Earlier this month, I shot over late-drilled spring barley on the edge of a small spinney in the middle of our 60-acre field. The land is heavy in this part of North Nottinghamshire and ideal for cereal crops. However, it takes longer to dry out, so it was one of the last to be drilled in the middle of April as part of a 250-acre block. A lot of spring barley had been sown already in our area. This meant the pigeon had a great deal to look at but not much to eat, because modern farm machinery buries most of the seed and, with competition from the rooks, it is quickly cleaned up.
I had already shot this field twice — it had been drilled 12 days previously. The first day I shot 81 pigeon but on the second I shot just 23, because the birds had found a freshly drilled neighbour’s field. They have since returned and the day before penning this, I saw 300 birds working just to the north-west side of the spinney.
If the farmer does not mind you using field margins, they certainly help with carting gear to your chosen spot. But in the winter these are often wet and cut up easily. I kept a large green garden wheelbarrow in the 4×4 for years, which was a great help, but it is still a beast to push uphill with all your tackle plus 80 pigeon. I don’t like to carry the kitchen sink, but my basic kit still comes to around eight stone or 50kg. The rotary battery is the heaviest item but I only use it on rare occasions to pull pigeon from places to which I can’t get.
Over the years I have carried many thousands of pigeon, but now my back has had enough of 16-stone loads. For this reason I have invested in an electric barrow, which I call the Humper. It can carry 150kg and will not only extend my pigeon-shooting life but also make those journeys to and fro much easier.
We set off with Humper for the 400m walk to the centre spinney. At this time of year it is an afternoon job — the birds often don’t feed in earnest until after 1pm. We had set up by midday, which is my preferred hour at this time of year. The spinney gave us a good number of sitting trees for the pigeon and with a favourable westerly wind and patches of blue sky my hopes were fairly high, though tempered by the knowledge that thousands of acres 14 Shooting Times & Country Magazine 22 May 2013 of spring barley and beans had recently been sown in the area.
I put some flags on the field over the valley we had drilled at the same time, and also one at the bottom of our chosen field, where I knew the pigeon would gather if they didn’t come to us. I only used real birds — no flappers or bouncers, which can put pigeon off on flat-drilled ground, where they can easily detect irregularities. I took time to get each real bird set up well to make them as lifelike as possible. When you see a real pigeon walking among your decoys you will know exactly what I mean. One important thing is to raise them a few inches off the ground with cradles. Remember to provide a large area for the birds to fly into so they don’t become cramped and can come in and out. I split my 15 decoys either side of this killing zone.
It was not long before we had our first incomers and they behaved as we wanted — flying straight into the middle of the pattern. A steady stream all afternoon brought us a pleasing bag of 72 pigeon. At 4.30pm the traffic died down and we decided to draw stumps.
Remus, my black Labrador, was on his usual good form. I took the trays to the middle of the decoys and hardly moved as my four-legged friend brought in bird
after bird. He is sensible enough to leave any decoys on cradles or on sticks to me. After collecting the shot birds he showed off by bringing all the flags in. On command he went off at speed to the far side of the field, where he carefully twisted and pulled out the cane before returning proudly, with the bamboo flag flying in the wind. It’s vital to show your dog patience and kindness while making sure he understands what you expect. When you have a strong bond, you have a wonderful friend with which to work.
With the Humper well packed, we set off for home with another load of woodies for the chiller. It was an enjoyable day, with no lugging of heavy sacks.