Camouflage-wearing stereotype aside, should the pigeon shooter use a semi-automatic for his sport? Tom Payne weighs up the pros and cons
The gun you choose to shoot pigeons — whether decoyed, flighting or roosting — should always be given maximum thought if you are to shoot to the best of your ability. The gun must suit you and the bore size, weight, length of barrels and, of great importance, the gun fit should all be taken into account. These factors will mainly be determined by your age, size and strength, regardless of whether you are male or female.
Semi-automatic for the pigeon shooter
For some reason the semi-automatic has become the go-to gun for the pigeon shooter — or the gun people feel that pigeon shooters should have. A full-on camouflage outfit and a semi-auto would be the stereotype. Semi-autos are fantastic for vermin control; they are hardy enough for the harsh environment of the foreshore and the mud and wet that a wildfowler puts his guns through. They can handle a bumpy night’s lamping on the back of the pickup and, as many of them are now synthetic, laugh off any bang or knock they take.
But why have they become a popular gun in the hide? Do they have any benefits compared with an over-and-under, or is a semi-auto a gun that does more harm than good?
Shooters get used to what they shoot with
I was joined by photographer Sarah Farnsworth on a miserable but windy early October afternoon. We were heading out to the far end of our oak and beech woods. There is a long distance between the two which has provided some big flights.
I quickly spruced up one of my old permanent hides and placed a few dead birds in cradles around the wood edge on a bit of grass and an old autumn drill. I started with the semi-auto.
The one I was using was very short for me and I did struggle. I chucked it around and managed to bump into a few birds but I wouldn’t have said the average was anything to write home about. I did enjoy shooting the semi-auto but I wanted my Perazzi. It was good fun and I was grateful to get a bit of pigeon shooting. I picked just over two-and-a-half dozen — a really nice shoot in an old favourite spot.
As with a lot of things, shooters become very used to what they shoot with. For me to compare and contrast honestly would take many different situations. The semi-auto has its place but I’m fairly positive the over-and-under would come out on top.
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The semi-auto may have become popular for pigeon shooting, but does having the ability to shoot three shots make a difference to bag sizes? Many shooters lack the discipline to shoot a semi-auto correctly and being able to fire three shots only encourages the shooter to become erratic.
One of the key aspects of building a bag is making sure that you kill what you shoot at and do your utmost not to educate birds that have been missed. When you kill a bird, approaching pigeons do not see a missed bird flaring away amid the rally of shots that follows. All they see from a distance is one of their number falling among the dead bird decoys on the floor.
If I miss a bird, unless I know I can kill it on the second shot I won’t educate it any further on the off chance that I might get a golden pellet.
The damage that can be caused by shooting unnecessarily can ruin a day. It is easy to kill a line by creating too much gunfire with little falling out of the sky. It is too easy to educate a pigeon by shooting in this manner and enough outings with this sort of behaviour makes decoying a very difficult task.
- To shoot a semi-auto effectively discipline is key.
- Shoot what you know you can kill and don’t take on bigger packs just because you have three shots.
- Experienced pigeon shooters who work well with a semi-auto and can put it to good use do not shoot aimlessly. Through their experience, they really operate no differently than they would with a conventional shotgun.
- Where semi-autos can be of great benefit is on a really busy day, because they are easy to load quickly. However, they do spit out cartridges everywhere, which makes picking up the empty ones tricky at the end of the day, especially during the summer months when there is heavy undergrowth.
- They are not the easiest of guns to get fitted and will only tend to cycle properly if you use 28g cartridges or more.
- I would recommend gaining experience with an over-and-under to get that discipline first before buying yourself a semi-automatic.
My gun of choice
I use my Perazzi over-and-under for all of my pigeon shooting and have never felt that I would have killed more with the extra shot offered by a semi-automatic. The over-and-under would be my gun of choice. They are similar in that you have a single sight rib that naturally takes your vision out to the bird; the fore-end gives you a good grip and control with the front hand; and the pistol grip allows you to seat your hand comfortably and helps to absorb recoil.
The benefits of the over-and-under are that it can be fitted correctly, is more versatile on loads and will always handle if balanced properly for the shooter — much more so than the semi-auto. This, with good technique, will help the shooter to shoot to the best of his ability.
The side-by-side has become the gun of the traditionalist these days. I still enjoy shooting pigeons with a side-by-side every now and then and years ago used one for pigeon shooting all the time. For decoying from a hide they can be great fun to shoot with and can be loaded faster than an over-and-under due to the wider gape.
On busy days, however, you will need a glove for your front hand, due to barrels getting on the warm side, and they can only handle certain loads. By design a side-by-side does not cope with recoil and heavy loads. If you are used to shooting a lighter gun they can be a good option. But if you are of stronger build be careful, because you could end up throwing the gun around like a wand with no control, causing inconsistent shooting. Your visibility on the bird is not as great as with an over-and-under.