When a policeman came to talk to his pigeon club about best practise for decoying, Ian Mason was astonished at what he had to say.
When the police came to give a talk to our local woodpigeon shooting club, it wasn’t something I expected to write about. It was, after all, just a friendly evening; a few beers and some bridge building with the local constabulary.
Frankly, some of the things I heard astonished me. It would not be fair to name the police officer involved. He was our guest and was speaking openly. He may have been more guarded had he suspected a journalist lurked amongst the audience. Suffice to say he had many years of policing experience and knew what he was talking about. For the purposes of this article I shall call him “Colin.”
The first thing that Colin sought was for pigeon shooters to notify the police when they plan to go out pigeon shooting. This notification could be telephoned via the police’s 101 number (which he acknowledged is currently ‘overloaded’ – with many callers experiencing potentially long waiting times) or reported on the local police force website as an ‘incident’.
The ‘incident’ should record who you are, where you plan to shoot, what you plan to shoot (and why), at what time, and the registration numbers of any vehicles used. Once finished shooting, you should go back online (or get back on the 101 queue) and ‘close’ the incident.
To say that our members were not keen on this proposal would be a huge understatement. Shooting organisations took a similar view. Tim Bonner, director of campaigns at the Countryside Alliance, commented: “The proposal is completely unworkable and betrays a worrying ignorance of shooting practice.”
Furthermore, as club members pointed out, they may go out to ‘recce’ several farms before deciding to set up in a suitable field, or move to another farm as flightlines change. Under these circumstances, trying to file and update police reports in rural areas with little or no mobile phone coverage could prove challenging. Tim Bonner added it would be more sensible for police forces to implement proper training and procedures for staff to ensure they are not over-reacting to perfectly legal and legitimate shooting activity.
Colin acknowledged that lack of training is problem. His ‘patch’ of the county gets a handful of 999 calls each month about ‘a man in a field with a gun’.
“If you get the wrong person taking the call, this can end up with a ridiculous knee-jerk reaction. They nearly always send out an armed response unit – it’s because we are incredibly risk averse as an organisation,” he said.
At a club level, our members can relate to this. One of our pigeon shooters has experienced the black-clad Heckler and Koch boys decamping from their helicopter on two occasions on the same farm.
Another problem, said Colin, is that many police officers have no experience of guns or rural affairs. “This problem of officers not knowing what goes on in the countryside is a big issue – as is town meets country. Townsfolk move out to the countryside and all they see is a man with a gun. What can often happen is that we get a report of a man in a field with a gun, but all that our call-talker hears is ‘a man with a gun’. The ‘in a field’ is actually the most important part of the report.”
The police are responding to this problem by increasing the training of their call-takers. Organisations like BASC have been helping to provide training. Last year BASC helped train more than 1,000 staff from another force (Hampshire Police), including front-line officers, emergency call handlers and control room staff. The aim was to improve understanding of the different types of lawful shooting.
Colin had a few other suggestions for pigeon shooters, including that they consider carrying a map showing where they have permission to shoot, with an accompanying letter of permission from the farmer – and that they dress more conservatively. “If you are wearing a full face veil, that will make people more concerned. Whereas if you are just wearing muted greens, then that seems more acceptable. A tweed jacket with a broken shotgun, most people will probably accept that as part of the countryside – but when you start wearing camouflage or a ghillie suit, that does get people worried.”
There were mixed feelings on these points. Regarding permission, some countered that if challenged by a police officer, they would reply that they had lawful authority to be there and direct them to the farmer.
In terms of dress, Colin may have a point. A man in a ghillie suit emerging from a hedgerow carrying a semi-auto can look pretty scary. Old-school pigeon shooters maintain that it does not matter what you wear, so long as you have a hat with a brim and keep very still.
Colin’s final points were on knives and dogs. The ongoing spate of gundog thefts means that those who keep dogs kennelled outside need to consider a serious review of their security arrangements. On knives, he reminded us that it is illegal to carry any lock knife in a public place without good reason. The burden of proof is reversed. Get the wrong police officer, you could be in trouble with a knife left in the car or in a pocket after a pigeon-shooting outing.
“I’ll be quite blunt, the pressure on officers to get results, to get arrests, is far greater than it has ever been. With some officers their attitude is ‘I’ll nick them and sort it out later’. It is sad but that is where we are at,” said Colin.