Flightlines & Decoys.
When thinking about putting pen to paper as it were. I thought what could I add that had not already been said by hundreds of people before? Or indeed by some of my real life hero’s like such people as The Major Archie Coats or my friend John Humphrey’s or even Fred J Taylor or even my Pappy (grandfather) or indeed my very own Dad? I think pigeon shooting has to be one of the most written about field-sports there are, and no matter weather you are from North South East Or West young or old you have a theory or a system that works for you. So I will try to impart just a few tips as well some valuable knowledge, such names as above have instilled in me since I was a Young Hedge Creeper, sat in the back of the pigeon hide with the dogs learning the craft from the bottom up from some of these old masters.
First thing for me is to say not everyone is a George Digweed, and able to shoot long distance birds and you should limit yourself to your own shooting ability thus if you shoot well out to thirty yards, then make your decoy pattern etc to this distance. Don’t take shots that you cannot reach learn your distances and practice this, I often teach novices using a floater set at different ranges and ask them to gauge the distance, I am always amazed at the results.
Also go and get yourself a few lessons from a reputable clay coach, this will help you with your technique but also your safety etc and will make you shoot a whole lot better. Even I from time to time head to the clay ground and get a re-fresher lesson from my ole mucker Robert Eaton, as many of you will know him from Shooting UK etc and I telle that ole boy knows his stuff. Recently we were shooting pigeons together on a flightline just stood in the maize and flight shooting them on the way back to the roost, I could not hit the side of a barn with a shovel my game was right off I had no idea why? I know I was a little stressed as I had events for Pass It On Young Sports coming up and had a lot on my mind but it could not have been that or could it?
Robert says to me “what gun is that your using?” My old fox shooting gun I take with me when feeding the birds etc its an old battle bus and kicks like a mule but was the first gun I grabbed this morning why? He said unload (which I Did) and mount the gun as he eyed me up down the barrel, of course I knew what he was doing but thought nothing more of it? Errr he said this gun is firing way high on you the mount is all off? Well bugger me I didn’t even think of it as I said before, I had a lot on my mind with Pass It On as well as my shooting club The Wood-spring Pigeon Shooting & Wild-fowling Club,we have conservation area work parties, in the field to get everything ready for the fourth coming wild-fowling season etc.
So I said err let me have half hour with your gun as this one is a bit short too and blow me over, I was back to normal dusting pigeons and corvids alike out to good ranges too. So there you go you can teach and old dog new tricks as it were and next time I will make sure I grab my pigeon gun, not what I refer to as the battle bus gun or land-rover gun, the only reason we call it that is I am not worried about scratching the old gun but my good guns are my pride and joy so there’s a lesson for you get a gun that fits properly.
Also I see a lot of shooters not using good judgement, as in not considering were their shot fall out is, (IE) dropping shot on barn roofs horse stables etc. And as we all know the shot comes down no harder than falling rice at a wedding but think of it this way what about the animals you disturb and or upset their owners etc? What I mean is most people get a visits from the local police whilst pigeon shooting simply because of bad judgement simply they land falling shot on someones conservatory or tin barn roof or something like that.
Now I know we have done nothing illegal as we are all well out of range and shooting safely, but none the less the intrusive bang of a shotgun is one thing but falling shot another. I hope you understand what I am trying to get at here use common sense. We have had it around here with other shooters over the last couple of years doing just what I have said above, and well they have not been asked back to shoot on the farm again, because the farmer has had a visit from the police or an irate neighbor calling him up complaining etc As with everywhere now the town has become more intrusive on the countryside. By this I mean more and more town folk are buying houses in the country, and don’t understand its just simply falling shot etc and will cause them no harm and I also hear you say well if they don’t like it they should of stayed in the town.
