Was there really any point in lugging out mounds of decoying gear over sticky ground, setting it up yet again, and enduring the cold in the hope that a few pigeons would actually show an interest?

As the weather got colder, the rape more damaged and the flocks warier, just lately the rewards for such efforts had been few and far between.

It was easy to see why.

Besides gas guns, rockets and a host of other pigeon scaring devices, just over the boundary four fields of oilseed rape, two large blocks of stubble turnips and a strip of weather-beaten maize, all within easy gliding distance, were providing plenty of alternatives.

Ganged up tightly, and with no movement of any bird escaping the knowledge of the rest, shooting was unpredictable.

Pigeons have been grazing the rape this winter but bangers and bird scarers have only gone to make flocks jumpy and difficult to deal with.

One day they’d simply drop on to the big bit of rape right alongside the roosting wood, the next carry out a determined raid on the turnip tops, and the following morning, everything would head out to graze undisturbed on an outlying piece of rape almost half a mile away.

Ambushing such birds is never easy.

No matter how big their numbers, a couple of shots can prompt an instant switch to the restaurant next door, leaving you twiddling your thumbs until deciding you’ve had enough.

But, with the amount of damage they’re causing on a daily basis, you just have to give it a try.

The patch of rape now looked like it had been heavily strimmed in places, and when passing the day before, the flock had lifted off and wheeled back and forth to taunt me watching from a gateway.

Decision made, after allowing an early feed, I moved them off next morning, hoping at least a few would return.

Propping a net in the ditch, the rotary was set out wide, and a flapper placed just upwind of the intended dropping zone, which was marked out by 10 fresh birds standing out well against the almost bare earth.

The dead birds were simply propped, heads-up, on nine-inch wires.

There was no need to raise them on cradles, the pigeons had seen to that!

As the sun broke through the cloud cover, highlighting the patch of blue surrounding the movements of both flapper and rotary, the overall impression looked busy and inviting, particularly from the direction of the roosting wood.

AN UNEXPECTED START
The sky had been completely empty, but settling down in the hide, a bird was immediately over the decoys, gliding almost too close before exploding in a puff of white feathers.

The shot put up a lively bunch from the nearby wood, but though heading out high overhead, a couple of tail-enders peeled back unexpectedly and curled straight in.

Only the first shot was on target, but almost immediately more drifted in over the hedge from behind; a string of half a dozen that decoyed perfectly, this time leaving two of their number behind.

There was just time to reload before another was on the decoys and, even as I shot, more were heading in low across the field.

Though wasting a few opportunities while getting the hide sorted, it was an encouraging – and unexpected – start, and seven were added in minutes before it all went dead.

Rape growth has been limited this winter which means that decoys have stood out well against the crop and are seen easily from a distance.

Checking the sky carefully before nipping out to set them up, I needn’t have hurried, as it was a full half hour before anything else came even remotely near the field.

Just as I was thinking they’d all gone elsewhere, a flock of 50 or so came winging over high, obviously disturbed somewhere upwind and quite agitated.

Almost past, again a few tail-enders peeled back for a closer look after the movement caught their eye.

Dropping right in, the first was easy, taken just above the flapper, the second head-on as it panicked low towards the hide. It crashed right beside me in the ditch.

Loading up, more approached, seeming to ignore the shots and diving in confidently, most unlike winter pigeons.

Within minutes I’d doubled the bag but then, just like before, everything went dead.

This seemed to set the pattern for the morning; long, boring intervals of hanging on while nothing happened, then every so often, another hectic few minutes when every bird nearby seemed hell bent on joining the decoys.

I’d settle for that.

It was great to see them behaving so well and the hot spells were certainly worth waiting for.

LOCKED ON
Late morning, and there was a particularly long period of inactivity. This time I really thought it was over.

At least 45 uneventful minutes ticked slowly by before a distant flock of a 100 or so passed along the far hedge, apparently on their way back to the nearby woods.

Fully 250 yards away and well up, suddenly a few split from the edge and appeared to be growing in size.

Suddenly I just knew they were coming all the way, the movement of the decoys enough to pull them off line even from that distance, and within seconds several more locked on behind, sweeping sideways to start a long landing approach, losing height all the way and ending their downward spiral in a confusion of flapping birds, right in over the decoys.

After a long, quiet spell, it’s easy to panic at such a sight.

It’s no good trying to shoot six birds with only two cartridges in the gun.

Better to calm down, keep your cool and try to make each shot count.

A good hide and Richard’s 28-bore helped with his success!

Even when faced with just two birds, it pays to concentrate fully on the first barrel.

A good clean kill will set you up for a confident second, and if it obliges, take your time and make sure.

It’s all too easy to end up with two smoking barrels, a load of badly-scared pigeons and only an odd feather or two drifting down to show for your efforts!

This time things went right.

Taking an easy bird hovering close, I locked on to another as they panicked away, the chosen bird coming head-on, going like stink and looking like taking my hat off before collapsing in a cloud of feathers and almost demolishing the hide.

Unbelievably, before the dust had settled more were already tracking back low along the hedge, heading in my direction, and soon I was shooting almost as fast as I could reload.

There’s nothing more exciting than that!

Winter pigeons seldom behave like this – just a pity it didn’t last!

Soon, once more, I was staring at an empty sky.

This time you’d think there wasn’t a pigeon left in the entire parish, but anticipation made me hang on, hoping for yet another hectic few minutes of action.

The grand finale was nothing short of spectacular.

When it came, it was certainly worth the wait. Intent on a last fill of rape before roost, a large flock swept over high.

Following their progress, I almost missed one which suddenly appeared from nowhere over the decoys.

The birds that did commit to the decoys often ‘dive bombed’ the pattern from quite a height.

The shot got them milling around the area, with a few birds splitting off and diving in despite the sound of shots.

Something had suddenly flicked the switch again, and the sky was full of birds, all intent on hitting my little patch, some almost hurling themselves at the decoys, twisting and tumbling from height in great plunging dives that ended within easy range of the hide.

The split flock circled repeatedly, every now and then another few committing themselves to come in.

Why they hung around I’ll never know, much less decoyed so well, certainly out of character for wary winter birds.

All too soon the sun disappeared behind the tall firs of the nearby wood. It was definitely time to go.

It wasn’t the biggest bag I’ve had recently by a long chalk, but certainly one of the most exciting, leaving my head spinning with the sight of woodies plunging down in great heart-stopping dives, a confusion of wings and whirling bodies, and birds flapping every which way as I stuffed in cartridges fast to bump up the score.

At this stage of the game it was just what was needed, compensating for the many fruitless hours of disappointment more normal during the long, hard season of decoying on winter oilseed rape.

Oh, what I’d have given for just a few more hours of daylight.