Old School Pigeon Shooting.
Traditional Pigeon Shooting The Ole Masters way.
I started a bit of a TIZ off over on that there social media a while back, Face Ache Twitface, Insterio, Grammerphone, and the like all having a post on it from me called Gadget Man Pigeon Shooter.
Now my post was all about how so many of us have no idea of proper field craft anymore, you rely on gadgets and luck to a good days pigeon shooting, that couples with the biggest bag number is what many of you think makes a good days pigeon shooting.
Well here we are lets upset the apple cart right from the start, YOU ARE WRONG, what makes a good days pigeon shooting is the just being there, add in proper field craft and good old fashioned reconnaissance right there is the making of the best days pigeon shooting you will ever have, and as for bag numbers I consider 10 good pigeons a great number all off your own merit, if we have to boast the biggest just so we have a my Johnson is bigger than yours then count me out.
My personal biggest bag was 906 pigeons down for just short of 1100 shots, we could only retrieve 686 off a 3 acre field of blown flat oats as we were doing more damage than the birds, I changed my gun 3 times had 4 different dogs throughout the day as they became shell shocked, I ran out of cartridges 4 times and had to go home for more good job I only lived quarter of a mile away on the farm, my arm was hanging off and even with ear protection I went deaf for a few days, I was mentally and physically knackered for the best part of a week after, the farmer sat with me all day and wanted every bird shot or I would have packed in at lunch time instead of 9pm at night.
I was a young man in my early 20s then not an old fart in my late 40s as I am now, I tell you I never want to shoot a big bag like that again ever. I was young and stupid and had a fighting spirit in me back then for it, but now as a battle worn ole warrior I am happy with a nice small moderate bag.
As far as the gadgets go I have tested them all you name it I have used it, my work shop is full of all sorts of gear that I have tested from flappers and floaters to droppers to rotary machines to mechanical this battery operated this and that and everything you can think of in some way I have had some input into most field sports related products, from the top end rifles down to clothing foot wear you name it I have tested prototypes behind the scenes for a great many more years than I care to mention.
But when it comes to pigeon shooting simplicity is best, I now settle for 6 Jack Pyke flock coated shell decoys, a Jack Pyke floater and a Jack Pyke Clear View Net, I travel light and build the rest from mother nature.
I also use field craft as my key stone, this was what I was taught as a young boy by my mentors like my Pappy/Father and Uncle Dave all countrymen of the old school who have forgotten more than I will ever truly know, and hero’s like The Major Archie Coats or my ole muckers Fred J Taylor and John Batley again masters of the old school, my Pappy and dear ole Archie and Fred who are no longer with us, I always say when an old man dies a library dies with them, for all these men have taught me one thing, a good pair of binoculars and time spent just watching is what brings home the bacon.
So for me field craft and respect for your quarry is everything, for pigeon shooting its watch the flight lines(pigeon roads) look to see if there is a water source a pond a stream a cattle trough, look for the sitty trees, understand the crop rotation of the farm etc and so much more, I have written about a lot of this in my series of articles called Permission To Approach over at The Countryman’s Diary.
I have tried all the gadgets and talked of how best to use them but I always make this point field craft and understanding your quarry is the key not the gadget, I recently did a shoot with a young man who thought he knew how to pigeon shoot, he had every gadget known to man in his brand new 4×4, we pulled up on a 20 acre field I followed him in and shut the gate behind us.
As soon as we got there he said I am going to drive across the wheat stubble to that ash tree and set up there at the far end, ahhhh so you have already watched the field then have you so that’s a flight line? A what he said? I chuckled and said ok son you go there I will glass the field for a few moments get a feel for the place as it was his farm permission we were shooting on.
Almost straight away as he drove across the stubble’s I could see pigeons and indeed mixed corvids (crow family) lifting off, I sat and just watched for a while it became very apparent that there was a strong flight line going to the left over the top of the corner of the maize field near an old dead tree that also doubled as a sitty tree, I meandered over with my decoy bag/gun/cartridges and lunch with Ole Brook following me.
I sat in the edge of the maize set a small hide up and just sat and watched the lad set out 40 or so mixed decoys and batter operated flappers, there were full bodied ones shell ones and a few crow decoys too, he then set up a whirly gig and put 2 flapping pigeons on them a new product I have seen before, He then set about shooting and I just watched him for half an hour as indeed the pigeons dropped right into him almost immediately, I did notice they would flare away from the whirly gig a lot this I thought was due to the flash of the arms from the sun as it went round and round, and indeed the lad shot some nice shot on pigeons, well now it was my turn I actually put out 10 decoys this time, 6 pigeon 2 crow and a magpie some distance away as a confidence decoy, I managed to get a full bodied pigeon decoy up the tree on an open branch using my hide poles, and I put out one Jack Pyke Floater decoy, I was traveling light as I often do now days.
No sooner did I get into my hide did I have a brace of pigeons dropping in, I barely had time to cock the hammers on my English Peterson and sons of Peterborough 16g circa 1890 hammer gun, if I say so myself that was some might fine snap shooting as I dropped a right and a left right in the kill zone, I settled down as I set those 2 out as decoys and started building my pattern.
