Tom Payne gives some pointers on how to shoot more pigeon from a hide and he reveals the positioning, lead and footwork that are the key to mastering good pigeon shooting technique.
So many pigeon shooters forget to practise when they get the chance, only to suffer inconsistent results when they shoot from a hide.
I find this lack of preparation confusing. Shooting pigeon can be expensive if you take into consideration the price of kit, cartridges and fuel for reconnaissance trips. I’m not saying that you have to shoot like a god, but to shoot to the best of your ability is important, not least for your own enjoyment.
For many pigeon shooters the prospect of having to visit a clay ground or to have a lesson is daunting. I think this is mainly due to the mistaken belief that their shooting is going to be judged. Like any sport, keeping in good condition is key to successful decoying, roosting or flighting.
The woodpigeon is a truly sporting bird, one that offers the shooter every possible shooting angle in the book. Described by many as the poor man’s grouse, it is a bird on which you can hone your shooting skills for any type of driven or walked-up game.
Every pigeon shooter is always out for that red-letter day. Taking away all of the major elements of decoying, fieldcraft and having shootable numbers on your ground, your ability to make the most of shootable birds will be the make or break to your consistent bag sizes.
You don’t need huge numbers to shoot good-sized bags but you do need to shoot straight. For many shooters, if you look back at your bags you will be amazed at the possible opportunity to have shot more. For example, many shooters I know will go out and shoot 40s and 50s but their cartridge-to-kill ratio is high.
Common faults in the hide
Rushing: This has to be one of the biggest faults. It is generally caused by panicking as the bird approaches. The key to not rushing is being aware of what is going on and staying calm.
Moving too fast: This is different from rushing. Your general body movement is too quick, which causes poor gun mount, bad connection to the bird and missed shots.
Poor set-up: It is key that you set yourself up properly for the shot to buy you time and keep things calm. Being ready for the shot makes such a difference.
Timing and concentration: All shooting takes concentration and if you don’t concentrate then it is pointless trying to shoot to the best of your ability.
How to improve your consistency at the clay ground
Regular practice cannot be beaten. A lot of gameshooters shun the idea of going to a clay ground and shooting clays. I used to be one. How I have changed my attitude. Clayshooting enables you to shoot moving targets at varied angles and improves your ability to make a connection between muzzles and bird.
Clayshooting in a controlled environment will help you practise a good consistent gun mount and improve the all-important timing. Shooting at different angles, distances and speeds will really sharpen your ability in the hide.
Many people debate whether you should shoot seated or standing. I strongly believe that when shooting from a hide, shots should be taken standing. As a gameshooting instructor I would never advise anyone to shoot his or her pheasants sitting on a seat — and it’s the same with pigeon. We all talk about the importance of stance and footwork, all of which are impossible if you are planted on a seat. If your body position before and during a shot is wrong, this will result in an unsuccessful shot. Nine times out of 10 the shooter will pick the bird up badly, misread the line of the bird and shoot poorly.
Knowing your distances
With any shooting, a good understanding of your distances is vital when attempting to shoot successfully and kill cleanly. Everyone has different abilities and will be able to shoot consistently at different ranges. However, if you think you are shooting at birds that are in range but they’re not, or they are on the edge of your shooting ability, this will cause misses. This, in turn, will cause frustration and then from there it is a downward spiral. You also run the risk of wounding birds.
Stick within your ability and your ability will improve. It is possible to shoot consistently at birds between 40 and 50 yards but this takes a lot of practice and your technique must be sound. As soon as you start venturing near the 60-yard mark you are beginning to step into golden pellet territory.
Shooting pigeon well is about being able to deal with varying birds in flight, speed, angles and distance and so understanding the distance of your bird will help you read the bird effectively. Utilise your decoys to help you understand your distances. If you pace out and have visual marker birds in your decoying situation then this will aid in your understanding of how far away that approaching pigeon is. The more you do this, the quicker you will automatically start to understand your distances of birds and this, in turn, will aid in your ability to shoot well.
Address the bird
Hold your muzzles relative to the height of the bird, just below the bird’s line. This will enable you to mount your gun smoothly on to your chosen bird. Always keep your head still and focus on the selected bird. A solid connection to the bird and focus is what gives you smooth timing. Shoot with confidence: don’t hesitate and always believe in what you see and ensure you watch the bird fold so that you finish your shot properly.
Footwork is the building block to any shot but when you’re shooting from a hide it’s important that you don’t move about too much. too much movement can lead to making too much of a shot and can cause all sorts of problems, such as missing the line of a bird and poor connection to it. Try to make minimal movements that allow maximum movement from your body. Move your feet before you make the shot so there is no moving and mounting. Your seat and the space you build in the hide are both key factors here.
If you address the bird correctly and get your footwork right, you will be able to make a good connection. By this I mean ensuring that your body, gun and eyes are all on the bird. To obtain this, you will need to read three things in a split second: the speed, distance and direction of the bird. This is how you will know where the gun needs to go. You can’t cheat this. If you try to cheat the bird and make a poor connection, your timing will be wrong, you will misread the line of the bird and inevitably miss the shot.
As I’ve stated above, if you don’t pick up the bird properly you will misread the line and misread its speed, distance and direction. You can still give a bird the correct lead but if you are low, above or up one side it doesn’t matter what the lead is because you will never kill the bird.
Everyone moves their gun at a different speed and the speed at which you move will affect what you see as lead, if you see any lead at all. The key is not to rush. Remember, there is nothing that can fly faster than you can move. Match the speed of bird and gently accelerate your gun past it while keeping your focus on the bird. Then, when the shot feels right, squeeze the trigger.
Finishing the shot
Watching the bird fold and drop is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given as it ensures you finish your shot correctly. This is because if your head and your eye do not leave your stock until you see the bird start to fall then it is impossible to stop your gun.
If you watch George Digweed, he is a master at finishing a shot. It does take time to achieve this and there is a fine line between keeping your vision on the bird and suddenly checking your swing, but it is really worth working on.
The bird is the priority. It tells you everything you need to know when you are shooting. Don’t cheat the shot and certainly don’t just guess. The priority is what you are shooting at and lead is fundamental. To put it another way, when you are catching a ball you don’t merely stick your hands out and hope it lands in them, you keep your eyes firmly fixed on the ball. And if you drop it, you watch it harder the next time. The same applies to thinking about lead when you shoot.
Get a good seat
A good shooting seat in the hide is crucial. Not only will it reduce aches and pains after a long day it will aid in controlled movement when you shoot. This allows you to stay focused without making any sudden movements that would cause birds to flare on approach.
I am a strong believer in shooting from standing in a hide and a good comfortable seat, set at the right height, allows you to stand correctly. If the seat is wrong you will find that any movement you make will be rushed and uncontrolled, leading to an inevitable miss. The more comfortable you feel the better you will shoot; your shooting will be adversely affected if you feel restricted, unable to move your feet correctly or the ground is uneven.
To shoot consistently big bags necessitates being able to despatch at least 75 per cent of what you shoot at in a hide in normal conditions. The fitter you are, the easier you will find it to keep focused and keep going.
I am increasingly focusing on nutrition. Years ago I would only take a sandwich and a small drink for the day but began to note advice from sports nutritionists. The key is to keep your energy level up and constant so that you can stay on the ball. Energy gels of the sort used by athletes and fresh or dried fruit that release energy slowly are excellent. You should also reduce simple carbohydrates such as white bread, which can make you sluggish, and increase your protein intake. Staying hydrated is also vital, so take plenty of water.