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What you need to know about guided pigeon shooting

With many people keen to start pigeon shooting the demand for guides is great.

Pigeon shooting kit

A pigeon over the decoys

If you are new to pigeon shooting, do not have permission or simply want a hassle-free day out on the woodies, hiring a professional pigeon-shooting guide is an inexpensive way to experience shooting one of Britain’s biggest agricultural pests.

But what’s in store for you and what should you expect from a guided day out?

Britain has become a magnet for foreigners seeking pigeon shooting, attracted by the potential for enormous bags and the increased numbers of sporting agents now offering pigeon shooting packages. Jim Albone has access to 360,000 acres of shooting in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire and advises:”Now, more than half of my clients are French,” said Jim, who is bilingual. “The demand for guided pigeon shooting has snowballed over the past few years, in line with the growing numbers of pigeon. A few years ago, I had 10 Guns out on 10 different areas of cut maize at Six Mile Bottom, in Cambridgeshire, and they shot 2,280 birds between them. Bags can seem Edwardian in their size, but shooting this many pigeon does not solve the problem for the farmer, it merely creates a vacuum waiting to be filled by more birds.”

How much to expect to pay

Most guides offer clients a choice of a full day for around £100 to £150, a cheaper DIY day for around £70 or an introductory day for as little as £50, where only 30 to 100 shells are fired. Philip Beasley, of Hunting UK, explained: “On a full day all you need is your gun and shells. We provide all the equipment, including a hide with camouflage netting and a seat. A rotary machine with decoys of various types and ground decoys will be set out in a pattern for you. We will advise you how to get the best out of your day’s sport with plenty of helpful tips. Once you are set up in the hide, we drive around the neighbouring farmland to push the birds over to you and your decoys.”

Philip added that only one person shoots from a hide. “We do not allow two people to shoot from one hide for safety reasons. Numbers of hides per field vary. On smaller fields there be only one, but on larger fields we sometimes have to put out two or more hides to prevent the birds from settling and feeding on other parts of the field.”

Pigeon Shooting Lincolnshire‘s Tom Faulkner explained the day customers can expect: “A DIY day means you bring all your own pigeon-decoying gear. The guide will take you to the fields, point out the flightlines and local features, but it is up to you to set up your hide and decoys.

“A good guide should check up on you after an hour to make sure you are happy, however.”

The advantages of using a guide

So what are the plus points of guided pigeon shooting? “You will learn more in a day with a professional guide than in a year on your own,” said Tom. “If you want to learn to shoot pigeon effectively and safely, employing a guide could be the right way to start. It takes a long time to understand how pigeon behave and you can’t learn this sport from a book because conditions change hour by hour. Shooting pigeon takes skill and knowledge to do well, but it shouldn’t break the bank, unlike an expensive day at a driven shoot.”

Owen Beardsmore, of Cervus-UK, has six guides that he represents and sells days for. He explained that guided pigeon shooting gives people the opportunity to experience pigeon shooting all over the UK. “A guide buys you local knowledge and pre-shoot reconnaissance so that, hopefully, you are in the right place at the right time. The guide will communicate regularly with farmers to see when they are swathing or drilling so that clients are sitting out at optimum times.”

Communicate your expectations

Bag size is affected by a number of different things. So before you set off, make sure that your guide is clear about what your expectations are.  Nick Elsdon, of Anglia Shooting, advised discussing your hopes for the outing at length before booking a day out. “Some days are likely to produce more pigeon than others and certain times of year, such as harvest time, should produce more good days than bad. But remember, it’s not easy to predict the bag size when days have been booked months in advance due to the increasing popularity of the sport.”

A backup plan

You also need to ensure that your guide has a backup plan in case the pigeons do not appear where they are expected. Tim Tortonese, of TCT Shooting Services, offers guided pigeon shooting in Gloucestershire. He commented: “If you are not getting any shooting, your guide should have a back-up plan to move you. This could be as little as 50 yards to get you on to a pigeon flightline, or moving you to another field. A pigeon is a wild creature, and it can be elusive; it can change its feeding habit overnight. This could be due to the weather, or perhaps a farmer nearby has recently planted some peas in a neighbouring field, so be wary of a guide who guarantees that you will shoot 100 pigeon with them.”

What you need to be aware of

Chris Green, who has produced numerous DVDs on pigeon shooting, advises making some simple background checks: “Make some enquiries about your guide first, as I have heard the odd anecdotal story of pigeon being baited in, which, of course, does not comply with the General Licence requirements.

“As with all guides, word of mouth and personal recommendation is the best way to find someone who understands both the quarry and the law. It is also worth checking whether or not the guide has public liability insurance and any professional affiliation. “