Pigeon shooting is a great way to brush up on your fieldcraft skills, and decoys always get the job done, says Mike Powell
As readers will know, much of my life is spent dealing with foxes and rabbits. But there are times when even I think it would be nice to have a break from these species, and I turn to the wood pigeon. I really enjoy pigeon shooting, although my methods have changed over the years. I would not class myself as an expert with a shotgun – adequate would probably best sum up my efforts – and only twice in my long shooting life have I managed to shoot 100 pigeons in a day. A dozen is more often the norm for my troubles, though this is more down to a lack of pigeons than a lack of expertise.
For years I have gone after this bird in my own particular way, with decoys. This is nothing unusual, but my firearm of choice has been a bit odd: the trusty Air Arms S410 Classic in .22 calibre. It started off as a 12ft/lb model but was upgraded to FAC status by my friend and ex-world field target champion Nick Jenkinson.
Decoying is testing in the extreme, and requires a completely different approach from using a shotgun. For this type of shooting you need a lot of patience. With the shotgun, all you need to do is bring the birds into the 30-yard zone. When using a rifle, whether rimfire or airgun, two things are very different. The first is that you have to get the bird on the ground, so the decoys need to be good. The second is that you need to be totally concealed from your intended quarry.
At the beginning of September a small area of wheat had been sown on a neighbour’s field. This was combined by a venerable combine which, with all due respect to it and its extremely pleasant owner, was perhaps not as efficient as its modern counterparts, leaving a sprinkling of grain for the local pigeons. Deciding to take a break from the foxes I set aside a whole day to relax and enjoy a bit of old fashioned shooting with the dog, a few decoys, and the Air Arms.
We are not talking massive bags here, but that doesn’t bother me. Some of my best days have been pathetic by many people’s standards. At times it seems to me we live in an era when the more we shoot the better it is. I have shot on big pheasant days and thoroughly enjoyed it, but wouldn’t lose sleep if I never did it again. I came from a time when you shot things not only for sport but to use the end product, and nothing was ever wasted. I have seen over the years, particularly where pigeons have been concerned, piles of dead birds left to rot in the corner of a field. I don’t have a lot of time for this.
We set off at 10am, the dog and I crossing the field to a vantage point overlooking the stubble. As we approached, 20 or 30 pigeons lifted and drifted away on the wind. Things were looking good.
I had half a dozen old Double-H rubber decoys that I believe are no longer available. They’ve seen a lot of use and produced excellent results, but it’s beginning to show. I touch up the neck and wing bars from time to time with a bit of Tippex, which seems to do the trick, and they bring the birds right in. I set them out about 35 yards from my waiting point, positioned head to wind, and disappeared back into the hedge. Setting up the tripod, I settled down to wait. Scarcely a minute passed before a pigeon appeared. A hasty, pulled shot ruffled a few feathers on its back and it was gone. Not an auspicious start.
The secret to this type of shooting is to find a bird that looks likely to come in and follow it through the scope. The bird will be off the moment it realises its newfound friends are not what he thought they were – so take the shot as soon as it lands. This rifle will put the pellet straight through a pigeon so I aim for the lung/heart area.
After about 10 minutes another pigeon was spotted coming in with wings set. Picking it up in the scope I took the shot as soon as its feet hit the deck and the first one was in the bag. Over the next hour another four were added.
This endeavour was interrupted by a rabbit emerging form a nearby hedge, sadly showing early signs of myxomatosis. It soon joined the pigeon pile. As things had gone a bit quiet I decided to lay out the rabbit in place of the decoys and try for a crow or two. I tied it to a small peg as there are large numbers of buzzards here and they will have a rabbit away in no time.
With the rabbit belly-up and a bit of fur scattered round it, the wait began. The first arrival was a wary magpie that no amount of cover could fool. As soon as the rifle was brought to bear it was off. The next was not so lucky, and after a couple of flutters it lay still. It acted as an excellent decoy for another that dropped in for a look see and paid the price.
Clearing up the maggies only took a moment and the wait continued. Soon two crows arrived. One pecked at the rabbit and presented a clear shot. As it rolled over the other took off and circled, calling to the deceased. Soon others arrived, and eventually one of the bolder birds landed and the pellet had it laid out beside the rabbit. At this, the noisy black crowd dispersed voicing their disapproval.
As the day wore on more pigeons arrived, dropping in on the other side of the field where there was no cover. As I was only 200 yards from home I went back and swapped to the .22LR.
I returned to my hiding place, clambering higher up the bank this time to cut out the chance of ricochets. Soon the pigeons fluttered back, offering a shot at 100 yards. A hit was registered but the bird took off and flew into the nearest tree. A few minutes later it dropped to the ground, dead. One more crow was added, and then the dog and I decided it was teatime.
A pleasant, stress-free day had passed by with half a dozen pigeons, the same number of crows, two magpies, one myxi rabbit and one good one. The second rabbit was the most pleasing shot of the day. At 120 yards on the rangefinder the .22LR did its job.
It might not have been much of a bag, but every shot was testing. Apart from being very enjoyable, it was a good way to polish up fieldcraft and rifle shooting skills. I can thoroughly recommend it.