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Pigeon shooting over stubble

Ah, summertime. Long, hot, lazy days sitting in a hide under the shade of a convenient tree, pigeon floating in to your pattern like torpid butterflies, a quick sip of something cold from the cool box as another right-and-left adds to the already mounting pile of birds. It is the idyllic dream of decoying pigeon on the barley stubbles in high summer. But let?s look at the facts of what we actually have to do to increase our chances of having that red letter day. A recent day out with my long-term shooting companion George helped to remind me that the traditional decoying methods still work. George and I have been shooting together in Lincolnshire for more than 30 years, so we?d like to think we know a bit about the job, but as we found out, complacency cost us some birds.

Recently, while driving around looking for combines cutting early barley or swathed rape, I spotted large numbers of birds congregating on some power lines before dropping down on to the field below. It was a patch of land that I had not shot over before, so I did not know what the field was. Driving closer, I realised that it was freshly cut barley and that the pigeon were getting stuck in. Obviously, having not shot here before, I didn?t have permission, but as I watched from the road I noticed a tractor coming up the track behind me. Never one to miss an opportunity, I jumped out of my car to speak to the driver.

As the tractor pulled up, I walked over and asked if he knew who owned the field that I was watching, and whether there was any chance I could have a go at decoying the pigeon. I have used this approach many times before, and have rarely been refused. This occasion was no different with permission being readily granted; I thanked him, added that I would leave no mess and checked whether I could drive over the field. This last request is very important these days, as we pigeon shooters seem to carry so much more kit than we used to. My truck is always loaded to the gunwales with everything from fullbodied decoys, shells, floaters, bobbers, flappers, cradles, rotary, nets, assorted poles, seats and batteries. Add to that my bag, which included twine, pegs, bungees, cable ties, secateurs, a small towel, a face veil, a flask and my lunch box. I also carry a spare arm for the rotary as well as a spade, and of course my gun and two bags of cartridges. I also carry four or five sacks with coats, boots, a hat and 15 birds out of the freezer or fresh from the day before. As I?m sure you can gather, travelling light isn?t my style.

So, permission gained, it was time to formulate a plan of action. I watched the field for a while to establish what the flightlines were. It was too late in the day to start shooting, so I made arrangements to come back the next day. Regrettably, work commitments intervened for the next two days, so it wasn?t until the third day that we finally found the opportunity to head out to the field.

A half day?ll do it

At this time of year when the days are long, we usually set off mid-morning with a view to being set up by 1pm. I fi nd that in this neck of the woods the pigeon don?t really come on to feed until early afternoon. We could go out at dawn, as there is always an early flourish of feeding birds, but it makes for a very long day. When I was younger I was always out at first light and thought nothing of staying out for 12 or 14 hours, but then it was all about consistently shooting big numbers. Nowadays I am a bit more laid back.

Having left the field for several days before shooting could mean that all sorts of things had changed. The birds may have cleaned up and moved on to the next spot, or maybe the field had been cultivated or ploughed. But as we pulled up, it seemed that nothing had altered. We could see a few birds on the wires and a small group lifted off the ground ? not as many as we had expected or hoped for, but encouraging nonetheless. A trickle of birds was coming from a small wood about half a mile away, a wood I knew well, which had proved
to be a good pigeon bank in the past, and so driving across the field we chose a spot along a line of trees where we would be able to see the pigeon coming diagonally across the field.

The old routine

Building the hide was easy, as there was plenty of natural vegetation that could be used to dress it up, while poles and nets from our kit bags provided size and shape. George and I slipped into our usual routine: George builds the hide while I set out the decoy pattern using frozen or fresh birds. At the end of each day?s sport, I set aside 15 birds and put these in the freezer for our next trip. I have to remember to take them out the night before we go out.

There was a light wind coming from behind us, so I used a standard horseshoe pattern, with the first bird 10 or so yards out and the wings on either side stretching out to 30 yards, leaving an open area in the centre for the birds to land in.

I recently invested in a new piece of kit in the form of an electronic flapper, which I was talked into by Troy Jeffries of Decoy Direct, near Lincoln. He kindly let me have it on a trial basis, which was too good an offer to refuse. Suffice it to say, I kept it, and I have found it a valuable addition as it?s very realistic when used with the timer.

I placed the electronic flapper midway between the ends of the horseshoe to give the impression of a bird landing in the central killing zone. I also put a floater about 80 yards out as an approaching bird, and with the scene set, we made ourselves comfortable in the hide, ready for the first arrival.

Adding to the pattern

We didn?t have to wait long, as a single bird came from the direction of the wood and dropped straight in to our trap. George opened the batting with a fairly easy shot. Though we have shot together for many years, we never both shoot at the same time, preferring instead to take it in turns. This removes the danger of knocking barrels or shooting at the same bird and allows us to concentrate on the shot.

Birds started to arrive in ones and twos, enabling us steadily to add to the pattern ? the more birds you put out, the greater the attraction to other pigeon. For the next three hours, the shooting was intermittent, with the gaps between shots increasing. Something was wrong, but we did not know what it was, so I went out and looked at the hide, which seemed fine. I double-checked my decoy pattern, which also looked good. The flightline was drying up for no apparent reason. There were still plenty of gleanings on the ground, so why were they giving up on our field?

It was a puzzle that perplexed us for the remainder of the afternoon, until we decided to pull stumps and call it a day, with just 59 birds in the bag. A promising day had turned to dust, and we had no idea why. I fetched the truck and we loaded up the kit, making sure that nothing was missed and that every last cartridge case was picked up. As we climbed into the truck, George reminded me that we had a hard hit bird that had made it to a tree on the other side of the field and that we should go and retrieve it ? at least it would make the bag up to a nicely rounded 60.

Sure enough, there it was. But 20 yards further along was evidence of a fresh hide, with feathers everywhere. Clearly someone else had beaten us to it, which explained why so few birds had come our way. We left the field and headed for the farmyard to thank our host for his generosity and to offer him a few birds. He added that he was surprised that we had shot so few, as a chap had come yesterday and shot more than 200?