PUBLISHED: 15:08 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:06 28 November 2012
Diggory Hadoke writes...
In Hertfordshire, the rape crops have been cut and the stubbles are providing good feeding opportunities for the pigeons, which are visible in good numbers for the first time this year.
I’m planning a trip to Oxfordshire to sit in the hide later this month and signs are better that there should be some good opportunities for decoying some decent numbers. This year has been a difficult one for pigeon shooters and at last we are seeing some weather conducive to the job.
I have always been a sceptic of very small bore shotguns for game shooting but a .410 Army & Navy hammer gun that I have just refinished worked very well at the Sporting Clays and Skeet stands when I tested it at Braintree Shooting Ground l recently. Well enough, in fact, to prompt me to try it in the pigeon hide. I’ll try both 3” and 2 ½” shells and try to decoy the birds in as close as I can. The problem with .410s is that they almost always shoot high. Once you have worked that out and adjusted your shooting accordingly. They can be quite effective. I am looking forward to this little ‘field trial’.
When setting up a pattern of decoys I am often intrigued by the lines into which the approaching birds tend to form. There tends to be a predominant conveyor-belt effect when shooting over stubbles. I think this is more the case than earlier in the year when days are often more windy and approaches can vary throughout the day.
If the decoys are set out in a field with a flight-line ahead of the hide, the birds can come straight at the decoys like driven grouse, wings set, losing height rapidly as they approach. You get bird-after-bird replicating the same trajectory. From 200 yards away; they turn, line up the landing strip and bomb straight in. With your hide set-up with back to hedge and facing the decoy pattern, the shooting is exciting and testing as the birds shoot straight at you head-on. It is imperative to have a good back-drop and to remain motionless as the birds approach.
The tendency is to shoot over them or wait until they are too close, when they often flare off to the side. I like to try and take them at around 30 yards and the careful placing of the shot into the ground a few yards ahead of the approaching bird usually sees the head go down and the pigeon tumble to the ground. Get it wrong and shot-after-shot seems to miss completely or rake the back and tail feathers, failing to bring the bird to bag. Once you have mastered the technique it is great sport and very satisfying. When the shooting is as good as this and the day ends with 80 or 90 birds in the bag, you definitely go home convinced that the pigeon can become the poor man’s grouse during August and September. To my mind this is nothing short of ‘glorious’, even if the quarry is grey rather than red.
One other thing – be careful where you place the pigeon magnet or you may well end up shooting it!
When the summer heat is finally upon us, I always try to remember that a pigeon hide is a bad place to be left all day without a drink. The bottles of Evian with the narrow tops and flip-up caps are best – you can just put the bottle to mouth, squeeze and a get a drink without moving your head and by using just one hand. You can even shoot the liquid straight through a face mask without removing it.
I also like to take a couple of bags of ‘biltong’ to chew throughout the day. This keeps up the energy reserves and if you are fed and watered, you will be more mentally alert and physically responsive. Both are important for good shooting. A granola or muesli bar is also useful because the sugars give an instant lift and the cereals provide sustained releases of nutrients.
We all have our favourite gun and cartridge combination for pigeon shooting and I make a point of taking any gun I have in stock out to the pigeon hide to test it. It is a great proving ground for a gun’s shooting capabilities and, as our shooting guru mike Yardley says “I’m only interested in guns that shoot’, meaning that it does not matter how pretty or expensive a gun might be, if it is not a performer, it is of no use.
I took Jason Kane, an avid shooter of his beloved Miroku over/under to the hide a little while ago and we had a productive day, eventually bagging 85 birds between us. Jason was persuaded to help me test a 1905 Edwinson Green side-by-side and by the end of the day I could not get him to give it back! Having originally been sceptical, he soon found the light, pointable game gun much faster and more flexible in the hide than his big, steady sporter. With pigeons coming at all angles from the high hedge behind us, he was soon swinging and dropping exciting birds and loved the experience.
If you have not tried a side-by-side in a hide, give it a go; you may be surprised how much faster you get on your birds. A tip; don’t take a gun with too long a stock, stand square and shoot Churchill-style with butt under armpit ‘at ready’, shifting weight to the side that the shot is to be taken.
As for ammunition? I use Game bore Pure Gold fibre (I hate seeing plastic wads littering farmland) and 28g of No.6.