Defending pea crops from pigeons
PUBLISHED: 11:58 29 July 2015 | UPDATED: 16:34 10 November 2015
With his young pea crop in peril, Andy targets a dual menace from avian invaders
For most of us, a couple of weeks of unseasonal sunshine can be just the ticket: barbecues and eating outdoors, and relaxing in the garden. For Crowman it has been a cause for real concern: “The seed bed was already quite dry when I drilled this field and I flat-rolled to keep the moisture in – as well as to try and stop the pigeons and crows getting at the seeds – but we just haven’t had any rain. As a result, hardly anything has germinated and the pests are having a field day.”
The plants should be strapping young things now, but the dry conditions have put the brakes on their growth. Even worse, pigeons, pheasants and crows are digging up the shoots to find the pea at the bottom. The number of feathers and droppings littering the field shows the scale of the problem. It’s about 1.30pm when we arrive and there are three possible places to set up that will intersect popular flight lines and allow us to draw birds into the decoys. The first site is against a small pond in the middle of the field, but its slightly raised elevation puts a biting north-easterly wind right in our faces. Neither of us fancy the prospect of several hours spent getting frozen!
Option two initially looks like the best, ideally sited under a flight line and in a dip with woods to our back, making it nice and warm in the sunshine. However, although there is a public footpath going through the centre of the field, many walkers use the headland instead and that would take them to our hide. It’s a no go.
Option three is well away from the footpath, shooting into a safe area and sheltered from the wind; it’s a compromise but Andy decides it’s the safest option. Andy splits his pattern in two, with crows out on his right and pigeons on the left. He has some shot birds from the freezer for pigeon decoys but full-bodied flocked crow decoys. They certainly look good, but why the split? “If the birds are coming well I just like to keep the birds separate – it is easier to add to the pattern and seems to work better when attracting them.”
It is always reassuring when birds try to land in the pattern while you are still setting up and we are soon tucked into the hedge line and loading up the Beretta. Andy starts without a whirly as the crows really don’t like them. “If we aren’t getting any crows but plenty of woodies, I’ll put the whirly out.” The first birds to drop in to the bag are some testing, rangy jackdaws of which several hundred use the woods behind for roosting.
“Shooting crows can be easy if they hold a line. They aren’t as tough to kill as a pigeon, especially jackdaws, and especially when I’m using these heavier 34g no.5 loads. They often don’t react quite as quickly as pigeons to you rising for a shot, but with their big wing area, they can move rapidly in the strong wind. And they do have excellent vision. But by taking them at slightly longer ranges they often think they are safe.”
After an hour or so, the corvid traffic dries up but Andy thinks they will return later in the afternoon so he fires up the whirly and concentrates on pigeons. With the sun in our faces but plenty of white cloud in the sky, it isn’t ideal for photographing the birds. However, looking at the back of the camera it shows quite graphically the shot pattern. Andy is fascinated to see how the cartridge performs at different ranges and is impressed by how tight the pattern is even at 50 yards or more.
The bag builds steadily, most of the birds being plucked from the flight lines but a few decoying nicely. Andy checks the crops and most contain peas and a bit of white clover: “They will have had a feed here first thing, cleared off for their greens and are now returning for a last feed before roosting.” It often seems to be the case that the best decoying happens later in the day and the crows start to come in again, too, as we approach the evening. Andy trims out some terrific long-range crossers and a couple of nice doubles over the decoys. With Ruby having a day off today, Andy is having to do his own retrieving and the downside to being able to knock down birds at range is that you have to pick them up from further away. No wonder he is soon looking tired!
The final tally tops 80 birds and a few fields away, Andy’s son has also been shooting and downed some 40 crows and a few pigeons. All in all it has been a satisfying and successful afternoon’s crop protection, and with some rain in the forecast, hopefully the young pea plants can get the boost that they need.
Andy, though, is realistic: “This is not our best ground and I think these plants will always be struggling – I think we will have to have a number of trips here during the growing season.” Every cloud, and all that!