Zen pigeon shooting with Andy Crow

ssh april pigeons

ssh april pigeons - Credit: Archant

Even Andy Crow has days when things just won’t go right - he is working with wild birds after all! - but, with determination, you can still end up with some pigeons in the bag

ssh april pigeons
Gary and Andy are used to sharing a hide but you need trust, understanding and

ssh april pigeons Gary and Andy are used to sharing a hide but you need trust, understanding and experience to do it safely - Credit: Archant

It was all looking so good: swarms of pigeons piling in to the winter rape, film crew on standby, a good buddy coming down to join Andy and cousin Gary for a bumper day… what could possibly go wrong?

“Three days ago, there were probably 2,000 pigeons here in the morning. It was the last day of the game season so I was committed to shooting elsewhere, but no worries, thought I. I wanted to invite a couple of mates to shoot, and Plus One [Gary], as I felt we would be able to cover the ground better with a couple of different shooting positions.

“The next day, there were about 100 pigeons there. And I’ve hardly seen one since! It really is amazing how that can happen. I can only assume that the local shoot’s Beaters’ Day had disturbed them and pushed them off. But even so, it was a bit of a shock.

“I always put pressure on myself to try to deliver a good day for people. Especially if they are travelling some distance to get here. Of course, being in the South East, traffic can always play its part, so sometimes you don’t always get the chance to start exactly when you want to.

“The farmer’s wife had kindly offered to lay on breakfast and everyone knows what folk are like when confronted with a free full English! I had some youngsters here to do a bit of ferreting and they needed pointing in the right direction and showing the ground. And it rained.

“So instead of it being the perfect day, I ended up running late, the weather was awful and there weren’t any birds. Needless to say, I had the raving hump by then because things were going wrong. That is not conducive to shooting well and, all in all, I did not enjoy the experience one bit. If you had asked me earlier in the week, I’d have said that we would be picking up well over 200 birds between us. We managed 76 between three of us.”

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Now, 76 birds is certainly not a small bag… but normally, when the Crowman tells you he’s hoping for a couple of hundred, big things happen. So feeling disheartened by the rather anticlimactic reckoning, Andy was all for calling it quits for the rest of the weekend. Until his cousin called the following morning.

“Gary said he was at a loose end and should we go and have another crack at the pigeons. I had noticed maybe 150 birds on a patch of rape that we farm a few miles from the yard. I told Gary we might get 15-20 but I couldn’t really see us taking a bigger bag and he just said, ‘I’ve got nothing better to do today, let’s have a crack.’

“So he met me up at the yard and we piled into the buggy and whizzed over to the other block of ground. Of course, there were hundreds of pigeons there! I couldn’t believe it – at least 500-600… far more than at any point in the previous weeks. So we sat and watched for 20 minutes or so and selected a spot that covered a strong flight line. We decided to share a hide; Gary and I have shot together for so many years that we know how to make it work. He is one of the few Guns I enjoy sharing the same hide with as I trust him 100% and we have a good understanding on what to shoot and when.”

It was gone midday by the time the boys had finished setting up the hide, leaving only about three hours of useful shooting time before they would have to pack up. “We went for simplicity in the set-up – my preferred two lumps of DJ Decoys’ Enforcer decoys with a landing strip between them and an FF5 flapper providing a bit of movement off to one side.

“It was about 50/50 between birds coming in to the decoys and longer birds flighting past, which actually suited us just fine as I have been trialling a new Gamebore load for the uprated, harder-hitting Clear Pigeon range so the variety of shots was useful. I’ve been proud to be able to supply feedback from my use in the field over the past couple of years to help the company deliver what I think is the best all-round pigeon load on the market.

“There was solid traffic to the field for the whole time we were there. Nothing frantic but no real lulls in the action, either. And with two guns we really were able to maximise our opportunities. The ability to communicate well and ‘call’ the birds for each other means we rarely shoot at the same birds and if one misses, the other is always on hand to mop up.”

By the time they had to call it a day, the lads realised that this was a much, much better day than Andy had envisaged. The final tally was 150 birds. A total surprise and all the more welcome considering Andy’s disappointment the day before.

“I am just starting to use my young dog Rosa for shooting trips now. If I had known that this would be a big day, I’d probably have left her at home, but I thought a small bag with no pressure would be ideal for her. I work on her training every day around the farm and she is coming on really well. I guess I train very differently to other people and I know 100% what I want from her. I’m after a hide dog – not a peg dog or a beater’s dog.

“She seems to be learning what I want from her so fingers crossed for later in the year. At the moment, the crops are pretty short and it isn’t a necessity to have a dog. But in a couple of months when everything bolts in the warmer weather, she will be essential. At the moment we are taking it steady and I’m letting her learn the ropes slowly so she is enjoying herself and not under too much pressure.”

Talking of pressure, even Andy can succumb to the dangers of putting himself under too much of it when trying to deliver a result. “When you are dealing with a wild bird, you just never quite know. I’ve been shooting them for 40-odd years and they are still surprising me. I’d have bet good money on a 200-bird day that produced less than 80, and the next day I’d have wagered that we wouldn’t have picked up 20 and yet we took 150-odd in barely a couple of hours. And I know which day I enjoyed more!”

With all the local shoots now topping off game covers, there is some good sport on the horizon for both pigeon and crow shooting. Hopefully Andy will be in a relaxed mood!