Hard­man’s Hunt­ing

Hunt­ing is not al­ways about re­sults, says Phil. It’s about re­lax­ation and en­joy­ment

Airgun World - - Contents -

Last month’s is­sue, saw me frus­trated in try­ing to find a de­cent area to de­coy pi­geons. Har­vest has been ex­tremely unusual this year; all the crop fields on my per­mis­sion, and in the sur­round­ing area, were ploughed in as soon as they were cut, so I had strug­gled all month to get in even a sin­gle decoying ses­sion. Decoying is my ab­so­lute favourite hunt­ing tech­nique, and one that I have worked so hard over the years to per­fect. This is the first year in which I have strug­gled so badly, the first time I have felt al­most beaten, and I ran out of time be­cause of last month’s dead­line, so I de­cided to make it a two-part piece.

Part one ended with me even­tu­ally find­ing a field that had been partly ploughed in, but with a smaller part that was still stand­ing crop, and it was at­tract­ing pi­geons pretty well. This strip, I hoped, would be my saviour and as soon as it got cut I would be able to go to work, fi­nally en­joy­ing that long awaited decoying ses­sion, and writ­ing about it for all of you to read, right now.

Un­for­tu­nately, for rea­sons I haven’t man­aged to get to the bot­tom of, that piece of un­cut field is still, well, un­cut. I could of course have rung the farmer and asked him, but at this time of year he is at his busiest, so I try to leave him alone as much as pos­si­ble. I sim­ply work around what­ever he is do­ing. So, I had the choice of try­ing to de­coy empty, freshly ploughed fields, that as far as I could now see were of no in­ter­est to the lo­cal pi­geon pop­u­la­tion, or ad­mit de­feat. I am as stub­born as they come – to a fault, ac­tu­ally. I still have close friends who I fell out with, who I haven’t spo­ken to in years, just be­cause I won’t pick up the phone, so ad­mit­ting de­feat isn’t re­ally my strong suit.


That same stub­born­ness is, in part, why I be­came so suc­cess­ful at hunt­ing, and pi­geon decoying in par­tic­u­lar, which I see my­self as spe­cial­is­ing in. It’s what I do best. Out of all the dif­fer­ent species we hunt, and in the dif­fer­ent ways we hunt them, decoying is what I am most at home do­ing. I don’t like fail­ing. I don’t like be­ing wrong, and I am a re­ally, re­ally bad loser, so I don’t lose.

Years ago, when the pi­geons didn’t land, or they saw me, or what­ever else went wrong and ru­ined my day, I didn’t give up. As an­noyed as I was, I some­times wanted to, be­lieve me, but I didn’t. I stayed, I worked harder, I thought smarter, and I kept go­ing un­til I won. Ba­si­cally, that’s how I learned every­thing I know to­day about hunt­ing, by mak­ing er­rors and hat­ing how that felt, and con­tin­u­ing un­til I stopped mak­ing them. So, you can imag­ine

just how an­noy­ing it is, to have to put to print for the first time in al­most eight years, that I failed in a mis­sion to pro­duce some­thing I wanted to pro­duce, and worse still, it was a pi­geon decoying ar­ti­cle.


A fail­ure of this pro­por­tion is a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence, let me tell you. For well over a decade I have been able to ac­com­plish most of the things I have wanted, hunt­ing wise. I have also been ex­tremely for­tu­nate to be in a po­si­tion to help oth­ers, pass knowl­edge on and an­swer peo­ple’s ques­tions, and be­cause of my ar­ti­cles and some of my stuff on YouTube show me decoying pretty suc­cess­fully, I am of­ten asked to help when peo­ple are strug­gling, give tips, ad­vice, and I do so from a po­si­tion of such con­fi­dence.

I know this stuff works; I know the ad­vice I am giv­ing is good, be­cause it works for me, and it will work for oth­ers too. So what then, be­comes of your ad­vice when it no longer works? What hap­pens when you can’t get it right? When you can­not man­age a day’s I got my­self a comfy chair and sat tight, wait­ing .… decoying? Self doubt, that’s what!

Now, I know deep down that I sim­ply didn’t have the land this year. It wasn’t my fault that the fields got cut and ploughed so quickly – I know that log­i­cally. If I had the stub­ble and there were birds in the area, I could have had a de­cent day and a nice sized bag to show for it. I know all this, but at the back of my mind, that nig­gling lit­tle voice still re­minds me – I failed!


Time stands still for no man, and not even my bruised ego will stop a magazine dead­line from com­ing around so I had to do some­thing else in­stead. At this time of year, there are plenty of op­tions; rab­bits are at their max­i­mum pop­u­la­tion num­bers and with the fields short, there’s plenty of op­por­tu­nity there; rats are mov­ing back into the yard along with the hay bales, which makes for some ac­tion-packed night shoot­ing with lit­tle real chal­lenge, which is al­ways handy to fall back on at times like this. Deep down, though, I wanted to shoot wood­pi­geons. I wanted to find out where they were and at least bag a few. There was a sort of sense of jus­tice in it for me. Usu­ally, at this time of year my freezer is full of pi­geon meat, so if I could at least bag a few birds, that would make me feel a lit­tle bet­ter about things.


