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Clubbing together

It?s fair to say that it is getting harder and harder to find land on which to shoot, whatever kind of sport you are after. Vast tracts of land throughout the UK are now under the control of deer managers and pigeon guides, and while I am sure they do a great job, booking a day with someone who tells you where to sit and when to go home is not quite the same as being left to your own devices. It rather lacks the feeling of adventure that comes when the fields are yours to roam alone. So, where can one find some pigeon shooting?

BASC has its pigeon register, and similarly while some vermin and pigeon control clubs can still be found, they are not as prevalent as they used to be. One such club that is still thriving is the Coventry Woodpigeon & Rabbit Control Club, which was founded 45 years ago. I went to meet some of its members at their monthly clay shoot on land close to Brinklow, near Coventry.

I was met by the club?s current chairman, former motor racing engineer William Cowles, who informed me how the clay ground worked. ?The ground that we have features skeet, down-the-line and ball-trap layouts, while the shrubby areas around the edges of the ground provide some good spots for a sporting layout,? said William. ?The club runs its own competitions and this is a useful way to meet new members and to assess their safety practices.?

While William headed off to help set up the traps, I talked to one of the club?s founder members, John Hunt, who was enjoying one of the breakfast baps thathad been prepared by his wife Jill, Ann Walker and Vicki Cowles.

Many Shooting Times readers will remember that when pigeon magnets were first introduced there were howls of outrage that they were unsporting and would cause pigeon to be annihilated.

This has not happened, of course, but John told me that he feels you can?t beat old-fashioned decoys and that, in his opinion, the latest gadgets have actually made pigeon more difficult to decoy. As well as pigeon, the club conducts rabbit and corvid control and, at one time, John used to run up to 70 mole traps.

John said, ?Nearly all the original members of the club have passed away, but I still keep my eye in on the clay ground. We set up the club to help farmers with pest control, assisted by what was then the Wildfowlers? Association of Great Britain and Ireland (now BASC), and we used to run ?town meets country? events at country fairs, and still do.

?We have always been a sociable club, and the clay shoots provide us with an opportunity to meet and to put the world to rights. We once had around 70 farms on which to shoot and though the number has diminished I am proud to say that we have never lost a farm due to bad conduct from any member. We will not tolerate any bad behaviour and there is a strict entry process for all members that involves being assessed at the clay ground, before the committee and in the field.

?Once someone has become a full member, they telephone the field officer, Hayden Mosby, every Friday to see if any farmers have reported problems with pests, and he allocates them a farm ? they cannot just go where they please.

?All farmers have their different requirements ? some don?t want any decoying during the shooting season, for example. It is about being sociable and collaborating with people, not falling out.?

With the clay shoot over, the majority of the members departed, apart from William Cowles and Stuart Vowles, who took me out to try for some pigeon on one of their farms.

The conditions could not have been much worse for pigeon shooting ? it was as hot as late summer and the crop on the ground was oilseed rape, but we decided to give it a try. As we approached, 20-odd pigeon rose from a bare area that they had been feasting on and lazily fluttered away. They didn?t seem inclined to come back. William and Stuart put some decoys out and our wait began. But there was nothing. A couple of approaching birds raised the pulse for a moment, but they turned out to be mallards. The height of rape can easily conceal a good flock of pigeon, and we noticed some birds lifting and dropping back into the crop about half a mile away. I decided to walk over to put them up, and hopefully they would drift back to William and Stuart. As I neared them, a couple of hundred birds rose like locusts and flew away on the still air, only to vanish into the tops of trees. I heard no shots behind me, so I waited a while before heading back.

As the sun set, a pair of foxes loped across a field of young wheat, and some roe came out to feed. It had been an unlucky day for us ? but that?s pigeon shooting!

To contact the Coventry Woodpigeon & Rabbit Control Club, tel 01926 335103.