WATCH: A. Crow among the pigeons - Adapt and overcome!

What makes Crowman smile? Connecting with a tricky bird!

What makes Crowman smile? Connecting with a tricky bird! - Credit: Archant

Andy Crow and his cousin/shooting partner, Gary, are pigeon shooting over a freshly sown crop; it’s not going to plan, but the boys pull it back!

The dream team - Andyand his cousin Gary have shot together since they were kids

The dream team - Andyand his cousin Gary have shot together since they were kids - Credit: Archant

Read/watch the first episode in this series here!

ANDY’S KIT LIST

Gamebore Clear Pigeon cartridges - Gamebore

Sillosocks decoys (although he opted for real birds on this day!) - UK Shootwarehouse

It’s still dark when we pull into the farmyard and begin transferring kit from car boots to buggies. It’s been a month since we last visited Andy and there is a definite chill in the December air; the dogs are breathing plumes of smoke as they scamper around our legs, wagging their tails in excitement at what’s to come. We’re expecting a bumper day – the pigeons were showing rather too much interest in a recently sown crop over the weekend, and there are still cobs lying everywhere to add to the banquet of drillings.

A light, wintry breeze sneaks its way under our collars as we park the buggy by a hedge, then begin the treacherous slip-and-slide down the ploughed field, laden with dead decoy birds, hide poles, ammo and nets. It’s the type of mud that builds up around your boots, making every step a little harder than the last. We’re shooting the same area as we did last month, when Andy was protecting his yet-to-be-harvested maize crop, but today we have a different goal and a very different plan of attack.

Things improved for Gary as the afternoon wore on

Things improved for Gary as the afternoon wore on - Credit: Archant

The plan

Andy is using shot birds instead of his Silosocks decoys, and has cut the feet off them in order to distinguish them from the fresh birds at the end of the day. The lads have built two hides on either side of a small copse of trees set into a hedgeline that separates two fields – the front field was sown just days ago, while the field behind where the maize previously stood was sown around 10 days ago. Both are vulnerable.

Andy sets a rotary front-left of his hide, and one in the field behind, roughly level with the copse, scattering five or so decoys around each. On the other side of the copse, to the right as you look at the hedgeline, Gary has a flapper out in front, with a similar number of decoys dotted around to create a convincing smattering of feeding birds.

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The wind is coming into Andy’s face and over his right shoulder when stood in the hide looking out over the front field. He expects the bulk of the birds to make their way along the hedgerow at the bottom of the field, and either head straight for the copse where Gary can shoot them on their approach, or curl around from behind, landing into the wind and right on Gary’s decoy pattern. Any that flare away or are missed should turn back into the wind, giving Andy a chance at a shot, and the whirlie in the back field should attract any passing by behind the lads.

As usual, the proposed 9.30 start time has somehow turned into 10.30 – forgetting the key to the field gate probably didn’t help much, but we’re not here to lay blame. Finally, we scramble into the two hides, with Andy suggesting that cousin Gary’s hide will have all the action today... we’ll see! I tuck in with Gary and his Lab Brandy (the fastest retriever on the planet!) and crouch down expectantly, waiting for the sky to turn black above our heads.

The whirlie in front of Andy's hide, with real birds used as decoys

The whirlie in front of Andy's hide, with real birds used as decoys - Credit: Archant

Slow to start

It’s an agonisingly long wait. Despite seeing several birds checking out the emerging pattern as we set up, they don’t seem too keen on it now. They approach, clearly interested in the decoys and flapper in front of Gary’s hide, then change their minds at the last minute and soar out of range, usually ending up sitting in the beech trees at the edge of the field. It’s incredibly frustrating, and I don’t even have a gun in my hand! We hear a few shots ring out from the other side of the trees, and know that Andy has his first two birds in the bag. They’ll come this way soon, I can feel it...

In hindsight, perhaps that feeling was indigestion from the croissant I ate at 5am, because an hour later it’s still looking bleak for Gary. On the other side of the trees, we can hear Andy steadily clocking up a respectable bag. It’s not fast action by any stretch of the imagination, and they aren’t decoying very well, but luckily Mr Crow isn’t a bad shot and is nailing the ones and twos that do come into range.

By 11 o’clock, the lads decide to take what they’ve shot so far and add it to the pattern in the hope it will improve things. Gary has managed to shoot about four, and even those took impressive skill to bring down. Andy has fared a little better, but it’s still slow going compared to what they were expecting today.

“The wind is carrying them straight off into those beech trees, which aren’t on our land,” says Crow as he sets his dead birds up on some homemade wire cradles and stakes them into the ground in the field behind his hide. “They’re looking, but they’re just not committing. Let’s see if this catches their attention!”

Brandy the Lab is always on high alert - the second Gary connects, she's out of the hide and away!

Brandy the Lab is always on high alert - the second Gary connects, she's out of the hide and away! - Credit: Archant

Afternoon action

We tuck back into the hides, hopes a little higher, and sure enough, things start to pick up. Gary and Andy are communicating via radio, calling birds for each other as they spot them coming in from behind. It’s still an indisputable fact that Andy bagged the better hide, but Gary is definitely getting a little more of the action now, albeit with plenty of time to reload, chat, and ponder the meaning of life between shots. He sets the flapper going if he sees a bird swooping round from the other side of the trees between the hides, and it seems to do the trick at least half of the time.

An hour later, at 12 o’clock, the boys decide to alter the pattern again, this time adding even more birds to the field behind and spreading the pattern further down towards the back of Gary’s hide. It seems to have done the trick, and the shots ring out fairly regularly for the hour and a half. While pigeon shooting is all fun and games for me, it’s serious business for these boys, with a lot of precious time wasted and potentially a crop ruined if their day is a total flop. Luckily, that’s not the case today, and although the birds shot out in front are pretty lofty and not particularly interested in the decoys, I spot some committing beautifully to the pattern in the field behind, to be picked off by Andy as he turns to shoot out the back of the hide. That in itself isn’t as easy as it sounds – he’s shooting through gaps in the hedge, so you can imagine what that does to your swing. At around 2.45pm, things start to quieten down significantly, and with a hell of a lot of kit to pack up and several birds to pick, we call it a day. The light won’t last much past 4 o’clock, and it’s switched off completely for the birds as they vanish from the skies.

It’s surprising to do a final count and discover we’re only 20 or 30 birds off our total from the previous month – it’s been much harder work, with a much less consistent stream of birds to shoot, but constant monitoring of the effectiveness of the pattern, and changing it accordingly, has paid off in the end. A great lesson that it doesn’t always go the way you think it will, even if you’re Andy Crow!

The birds were more interested in the decoys near to Andy's hide, despite expecting them to favour G

The birds were more interested in the decoys near to Andy's hide, despite expecting them to favour Gary's side of the tree copse - Credit: Archant

The birds had been chowing down on the maize cobs still littering the fields

The birds had been chowing down on the maize cobs still littering the fields - Credit: Archant

Rosa, Andy's fox red Lab, is a lovely dog and made consistent retrieves all day

Rosa, Andy's fox red Lab, is a lovely dog and made consistent retrieves all day - Credit: Archant

Despite feeling like a slow day, the final bag was around 100 birds - not bad!

Despite feeling like a slow day, the final bag was around 100 birds - not bad! - Credit: Archant

Andy picks the very best birds to send to the game dealer

Andy picks the very best birds to send to the game dealer - Credit: Archant