The weather is atrocious and the ground's a quagmire but the pigeon still need to be controlled, so Tom Payne goes flighting
Pigeon flighting – reliable
Enough is enough. I had the eighth person come up to me in the pub asking: “When do you think we will be shooting over the spring drillings?” The ground in many counties is going to take a long time to dry enough so that you can get machinery on to it, let alone drill a crop.
It’s not making the pigeon shooting job easy. Many farms and estates won’t let me on due to the state of the ground and even if I could get somewhere in the area, the transfer of kit and birds becomes a headache in itself. I don’t mind a long walk across a field, but when it’s over ground so wet, you could be looking at very long and tiring distances. Even using quad bikes and so on to get around has become impossible because of safety or tearing the ground up even further.
However, I’m not one to be beaten. As a form of crop protection and pigeon management, flighting birds is a tactic I increasingly employ. If you do your reconnaissance and know your fieldcraft and weather, pigeon flighting a good line is probably the most reliable form of pigeon shooting.
Little kit for pigeon flighting
Pigeon flighting it is the one form of the sport that needs the least kit. You can happily venture out into the woods with a gun and a pocketful of cartridges and make it a successful outing. For those uneducated in the art of flighting, it is basically putting yourself between the birds’ home and their feeding ground.
I constantly make the mistake of making it sound far too straightforward. Tactically it could be the trickiest because if you get it wrong or put yourself in the wrong place, you might as well settle down for a snooze. Even a few yards out could be curtains.
There are two ways to establish a good flightline for shooting purposes. First you can establish their chosen place to feed. Then sit back at a distance and determine the line that the birds favour to come into that field. It is best to do this with a set of binoculars at distance so that you don’t disturb the line. Watch carefully for false lines. These lines can catch you out and lead you astray.
False lines are when pigeon that have already arrived in the field fly out to a holding wood then fly back to the field from that wood. The true line is how they have got to that area in the first place.
To flight them going out to feed, you must be well away from the feeding field so as not to disturb said field.
The second and easier option is to find their roost. Watching the way they leave and head off will give you a good indicator of where to go. A holding or resting wood is always a reliable spot to place yourself correctly to flight birds successfully.
Creatures of habit
When you watch a line you must be accurate with your placement. There could be a favoured gap in a hedge, a line of trees, or other features on the land that the birds may follow. Picking that spot will give you consistent shooting. It’s no good being close to the line for flighting. Pigeon 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. There are a few tricks to focus a line, which I will explain later.
After a number of phone calls and many a recon trip, my ability to get out and decoy somewhere was disappearing at an alarming rate. At this time of year I should be controlling numbers over flailed maize but with the ground so wet, machinery simply can’t get on.
Numbers haven’t been brilliant on the rape this year in this particular area, but one farm has been suffering. Decoying their rape was a non-starter but, through various recon trips, I had found a very consistent holding wood, feeding about 300 acres’ worth of winter rape. This holding wood was surrounded by grass paddocks that made this battle plan even more tempting.
I spent a couple of days watching the wood. The weather wasn’t brilliant but birds were consistently using the wood through the afternoon. Initially I planned to shoot the Wednesday of that week, but the weather promised a north-westerly wind on the Thursday that I felt suited this wood well, so plans were changed.
Hitting the rape
I suppose around 1,000 pigeon were hitting the rape in the distance from this wood so not huge numbers but certainly enough of a problem that needed a dent being put in them.
When you have any sort of winter numbers, you need a good wind to break them up, regardless of whether you are decoying, roosting or flighting. Otherwise it’s a pointless task as birds will simply travel as one.
I arrived at the wood in good time, knowing I was not going to be able to drive to the location with my kit. With the north-westerly picking up to about 16mph from midday, I started to shuttle my kit through to the other side of this five-acre wood. The hide battled with the low-lying brambles on the way through, and another two trips were needed to bring everything to the spot I had settled on.
With the wind off my back I positioned myself in a shallow V where two broadleaved woods met. A squirrel danced above my head, chattering furiously. In front and to my left I had a decent-sized grass paddock and to my right a treeline reached up towards a maize strip. I built a high netted hide set back between some low branches and a fallen tree that lay on the leafy woodland floor. The ground was damp but it gave me good footing and I could optimise my shooting angles.
I decided to use a lofting pole to the right-hand side with a single dead bird in a cradle with wings broken. They can work very well adding great visibility to oncoming traffic with the wings gently moving in the wind. I always stand by the rule one bird in the tree equals 10 decoys on the floor. In the field on the left I put a single rotary surrounded by a few dead birds. To focus a line by using these decoying techniques can funnel birds over you.
It was a slow start but birds did begin to wiggle back from feeding in the distance and, with the added extra visual from the decoys in place, flighted towards me. Even birds going to feed off my back would swing round for a quick look, providing good shooting.
Building the bag
The line wasn’t consistent all afternoon but groups would flight in spells, which is common when there aren’t huge numbers. I shot at a variety of speeds and angles as they came through and had success, building a good bag from the start.
Half an hour in, I was provided with the fantastic chance of a right-and-left. A high bird soared straight over my head and, as I sent it pirouetting into the woods behind me, a right-to-left crosser peeled off and I managed to send it spinning to the grass 40 yards out.
As the afternoon wore on, my nice footing had turned to something resembling a wild boar’s wallowing hole. By constantly moving my feet to get myself into the right spot, I had created a mud bath. This made shooting and moving my feet difficult and very tiring but I battled on. Moving to better ground would only take me away from the right spot.
As I felled birds into the field in front and crashed them through the branches, the afternoon was drawing to a close. At 4.15pm, later than I expected, it was time to pull up stumps. I had a good pick-up with 73 birds and a final sweep in the morning provided an extra 10. A great afternoon of pigeon flighting