Back by popular demand and a tractor and trailer load of requests, so here it is with even more information on how to get to understand the humble wood pigeon.
Flight Lines & Decoys: Part 2.
Well here we are in part 2 of this series, the first one was such a huge hit, I have received literally thousands of messages through social media/email and at game fairs firstly saying what a great piece it was, also asking my advice of how to decoy pigeon more successfully, I have written a series to help you answer many of these questions called Advanced Decoying look for it on on this Magazine.
I have imparted a life times knowledge in them, not just mine but also the old masters like The Major Archie Coats, My Grandfather/Fathers & Uncle Dave’s Knowledge too, I have asked many a young pigeon shooter of late do you know who The Major Archie Coates is?
All have said NO?
I laugh and say read his book on the subject for he was and still is in my opinion the foremost expert on the pigeon and pigeon shooting as well as many other areas, this article will stretch into another series I write called Shooting The Silk Moths, in that one we are pigeon shooting using an air rifle, but not just any air rifle, it is the awesome Air Arms S510 Ultimate Sporter, we will touch on it a little here but we will go deep into advanced decoying/old school decoying in that one and old school top class field craft too, So look out for Shooting The silk Moths part 3, read that one and get a glimpse of why I am so successful where others fail, also in this one we will be putting to the test all new equipment that’s available now, the links for all this gear and more will be at the bottom of this article, right lets get on with why I am here then.
Firstly what are flight lines?
Now to us old timers this might seem like a daft question, but to some of the novices coming into pigeon shooting its not, they simply don’t know, either they have not been taught or even read and learnt anything about pigeon shooting, they have seen it in some magazine or on Field Sports Channel with Crow Man, thinking wow that looks good sport lets buy all the latest tech and go shoot pigeons, here is the bad new chaps, I don’t care one bit about all the latest tech, without time learnt and earned, and proper field craft all the gadgets in the world wont make you a better pigeon shooter, I have proved this many times, even just recently with a novice with all the gadgets, he shot with a shot gun me with an air rifle, now you will never hear me boast about big bags its not why we are here, but all I will say is he had whirley gigs flappers and bags full of decoys and all sorts of hi tech gear.
I had 4 decoys from the 1970s an air rifle and natural cover, he got some good shooting in on this 74 acre field as did I, all I will say on this subject is I had over double in the bag than what he did, the difference between us was field craft and nothing more, I pulled birds away from him with no more than 4 old decoys, so you see it matters not the tech you have to learn your craft first all the gadgets will help so long as you master your craft first young Sky Walker.
I say the same about night hunting, Night Vision/thermal is all OK but to be the best you have to learn how to lamp old school style first, to be any good with the gadgets you must master your craft, its the same with all hunting/shooting or indeed fishing, field craft/water craft/tracking/ knowing the quarry you pursue and so much more, that’s the difference between the master and the novice, as the old saying says, the master has failed more times than the novice has tried, I urge you all learn well and master your craft, above all else respect your quarry and the land and water.
I am often asked what is the one piece of kit you would not be without, I chuckle and say that’s easy, a good pair of binoculars, people look at me cocked? You see it matters not weather hunting/fishing or in this case shooting, the binoculars are the bit of kit that makes the difference, take pigeon shooting for example, rule no1 to have a truly successful day time and time again and not just getting lucky, its reconnaissance that is the key.
The Major always said its 3 days reconnaissance to 1 days shooting, I still stand by this to this day, so the binoculars let you sit back and have the eye from a distance to where the pigeons in this case go about their business undisturbed, thus giving you the chance to work out their flight lines thus giving you the idea of the best place to put your hide and decoys, going back to my earlier reference, what is a flight line? A flight line is a pigeon road if you like, you can easily work these out, it can be from tree to tree, telegraph pole, a gap in the hedge or even just a loan water trough and more, sit there and watch the pigeons and don’t disturb them, take note of their patterns that they themselves set, my 4 bird pattern I learnt from the pigeons and watching them, it is 3 birds in a triangle each decoy 2 meters apart the 4 it 6 meters off the bottom of the triangle, either side depending on the wind direction, they drop into this like moths to a flame, so remember field craft/reconnaissance is the key to a great days pigeon shooting, oh and invest in a good pair of binoculars too.
OVER SHOOTING a field or area, this is the one thing that will ruin your pigeon shooting and blow all the flight lines to buggery, its a mist comprehension that the more you shoot the more you protect the crops, no it does not work that way, also remember under the GL licenses you are there protecting the crops not there for sport, the fact you enjoy being there pigeon shooting is not relevant, you are purely there to protect the farmers crops as his crop protection servant, you must have complied with all the rules of the general license before a lethal finding ie shooting them, now over shooting does not help, all it does is educate the pigeons to what a man and a gun is, how many times have you taken one shot when a field is blue with pigeons only to see them disappear and not come back, but as soon as you leave the pigeon pommel the crop and devastate it, more times than you care to count I dare say.
