Pigeon shooting on rape fields
After cartridge conundrums, bonanza days on maize plots and some frustrating outings on oilseed rape, Rupert Godfrey enjoys a dream pigeon day on the green stuff.
Last autumn I was shooting as well as I ever have, until a day’s pheasant shooting when I was so bad that I simply couldn’t understand it. I missed straightforward pheasant after straightforward pheasant.
In fact, it was so bad that I rang the cartridge manufacturer, explained what had happened, and asked whether there was anything new or different about the shells in question. They had been my favourite for six years, and I’d never had any problems before. Rather sheepishly they admitted to changing their powder supplier, but the ballistics were, apparently, so nearly identical that it should make no difference.
I tried them again on my next pigeon day and couldn’t hit a thing, and on two further occasions, when my average dropped dramatically and my percentage of hit-but-not-killed birds was horrendous. So I sent the rest back to my local gunshop, and tried to get an alternative. No luck there! It was late February and there were none of my other favourite 28 bore loads available anywhere. I had about 1,500 shells left at home, but they were soon used up.
All I could do was bring the 12 bore out of retirement, and hope my ears wouldn’t complain too much. It was a strange spring, as I had feared, with not many maize cobs on the flailed cover plots, but, where there were cobs, there were pigeons in droves. I had some excellent days on these plots, but the pigeons were also on rape in big numbers. I had one excellent day when I killed over 100.
The next day on rape, though, they came for an hour, and then tailed off and never came back, and I killed 56. The day after that they never came back at all, and I shot 17 birds in three hours. I thought it might be because in the old days they only had rape to eat in the winter, and they had to eat it to stay alive. These birds were fat and well-fed, and clearly didn’t actually need to feed. Well, what do I know?
It was a period in March when there was high pressure and northeasterly winds, which can be disastrous for pigeon shooting. My friend Richard Lovell phoned me about another rape field to shoot. When I expressed a little reluctance in view of the two recent failures, he said there were a shedload of birds there. It was a farm I’ve shot many times in the past, and I knew that a northeasterly would be good for the field I would shoot.
After loading up 500 Gamebore Clear Pigeon cartridges, which I thought would be ample, I set off. It was a dank, mild, misty morning, and I saw nothing moving on my half-hour drive. The holding wood at the farm, however, was stuffed with birds, and several thousand took to the air and then mostly resettled as we drove past onto the rape field. My hide was at the top of the field, and a thick gorse bush completely cut out the wind. The A303 was only about 150 yards behind me, though I would be shooting at little in that direction.
From experience there, I knew that there were two flightlines coming from behind, left and right, so we put out two magnets, with an open ‘killing ground’ between them. Birds started decoying, even with a car there and us walking round setting up. I thought then I might be on for a big one.
Hardly had Richard driven off when the first birds were decoying, and after a few shots all the birds from the holding wood half a mile away took off again. I was careful not to shoot at this huge flock, and had to wait a good 10 minutes for it to disperse. Then it started in earnest, mainly from the flightline over my right shoulder – a steady stream which came up the field in ones and twos, and I did them justice. The atmospheric conditions must have stopped the birds from picking up on the noise of my shots as bird after bird would just follow on the same line, as fast as I could reload. I often didn’t have time to click my kills, and just had to wait for a lull to do so. At one point I had eight single birds in a row without a break.
I had started at 11am, and at midday had 75. After only another 10 minutes of mayhem, the century was up, and by 12:40 I had shot 150. They were pouring in, and I just knew it had to slow down – which it did for a quarter of an hour. Even so, by 1pm I had 166, and then it started again, with more birds coming on the other flightline from my left. I had a succession of high, downwind birds that were really satisfying, bouncing down 60 yards in front of me.
It was a dream pigeon day. They were flying in from both sides – some high, some low like grouse, some decoying, some skirting the pattern – offering every possible shot. By 3pm I had 270 in the bag. I thought that would be it as on previous days the birds had slowed right down after 3pm, but suddenly the flightline to the left just took off again, and birds poured in, in bunches and singles. The magic 300 came up 10 minutes later. I was getting quite tired, as the 12 bore is a heavy beast compared to my usual 28s, but the adrenaline kept me going.
I finally stopped at 4:10pm, with 368 on the clicker. Birds were still decoying as we cleared up, but I’d had enough, and I was nearly out of shells. I had never had a bag remotely approaching this on rape before – it was an unbelievable day.
What a magnificent quarry the woodie is!