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