I will tell you of one such situation I have experienced over the last couple of years, many of you know I got and put up my stand at most shooting shows and game fairs around the country, so sometimes my time pigeon shooting gets stretched out, I came back from The Game Fair Ragley 2019 and knowing the pigeons were building up on the crop I thought I would go out and see if I could move them on before the farmer went nuts and lost his crop.
I got to one field of wheat which had been combined, the other fields of barley were still standing with a lot of blown flat, and the stubble/the air and the barley fields were blue with pigeons all over, I thought blimey I hope I have enough cartridges with me, I drove my land rover onto the stubble fields out to a lone oak tree that I knew was a major flight line, indeed there were pigeons all around the tree feeding, as soon as I drove onto the fields every pigeon from the stubble field/standing barley field and trees headed for the horizon? I turned to my mate saying something is wrong here these birds are acting like they have been over shot, seeing as I had not shot here in a few weeks I decided to investigate.
I found dead bird in the hedgerows and what was left of several hide positions, I asked the farmer who had been shooting the fields in my absence? Oh I have let a young lad who is just starting out go out told him you would take him under your wing, I just shook my head saying that’s not a problem but you let him lose without telling me or me even meeting him, as it turns out all the horse folk were not happy in the adjacent livery yard as someone had shot almost every day for a fortnight, knowing it was not me they were all set to go down the farm and have a pop at the farmer, this coupled with an armed response unit going down the farm after complaints of the shooting and shot landing on the road, could have been the beginning of the end for the lad, plus the fact he completely ruined the flight lines by over shooting the far, thankfully I have taken him under my wing and he is now learning the right way, it was not the novice fault had just not been taught properly by someone with experience, so I say to all you novices out there learn the craft, shoot conservatively, to all us old gunners out there I say take a novice under your wing teach them well the ways of the old school.
Like I say we have all new gear here to test from folk like Jack Pyke/Enforcer Decoys/Crafty Rabbit and Riverside Outdoors, the new Jack Pyke mesh suits are amazing especially in the hot weather, they keep you cool whilst keeping you camouflaged even keep the bugs off you available from www.theoutpostshop.co.uk , the new full bodied and shell decoys from Enforcer Decoys have to be the best quality and realistic wood pigeon decoys I have ever seen available from www.enforcerdecoys.co.uk , the new pop up hide from Riverside Out Doors is amazing I cant wait to use it wildfowling available from www.riversideoutdoor.co.uk , the New Machete from crafty rabbit what a piece of kit that is of the highest quality steel with leather sheath and cuts like a hot knife through butter available from www.craftyrabbitengland.co.uk.
I started off with my 4 decoy pattern on a flight line on some stubble leading to a standing crop that was being smashed, I cut a hide out with The crafty Rabbit Machete, I was traveling light Air Arms S510 ultimate Sporter air rifle/Primos Trigger Sticks/a seat and 4 decoys and not forgetting my Jack Pyke mesh suit, I chose the air rifle for this job as the location was near a school and main road and did not want to disturb the area with obtrusive noise from a shot gun, the birds decoyed like a moth to a flame, this is when you have mastered your craft, getting the birds to land time and time again for the shot, you can read the full story soon over at The Countryman’s Diary Magazine entitles Shooting The Silk Moths Part 3, countrymans-diary.co.uk .
The next shoot I had some foreign clients over from South America for a fishing and shooting sporting break, the game fishing went great and the ladies beat the men 7 trout to 2 and 51 fish from over 5 different species in the course fishing, the day we were supposed to be pigeon shooting we had high wind and driving rain, the ladies decided to go shopping in stead, but the one Englishman among the group said let go shooting, I had a blown flat barley field being smashed by pigeons, so this was the perfect place to take my client, we sat back under some trees and put The Enforcer Decoys out, I added a Jack Pyke Floater to the mix to give us some movement, the birds decoyed sluggishly in these harsh conditions but the decoys proved their worth, my client getting in some great shots and leaving with a smile like a Cheshire cat.
