I doubt anyone would argue that woodpigeon coming to roost aren't a sporting challenge.
For most of us, it’s the stuff of dreams when a near gale rips through the treetops, buffeting and slapping birds sideways as they dip and slip the wind to reach shelter.
Never tried it? Then you’re missing one of the sport’s greatest treats and biggest tests of skill with a gun.
Exciting? Most definitely. But as a method of population control, roost shooting rarely cuts the mustard. I say rarely because no doubt there are woods about the place that draw pigeon in the sort of numbers that yield a bigger than average bag when conditions are right.
But what is an accurate average per person when roost shooting? Of course, it’s impossible to answer in the absence of detailed returns from everyone taking to the woods during February. Taken nationwide, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear it’s in low, single figures. And given an evening of little or no wind with other Guns blazing away at returning pigeon, most would be lucky to avoid finishing the night on a big fat zero. Yet who cares?
There’s a lot more to being part of an organised roost shoot than mere numbers shot, or cartridges fired.
For some it’s partly a social thing, such as locally, where sprawling woods on one estate are manned each year by 50 or so wildfowling club members. As soon as the last shot has been fired, all head to the pub for a hot pie, pint and natter. Other landowners open their woods to clayshooting clubs, giving some the chance to shoot live quarry and learn some fieldcraft for the first time. Similarly, youngsters under supervision are able to put the skills they learned shooting clays to the test. In fact, I sometimes wonder how many hundreds, if not thousands, of children over the years have pigeon roost shooting to thank for introducing them to a lifelong pastime.
Then, of course, roost shooting is a long-held perk for beaters, a brilliant way for any gamekeeper, farmer or syndicate captain to thank people for all their hard work during the season. Some estate offices might also levy a small fee on shooters taking part in organised roosts, with all monies going to worthwhile causes such as the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.
Everyone’s a winner where woods in winter and woodies are concerned. Well, maybe not everyone – those who seek their pleasure from shooting woodpigeon over decoys would probably disagree. For the serious decoyer, February roost shoots can be something of a bitter pill to swallow.
Picture this: you’re doing your level best on behalf of a farmer to keep pigeon under control and off his crops which most usually at this time of year comprise oilseed rape. A sufficient number of birds to make a worthwhile day over decoys have settled into a feeding pattern on one or more fields, and a visit early next week looks on the cards, as long as there’s enough wind and the rain stays off. But, oh dear, you forgot to factor in the month’s first roost shoot on Saturday night and the two woods that hold your birds are right in the firing line. Without putting too fine a point on matters, they’re going to get well and truly blown up by a dozen or so people who might, if they’re lucky, shoot 20 pigeon between them.
Frightening birds witless, pushing them goodness knows where over the boundary in near darkness is almost certainly going to break their flight pattern for the next few mornings and reduce the number you had hoped to pan out over decoys. Fair enough, the farmer is happy about the respite on his crop no matter how it happened, but the birds are still alive and capable of doing crop damage, which they will start to do again as soon as normal service is resumed.
Trouble is that is unlikely to happen until March because just as the weekend’s disturbed birds start to re-establish some sort of pattern, around comes Saturday once more and the re-building process has to start all over again. It’s something of a catch-22: unless you have control over the roosting woods on your patch, there’s nothing to be done except grin and bear it and join in the collective fun.
On the other hand, if you do have a say in when, or if, roosts are shot – and want to boost your shooting over decoys – then it’s a no-brainer: sit on your hands and stay out of the woods. Doing nothing is the best option, even if it does run counter to the ethos of the roost-shooting lark. You can now sit in the truck, window down as the light fades, listening to the barrage all around and watch hundreds of those poor displaced woodies finding sanctuary in the peace and quiet of your own wood. And just think – tomorrow they will probably follow the usual residents to their feeding ground.
Oh heaven, oh lore, roll on Monday morning!