But this is not the case you see with a little common sense we can make these town folk our allies, and I will impart a few ways that my old pigeon shooting master my Pappy (grandfather) taught me right from a young age. He saw this coming many years ago and was a wise old goat and always said you will catch more Bee’s with honey than you will with vinegar. One way was he would go around the area he intended to shoot and pay a visit to all the farm neighbors and let them know he would be shooting and if they would like some nice fresh wood-pigeon for the table? You know most often he had orders coming out of his ears before he had even shot a bird. For many for us the barter system is alive and well, as we very often end up with fresh bread, cakes vegetables mushrooms or cider and oh so much more, Still to this day I do this and I telle boys I eat and drink like a king and all it costs is few pigeons and being polite and curtiuos.
Also as regards the falling shot this comes down to discipline, I look for the best place to shoot on or near a flight line, (we will get to reconnaissance and field craft shortly) and one were if I have to limit my angle of shot I can do so easily. As for me I would prefer to limit the angles than chance upsetting a local if you get my drift. How do I do it I hear you ask well its simple natural and effective and above all safe.
Now it all comes down to what pigeon pattern I am using, but for now I will use the horse shoe pattern, and in a further article I will try and impart advanced decoying to you Ole Hedge Creeper Style. But for now lets just stick to my personal basics of decoying, for what I do is not only distance my decoys so the kill zone is, within my range limit but also use a few odd decoys as range finders, and also stop shot decoys. By this I mean decoys that determine the range of the birds decoying but also the stop shot ones being placed within my shot angle left and right so if a bird is over a certain decoy I can gauge its range with out a second thought, also if the birds pass my stop shot decoys I know they are in the no shot safe zone equally if they are inside them they are fair game.
This is such a simple method and will really help you to shoot better, just think how many shots you have taken at birds to the side or at distance etc. And if you had left them then there were other more presentable birds, coming in or those ones you shot at given the chance will swing back round and drop back into the kill zone.
And present a better shot, again this is were good decoying and hide discipline comes in, also if you are shooting with a friend good hide discipline is a must as this is also were accidents can happen! And in the excitement both of you shoot at the same bird or at crossing birds and you shoot each others barrels etc, If you are a novice please only one of you shoot at a time the other keep your gun sleeved. Even seasoned experienced shots can get over excited when flocks of the, Earl Greys start dropping in so good hide discipline is paramount at all time and this too will help you to shoot better.
So now you have the idea of shot fall out and how to limit the disturbance, and keep your shooting without losing your permission, down to the farmer or landowner being harassed by the local Bobby on the beat or his neighbors. Also its a good idea to let the police comms know who when and were you are shooting, as this too helps stop the armed response being called and a police helicopter going up and ruining your days shooting.
As just this simple call will alert the police if a call comes in from lets say a person of good intentions, making a call saying there are men running around the fields, with guns letting shots off and torturing birds etc you get my drift.
This also helps you the shooter build up a relationship with your local police, in the area you shoot as if a call comes in the police officer although obliged will come out to see whats what, but will already know who you are and things like license checks etc, will run more smoothly and the officer able to re assure the person who called them.You are not some mad man running around blasting holes in the sky etc, I cannot emphasize this enough shoot responsibly and shoot safely as your actions tar us all with the same brush.
I will tell you of a day recently were myself and my ole Dad went out pigeon shooting. Its early August 2013 and the sun was shining hotter than the aga in the farmhouse kitchen. I got a call from one of my farmer friends saying the pigeons were smashing into his barley, and could I pop up and move them on? Well of course we could never have I turned down an offer to shoot, and as I knew this farm like the back of my hand I knew my old school chum that he would not be telling any lies on the pigeon numbers etc, Like I say I know this farm so well as it was a play ground of mine. And have been friends with the farmer since we were kids at school, and the memories of those days are in my books or some yet to come etc but on with this day.
No need for my normal recce here as for me, I always use the three day rule three days recce for one day’s shooting. But not here as I had shot this farm so many times you just get to know the land and how the birds react on it and all the flight lines etc, So Dad and I loaded the land-rover with all our decoying kit, guns, dogs, seats and cartridges (game bore clear pigeon today) sandwiches and drinks and not forgetting my four feet garden canes for lofting the birds above the crop as it was still standing. (standing crop is un-cut, still growing in the field.)
