The Countryman's Weekly

Winter weekends are for woodies

June 30
15:40 2015

By Ian Barnett

THE autumn clock change brings both misery and joy for the working hunter. If you don’t work outdoors and are cooped up in a factory, office or shop it comes hard when you arrive at work in the dark and leave for home in the dark. If you enjoy your lamping, either rabbits or foxes, then the early draw of night’s dark curtain is a boon indeed.

If, like me, an airgun hunter, you prefer to shoot at a time when you can enjoy the peep of a rising yellow sun or the descent of its crimson crown then winter weekdays bring little sport. At the weekend, however, it all changes. It’s so much easier to be out at the rabbit warren at the cusp of night and day. The harder the weather, the better the opportunity too.

As the days shrink in length there is one particular airgunning quarry which stirs my hunting gene. The woodpigeon. That wheeling, tumbling, hedge-skimming crop raider that so dominates the British landscape. An avian pirate that breeds far faster than the farmer or shotgunner can thin its legions, though many contraptions and devices are deployed.

The grower puts out the gas cannons with their random discharge, the hawk kites which the pigeons feed happily beneath, the pegged-out glistening CDs which attract the rooks instead and the black plastic sacks flapping on canes like witch’s knickers. All of these, of course, meet the General Licence criteria of making every reasonable attempt to distract the woodpigeons from your crop.

It’s no surprise to the countryman that they don’t work. The only way to keep woodies off your crop is not to have a crop at all – not an option! So the shotgunners come in for a day here and there with the nets, decoys and flappers and pull the birds down from the flightlines to engage in yet another skirmish in the war of attrition. So many battles won, but never the war.

For me, with my humble little pop gun (it’s been called that now by so many of my 12-bore friends who don’t know the back end of a rabbit from the front end of a hare, that it rolls off the tongue) this is my season.

A grey, murky day today; a typical November Saturday. The mist hasn’t lifted all day. I arrive at the farm mid-afternoon, knowing exactly where I’m heading because I’ve shot this roost for ten years now. A small one-acre spinney decked with ivy-scarved trees, edged with blackthorn interlaced with holly and mistletoe, and with a mixture of bare branches and evergreen, it’s perfect pigeon roosting habitat.

I slip into place an hour before a sunset that actually happened yesterday, such has been the gloom. Yet the birds, and their body clock, know that behind this gun-metal veil there is a sun. They will be home soon, crops bulging with poached grain or fairly plucked berry, to huddle up and face whatever Mother Nature throws at them tonight. I await their return.

The pigeons have the advantage. I have no idea where they will land, how many there will be or how they will present themselves. But I can boost my chances of success with a ploy or two. I know the birds will generally fly in with the wind at their tails but will circle the roost to land facing the breeze. I know they will, quite sensibly, seek to roost on the lee-side of the wood.

So before settling I set out a handful of flock shell decoys. Simply laid randomly on the stubbles at the lee-side of the wood to give the incoming birds some confidence. Then I will look for a spot within the wood with a fair cover of ivy to hide me but within range of the most likely cover for the pigeons.

Now it’s just a matter of sitting (well, crouching or standing actually – I hate the burden of a folding stool or rotary bucket) and waiting. Woodpigeons aren’t graced with the most delicate of landings, despite their impressive aerial ability. Before long I will hear them crashing in around me.

The early birds will often light at the edge of the wood on the sitty trees. Hence the decoys, which attract the more curious birds which think that they may be able to stuff just a few more morsels in their crop. If these birds present themselves I’ll pick them off, but if I feel the main body of the flock is descending I won’t move a muscle. I wait until the flock has wheeled around and has fluttered in.

Allow the first wave time to settle in; there will be more. If the approaching birds see the earlier ones rising, disturbed, to flee, the roost will bypassed. In roost shooting, patience is a definite virtue. The more birds that are in the better, because they start to shuffle and jostle for the best cover.

The roost is active so the odd toppling bird or whisper of a silenced PCP may go unnoticed. But sometimes a single kill will empty the roost in a tsunami of panic. More often you will get away with a few before the penny drops.

Five or six birds is real red letter shooting for the airgun roost shooter. More often I will get just two or three, enough for a healthy and fresh Sunday casserole. My shotgunning brethren take out 50 birds to my one, I’d wager. Yet we have equal sport and, when I pull my pigeon breasts from the freezer for the casserole or next summer’s kebabs, I won’t be picking lead shot out of mine! Pure, untainted and delicious.

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