Let me start this article with an apology â€“ I am a fisher who shoots, and the extent of my shooting is usually a few trips a year planned a day or two in advance. I do not watch pigeons all year round, learning in which county and crop the birds are to be found at any one time. What I propose to do here is give the complete amateur an idea of how to get out and shoot a few pigeons over decoys, and the confidence to go and have a go. If I can do it, anyone can!
It is very easy to be intimidated by hard core pigeon shooters who seem to live in hedges dressed in SAS gear sporting an auto 12 bore and then report bags of 600 birds in a day. You donâ€™t have to go crazy to take yourself off and have some great sport.
Decoying pigeons is probably my favourite type of shooting, and mores the pity that I donâ€™t do it as much as I should. Itâ€™s really good value shooting. You would be able to set up with 20 decoys and a bit of camo gear for half the price of a 70 bird game day and most farmers will be more than happy to let you on their fields to help with their pest control. To get going, you will almost certainly find a local countryman with a sack of decoys you can borrow.
This year, following the wet summer and a lot of lain grain crops, I have been noticing that the birds are much less flighty, and almost appearing doped. I wonder if they have been half poisoning themselves eating slightly fermented food, or if they are just too full to fly off?
I still havenâ€™t been out for a post harvest trip, but it strikes me that the birds have been spread about and ripe for a bit of decoying in more locations than usual.
So hereâ€™s how I would be going about it. Do keep an eye on what the birds are doing for a few days. For me, usually this is prompted by seeing a flock over a field I know I can get permission to shoot over. So when youâ€™ve seen a few, start planning and get out as soon as you can, before anything in the nearby environment changes (such as other farmers combining, ploughing etc, providing competition for feeding grounds.)
I like to start the day nice and early, and get decoys set out first thing. Sometimes this works well, allowing a full day of sport, and sometimes I would have done better to tuck into a hedge and watch the behaviour of the birds first in case they are changing habits slightly.
Either way, pick a spot where you think the birds will favour to feed, but also where you can construct some type of hide. How good the hide needs to be seems to vary considerably, but err on the side of something that will cover you well. If you canâ€™t manage this in the location, you will need camouflage and some backdrop such as a ditch or hedge – dress up with scrim scarves over your face, wear gloves, and if youâ€™re as bald as me, you certainly need a hat. Skin colour against hedgerow shows up from the full height that the birds will be flying in from.
Set your decoys out in a rough V shape, with the v and the birds pointing into the wind. The back of the V should be left open, and pigeons coming into the â€˜coys will land very politely into this area. This landing zone needs to be at the best killing point for the pattern your gun will throw. If like me you have absolutely no idea where this is, make it a point where you are comfortable you can kill at without pillowcasing the quarry, but making a clean job of it.
When birds are killed they need picking up fairly quickly. Dead birds belly up and pointing the wrong way will before long make the picture look very wrong.
If you get it right, you will find quite a dayâ€™s sport follows. Iâ€™ve never had a particularly big day, but make sure you load up with plenty of shells as you can quite easily get through a hundred or more without realising it.
Cartridges for shooting Pigeons are generally fairly cheap as Pigeons are generally classed as agricultural pests and on a good day you can shoot a high amount of shells, so you donâ€™t really want to spend heaps on Pigeon cartridges. Also the proximity you shoot them at you wonâ€™t need a heavy premium loaded cartridge which all adds to the price.
Eley Pigeon 12 bore 30 gram 6.5 shot fibre wad are in the William Powell sale at Â£49.68 per 250 and only Â£182.16 per 1000 .
They are a very good but cheap load with the ideal shot and weight for a Pigeon load. 30 gram is heavy enough but not too punchy and the 6.5 shot size gives a good shot spread.
Alternatively Gamebores Clear Pigeon 12 bore 30 gram 6 shot plastic wad are Â£54.41 per 250, Â£102.35 per 500 or Â£195.80 per 1000
Again these are a cheap load but has the right shot and weight combination. These suit some people who insist on having plastic wad cartridges due to the argument that they produce a better pattern.
A better cartridge is the William Powell Red Grouse 12 bore 29 gram 6.5 shot fibre was Â£67.68 per 250, Â£129.72 per 500 and Â£248.16 per 1000.
These feature the best combination of shot and weight combination and the 29 gram is the perfect pigeon load with 6.5 shot giving a good shot spread. They have the Gamebore diamond coated shot which produces a more effective pattern at longer ranges. The Red Grouse come in a 2 Â½ inch case and are kind on recoil, meaning if youâ€™re shooting a big bag you wonâ€™t get bashed about.
I tend to use what I buy in bulk for general shooting, i.e. for shooting game when I am not shooting pigeons.
If you have a day or two more planned in the near future, freeze a few birds whole, feather and all, and use these to supplement your decoy collection. They need their heads propping up so they look natural, and you can buy wire supports to do this.
If you can get your hands on a â€˜whirlygigâ€™ (I think theyâ€™re called), which you mount a couple of pigeons on and they then spin round as if flying, this will add to your sport. If you have one anyway, you will almost certainly know more about decoying than me. Iâ€™ve used one a couple of times, and it really works well, particularly for the younger birds.
Once you have a few birds in the bag, start reading my pigeon recipes â€“ youâ€™ll be delighted with your game!