Geoff Garrod's essential guide to pigeon shooting kit and why he uses what he does
I believe in keeping it simple. I’m not one for having loads of kit and gadgets (though I have nothing against anybody who does), I just prefer to rely on my 40 years of knowledge and fieldcraft to fill the bag. That’s what gives me a buzz, though on some occasions I’m sure gadgets would help, but I love and am drawn to the simple. Here are my essential bits of pigeon shooting kit and the reasons why I use them.
I only started to wear ear protection 10 years ago (too late) and now struggle to hear well in a crowd. Forty years ago nobody wore hearing protection. I wish I’d started sooner. When shooting in an enclosed space, or next to someone, the noise is amplified.
I used to wear the over-ear electronic sort with the noise-cancelling ability. You can hear everybody talking, but when the gun goes off, they shut down for an instant and reduce the sound to a safe level. I couldn’t get on with the over-ear ones because they banged on my gun stock when I quickly mounted the gun, and then they’d be pushed off my head or go wonky along with my hat. Some people don’t find this a problem and swear by them, it just depends on your body shape and stock dimensions. After that, I was introduced to the Cens Puretone earplugs. These are moulded to the shape of your ear and have minute electronic devices in them that do exactly the same noise cancelling as the over-ear defenders and I love them.
My safety glasses are Oakley, but there are many other good makes on the market. I use these for both clays and pigeon shooting and I have a few sets of lenses for them to suit all occasions. Yellow for low light, clear purely for eye protection, dark grey for bright days and orange for overcast days.
I wear glasses for a few reasons. They help me see the target or pigeons more clearly and also keep me comfortable if it’s a bright day. Protection also comes high on the list. I shoot a semi-auto shotgun for pigeons and the spent cartridges are ejected quite close to my face and debris from the cartridges can sometimes get blown back into your eyes, which always happens at the worst possible moment. There are some days when I don’t wear them, but on the whole I do. But I always wear a hat.
A good sensibly coloured peaked or wide brimmed cap is essential for two reasons. First, to keep the sun out of your eyes and second, to keep your face in shadow. Keen eyed birds can easily spot movement, and a bright face moving against a dark hedgerow will alert them to your presence.
Guns for pigeon shooting
My gun of choice is a Browning Maxus, camo, with a composite stock and a 28in barrel. Before that I used to shoot a Beretta 303 four shot semi-auto that was on my firearms ticket for “destruction of ground game and vermin”. Pigeons come under vermin.
The Browning is a comfortable gun to use, very reliable and I wouldn’t dare think how many shells have gone through it and there hasn’t been a single blink in its performance. I use a quarter choke, because I like to get the birds in as close as I can when decoying to make sure of a clean kill, and quarter choke gives a great pattern at ranges between 10 to 30 yards.
My preference is to use a semi-auto while in a hide, the reasons being, ease of loading – that third cartridge can be very useful on a busy day when the birds are decoying well – lower recoil on big days and no tangles in the camo netting when closing the gun. It can be a bit of a faff making space in the hide to allow for opening and closing a double-barrelled gun, where as with a semi-auto you can simply keep the barrel pointing straight up in the air and feed the cartridges into the breech. That isn’t to say you can’t use your over-and-under or side-by-side, this is just my preference.
My cartridges of choice are Eley Pigeon Select 30g No 6 shot, or Eley Pigeon HV 32g No 6 shot. I only use fibre wads and use the 32g load when roost shooting, or if the birds are being a bit ‘spooky’ and won’t commit to the pattern and I end up shooting at longer ranges. For most days out, the 30g load will easily do the job, especially if you “kill the head, as the back end will die with it”!
You’ll need a set of decoys and I’ve been using the full-bodied variety made by Enforcer for the last year. There are many decoys on the market and most are good. If you have them available, and a leaning towards the traditional, dead birds are a great way to start, but that does mean keeping half a dozen or so in the freezer, which isn’t always popular with the family. The plastic variety do the job.
You won’t need many. I have 10 in my kit, but on occasion I’ve had a good day starting off with only one dead bird – or even none! You’ll need to be right on the flight line if you’re doing that, and you’ll have to have done your reconnaissance well.
Some people will buy a rotary, a battery-powered device that rotates with two dead pigeons on long arms. Many of those users swear by them, and while I don’t deny that they can often help, you’ve guessed it, I like to keep things as simple as possible, so I don’t use them when I am out.
To build a pigeon hide, you will need plenty of camo netting. I’ve always found or bought ex-army netting and I have a selection of colours for different seasons. From light desert camo, for ripe wheat or barley fields, dark green for matching summer hedgerows and brownish netting for the winter months. The best advice is to try to match the background where you’re shooting.
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I take at least six hide poles with me, and I like the ones with a sturdy footrest to help push them into hard ground. Make sure they extend high enough for you to be able to shoot from a standing position, which is what I’d recommend to start with, especially if you haven’t shot from a seat before. The netting will need to be just below your armpit level.
Other useful items
- A pair of loppers for removing any branches that are in your way (try to remove as little as possible to keep the landowner happy)
- A spade to level out the ground in the hide where you stand, and a pair of binoculars for observation work.
- Two foot-long garden canes are great for propping up shot birds to add life to the pattern and very inexpensive. I take a bundle with me; you push the stick up the dead birds rear end up to the head, then push the stick into the ground. The dead bird will wobble in the wind and help to make it look as if the birds are moving around a little.