Now’s the time of year when pigeons are beginning to flock in their search for food so February is the traditional month for roost shooting to help control their numbers.

Shooting as many pigeons as possible over the next few weeks is crucial as they’ll soon be in breeding mode so every bird you shoot now means one less on the crops later in the year.

As well as doing every farmer in the country a favour by way of pest control, you’ll also have some decent sport.

The sheer unpredictability of a pigeon’s flight pattern, coupled with its natural speed and ability to veer off like lightning will sharpen your shooting skills more than anything I know.

But we all know they can be tricky targets at the best of times and as no one wants to prick live quarry if they can help it, is it possible to improve your pest control kill rate?

This month I’d like to look at pigeon-type targets; how to nail them when they’re coming in to roost, but also include a few snap shooting techniques needed for the typical second barrel bird.

Pigeons can be the most elusive of targets at the best of times, but their Achilles heel is when they commit themselves to land it’s when they’re feathering back and the wings are in reverse thrust mode that they’re at the most vulnerable.

For just a few brief moments they’re hanging in the air, almost crow like, before they slide into the branches of the trees. This is when they’re most shootable so here are a few pointers to improve your kill to cartridge ratio.

» Kill them when they’re still under power, not as they start to drop. (In our case, this is just as they commit to land in the trees.)

» Adjust your stance according to the specific bird. Keep the weight on your front foot. Make sure the toe of your leading foot is pointing towards the kill zone.

» Have the muzzles ready on the flightline – or at least where you think the flightline will continue. Keep the gun moving. Watch the bird closely and be aware of any deviation in the bird’s flightpath because of any side winds

On the clay ground the nearest you can get to shooting pigeons coming in to roost is by practicing on typical crow type targets.

In this scenario, though, try and make the situation as realistic as possible. Stay comfortable. Keep the stock just out of the pocket of your shoulder with the muzzles of the gun pointing at, or just in front of the expected pick up point.

You know roughly where the birds will appear, so keep the barrels just below the flight line – to make sure you don’t obscure your view of the bird – before you raise the gun to your shoulder.

When the target seems to be hovering quite nicely on the bead of the barrel pull the trigger.

Timing is crucial when trying to dust this type of target.

Take the bird too soon – when it’s still a good distance away from the stand – and it might simply breeze through the shot pattern. Trying to kill it too late, though, will often mean the bird is no longer under power and it’s starting to drop very quickly indeed.

When your gun mounting technique is correct every time, effective snap shooting comes about predominately by timing. The more you practice, the more you’ll get a feel for a target and you’ll get to know instinctively the precise moment to pull the trigger.

What you must never do is hesitate. Whenever I see this happening it’s always because the shooter is trying extra hard to ‘make sure’ he hits the bird.

By trying to improve the shot he’s undoing everything that his instincts have told him.

In these situations as soon as you start thinking about what you’re doing (or trying to achieve) you’re almost certain to miss the bird.

These are simply a couple of fun exercises you can do on the clay ground to help you practice authentic snap shooting.

I stress the fun part because, in reality, this goes against virtually everything I’ve ever said about how to hit more targets!

Keep your wits about you and be ready to move as soon as you see the bird commit to land.

» It might sound a bit daft, but the first idea is not to watch the presentation of the bird before you shoot. Ignorance is bliss in this scenario.

Simply get onto the stand, keep the gun down and call for the bird. You’ve then got to visually pick up the bird in the air, alter your stance if necessary and mount.

And all while you’re mentally assessing the amount of lead required before you swing and fire. Incredibly all this has to be done in what seems like a blink of an eye.

The end result though, is a typical snap shot. Sure, you might miss more than you hit at first, but simply persisting with this little exercise will make you a quicker and better shot in the long run.

» Alternatively, if you know how the bird’s going to be presented, make a conscious effort to simply delay your shot so you have to take it at the last moment.

Keep your gun and head down, close your eyes or look at your feet if necessary.

Call for the bird and count to three. When you raise your head the bird will be well on its way. Obviously you’re not going to have the time to worry about how you’re going to dust the clay, so instinct will take over.

The trickiest pigeon shot is often the second barrel, where the missed bird has veered away, or the second of a double has heard the bang and scarpered.

This going away target often demands instinctive ‘snap shooting’ and one of the best ways to practice this is with a change of discipline.

Why not have a few rounds of automatic ball trap or universal trench?

The beauty of both these disciplines is that the birds are released at random trajectories – angles and heights – from any one of five traps in the case of universal trench.

It’s great fun, and a real sharpener for your shooting skills.

To make it even more realistic try and keep the gun down before you call for the clay.

Importantly, don’t worry too much if you miss more than you hit in the beginning – it’s the experience that counts.

Although sharpening your reflexes and utilising instinct can definitely improve your hit rate, no shooter can rely on this alone.

There’s never been a substitute for perfecting a decent shooting technique.

So make sure your gun fits you properly and you mount it correctly every time.

Ensure your stance – moving your feet if necessary – is correct for the target and your swing is smooth.

Then let instinct, coupled with your mental library of sight pictures take control when you pull the trigger.