Shooting pigeons in poor conditions
High pressure can be problematic for the pigeon shooter, says Rupert Godfrey, but it’s still possible to have a memorable day when the weather isn’t playing ball.
What an end to the shooting season it was down south: a succession of bright, sunny, frosty, high pressure days, leading to floaty pheasants quite unlike what one hopes for at the end of January... and there are still people who reckon that air pressure has no impact on birds’ flying ability.
It doesn’t do anything for pigeons, either. They behave totally differently, apparently having little need to feed – or fly – even when the temperature is below zero all day. At the end of January, I had one such day at Druids Lodge, near Stonehenge. It was the sixth in a row with the same weather forecast: cold, bright, and precious little wind, but it was the only day to do it because of the estate’s planned game shooting.
From experience, I knew that the woodies might have a quick feed early, and then not come back till about 1pm – which can make for a truly boring morning when absolutely nothing is decoying. So I decided not to bother decoying, but just stood in a small copse which I know is a popular day-roost while the birds are en route to their favoured maize patch.
With little or no wind, it would be difficult to get in the best spot, as there are plenty of favoured trees, so I lofted two plastic decoys as far as I could up one of the trees, hoping this might help channel them over me. I’m becoming a bit of a convert to lofted decoys, but they are a complete pain to get in place – and 30 feet of lofting poles don’t seem to get them far up an average tree! I think it’s better to have lofted decoys near the top of a small tree, than halfway up a tall one.
They had an immediate effect, though, with woodies coming directly to the tree, even with my car still parked beside it and with me wandering around beneath. Of course, they stopped decoying into the tree after I moved my car – sometimes I think it would be better just to sit and shoot right beside my vehicle!
I was in place by 10am, simply standing in a group of small fir trees which gave me some cover but didn’t impede my view.
I don’t think one pigeon all day took evasive action through seeing me before I shot. Small flocks of woodies were flighting round, very high (by ‘very high’, I mean probably 750ft up), but odd birds started coming to the copse.
It took me a couple to get my eye in, but I soon opened the scoring. A magpie whizzed over the trees in front, taking me by surprise, and I missed it clean with the first shot, before reminding myself how little lead they require, and killing it with the second. I hate magpies, and I’m always keen to see them dead when I get a rare chance. In all my pigeon shooting days, I’ve only killed a dozen or so while decoying.
As is so often the case on a cold morning, there was a good flight of corvids – mostly carrion crows, with the odd rook. They proved once again how superior their eyesight is compared to the woodpigeon’s; if I moved at all, they would caw in alarm and peel away.
I did manage to drop one stone dead in the field about 50 yards in front of me and it began to act as a useful decoy, so much so that the pigeon and corvid scores crept up together, until, at 14-all, the crows decided enough was enough and disappeared for the rest of the day.
The woodies were coming from all angles, but it was soon apparent that they had one favoured line, approaching into what small breeze there was. It wasn’t busy, but there were enough – with the crows – to keep me interested for the first couple of hours. At about 12:30 it started to pick up, with a lot more birds flighting over, and more peeling off into the trees. I was doing alright with the higher ones. Those coming low looked easier, but were much trickier as they weaved through the gaps. I missed three ‘easy’ ones in succession; then killed a great right and left – the first passing high to the left, and the second going away well out in front: I shot a long way below and dropped it stone dead about 60 yards out.
I then missed another two plonkers (how do I still miss them, after all these years?!), before three came together over the trees in front. I got the first two deliberately with one shot as they crossed, and then quickly managed to whack the third to restore my confidence. This really threw my young cocker, Woodie, who can now manage to mark one bird and fetch it well but found three falling together a bit confusing!
At about 1:30, things changed – they were obviously getting hungry and looking for friends to join on the ground. They were still flying way up but stopped coming to the trees, and I realised I’d just have to shoot the high ones flighting over and have a go at everything. I killed some absolute corkers; there’s nothing like an archangel against a clear blue sky in bright sunshine, absolutely poleaxed. I reckon at least 30 of my bag were over 50 yards up.
It ended at 2:45, and I had 76 on the clicker (not forgetting the 14 corvids) – a wonderful bag for a sort-of-roost shoot. When they come like that, it’s so different from decoying, and a lovely change. I’d had a great bang-up, in lovely weather, and Woodie had done really well. Truly a red letter day.