Pigeon shooting

An introduction to pigeon shooting

Managing pigeon numbers through shooting to prevent damage of crops is carried out in different ways at different times of year.

It’s a skill that takes time to learn. Successful pigeon shooting demands fieldcraft, reconnaissance skills and, needless to say, straight shooting.

An estimated 5.4million pairs of woodpigeons now live in the UK.

In 2014, the Government looked at the damage done by pigeons to crops and asked farmers to estimate how much it cost them. They estimated a figure of £75 million for woodpigeon damage to oilseed rape crops alone every year.

Brassicas are also great favourites of pigeons. Experts from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board estimated losses for farmers growing crops such cabbage, broccoli and kale to pigeons of between £330 and £1,250 per hectare. Cereal crops are also attacked, particularly when they are mature.

Fenland farmer Richard Gilbert said: “Here in the Fens it’s just a waste of time sowing a field with rape if there are any trees or hedges around the perimeter or power lines crossing the field.”

Roosting pigeons

Roosting pigeons in fir trees

Types of pigeon shooting

 Roosting pigeons

 In this form of pigeon shooting the Gun shoots the pigeons as they are returning to the woods where they roost . All it requires is permission from the farmer or landowner, a gun, and cartridges.

The favoured roosting woods for pigeons contain fir trees, surrounded by hardwood trees such as beeches and oaks. The former provides warmth and shelter and the latter can provide food.

Roosting tends to take place at the end of the shooting season, from the end of January until about the end of March. Pigeon shooter and Shooting Times contributor Tom Payne advises: “I roost pigeons from November until the end of March but due to the shooting season most roost shooting doesn’t start until the end of February. The tree branches are still visible then and pheasant shooting has finished. “

Flighting pigeons

In this discipline you are shooting the pigeons as they are going from their roosting position to feed along their chosen flight line, or returning to roost on their way back from feeding.

First of all you need to discover an established pigeon feeding ground. While out of sight, so you don’t disturb any pigeons, watch the birds fly in and out, taking careful note of the lines they are taking. (A pair of binoculars is very helpful here.) Tom Payne advises: “Pigeons are creatures of habit and will follow a line religiously, so to be successful you have got to be close to it or under it.”

Decoying pigeons

Tom Payne: “To decoy pigeons you first have to find their chosen feeding field and then establish how they are getting there. That is your reconnaissance. The fieldcraft part of decoying is putting your hide in the correct place and placing your decoys correctly over their chosen food source.

Pigeon shooters use flappers, magnets and floaters, which are decoys that mimic the behaviour of live pigeons.

Pigeons feed in company. If they spot other pigeons feeding in a field they will come down to investigate the food source, whilst the shooter is obscured out of sight, gun at the ready.

Tom Payne advises: “Being in the right position is the key to being able to decoy pigeons successfully. Being in the wrong position by 40 yards can completely change the way birds react to your decoys. The way I decoy is to represent what I see during my reconnaissance. If birds are feeding in small groups spread apart, I will copy this when I put out my decoys. Birds feed differently on every crop. This is due to the amount and density of food available and the time of year.”

The flightlines of pigeons are not fixed and vary with changes in the wind and food. Pigeons need to adapt to survive, so the lines they follow are never quite the same.

During the winter months birds flock but as they move into the spring and summer months pigeons start to disperse from small groups into singles and pairs.

Decoys tend to work more successfully in the summer months because individual birds or pairs are coming out to feed, rather than flocking. It is easier to shoot individual birds and so harder to decoy during the winter months, when birds are flying together, unless you are shooting in wind conditions which break up the flocks.

What crops to shoot pigeons over and when

Oilseed winter rape, depending on its level of growth, will attract considerable pigeon attention. As you move into the spring months failed or backward rape will attract attention.

 In February and March frosted crops such as cabbages, cauliflower and sprouts will attract their attention, as well as early spring clover.

In spring, the pigeon shooter will be focused on controlling pigeons from spring drillings to protect newly sown crops. The experienced shooter will know when the fields are being drilled from conversations with the farmer and will give the pigeons a few days to discover the new drilllings.

 By April late spring drillings and peas can bring decent bags. Come June the pigeon shooter will be watching fields of peas or seeds.

Laid cereal crops will attract the attention of pigeons in July.

