WILL GARFIT

So what ex­actly do I mean when I say wood­pi­geons de­coy “like days of old”?

Shooting Gazette - - Pigeon shooting -

It is time to pon­der a ques­tion put to me by a young pi­geon shooter at the Field & Coun­try Fair at Corn­bury Park ear­lier in the year. This re­lated to a phrase I use from time to time re­fer­ring to pi­geons “de­coy­ing like days of old”. What ex­actly did I mean, he asked? It takes me back nearly 50 years to my early 20s when I first met the great man him­self, Archie Coats. He kindly took me un­der his prover­bial wing as he recog­nised my pas­sion for pi­geon shoot­ing and saw a kin­dred spirit. At that time there were few peo­ple in­ter­ested in pi­geon shoot­ing, apart from the odd bit of evening roost shoot­ing in Fe­bru­ary; cer­tainly there were few peo­ple de­coy­ing pi­geons com­pared with to­day.

We would ar­rive on the field se­lected after Archie’s mil­i­tary-style re­con­nais­sance the pre­vi­ous day. Hides were built and 15 dead birds from the pre­vi­ous out­ing were set up in a ran­dom pat­tern with heads upon sticks cut from the hedgerow. Once in the hide, the pi­geons

Around 50 years ago... pi­geons rarely if ever saw de­coys, and so re­sponded with no fear.

that vis­ited the field would ap­proach, close their wings and swoop in to the de­coys with­out hes­i­ta­tion. Of­ten you could let the first bird land, shoot the sec­ond one as it ap­proached and take the first as it flew away. I may be ex­ag­ger­at­ing and my mem­ory may be tricked in the same way that the weather was al­ways sunny in the sum­mer hol­i­days. How­ever, the point is that be­cause pi­geons rarely, if ever, saw de­coys, they re­sponded pos­i­tively with no fear, as­sum­ing it was their mates and they re­acted in­stinc­tively to join the feed­ing flock.

Since then a change has oc­curred over most of Bri­tain, as in ev­ery area there are pi­geon shoot­ers or guides con­stantly watch­ing any likely field. Sel­dom is there a field with feed­ing pi­geons that is not shot and con­se­quently the birds have be­come wary. In late sum­mer and au­tumn the young are naïve and so fol­low their nat­u­ral in­stincts and there­fore rep­re­sent a large per­cent­age of a bag at that time of year. Un­sur­pris­ingly, hav­ing heard a big bang and seen their friends or sib­lings drop out of the sky, they soon wise up. In win­ter as they ap­proach de­coys in large flocks on oilseed rape with the same sce­nario, many learn to be­come ever wary very fast. It is no won­der that by the fol­low­ing spring and sum­mer they have be­come very ner­vous birds.

We frus­trated pi­geon shoot­ers use ever- more so­phis­ti­cated equip­ment, gad­gets and toys de­signed to out­wit this now shy bird. Some be­lieve there is some­thing wrong with their set-up be­cause pi­geons will not de­coy. The sport is chang­ing and we pi­geon shoot­ers have to try to stay ahead of the ex­pe­ri­enced pi­geons’ sur­vival strat­egy.

This was well il­lus­trated one day last June when I was pro­tect­ing a field of peas. Friends had shot the field sev­eral times and told me that the flight line came from over the road to the east and that the birds had be­come shy of de­coys. I was sur­prised there­fore when the first bird ar­rived not from over the road but from the woods out to my right. It de­coyed per­fectly. Then an­other did the same. Then birds started to come from over the road to my left and, hav­ing flown halfway down the field, they saw my de­coys and im­me­di­ately jinked off, though they were still about 200 yards away. This was to be the pat­tern of the day, with birds from my right de­coy­ing whilst those from my left rarely made a shot. The an­swer was clear: those birds from my right were com­ing on a new line and had not been shot at be­fore, but those ex­pe­ri­enced ones from the usual line from my left knew all about dan­ger.

Do you re­mem­ber when ro­tary de­coys first ap­peared and pi­geons were at­tracted to them? Some fore­cast a crash as the pop­u­la­tion was dec­i­mated but no, the wood­pi­geon soon learnt and now, whilst the whirly is still ef­fec­tive on young birds, they need care­ful use on ex­pe­ri­enced birds.

So it is on oc­ca­sional days when birds de­coy well that my phrase “de­coy­ing as in days of old” comes to mind. The good thing is that more peo­ple than ever en­joy the sport of pi­geon shoot­ing but the bird has adapted. Not just to sur­vive but to thrive. There­fore pi­geon shoot­ers’ suc­cess de­pends on lat­eral think­ing to out­wit th­ese wily birds, which makes the sport all the more chal­leng­ing and sat­is­fy­ing.

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