At last the pigeons are beginning to show up in numbers, having been largely absent from their usual haunts right up until the middle of June.
I was doing my usual recce of the pea fields in my area – every one having been a complete blank since they were drilled – (a first for me) when, for no better reason than a gut feeling, I took a different route home.
Rounding a bend in the road, a field in the distance caught my eye and caused my heart to skip a beat.
Recognising the crop instantly as winter barley, the bits that excited me were the scars of laid patches, visible from a mile away.
Two minutes later, I was at the field and glassing it for any pigeon activity.
Swathes of the crop were laid flat and 400 assorted corvids were noisily taking advantage of the easy pickings, but of pigeons, there were just a handful sitting in a dead elm on the boundary.
I knew it was only a matter of time before numbers built up so I left the field for a week, before returning late one afternoon to see what had developed.
Even more rooks were hammering the milky grains, and it was fascinating to watch adults flying out to the laid patches, picking off a whole ear, then flying back to a nearby meadow to feed it to their impatient youngsters.
But still only a sprinkling of woodies were lazily dropping in here and there. ‘They must have found it by now,’ I thought, and began scrutinising every tree through the binoculars.
A slight movement above a row of telephone wires that crossed the field had me focusing even more carefully. Sure enough the wires were laden with pigeons.
A quick walk down one of the tramlines revealed a pigeon decoyer’s dream – ten acres of barley, absolutely as flat as could be, right under the line of cables.
From this area and the surrounding trees erupted fully 500 birds, to disperse reluctantly in all directions. Bingo! We were in business. The situation was a perfect opportunity for Sporting Gun’s photographer to update the picture library, so a day was arranged for both him and shooting pal Paul to be at my farm at 10.30.
It was going to be a hot day so feeding activity was not anticipated until later in the afternoon, but after the short ten-minute drive to the field it was immediately obvious that pigeons were on the move already.
Three distinct flight lines were funnelling down the field to converge on the telephone wires and it took less than a minute for all three of us to agree the ideal spot, round one of the poles in the centre of the field.
‘This is going to be a ‘big one’ I thought out loud as we loaded our gear like pack horses and waded through the tangled stalks to our position.
We were sweating profusely by the time we made it, mercifully, in one journey, but the situation was even better than we had imagined.
The area around our pole was absolutely flat, meaning the decoys showed up perfectly, and we should be able to have a good pick-up without further damaging the crop.
The first shot was fired immediately we were ready at 12.30 as birds decoyed without hesitation. They had not been chased for months so were supremely confident, and 56 fell in the first hour.
Mostly arriving in singles or pairs, this strike rate continued consistently for the next seven hours, with the final tally being 367, more than double my original assessment of the situation.
Even so, for the last two hours of this fantastic shoot several birds began to drop short at the top of the field, meaning that at least 200 managed to get a feed… encouraging the thought that another day could be had here in the near future.
The ten-day rule Paul and I have a theory that it takes up to ten days for the memory of a nasty experience to be erased from the memory of a pigeon.
In other words, if you bash up the local woodie population to the tune of 367 birds, do not expect to repeat the same result any time soon.
We shot this bag on a Wednesday, so the following Thursday I thought the time was ripe to take another look at the field.
You could begin to see where the army of rooks had completely eaten out whole strips of the crop and, as hoped for, the pigeons were back in even greater numbers.
They were understandably cautious of the area where we shot last week, preferring to gather at the top of the field where they had fed in peace previously.
Intending to shoot it the following day, I invited decoying accomplice Tim Barber, who has been helping me on the BASC pigeon shooting courses held at my farm.
An unneeded strong wind was blowing when we got to the field sending flighting birds all over the place on a broad front.
I took a gamble downwind edge, hoping birds would approach the barley upwind. I was reasonably confident the birds would decoy to the grass, as I had seen more than 50 sitting here waiting to feed yesterday.
Tim, meanwhile, set up in the middle of the barley covering the bottom half of the field.
Whilst I was bang on the flight line, most of the birds chose to go straight to the barley, but with so many starting to move – and keeping low in the wind – I maintained a rate of 20 an hour.
Tim was only getting sporadic shooting, phoning me to say the pigeons were not decoying to him, but side-slipping to land further up the field.
Soon, they were flooding between us, and it became obvious he needed to move, and quickly.
Unfortunately, we delayed the decision too long, and coupled with the fact that it took the best part of an hour for Tim to pack up and get to the new location, the damage had been done, and nearly 400 birds got in to feed.
It was a frustrating day for Tim, who collected 39 birds. Under the circumstances, though, it was a relatively good one for me with a bag of 132.
The best part of the day, though, was that another shoot would certainly be had here in another ten days’ time.