Now the lad did get some odd bits of shooting that day but right from the off I was in the hot seat, you could physically see the pigeons come into the field turn towards his high tech pattern, then gracefully say bugger off that’s not fooling us and drop right into my pattern at the other end of the big field, I really was in the hot seat barely having time to re load at times the pigeons just kept coming and coming.
The lad got a little frustrated and started shooting at pigeons out at greater distances, this is what I see a lot of now days people pricking birds at distances in frustration, especially wildfowlers who should know better, I called him up and told him to stop doing it and told him to give the birds chance to decoy as many of them were just doing a fly over and will most likely turn back in.
Again you need to know how to read your bird and understand your quarry, I was getting it that day the birds came from behind me, now I could of snapped shot them going away, but no good hide discipline I waited watched them fly out turn on the wind and drop right back in to the kill zone for a text book shot.
After an hour the lad called me up and said can he come sit in my hide as all the birds were coming to me, I laughed and said stay there I will come over, I told him to pull all his gadgets in and all his decoys, he had 19 pigeons on the ground so I showed him how to cut some v sticks to hold their head up and told him to make a rough horse shoe pattern facing roughly into the wind, you see pigeons are like your good lady they don’t like the wind blowing up their backsides, I then cut 2 old hazel sticks one thicker than the other one 2ft long (the thin one) and one about 4ft long (the thicker one) and said give me one of the nicest pigeons.
The lad laughed and said what are you going to do make a fire and cook it, watch and learn son I will teach you something that was taught to me 40 years ago by an old pigeon shooting master, I sharpened both ends of the 4ft hazel stick and made a slit in each end of the 2ft stick, I then pushed the 4ft one up through the pigeon from its back end spearing the pigeons head on the point of the stick,I then took the 2ft one and threaded it through the pigeons breast were the wing joins on, then clipped the end wing feathers of the pigeon into the slit at each end of the stick, there you go a natural floater for your pattern, well bugger me I would never of thought of that he said, Now try shooting like this for an hour and see the difference and give the birds chance to decoy no shots passed 30 yards I told him.
For the rest of the day he was happy as more and more birds decoyed to him and he got in some fine shooting the traditional way, I ran out of cartridges by late afternoon, so pulled my pattern in and just watched the lad, it was a pleasure to watch him after he was taught some proper field craft and well the smile on his face at the end of the day said it all, he joked I am selling all that gear it cost me a fortune and it don’t work, I laughed and said don’t be hasty lad it all has its place you just have to learn how best to use it, today was your first lesson on real field craft and that’s gadgets don’t maketh the man or the pigeon shooter.
I got to shoot some amazing shoots on pigeons and indeed corvids this year, one memorable one was just me the ole 16b 2 Jack Pyke floaters and the dog, no hide just sat in the tramlines of the crop near a sitty tree on a strong flight line, I shot a good size bag and filled my freezer that day.
Please boys and girls if you are going to shoot over standing crop please have a competent dog for retrieving the shot birds and don’t shoot at birds at excessive distances, and also have a home for your shot birds, I had to go pick up behind a group of chaps recently no dog and they just left all the birds, the farmer was not happy and neither was I, for me its the disrespect to the quarry and the bad name it gives all of us, the farmer was not happy as rotting pigeons in his bales causes disease to his animals and ruins expensive feed/bedding etc.
I also had a lovely afternoon with a side by side 410, totally impromptu the farmer asked could I shoot some pigeons off a crop whilst I was there dealing with a rat job and checking traps, good job I had my ole 410 with me and just over 2 boxes of cartridges as I carry it for humane dispatch whilst out on my vermin control rounds.
Another was again totally impromptu my uncle Dave turned up at my Nan’s for the afternoon so I grabbed a couple of guns, again no decoys just a couple of floaters and the dog, we sat next to the hedge under a sitty tree for 3 hours on a hot Sunday afternoon, we had such a laugh and talked of old times and shot some pigeons just like when I was a boy.
This year at all the shows my main ring demonstrations on pigeon and corvid shooting, wildfowling and game calling have been a massive hit all year, I try to keep it fun and hilarious, Educational and inspiring, for I am passionate about teaching the next generation of young sports the old school morals of field sports, if you see me at a show come watch as the Young Sports and hmmmm not so You Sports become the stars of the show, for they become the pigeon the crows and the wild fowl and some become my trusty gun dogs, as I fire black powder cartridges loaded with feathers up in the air and the young sports fall to the shot as the young sport gun dogs retrieve them, it is hilarious and no two shows are the same as its not rehearsed, so what can go wrong eh.
My parting words here are good old school field craft is everything, a good pair of binoculars are a must and understand your quarry, and please treat your quarry with respect, don’t blow it up don’t leave it for the foxes as an excuse just to dump it or not retrieve it, do your quarry justice the justice it deserves and eat the pigeons or find a home that will, well I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing is, so until the next time proper job mucker.
By The Ole Hedge Creeper
With the current laws on pigeon shooting and the general license up in arms we feel its only right to print this article now, These crops were being hammered by crows, jackdaws and pigeons alike.
Gas guns and scarecrows had been used, bag on sticks and the farmer even went out himself trying to push the flocks on, sadly lethal force had to be used, as is sometimes the case.
Please remember to stay within the laws for your local area.