The magic of roost shooting
As far as sport with a shotgun goes, it doesn't get much better than February roost shooting...
It’s been a while since the trees dropped the last of their leaves, baring their skeletal frames as winter’s bite sharpens. For the pigeon shooter, it’s time to change tack; many of those in pursuit of the humble woodpigeon now head for the woods...
Columba palumbus are feeding in large flocks by now – squadrons of them descend on brassicas, frosted root crops, beechmast and, later, cut maize. With winter arrives another way to pit ourselves against what is perhaps the most testing quarry of all as far as shooting is concerned. Now a glut of excitement accompanies the prospect of strong winds, and heaps of heavy kit are deemed unnecessary. Roost shooting offers sport with a shotgun in one of its simplest and purest forms – the pursuit of a wild and accomplished aerobat acting on sheer instinct.
A suitable day will be chosen – ideally the trees will be swaying and their crowns crashing; shot-muffling weather in which the pigeons must concentrate on a safe landing. Woodlands often look wild from the outside in such conditions – a clattering brawl of naked branches – but within, a new world will reveal itself to those quiet and observant enough.
Nuthatches creep, thrushes flit and deer bound as those who are shooting penetrate the woodland edge and head to their chosen stands. Maybe it’s a lone figure that unslips a gun and relieves him or herself of an optimistically weighty cartridge bag; maybe it’s a team numbering two, three, or more.
Favoured roosting areas are divulged by white splashes on the leaf-littered woodland floor; perhaps it’s in a sheltered spot amongst hardwoods and firs for warmth and protection from the wind. If you were a pigeon, where would you set up camp? The quarry is a creature of habit, of course, but experience will often dictate the Guns’ positioning. Just like in the summer over the decoys, they will try to land with the wind at their beaks. Which corner of the wood, if any, do they favour, though? They may vary in terms of time of arrival and the amount of shooting pressure they will withstand before moving on. Each location is worthy of individual judgment.
The drone of gusting winds and moving, creaking, whining timber will fade as the shooter’s senses heighten and the wildlife which share this sanctuary with his quarry cautiously resume their daily errands, the night shift fast approaching. It’s surprising what can be seen during this time before the first shots ring out. It’s a time to stand quietly, settle the dog down, and scan the horizon for movement against the afternoon sky. It’s a time for contemplation and appreciation.
Too much movement is a dead giveaway, but stay mobile – far better to be in the right spot for half an hour than the wrong one all afternoon. Have you done your homework? Virgin ground might disappoint. Perhaps likeminded groups are in other woods in the vicinity, keeping the woodies on the move.
If not, where else will they head? Are they favouring particular spots in harsher weather? Often they’ll roost lower in gales, or tuck into the thicker stuff as it gets really cold. The weight of that cartridge bag at the end of the day will give you a good idea if you’re on the right lines; squirrel dreys can offer some consolation when the pigeons have other plans...
Procedure varies when the first of the woodies arrive from their feeding grounds – many let them well into the wood. Unpopular is the Gun who lets rip at the first bird in a group. Patience pays and spreads the sport. It’s good manners, too.
When they do begin appearing in earnest, it’s something to behold. Some drop like stones, wings tucked in, stooping like falcons; others power through the canopy, weaving with admirable agility, or float in steadily against the stiff breeze. They might come individually, as pairs and threes, or as flummoxing groups. And who knows what they may do when spooked; the flick of a wing and they’re flailing with the wind – Guns tie themselves in knots playing catch-up. Many more cartridges fall to the floor than pigeons, that’s for sure.
The smell of burnt gunpowder drifts on the wind, the checkering on the gun rough against frigid hands. Leaves rustle as dogs retrieve, and that magnified acuity, that addictive thrill as ever-darkening shapes fly overhead, never loses its potency.
Woodpigeons are wily birds which offer undeniably outstanding sport – a quarry which will test even the best shooter to his or her limits and beyond.
Your eye has got to be at its keenest and you need to give the woodpigeon the respect it deserves in your choice of cartridge in order to maximise your success.
At Gamebore we work with two of the finest pigeon shooters in the UK in the shape of 26-time World Champion clay Shot George Digweed MBE, and pigeon guru Andy Crow, both of whom have helped us develop two outstanding cartridges which the pigeon shooting enthusiast should not be without.
George Digweed was instrumental in the development of the Pigeon Extreme, a cartridge which has all the range and knockdown power a pigeon shooter can ask for, even on the longest of birds. A 34g load of Gamebore’s exclusive, precision-made No. 5 Diamond Shot coupled with an exclusive Gamebore system plastic wad, provide the ballistic performance and patterns suitable for the most testing of birds.
And for those who prefer a 30 or 32g load and perhaps a fibre option as well, the new Gamebore Clear Pigeon which was launched last July is the perfect alternative. Featuring Gamebore exclusive manufactured precision No. 6 shot and either a Gamebore system plastic wad or high quality fibre wad, these give performance aplenty and patterns second to none.
Give the pigeon the respect it deserves and use the best pigeon cartridges available.
George Digweed using the Pigeon Extreme cartridges to devastating effect over decoys in the summer: