What shot size for pigeons? 

pigeon-cartridgeAfter a short trial, Rupert Godfrey again concludes that No. 5s are best for woodies.

After a late-February partridge shoot in Spain where, despite asking for 28g No. 5s for my 28 bores, they produced 22g No. 7s – which actually worked very well up to about 45 yards through tight chokes, I decided once again to experiment with smaller shot and more open chokes for pigeons, just to see what happened. 

Partridges are, I’m sure, a pretty soft bird and relatively easy to kill, whereas woodies are tough by comparison. It was more to see whether the open chokes made the close-in birds more shootable, without sacrificing confidence on the longer-range crossers. 

I had some continental No. 6 shot (6 UK equivalent) in 28g loads, and was planning to shoot a very narrow strip of maize, so the birds would be decoying in quite close. I had improved cylinder in both barrels and, after a boxful, I had 15 woodies and two crows – but five runners: not what I was looking for. I reverted to my usual Gamebore No. 5 shells and modified choke, and immediately felt more confident, and shot much better with them with very few runners. The bird which cemented this feeling was a first barrel miss, but a 50-yard second barrel which killed it stone-dead after it reappeared behind a tree.

Why do I still experiment? I remember Will Garfit many years ago swearing by No. 7 shot, but I’ve always had my best results with No. 5s, so I’m going to stick with them. I know they work, and there’s no question of not pulling the trigger as I know they kill out to 50 yards easily.

It was an interesting day in early March during a spell when the woodies had been quite unpredictable, especially as to when they would start feeding: some days from 10am, on others there was very little action until 2:30pm. A week earlier I’d been out, starting at 11am, and shot four in the first hour, seeing virtually nothing moving.

There was an ominous lack of any pigeon movement while I was setting up. Because of the narrowness of the lead-in maize strip I was shooting (the main plot was behind me, over the hedge, but the wind meant that approaching birds would swing over me, and should be suckered into my decoy pattern), I placed my decoys 25 yards to my right, and had three lofted birds in the trees close to the hide.

I got myself settled – gun loaded, mask and earmuffs in place, and glanced at my watch – 12:15pm – and wondered how long it would be before the first shot. About 15 seconds was the answer, as, when I looked over the hide netting, I could immediately see a woodie swinging up the hill towards the decoys. 

And that’s how it continued: never big numbers of birds, but a good flightline, and they were attracted within range well – initially I think by the lofted decoys, and later, wanting to feed, by the ground pattern. I shot until 3:45pm, and packed up when I reached 100, my 11th ‘ton’ since February 1 (another Gun was shooting only about two miles away on the other side of a big block of woodland, and he didn’t see anything until just before 2pm, by which time I’d killed 40 – why?). 

It had been a remarkably consistent spring: my only complete failure was, as usual, when I took a friend out on a ‘dead cert’ day and we managed eight between us in four hours. I had thought if we only killed 100 it would be a bit of a disaster, as there were thousands of birds there when I spied it out the day before. I went back, solo, a week later, and killed 140 – typical!

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