We got to the farm and stopped over by the little round wood, and got my binoculars out for a quick scan of the field. You know if I was a betting man I could of put a beer mat right on the spot were the pigeons were hitting in. They were right where I knew they would be, just out off the corner of the wood in line with an ash tree one side and an old oak tree to the right. So that was going to be our killing ground, as that corner was were four flight lines crossed from the bigger roost woods that surrounded the valley all around us.
Well we had the hides up in no time and I put my decoys out on my canes, in a rough horse shoe pattern with two home made floaters out to add some movement. I also put a smaller pattern out to our left so birds coming that way could see them swing round the wood and drop into the main pattern. It was agreed to let Dad do most of the shooting ( as he don’t get out that often now ) but I would take any birds dropping into the small pattern to our left. You see good hide discipline Dad takes right I take far left and never the two shall cross. I also put out my stop decoys as a horse paddock to my far left and those young fillies were a bit flighty so again good judgement was used here, I knew that was a main flight-line and all birds crossing there would be well withing my range, but by not spooking the horses those birds would come round the back of the small wood and drop right into Dads pattern.
Well I had just got in the hide, I had not even got in my seat as the first two birds came straight in landing gears down, not so much as a hesitation. Now those sort of shots my ole dad the pro that he is would not miss as I sat back and watched him shoot it was like watching a well oiled machine, with a swing as smooth as velvet BANG BANG, A dust of feathers as he bagged his first right and left of the afternoon, as both birds dropped right in the kill zone for me I was that little boy again back in the hide sat with the dogs learning from a master alas my Pappy was looking down from the hunting grounds in the sky as I thought there ya go Paps another two on their way up for you.
I have lived such a privileged life and although we never had much in the way of financial blessing (and still don’t). What we did have was hard worked for, and learning the skills of a countryman from the old masters has taught me many lessons in life. Waste nothing especially expensive cartridges, use everything and learn to make your own gear out of what you have. I know I have modern gear now but still love nothing better than knocking up a floater or teaching a young countryman how to make some decoys, in fact my ole mucker Gerald Humphrey from Buckingham makes the most amazing wood-pigeon decoys using 2 litre coke bottles and some grey paint.
Well no time to sit and ponder as more birds were coming thick and fast, as two more droped right into my little pattern far left, and if I say so myself another right and left of course Dad ribbed me about easy birds almost on the ground etc as his had the wind under their wings. One thing you will learn if you ever spend time with any of us Collins boys is that we rib each other something rotten, but always have a story to tell so if you see us in a pub or beer tent at a game fair put a pint of cider in our fist and sit back as we will entertain you I am sure.
By now the birds had picked up some vigor and were coming in thick an fast from all angles, and what can I say Dad like the old pigeon master that he is dropped bird after bird in fine style and well lets just say I held my own too. After about four hours shooting we picked up with the help of our team of Labrador’s the best part of one hundred and twenty five birds and not one lost now that was good going if I say so myself, By far the star of the show was my Black Lab Brook who retrieved most of them in fine style just like my Old Hollie her grandmother god rest her sole as she walks by my Pappies heel now until we shoot together again,
Also before I finish this off I would also like to make it clear, I care not for big bags or trophies for me I would rather shoot ten wild pigeon or a brace or two of wild duck or game birds than to shoot 1000 pheasants chucked over my head, For me its all about field-craft reconnaissance protecting the crops, and live stock and taking this wonderful wild free range totally organic meat from field to fork, I hope you have enjoyed this and I hope in some small part it helps you shoot with good judgement.
And remember what my Pappy Taught me shoot safe shoot well and you catch more bee’s with honey than you do with vinegar…
PIGEON SHOOTING THE OLE HEDGE CREEPERS WAY
By Rob Collins,
Aka: The Ole Hedge Creeper.
pic1: Dad with 125 birds
pic2: Dad bagging the first right and left of the day
pic3: Me flight shooting in the maize with Robert Eaton
pic4: My Black Labradore Brooke retrieving a long shot bird from the crop