Peter Theobald talks about his increased number of encounters with the public, who do not always understand what goes on in the countryside
Many of my shooting permissions border large urban towns and while I reap the benefit of pigeon flying out to feed in the fields surrounding them, I inevitably come into contact with the residents of the towns too.
Public in the countryside
By and large, people who enjoy walking in the countryside will usually understand what else goes on there – pigeon shooting, for example. However, since coronavirus struck the nation, a whole different breed of walkers have taken to the footpaths, if indeed they bother at all to follow clearly signposted rights of way. Most country people, if they come across a pigeon shooter, will ask how they are doing, whereas this new lot tend to ask ‘what’ they are doing. Footpaths that I have not seen used for years now have a constant procession of walkers, often accompanied by an unruly dog running riot down the hedgerows.
Having never encountered a decoyer going about his lawful business, their first reaction is to call the police, who are duty-bound to turn out the moment firearms are mentioned. Don’t forget, we are talking about urban policemen, who themselves may never have encountered a pigeon shooter out in the field.
Abide by the rules
I have been used to shooting near footpaths for my entire shooting career and I am exceedingly careful to abide by the rules, always setting up with a safe field of fire and with a good view of approaching walkers. But what happens if some individual decides to go ‘off-piste’, as it were, and pops up where he has no business to be? The onus will always be on the decoyer to ensure he does not endanger anyone, even if that person has no right to be there. Confrontations are to be avoided at all costs, frustrating though it often is, as some of these individuals soon become aggressive whenever they think they have a right to roam wherever they like. That person only has to tell the police that he felt threatened by you to land you in a heap of trouble.
So, what are Paul and I doing to avoid such scenarios? For a start, we avoid shooting on a weekend, unless we are absolutely miles from any hedgerow, in other words, out in the middle of a 100- acre field. Even so, I recall, a few years back, a lady on a horse going out of her way to heckle me in the middle of a field, to call me all the murdering scumbag names she could think of. If we are shooting near a footpath, or we spot anyone heading our way, we immediately stop shooting till they are out of the way. It is often amusing how oblivious they are to what is going on around them, as they saunter past, glued to their mobile phone, not even noticing why those two pigeon keep flying round in tight circles. If a situation looks as though it might cause too many problems, we don’t shoot it, much to the dismay of the farmer whose crop we may be protecting. “But you are not breaking any law”, they argue, but it is just not worth the hassle from our point of view.
Dealing with walkers?: While I was out stalking recently, I was accosted by a walker who let fly a torrent…
Recently, Paul and I arrived to shoot two rape stubbles about a mile apart. The field Paul was shooting had a footpath running down the other side of the boundary hedge. I said to Paul that in 40 years I had never seen a soul use that path, but even so he made sure he had his back to it, and a clear view of anyone approaching. Birds were just starting to come nicely, when Paul phoned me: “It’s like Piccadilly Circus here. I’m spending more time unloaded than I am shooting.” Inevitably, the police arrived following a complaint from a member of the public, and while they agreed he was not breaking any law, they made it clear it would probably be wise to pack up, which he did.
On the other side of the coin, I was set up in the middle of a huge pea field a few weeks ago with a footpath running some 70 yards behind me. This was a truly rural setting, and the handful of walkers who came past during the day all stopped to ask how I was getting on, agreeing that the hordes of pigeon needed controlling. One even advised me I was in the wrong spot, saying I needed to be in that hedge over there. When I pointed out that the hedge was the boundary of an expensive looking house, he concurred that the owner probably would not have been best pleased if I’d set up there.
Sometimes the police take it upon themselves to investigate the source of gunfire in the countryside. We were set up in the middle of a huge rape stubble at least 400 yards from any house or right of way, when we became aware of two police officers making their way towards us. We were having a war, with more than 200 birds strewn all around our hide.
“We heard a lot of shooting coming from your hide, and were wondering what you were shooting at. We have reports of someone shooting cormorants. You’re not shooting cormorants are you?”
The fact they were standing in a war zone of dead pigeon should have made their question superfluous, but they spent the next half hour checking our gun licences and permissions. I’m afraid it is something us decoyers will have to get used to as the general public demand greater access to the countryside, without taking the responsibility to acknowledge what else is lawfully permitted to take place there.