At present, the weather is not in favour of the pigeon shooter. Much of the country is under water and any possible roost shooting or decoying is being hugely affected. Until we see a change, any outings will have to wait, as good opportunities will be ruined by rain. We could have similar situations to last year, with any food left in the gamestrips starting to rot and, unless we have a substantial period of dry weather, the spring drillings will be very late.

In times like these, how can pigeon shooters ensure they make the most of any outing when it does clear up?

Pre-empt problems: Visit your local gunsmith

I’m always amazed at people’s relaxed attitude to visiting the gunsmith. Many leave it to the last minute to get their gun serviced or wait until something goes wrong. At the end of the shooting season gunsmiths are quiet and, nine times out of 10, can turn a gun service around within a couple of weeks. To me, it’s common sense: there is no point waiting until you’re into the thick of our pigeon shooting to decide to get your gun looked at — now’s the perfect time. My gun is the tool of my trade so I make sure I look after it. Imagine getting stuck into a period of good shooting and your gun breaks down. You’d feel sick!

People pleasing: Talk with your farmers, gamekeepers & landowners

Now is a good time to have a proper catch up with everyone. I tend to do this three times a year: once before the winter shooting, again in the spring, and then at harvest. Gamekeepers will be busy tidying their shoots away, so if you have the time, see if they need a hand, and likewise with farmers, particularly if the weather is wet. The answer may be “no, thank you”, but it’s the offer that counts.

Perfect plans: Check cropping schedules and make maps

During your visits, it’s the perfect time to find out the farmer’s plan of attack for the year ahead. I cover a lot of ground, and it’s important for me to stay on top of any pigeon problem that a farmer may have, regardless of possible bag sizes. The only way to do this is to know what’s going on, when and where. Constantly driving around can get expensive and is not an effective use of time. I’ll speak with farmers now about their spring drilling plans. Maps are key, and if you know the areas that are red-lined for drilling, what is going in and a rough time when, this makes reconnaissance easier and ensures no opportunity is missed. Likewise with gamekeepers — the gamestrips are a huge draw at present, so fi nd out when they are hoping to top their maize and so on. Whatever the weather, communication is key: I try to speak with farmers and gamekeepers via phone or on a quick visit once every couple of weeks.

Prepare kit: Sort, clean and repair equipment

I’m lucky to have a shed at home dedicated to my pigeon shooting equipment. With the weather this winter, however, it’s just been sitting there collecting dust, and my shed also became a temporary home to horse-riding gear, a bike and four guinea pigs. Start your kit tidying by checking your nets and, if you can, keep them off the floor. Rodents love nets and will happily gnaw away at them, making themselves a home. Hanging them makes them easier to tidy and to get to them when you need them. Check, oil and service any mechanical contraptions and charge any batteries (even if you think they’re charged, still check as cold weather kills batteries quickly). Tidy away hide poles, floaters and cradles, ready for the off. Clean and spruce up decoys, maybe re-painting neck and wing bars. I tend to use dead birds, keeping them in the chest freezer, so I go through that to get rid of any that are discoloured or spoilt from being frozen too long. Finally, my bag: I always have one ready to go. This holds two nets, eight hide poles, two fl appers, 20 cradles and my seat.

Price fix: Negotiate with your gamedealer

Now is a great time to speak to your gamedealer. At present they are desperate for pigeon, as the winter months have offered so few, and you may be able to agree a price that they will take birds off you for the rest of the year. It’s also worth visiting your local butchers, restaurants and gastro pubs — they may not be able to take many birds, but they do normally offer good prices.

Pigeon recon: Get bird spotting

Stay on top of things. There’s no point going out if the weather is too awful, but a drive around every now and then when the weather calms down a bit is worth it. You may not see much, but if you can’t be in the hide, at least you can be outside looking for pigeon.

VITAL WORK

It’s shaping up to be another tricky start to the year for the pigeon shooter. Use this bad weather to your advantage by getting prepared and it will make all the difference when we get going. With late spring drilling, the pigeon shooter will be as important as ever to the farmer.