Peter Theobald shares his tactics for pigeon shooting success on winter rape.

The text message from fellow pigeon shooting fanatic, Tim Barber, was short and to the point: “91 on rape!”

The exclamation mark emphasised the surprise that he’d made the bag on winter oilseed rape, the most notoriously difficult crop to shoot successfully.

I predicted big problems for farmers on their rape fields, due to a complete failure of acorns this year and compounded by the fact that no winter cereals have been sown since the first week of October.

Pigeons soon gleaned the grain from any remaining stubbles, forcing them to attack the rape a month earlier than usual.

Continual rain has meant many rape fields have established poorly, and even where plants have managed to struggle out of the ground, slugs in biblical proportions are munching them to oblivion.

Not surprisingly, my phone has been ringing off the hook, as farmers, desperate to protect what crops they have got, ask me to help out.

I’m not usually over enthusiastic about chasing banger-savvy woodies all over the parish, but this year the situation looks completely different.

From what I’ve seen so far, the birds have not yet attained that ‘rape mentality’ whereby they rocket off the field in one huge tight flock the moment you pull into the gateway.

Frantic farmer

Paul Payne, my pigeon shooting mate, and I decided to investigate a large block of rape, following a desperate call for help from a worried farm manager.

I always like to look at any situation the day before we shoot, to try and work out how we intend to tackle it.

There certainly were a lot of birds, 1,000 plus, feeding contentedly amongst the various flags, kites and scarecrows strewn over the three fields that comprised the block.

I can usually get the ‘feel’ for the potential of a situation, just by watching how pigeons leave the field when you put them up.

What you want to see is a reluctance on the part of the birds to vacate the field, and in this instance they simply leapfrogged each other in front of me until eventually they all lifted lazily to roll over the hedge into the next field.

Acorns have been in very short supply this year… and that’s why oilseed rape has come in for a severe battering

For once, I was mildly optimistic that this could work, but we would still need some co-operation from the farm manager.

He readily agreed to put out rope bangers and flag the one field we could not shoot, leaving Paul and I to cover the remaining two fields.

The die was cast.

The next morning dawned overcast and breezy, perfect conditions, and we weren’t too concerned that on arriving at the location the birds were on a different field to that of yesterday.

We knew that once the shooting started they could come from any direction.

It took us the best part of an hour to push the birds out of the vicinity completely, and each time we moved them the flock fragmented a little more, which was exactly what we wanted.

The farm manager turned up as promised, just as we were unloading the gear from the truck and he offered to transport Paul’s mountain of equipment on his quad bike.

How’s that for co-operation?

Pigeons were soon on the move, and once Paul got his three flapping machines on the go, they decoyed like a charm.

The birds continued to decoy in small groups, right up until we packed up at two o’clock with 132 in the bag.

I’m not saying that this sequence of events will continue right through the winter, but I’m hoping we’ll get a few weeks of good shooting before the pigeons wise up and revert to their self-preservation habit of staying in huge flocks and moving on at the drop of a hat.

So what are the tactics Paul and I use to give us the best chance of success on winter rape?

Help him, help you!

Firstly, it’s crucial that the farmer is not using you as a last resort, having bangered and rocketed the birds as they will have become un-decoyable.

You’ll have to convince him that the pigeons will need peace and quiet for at least three days if you’re going to kill any number but he’ll benefit in the long run.

Make sure your first go at them is your best effort.

Switch gas guns off three days prior to shooting and use decoy cradles

This will mean picking the day when the weather is most suitable, and you’ll need to be ready to shoot around two hours after daybreak.

This allows the birds their first feed in peace.

Allow as much time as it takes to move the birds completely away from the field you intend to shoot, remember they need to be far enough away so that they cannot hear your shooting.

Create big patterns with plenty of movement; it’s not unusual for us to start the day with 50 artificial decoys, two spinners and three flappers.

Even then, we’ll add shot birds as necessary, all up on pegs to ensure they’re visible above the crop.

Rotary machines and flappers help give lifelike movement to a pattern.

Make sure, as much as possible, that other rape fields within striking range are either covered by another decoyer or are kept clear by using a rope banger.

Don’t rely on yesterday’s reconnaissance to decide where you intend to set up today, as quite often pigeons will decide, seemingly for no apparent reason, to use a different part of the field.

Once you have cleared the field of feeding birds, it will not usually be long before they return so watch which part of the field they head for.

It’s remarkable how consistent this flightline can be, even when several minutes separate arriving bunches.

Sometimes you can bend a line in your favour, towards a convenient hedge, for example, but for the most part I like to set up bang on the line even if that means building a hide in the middle of the field.

Flapper magic

I’ve got to admit that the flappers used by pal, Paul – supplied by AandA Decoys – are by far the best machines I have seen so far, with a really fast and realistic action. Look for them at www.aadecoys.com or phone Andy on 07973400852.

How to succeed shooting pigeons over rape

We all know that oilseed rape can prove a nightmare to decoy successfully. But you can improve your chances massively by:
» Talking to the farmer. Get him to switch off his bird scarers at least three days before you plan to shoot. Pigeons need peace and quiet if they are to settle.
» If possible, pick a windy day for decoying.
» Don’t start shooting at daybreak. Give the birds a couple of hours to get their first feed.
» Walk them off the field and push them as far away as possible before setting up hides and decoys.
» Create big patterns with plenty of movement; me and my pal start the day with 50 artificial decoys, two spinners and three flappers.
» Use pegs and cradles to get shot birds visible above the crop.
» Identify the flight line into the field and then set up directly underneath it – even if it means building a hide in the middle of the field.