside (set aside can be a great place to shoot, so if you have any watch it carefully).
Normally spring rape fields are popular with pigeon but this year some fields in my area were pigeon-free and many had just 10 to 15 birds spread about. Pigeon are always harder to find in May, but I have never known a more difficult year despite spending many days and covering many miles.
Seeek and ye shall find
So, what is the best way to find and locate these elusive pigeon? Now that the countryside has greened up, the single trees, spinneys and the edges of woods where you can normally spot the birds, conceal them. For instance, in the summer, I often drive past a small tree and on checking more closely see 50 or more pigeon exploding from under the large leaves, where they had been shading themselves while waiting to feed.
First, check all the fields you think the pigeon may be interested in. Second, wait for the farmer to ring and go straight to the field he is concerned about. There you can sit and observe the numbers feeding and the position of the incoming flightlines. Third, find a likely location and spend some time watching the skies for flighting pigeon. They are usually on their travels for a reason and with careful observation with binoculars they can lead you to the pot of gold. I have done this many times.
When driving I always note where and when a pigeon flies over a road. I often stop and wait for a short time to see return traffic. Of course, they may be feeding locally or travelling several miles. When I was a young man at farming college I noted such a pigeon going over the road. I remember thinking he was on a mission. I turned the car around and followed the next one as far as I could with the binoculars and drove in that direction. Their destination was three miles away down some long bumpy lanes. Eventually, I found about 400 pigeon feeding on some laid barley. After obtaining permission to shoot them, two of us shot 133 in the middle of the field under a large oak tree. I often thought if I had not stopped and followed that bird I would never have found them tucked away miles from anywhere.
Keeping an eye on power lines and telephone wires can often provide a good marker. Three or four birds on the wires can mean 300 or more feeding below. Another way of finding pigeon is to start at a known roosting wood. This can be difficult when you have a large forested area to cover, but if you are patient you will normally find a few travellers. In the second week of June we employed this method to great effect.
Working in tandem
Mike and I decided to look at an area we shoot on two large adjacent farms some 20 miles from home. We had not been that way for a week or two and the first half-an-hour of reconnaissance produced nothing. Then I got a call on the radio from Mike, who had seen some pigeon leaving the west side of a good holding wood where we have shot a lot of pigeon in the past. They were only travelling three fields away and had found some backward rape and spring rape side by side, giving them good options in a good location.
I was there within a couple of minutes and saw a strong line leaving the wood. When I walked over I moved about 70 off the two fields, not a lot, but it was only 1.30pm in sunny, hot conditions and it looked like they were just starting to leave the shade of the leaves for their feeding grounds.
Pigeon get thirsty on hot days and can feed strongly because they need the moisture from the young plants, be it peas or rape. My first thought was, where will they go when one of us sets up? To find out, I followed a few birds leaving this field and a few from further back in the wood. They were heading to an acre of backward rape on a 20-acre field across the road, barely half a mile away. I knew it to be an elevated place on a bank with good background cover. I?d shot 56 birds there six weeks earlier. There were only 25 feeding at that time but we could see they were interested and the two fields seemed to go hand in hand.
Mike decided to give this place a go while I went to set up on the field with the heavier traffic. We set up quickly and checked by radio to see if the other was ready. Action was fast at my end and it was not long before I had 25 shot before going out to tidy up. Mike was shooting much more steadily, but he told me he was on form so I knew we would bag a good number.
It was a great afternoon?s sport. We started just before 2pm and packed up relatively early at 5.30pm because we both had jobs to do at home. We certainly would have got more if we had stayed on a bit. But by not shooting t out, hopefully we will get another good day soon. Mike picked up 41 pigeon and I picked up 138. If we hadn?t looked round the back of that wood we would never have got that special 179 bag. So keep at it and remember ? seek and ye shall find.