The next day I took my 2 of my young sport ambassador’s (Carter & Ollie) with me to check on a standing crop of wheat, we decided to stand on the edge of the maize field and shoot the pigeons flighting into a laid bare patch the farmer had said was being smashed by the pigeons, we were right under some sitty trees (pigeons like to sit in these) so would make good shooting for the air rifle and the Enforcer Decoys being no further than 25 yards away would be perfect for the ole 4,10, the boys took it in turns to shoot the shot gun and the Air Arms S200 air rifle, both pulling off some great shots with both guns, as you can see from the pictures both boys had a wonderful time learning the old ways of field craft reconnaissance and conservative shooting and more, I took them out again a few days later and the boys had a brilliant time.
The next shoot was over barley stubble, again because of the weather the crops had not all been harvested, again the pigeons were smashing into the blown flat barley like no tomorrow, I decided mainly due to the location and ease of shooting and finding the shot birds as I did not have a dog with me this left me no option but to shoot the stubble field with my back against the standing crop, I find it totally remiss to shoot a standing crop without a competent dog to retrieve the birds, the old saying one for the fox just does not stand, decaying birds causing disease in the bales as these will become live stock bedding, also causing heat when decomposing your farmer wont thank you for setting his barn alight when said bale goes up, don’t think it wont happen to you it will I have seen it happen on neighboring farms when shooters just left the birds in the crop, its also immoral to just shoot the birds and leave them or indeed as I have seen just hedge them, if you are going to shoot live quarry retrieve everything you can and have a home for it too, rant over I could write a book on this.
I decided to use the new pop up cube hide from Riverside Out doors, straight out of the bag it was up and in position within ten seconds, its a little snug only room for 1 person shooting if you have a dog you will need a dog hide too, I put the decoys out in a double M pattern with a couple mounted on the straw bales, this worked like a dream I hardly had time to get back to the hide before pigeons were dropping in, the pigeons took no notice of the hide standing out dark against the green hedge, they just decoyed with vigor not caring one whit even when their chums fell out of the sky to my shot, although I will add a Jack Pyke stealth hide net to it on future occasions, although I cant wait to get it out wildfowling as that’s the real reason I asked for this colour net , the Corvid’s were not so fooled by the hide for they see in pure colour and were not so easily fooled, for a couple of hours using all new kit I must say I was very impressed with it all, some kit I have not written about from some other companies as it just did not do what it said on the tin, so I have sent it back with an explanation letter with a try harder could do better theme, for I will not write about a product unless it lives up to the job its designed for or what it says on the tin, its that simple.
I am often asked about decoy patterns, now as always most people use the horseshoe pattern as a base pattern for pigeon, quite rightly so its the standard to start from, I said earlier I used a double M pattern this was down to experience as I knew the topography of the land had shot here before and knew this optimized my shooting potential, each place you shoot is different, there are never 2 days the same and indeed decoying tactics differ for around the country, people come here to The West Country from other parts of the UK then say what’s wrong with your wood pigeons they fly and decoy weird.
I always laugh as I suppose I have been very lucky to have decoyed all over the country as well as all over the world and not just wood pigeons either, I always try to explain it all comes down to your area, the size of the fields, prevailing wind, woodland, fresh drinking water for the birds, topography of the land, time of day, the weather it all plays a part and more, also I call pigeon like I call duck, I see your eyebrows lifting, a daft smile on your face saying he is pulling my leg, I am not I have called as many pigeon into shot range as I have wildfowl, I proved this again just recently when my chum Rob Thomas came over from the Fenn’s to come shoot with me here in Somersetshire, he could not believe it either until I proved it time and time again, the more his eyes got wider and his jaw dropped the more I laughed.
I will include a few pics of decoy patterns others have drawn, but what I will say only use them as a rough guide, make your own patterns up that work for you, add in a couple of floating decoys to your kit, I am not a fan of the rotary machines although I have 2 of them, I bet I have not used them in over ten years, most of all be flexible, don’t build a palace of a hide straight away you maybe in the wrong place, I am often in the wrong place and have to move as the pigeons have changed their minds, don’t just sit there like a dime bar and watched the birds fly else where, its a do it yourself day, so what you put in you will get out of it, move the decoys if you have too and keep an eye on the wind changing direction, if birds are flaring find out why.
Are they seeing you;
Is it the decoys;
Is a decoy on its back;
Work it out, take your rubbish home with you and leave only footprints behind and pic up others rubbish too leave the place better than you found it, have a home for all your shot birds and remember its field craft and reconnaissance that is the key to a successful days pigeon shooting time and time again.
I hope you enjoy this my latest humble scribbles from a Rough Ole West Country Boy, keep an eye out for Shooting The Silk Moths Part 3 I may incorporate it with my Advanced Decoying series too, so there will be plenty to read and stories to tell. Until next time may I wish you all dry powder and straight barrels.
Flight Lines & Decoys part 2.
By the Ole Hedge Creeper.