During harvest time pigeons can be found on almost any harvested crops. During hot weather they may well be discovered on remote drinking areas.

Your geographic location will also dictate when you are most likely to be successful on certain crops. Tom Payne advises: “Certain crops change depending on the weather that year. You could be shooting barley in early June. Follow the agricultural calendar and remember that the harvest is different in Cornwall from Scotland, the south could be a month ahead of the north. Always talk to a local about the conditions.”

How to get a pigeon shooting permission

 Your local farmer or landowner will need to have confidence in the person asking for a permission so take the time to get to know them. They aren’t going to let anybody shoot their land unless they trust them. Shooting Times contributor Simon Garnham writes: “If you never ask, you’ll never know…. If the rape is being hammered by pigeons you may be the answer to a food producer’s prayer.”

Tom Payne says that the best time of year to ask for a permission is in the winter, particularly when pigeons are after winter rape. A farmer may be more receptive then as he wants his newly sown crops protected in the coming months.

When you speak to the farmer dress appropriately and don’t wear camouflage. You want to look approachable. It’s always worth writing a letter giving your experience and how you will go about pigeon shooting.

All aspects of the new general licence reviews should be followed and any possible changes adhered to.

You’ll find a full guide to getting pigeon shooting permission here. 

Guns and ammunition for pigeon shooting

Use any gun in which you have confidence and which is a good fit. It could be an over-under, side-by-side or semi-automatic. Tom Payne’s favourite cartridge for pigeon shooting is a Hull High Pheasant Extreme 32g No 5 because “they are smooth and hard hitting”.

Shooting Times recently tested steel shot against lead shot for pigeon shooting and discovered that steel performs as well as lead. The shot penetrates deeper because it travels faster, passing straight through the bird rather than remaining within the carcass.

You can read more about our experts’ advice on guns for pigeon shooting here.

Pigeon shooting

Use a clicker to keep track of pigeon numbers

Respect the birds

Use a clicker so you know how many shot birds you need to pick up. Wounded birds need to be retrieved straight away. Pigeon shooting is crop protection for the farmers but our sport and it is responsible and ethical to respect the birds.

Shot pigeons

Put pigeons in a wide tray to allow the air to circulate so they cool down

At the end of the day’s pigeon shooting

Keep shot pigeon in the shade and cool at all times. A wide breadbasket is good for transporting them as it lets the air circulate around each bird.

Ideally you should put them in a cold store, alternatively put them onto a cold concrete floor in a shed or garage.

Prepare the pigeons you want to eat and put the rest in the freezer or arrange for collection by the game dealer.

In summer, pigeons will go off very quickly but in the cold of winter they will be fine in the cold store for several days. When shooting in the summer, always remove bluebottle eggs which are clearly visible in open wounds, under the wings, the vent area or in the beak.

What other kit do you need for pigeon shooting?

You need to dress for the time of year and your clothes should reflect the colour of your surroundings. Pigeons have excellent eyesight and will spot you easily.They can see both in colour and ultraviolet light, unlike humans. They also pass the ‘mirror’ test and can recognise their own reflection.

So make sure you’re well concealed in a hide, whether it’s made from branches and natural materials, camouflage nets and poles or a combination of both.

Other key kit: ear defenders, sunglasses, breadbaskets or trays for dead birds, mini binoculars.

Pigeon dish

Pigeon Breast with Mango Salsa

Pigeon recipes

 Woodpigeon meat is a healthy source of protein. Birds have a rich taste but are not fatty and you can eat them all year round. Young birds tend to taste sweeter and milder. (Advice on plucking and preparing pigeon here.)

In summer the pigeon’s diet of berries, corn and seeds gives the meat a deliciously nutty flavour.

Shooting Times contributor Rose Prince advises: “Pigeon meat has a very fine grain, perhaps of all shot birds, so if overcooked can be very tough. I have found that the best way to cook it is to remove the breasts, season them, then fry them for one to two minutes each side in duck fat or a mixture of vegetable oil and butter – they need to be medium rare or rare in the centre. Rest them in a warm place for 5 minutes then slice across the grain to serve.”

You’ll find several tried and tested pigeon recipes here, whether you need ideas for the barbecue or a pigeon dish for supper in winter.

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