Be­cause I couldn’t hit them in the open fields, the next best choice would have been to tar­get them in the woods, and that was what I had been plan­ning on do­ing, un­til fate in­ter­vened and found me some­thing all to­gether more, ‘po­etic’. A cou­ple of months ago, I was forced to get rid of my Suzuki Jimny, which had suf­fered a cou­ple of years of heavy off-road abuse at my hands, and was ba­si­cally fall­ing apart. Its re­place­ment, an Audi A4, meant I could no longer drive across the land. In­stead, I have to park up in the farm­yard and walk, and it was whilst do­ing this that I no­ticed some­thing very in­ter­est­ing in the farm­yard, some­thing I hadn’t even con­sid­ered be­fore now.

If I had been ex­pect­ing the pi­geons to hit the fields en masse, and I had, in huge num­bers, it stands to rea­son that they had also ex­pected this, right? I mean, the only rea­son I an­tic­i­pate it is that they have done this ev­ery year for as long as I can re­mem­ber, and prob­a­bly a very long time be­fore that, ev­ery sin­gle year. This year, they couldn’t, and didn’t hit the fields be­cause they were ploughed so quickly. That’s quite a dra­matic loss in avail­able food at a time when the pop­u­la­tion is at its largest. This hadn’t even crossed my mind un­til I stepped foot into the yard, and saw the num­ber of wood­pi­geons that flew out of the yard it­self. Turns out they had been miss­ing the free meal, and had ac­tu­ally fol­lowed it back to the grain shed, where they were raid­ing the very crop that I had ex­pected them to raid out in the fields. This was per­fect! I wouldn’t get to de­coy them, but these were the very same birds, eat­ing the

“I got three tasty wood­ies, and most im­por­tantly, I had fun do­ing it”

very same crop that I had been count­ing on, and here I was, with the per­fect chance to turn my for­tunes around.


I de­cided to stalk around the build­ings first, just in case any birds were still un­aware of my ar­rival and were peck­ing around on the ground some­where, be­fore set­ting up in a dark and shad­owy part of the grain shed and wait­ing in am­bush. It’s a work­ing farm, so the birds that visit the yard will be used to be­ing dis­turbed by hu­mans, and I was hop­ing that meant that they’d re­turn pretty quickly once the coast seemed clear. I found my­self a nice comfy seat be­hind a large bench and some iron rail­ings, and set­tled in for the wait. The first vis­i­tor wasn’t ac­tu­ally a wood­pi­geon at all, it was a feral pi­geon, that came swoop­ing in through a tiny lit­tle gap in the back wall be­fore perch­ing on one of the roof beams. I was on it fairly quickly and af­ter check­ing to make sure my pel­let wouldn’t do any dam­age to any­thing be­hind the bird, fired. I saw a small puff of feath­ers as my shot clipped the top of the pi­geons head, send­ing it back­flip­ping off its perch and down to the floor of the shed, stone dead.


I de­cided not to re­veal my po­si­tion just in case the barn was be­ing watched by any wary eyes that I was not yet aware of, so I left the feral where it lay for now. About 20 min­utes passed be­fore any­thing else in the area so much as stirred, that was un­til I heard the fa­mil­iar ‘clap-clap’ of wood­pi­geon wings. I glanced up and saw it flut­ter­ing into the shed, al­most bounc­ing off the beams as it tried to fly through them, over some and un­der oth­ers, be­fore land­ing on the one at the far end. Grace­ful it wasn’t! It had its back to me so I lined up for a shot be­tween the shoul­der blades, only for it to turn at the last sec­ond, just as I had sent the sig­nal from brain to trig­ger, to fire. It was too late to stop, the shot was on its way, and I watched as the pel­let struck the bird in its side, just where the front of the wings meets its body. It fell to the floor but I knew the way it kept its head up that this wasn’t an in­stant kill. I quickly shuf­fled the sidelever on my HW110 and ad­min­is­tered the coup de grace with a fol­low up shot to the head.


Over the next hour or so, I man­aged to bag an­other two wood­ies, but frus­trat­ingly missed out on a mag­pie that landed, but spot­ted me be­fore I got the shot off. It may not have been any­thing near as ac­tion packed as a decoying ses­sion would have been, but it was still en­joy­able, and dif­fer­ent – I rarely hunt in build­ings un­less I am rat shoot­ing. I am not sure when that small strip of un­cut crop will fi­nally get the chop, or even if it will at­tract any pi­geons when it does, so that could be me done as far as decoying goes this year.

One thing I have taken from the ex­pe­ri­ence is that it’s a stark re­minder not to take things for granted, to ap­pre­ci­ate your suc­cesses, and you know what, that’s ex­actly what I am do­ing this month; I bagged four birds from the grain shed, I was warm, dry, I got to shoot my ri­fle, I got three tasty wood­ies, and most im­por­tantly, I had fun do­ing it. I think in ret­ro­spect decoying has be­come all about try­ing to break my per­sonal best record for kills, and as a re­sult I was driven to do it, but I don’t know that I was re­ally go­ing about it for the right rea­sons, and maybe the hunt­ing gods have seen to re­mind me of why I do it all in the first place. It’s not about sheer num­bers, that’s never been why I go hunt­ing. I go to re­lax, to en­joy my­self. I love the hunt, not the re­sults.

Any­way that’s it from me for this month, see you all next time. I

Farm­yards pro­vide plenty of ar­eas of good cover.

This grain is a ver­min mag­net, and it’s my job to pro­tect it.

The first bird caught me by sur­prise but I soon got up onto it.

I made sure I looked around ev­ery cor­ner be­fore I moved, just in case.

I had a mag­pie in my sights, and was just about to shoot.

Con­ceal­ing your­self in and around build­ings is easy, and there is al­ways some­thing to lean on.

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