Farmers in my area take warning: the pigeons are back in huge numbers. It feels as though we’ve returned to the good old days when we had a substantial number of pigeons every year. They have been steadily growing over the winter, but just recently thousands have arrived and seem to have made the farm their home. It’s not great news for the farms, but it will keep me busy in the hide trying to keep their numbers down to reasonable levels for a few months.

The farm was quick to put out gas guns, which for best effect they will move around after a couple of days in one spot. But that will be just a sticking-plaster on the problem with the numbers of woodies I’m seeing.

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The rape is the main target for their attention, as the companion crop of buckwheat is now all but gone. The ivy and hawthorn berries are nearly done and we don’t have many oak trees for acorns on the estate, so the 1200 acres of rape is the main draw and what I need to protect. The maize cover strips are being flailed too, and I have a number of locations where the flocks are moving between the rape and maize, which creates a great flightline.

I told the farmer that we’d have a good go at the flocks now that the shooting season is over. I asked my friend Gary and my beat-keeper Will to help. I’d obviously been doing some reconnaissance and worked out where to place the three hides to give ourselves the best chance of keeping the flocks moving around, and hopefully splitting them into smaller groups. As a bit of a thank you to Will and Gary for their help throughout the shooting season I placed them in the busiest spots, where it looked likely that they would both get plenty of shooting, and I selected a field of winter wheat that was between acres of rape and a cover strip, with good flightlines from multiple directions as the pigeons flicked from rape to maize and back again.

Pigeon 2You will be thinking that the pigeons wouldn’t be feeding on the wheat at this time of year and you’d certainly be right. It was only a few inches out of the ground and it will be a few months until the plants form their heads. This field does, however, have two sycamore trees that the pigeons sat in and they also rested in the field while digesting the food in their crops. You quite often see this behaviour and it can confuse decoyers as there is nothing on the field for the birds to feed on. You can often see this behaviour on freshly ploughed fields as well.

Hide setup

I decided to set up my hide with my back to a hawthorn hedge about 100yd from one of the sycamore trees, facing east and with my back to the moderate wind. The sun was always going to be difficult through the morning until it moved across the sky and behind the hedge, but I didn’t have any choice in this particular field.

This day was the first proper go we’d had at decoying the pigeons, as I’m so busy over the winter with the game shoot. I’d had the odd hour or two in a hide, but I’m severely limited as to where I can go with the game birds out and about. I’d let Gary and Will know where I thought they would be best to set up, but it was up to them if they wanted to move location as they’re both experienced shots. They were meeting up at eight o’clock but I was off to my location a little earlier to watch the flightlines and make sure nothing had changed since my reconnaissance the afternoon before.

The hedgerow runs up a shallow hill from the road to a flailed cover crop. Across the road are the acres of rape, and as I’d seen the day before, there was a massive flock of birds already feeding on the maize and sitting out on the wheat field and in the trees. Birds constantly in the air coming up over the motorway from their roosting woods and the town, and there was also a busy flightline from the rape fields to the wheat field. It looked very hopeful for the day ahead.

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Onto the maize

Pigeon 4I headed up the hedgerow on my quad bike, past the spot where I wanted to set up my hide and onto the flailed maize strip. It’s always a good idea to move any feeding birds from the area before you set up your hide and put out your decoys, and the flock that into your pattern, or just stay well hidden and leave them alone altogether.

I quickly set up a standard hide and placed some dead birds out on the field with an open area in front of the hide for the birds to land in. From the moment I sat down behind the netting I had a constant trickle of pigeons decoying beautifully straight into the pattern, and I soon had 20 or so birds down.

There were three main flightlines. The first came back over the motorway two fields away and those birds were easy to spot.

Then I had pigeons arriving from behind me on either side of the hide. Some would slide along the hedgerow and appear from nowhere, and on my right they curled around with the sun behind them. The great thing was that they all headed for the decoys and were keen to drop in. It was a decoyer’s dream.

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Non-stop action 

By mid-morning I’d had constant shooting and there wasn’t a moment when I couldn’t see pigeons in the air. With 70 or so pigeons down I had a bit of a tidy up and decided to shift the growing pattern up the hill a bit to my right. A line of birds bypassing my decoys had developed to my left and a good number were heading to the rape just out of range.Pigeon 7

Many of them were looking at the decoys and the odd one on this particular line was dropping in, but many slid through to follow the others. My hope was that by moving the decoys a little I would be able to get more of the birds into range even if they showed no sign of decoying. I simply picked up any birds that were on my left and placed them further up the hill, and that seemed to work a treat. I began to get some lovely crossing shots from the line on my left and there were still plenty of pigeons decoying into the pattern from the other lines. It was clear that this was going to be a bumper day.

I could hear shots from Gary and Will, who were the best part of a mile away over the top of the hill, and when we had a chat on the phone at lunchtime it sounded as if they were also having an exceptional day. By around 14:30 the action started to slow down a little and I decided to pull stumps at 15:00. With Drake’s help I picked up 149 birds – a great day’s shooting in anybody’s book.

When the dust settled and I caught up with Gary and Will, we worked out that we’d shot over 700 birds between us, with Will having had a truly exceptional day with 334!

This tells you just how many pigeons we have in the area at the moment. This day turned up trumps for us. The pigeons decoyed like a dream and there were lots of pigeons about. 

Happy days.

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