A mixed bag on the decoys

decoying for crowsStorm-damaged barley provides a day of mixed sport for Rupert Godfrey.

I don’t do much summer pigeon shooting nowadays: I’m squeamish about shooting over standing crops where it’s difficult to pick up the birds; and there’s the obvious concern about killing one of a pair of birds with young in the nest.

Some days, though, the call comes, and, well, if someone’s going to do it, it might as well be me! Last July, a local farmer was concerned by the number of corvids tucking into some storm-damaged barley, and asked me to have a look. He was right: there were a stack of corvids – mainly young crows – and quite a few pigeons, too. The damaged corn was on the edge of the field, and next door to a patch of poor game mixture, so I thought I might be able to sucker them onto the open ground, and not have to worry about dropping them in the corn.

I’m not a great fan of corvid shooting: they tend to fly slowly and, if they decoy, they are pretty easy to kill. I much prefer the wily woodie, but there was a chance of both here. 

It was quite a hot day, and I arrived about 12:30, made a hide against an elder bush (they do stink like cat-pee at times!), and put out a few black decoys.

The crows were soon flighting up, and I missed the first two, almost certainly overleading them as I misjudged their slow speed. After that they came, warily for some reason, so I had to take some pretty long shots, and it was only once I had about 15 decoys out that they lost their inhibitions and came fatally close. The score mounted steadily, and the odd pigeon flighted past.

As soon as I had two woodies, I put out a rotary at the edge of the black pattern, and more pigeons came to investigate from a flightline 100 yards behind me. I concentrated on the crows whenever I had a choice, and got to the stage where I wasn’t missing many, as they were flying unsuspectingly to within about 20 yards of the hide before I made my move. Three woodies came up the field, and I had a nice right-and-left, and then the third – perhaps a youngster, though it didn’t look like one – made a wide circuit and, after a quick one-shell reload, I got that one, too.

pigeon decoyingAfter three hours, they – and I – had had enough. I had 70 crows, 11 jackdaws, and seven rooks, together with 52 woodies. A week later I had another go, with much less success – 34 crows and 15 pigeons – as they had clearly learned their lesson. The farmer was happy, though, and I had some great days there through the autumn as a result.

A lot of woodies

In the June/July 16 issue of Fieldsports, George Padley wrote about the ethics of shooting pigeons in the spring. The odd gremlin crept into the article, as the pigeon population was described as eight billion, rather than eight million. If it was the former, we’d be shooting them all the year round, and at night, too!

There is no doubt that, with milder winters, woodies are breeding virtually all the year round, but, from observing when the majority of young take to the air, it’s clear that the main breeding months are still June to September. Years ago, the corn wasn’t harvested until much later, so ‘stubble pigeons’ had probably finished their rearing. Now, with harvesting starting in mid-July, it’s clear that a lot of early stubble birds will still have young in the nest.

Pigeons pair for the breeding season (not for life as was claimed in George’s article), as they share the nesting duties, and things must be tough if one parent is killed. The population would soon get out of control, though, if summer shooting didn’t take place, especially when a good acorn and beechmast year limits autumn and winter shooting.

Again, from personal observation, I think the population has increased dramatically over the last 20 years, but in this area that is down to different crop patterns, and reduced winter mortality due to bad weather and lack of food. In late summer (i.e. with all the young on the wing), I would agree with BASC estimates that the population would be in the 15–20 million range. That’s a lot of woodies!


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