May 2012 Pigeons

Bringing home the woodies

What better way to christen a rifle than with a few windy hours among the trees?The wily woodpigeon is a major test of the air rifle hunter. They have sharp eyesight and an ability to blend in with their surroundings, making them virtually invisible from the hunter below. Stalking them is not impossible, but very difficult and a bit of a hit and miss affair. For that reason they are a very sporting prospect for the air rifle hunter and a worthy quarry. I prefer to try and ambush them in the woods, rather than attempt to shoot them on the ground amongst decoys. My friend Paul had recently acquired an Air Arms S410 and he was keen to sight it in properly and then get out into the field to try and christen it. I am lucky in that I have several large blocks of woodland, each in the region of 200–250 acres, surrounded by good farmland. One large field of winter rape had been ravaged by the grey horde last winter. As we came out of the winter and into the first vestiges of spring, literally thousands of pigeons were using the woods to roost and dropping down onto the rape to feed. They were still flocking to it when Paul came to stay, so this was the obvious choice of where  to take him.


On the Friday when Paul arrived it was blowing a gale and not looking too conducive to successful 35-yard zeroing. We discussed a plan of action over some single malt and retired for an early start on the targets in the morning. When we put the zeroing target in the pellet catcher the next day the wind had dropped sufficiently to set the rifle up at 35 yards. I put up the table and rifle rest for Paul to get his scope set spot on. There was a bit of breeze, but by choosing his moments to shoot, the groups stayed together and after just a dozen shots we were packing up, Paul confident that his rifle was sighted in dead on.As we approached the woods there were hundreds of pigeons leaving the trees and dropping in on the rape. We had timed it just  right to get into position while the pigeons were preoccupied filling their purple crops with the bright green leaves of the new growth on the rape. The wind had increased and it was fairly whistling through the trees causing them to sway and branches to clatter. Every now and then twigs and even the odd branch came tumbling  to earth, having been broken off in the wind. We had to find the trees the pigeons favoured in order to stand any chance at all.We worked our way towards the trees from which we had seen the pigeons pouring out as we arrived. We were under some tall beech and sycamore trees on the open woodland floor when we heard the whistle of wings overhead. A party of about 30 pigeons flew right over us and dropped into an old oak about 75 yards in front of us. We decided to split up, Paul going on for the main trees while I found a small stand of holly to settle in under some sycamores, sweet chestnut and another ancient oak. The holly gave me an ideal natural hide as it was of the trailing variety  and I was able to pull some of the drooping branches apart and get right inside, completely out of view from above. Paul made himself comfortable under some yew trees and rhododendron bushes that gave him a covered corridor from one stand of trees  to another. He didn’t have to wait long for the next flight of grey backs to arrive. He told me that he had to crawl under the rhodies to get within range of where they had settled, then from a sitting position he had managed to get a bead through the branches to one that was sat in the clear. He put the crosshair on the head of the pigeon and timed his let off for when there was  a lull in the wind. The rifle spat the pellet almost silently and it flew unerringly to its mark, whereupon the pigeon simply fell forward out  of the tree and landed with a thump on the leaf mould below. The wind was causing the trees  to make such a racket that the other pigeons didn’t even notice their comrade fall to the floor and they stayed huddled on their branches, beaks to the wind.Paul reloaded and worked his way forward to a yew tree where he could stand up unseen and rest on the main trunk of the tree in front of him. He had his eye on a pigeon that was half hidden by a swaying branch. He had to time his shot to coincide with when the branch swayed out of the way, providing a clear path for the pellet to strike its mark. He judged his moment, but a sudden swirl of wind changed the pattern of the swaying branch and it stopped his pellet from going any further. Splinters of the branch exploded into the air and the sound of the pellet hitting the timber alerted the birds and they looked around for what the unusual sound had been. Paul remained totally still and after a while the pigeons relaxed again. Paul reloaded quietly; such are  the joys of a PCP, he simply had to gently work the bolt. His second attempt was more fruitful and he added the pigeon to his bag.Meanwhile, I had a small group drop in right on the limit of my range. There was one pigeon that was sat in the clear with an unobstructed path for me to shoot. It was a bit further than I would have liked, but by judging the range to  the base of the tree it was sat in I estimated the distance to be 40 yards. I put the first mil dot of my scope just above its head and got my shot off. The pigeon crashed to the ground sending the rest flapping away in a hurry. I paced the distance to where the bird had fallen and it was 48 paces. My pellet had gone clean through its neck though, at the base of the skull. Sometimes you need luck on your side.The pigeons were landing in other trees and giving the ones around me a miss, so I decided to move and set up with the wind on my back and the birds looking at me. There was another stand of holly around the base of a fallen chestnut, which made a perfect hide. No sooner had I settled myself behind the big, red, coarse barked fallen trunk than a dozen pigeons settled no more than 20 yards from me. This was a formality; just put the crosshairs on the best presented bird and squeeze gently. I too had a brace of pigeons in the bag. I stayed put and  not long afterwards another party of pigeons pitched in, to my left in an old oak. I picked  the nearest bird, which had its head obscured but I could see the whole of its side. I picked  my spot just under the elbow of the wing and  let the pellet fly. The pigeon fell, flapping, but  by the time I had got myself over to it the bird had expired. A handful of pigeons between  us in a couple of hours in those conditions  was worth getting up for and Paul was able  to christen his new rifle, too.