Pigeon and corvid control are vital at this time of year but doesn’t it get expensive? Not necessarily, says Richard Negus
With the end of the game and wildfowling seasons, some may be putting away their guns. However, pigeons hereabouts are feeding voraciously on rape and the rooks are waiting for the spring drilling to commence. While the grey partridges pair up, the carrion crows and magpies are keeping watch for their nesting sites. Late winter and early spring is a time to get ahead with pest control.
Shotgun cartridges for pigeon shooting and corvid control
Choosing shotgun cartridges for pigeon shooting for this essential cull of agricultural pests and predators of red-listed birds is tough. Price is, of course, a factor, yet there’s no point using a substandard load when you are faced with the opportunity to sort a corvid problem. Equally, if meaningful impacts are to be made on pigeons, you will be shooting a good number of cartridges. If you are using loads suitable for geese on the foreshore, it is neither cost-effective nor good for your equilibrium. (You might like to also read how to store shotgun cartridges.)
Affordable and consistent
Therefore the cartridges Richard Gould and I tested had to be killers, they had to be consistent and they had to be affordable.
RC has been one of my go-to brands for years. For this trial we were given its 32g lead No 6 Prestige in a 2¾in silver case with fibre wad. RC Sipe powder is renowned for its ‘oomph’ and it partners well with the load. Recoil is noticeable but not uncomfortably so.
Pigeons at this time of year are notoriously fidgety and reluctant to settle. When flighting in a wood, the extra power the Prestige offers for shooting through an overhead canopy is useful. The cartridges patterned well with chokes ranging from half to improved cylinder and folded a carrion crow at 50 yards.
If there is any complaint, it is that the case colour does tend to make spent shells hard to find. This was a problem when using my Hatsan, which spits out spent cases like a wild west bar-room cowboy, but not so with my workaday non-ejector Zabala. (Read how to choose the right shotgun and cartridge for pigeon shooting.)
Looking at our test criteria, the Prestige is certainly a killer and its recoil is not too excessive. At £324 for 1,000, they are not the cheapest on test but still good value for money.
True pigeon load
Eley Hawk is a brand I admire greatly. Each cartridge you fire makes you feel a bit more British. It gave us two different loads, the first 30g lead Pigeon Select, a 2¾in No 6 with fibre wad. At 1,356fps they are not as fast as the RCs but still a true pigeon load suitable for testing shotgun cartridges for pigeon shooting.
Cutting open the classic Eley red cartridge case reveals true No 6, not some of the irregularly sized, halfway-house shot as found in some cartridges in this price bracket. The Pigeon Select was designed with the assistance of Geoff Garrod, so the pest control pedigree is beyond question. In the field you don’t feel undergunned and they kill well at birds up to maximum range. Carcass damage on pigeons was notably light. Recoil was minimal in our heavy guns and Richard reported that he would happily “shoot all day with these”.
The pattern was thrown left on tighter chokes, but overall there is little to grumble about with this load and at £279 for 1,000, you can fly the flag with frugality.
The second load from Eley was its 32g lead No 6 Pigeon HV, again a 2¾in cartridge but this time in a bright green case. Being a high-velocity cartridge, this will not be suitable for grandfather’s old gun. However, as an out-and-out pest killer, it is arguably the go-to load. The CSB2 powder gives you extra reach, which is all-important when you are killing pest and predatory birds rather than game with sport in mind.
They cycle very well through autos and, when fired through a heavy gun like the Zabala, the recoil is not so excessive that a lengthy session in a pigeon hide could become akin to a punch-up. The load truly comes into its own in the woods when flighting. There is sufficient power to punch through branches and the pattern holds up well in standard chokes. At £306 for 1,000, they tick all of the boxes for our test criteria.
What about Jocker?
Jocker is arguably the ace in the pack here. These 2 ¾in cartridges boast the biodegradable paper wad and cup with 27.6 grains of powder propelling a load of No 4 steel out at just below high velocity. I have used these Bio ISO cartridges in the past, flighting ducks and on crow control, so it was a delight to be reunited with them. (Read more about testing these Jocker cartridges here.)
Richard and I found they patterned very tightly in half-choke at up to 40 yards. Indeed, birds shot at ranges less than 30 yards are blown up. They were the only viable lead alternative that we had on trial here and, allied with the paper wad and cup, are environmentally friendly. This is an essential factor if you are shooting in Site of Special Scientific Interest woods or near wetland areas. They do kick, but not excessively. They make a fairly loud bang, too — quite why I don’t know — and occasionally you will note the wad turns to confetti on firing, curiously with no apparent ill effect on the pattern.
Cutting open the cartridge reveals high-quality steel pellets of consistent size. There is very little fault to find with them. At £369 for 1,000, they are the most expensive on test, but due to the steel load and biodegradable wad they are futureproof.
If I had to use only one of these shotgun cartridges for pigeon shooting for all of my pest control shooting, I would go for the Jocker, simply because of its environmental credentials. Other non-toxic loads do require some improvements; however, the majority of these test cartridges will do the job without shooting you in the wallet.