It’s been an interesting start 
to pigeon shooting on spring drillings this year. Many counties seemed like they would never get going but then, with an abrupt change in weather conditions, some farms decided to bite the bullet and start drillings, in some cases up to two weeks early.

pigeon shooting spring drillings

Tom sets up his decoy pattern on bean spring drillings

It is usually difficult to predict the start of drilling as so much relies on the weather and soil temperatures, especially for crops such as peas. 
I always get a heads-up from farmers on predicted drilling times, but it’s things can change at the last minute. I wasn’t expecting the early drills this year and I don’t think the pigeons were either.

pigeon carpaccio

Pigeon carpaccio

This pigeon carpaccio recipe doesn't need cooking but requires at least 12 hours to marinate and needs to be frozen…

A lot of the early drillings were spring wheat — because of poor barley prices — which the pigeons just weren’t ready for and they continued to stay on the rape, clover, flailed maize and early tree buds. But now that normal timing for drillings have resumed, the pigeons are finally showing interest.

When you hear of big bags being shot around drilling time, there’s a good chance that they have been over peas. Any pigeon shooter who has permission on farms where peas are grown will guard this ground with their life. Peas provide shooting all year round from drilling to harvest and woodpigeons love them.

Gone are the days of being able 
to allow drillings to build up. You may see a few fields where the crop hasn’t drilled well and an abundance of food sits on top, but in most cases you will walk a fresh drill and see little if any spilled seed, aside from the turning of the drill and field margins. Sometimes you wonder what the birds are actually feeding on — but they are adaptable and will find seed even if we can’t see it. This is a testament to their eyesight and resourcefulness.

Timing is everything

A fresh drilling in the right location will be a huge draw. It doesn’t take long for a good number of pigeons to scurry across the field, quickly clearing any seed they can find. If you turn up and see a large number of pigeons working a drill, moving and feeding, you will probably have missed your opportunity to shoot and it could be time to start looking for the birds’ next chosen “restaurant”.

I let a field build for a day at most and in many cases if I see a field with 50 or more pigeons feeding on it, I will take the chance and shoot it as soon 
as possible. With pigeon traffic coming and going through a warm afternoon, 50 can become 500 in 
a blink of an eye. Trust your instincts if you feel the field is worth shooting. I tend to shoot my biggest bags over drillings by trusting what I see.

How to decoy

I can’t stress this enough: you must show your pigeons what they want to see. Study how they behave on the ground in your reconnaissance and try to replicate this with your pigeon decoys.

When birds work drillings, you will see them moving busily in every direction in small gangs, searching for food. Small groups of dead birds presented in good condition and 
not regimented will represent this best. My mechanics of choice are flappers because they give excellent realistic movement.

Pigeon decoying

Setting out the decoy pattern

I tend to steer clear of rotaries/magnets on a drilling. You will see whether using a rotary is a non-runner by the way the birds react. 
If they show any concerns about it, pull it in straight away. Using cradles with wings draped, gently moving 
in the breeze, gives great movement to your chosen spread of decoys and, in some cases, the odd floater is also worth trying.

Pigeon shooting on spring drillings

Pigeon shooting coming out of the winter months has been sporadic to say the least. There has been an abundance of many food sources to keep pigeon populations going and in some areas it has felt like the birds have disappeared. However, this is not the case – it is simply that the winter flocks have disbanded and with the various food sources around, the density of pigeons in an area can feel very low.

My own recent pigeon shooting has been very varied, from small outings on clover and backward rape — which is rape that is behind in its growth — 
to a couple of very good outings on late flailed maize. The first early drillings in my area were non-starters, with absolutely no interest shown by the birds whatsoever.

As the weather started to warm 
up in late March and early April, the soil temperatures improved so drilling began in earnest and the pigeons’ instincts turned towards the fresh drills. Initially I had a couple of small outings on spring wheat and barley, but many farmers I shoot for this year have decided to go down the pea route, which made me happy.

Pigeon shooting from hide

Decoy pattern set out, hide built and well concealed, Tom starts adding pigeons to the bag

My good friend and fellow pigeon shooter Matt Freeman, who has various permissions in Essex, phoned me to invite me along over a two-week period to help him out on some of the farms in his area that were having big problems with pigeons on their pea drillings.
I had an initial recon trip on the Monday to assess the situation and things were looking positive. However, because the farms are in a heavily shot area, the pigeons did seem a little bit on the jumpy side. But the farmer assured me that no bird-scaring tactics nor other pigeon shooters had been on the ground. I was surprised to hear this, purely because of the birds’ skittish behaviour on certain fields but after the initial trip we made a battle plan.

With weather conditions favourable for the following day, Matt and I picked our field and hide location and the plan was in place.

Tom’s pigeon shooting tips

  • Be diligent with your recon: pay careful attention to how the birds are feeding on the ground.
  • Make sure that you represent what you’ve seen when decoying and replicate a realistic feeding situation.
  • Timing is everything: trust your instincts and don’t risk letting fields build for too long — one day maximum.
  • The best time for shooting 
a drilling: if you’re out and setting up by 11am, you can expect to hit your main feeding period from 1pm onwards.

Day two on the drillings

We arrived at the field at mid-morning on the Tuesday. There were a few early arrivals already feeding but with plenty of time to set up before the main action would start. The wind on the day was varying from westerly to north-westerly which didn’t pose too much of a problem and wasn’t affecting the two lines coming into the field.

Initially the birds arrived well and decoyed nicely and we got about 25, 
but as the bulk started to come out 
to feed I could see something was up. My initial prediction for the day was a bag of 150 to 200 at the end of play, but the birds were committing to about 70 yards then beginning to fall off the line and turn away.

Tom Payne setting up decoys

We put every decoying tactic into action, from flappers to floaters, to magnets and rotaries, to lofters and went through the entire decoying handbook to try to get them to commit properly, but they just weren’t playing ball. They w ere behaving like they’d seen it all before. We continued through the afternoon with some good but challenging shooting, and finished on a bag of 78. A good bag, but not what it could have been!

After a couple of phone calls at the end of the day, lo and behold, it turned out people had been trying to shoot the birds over the weekend prior to us getting there. Which just goes to show how easily educated and wary pigeons can become and it proved that my initial suspicions were correct.