First bit of barley
It was a case of now or never! With the field due to be cultivated in a day or so there was nothing to be lost, and I couldn’t think of a better way of spending a boiling hot afternoon than relaxing in a shady hedge overlooking a small flock of pigeon decoys on the very first bit of barley stubble.
Within sight of my workshop window, a few woodies had been working the stubble during the afternoons, but though 15 or 20 birds might be my lot – or worse – giving it a whirl would provide a few fresh pigeon breasts for the barbie, and a supply of carcases for use as decoys to start off the stubble season. And besides, I really felt like having a shot or two.
The set-up wasn’t simple. A footpath runs directly along one side of the small field, putting half of it out of bounds. The annoying thing was that it was currently the main feeding area where the flightlines first entered the field. The problem was solved by fixing a couple of white bags rather strategically in the hedge; not to scare anything off, merely to channel them along towards a reception at the far end.
Driving up the rise to a handy oak, a team of half-shells were set prominently downwind within easy range of its leafy branches. These would do for a start, as my last breasted out carcases had been completely drenched in a sudden downpour. By the time they were staked out, the flapper added, I built a comfortable net hide among the bracken and safely parked the truck. The sweat was already trickling down my back as I settled in to arrange the gear in order, including plenty of cold drink. Though well-shaded from the sun, it was almost airless inside the hide with thick undergrowth blocking a nice breeze coming from the rear.
I love shooting over the first bit of open stubble. After weeks of attempting to drop shot birds close by or in light cover that could be searched without damage, it’s great to be able to take on all incomers in the knowledge that most will fall on open ground and be easily gathered.
Very little fell at first, or even moved, though it was still quite early and things would hopefully improve as the day wore on. The view from the hide was very familiar; the house where I was born nestled below me in the valley bottom at one end of the hamlet with, less than 100 yards away, my present abode at the other. It’s one of my favourite places “at home”, and this particular site has been used scores of times over the years, including on the odd red-letter occasion.
But nothing looked too promising today. The first high floater didn’t like the decoys at all. Though attracted, it noticed something wrong and veered off wide as did the second, which took an obvious dislike to the flapper. Removing it until there were at least a few dead birds to supplement the decoy pattern had an immediate effect as a high bird arrived just as I crawled back in the hide. Making straight for the branches above, it gave an easy start and was soon joined by another which spotted the decoys, gave a little twitch of its tail to alter its course and came hurtling down to join them.
Shooting under par
Only a few turned up over the first couple of hours, offering little better than an occasional long shot while heading for the trees to my left. To be fair, it was the hottest part of the day, almost airless, and with that heavy atmosphere that makes anything reluctant to move far. I was feeling lethargic myself and shooting under par. Several times I needed the second barrel when one should have done, partly due to their reluctance to come in, partly frustration,
but the result was me clambering in and out of the hide, and chasing around after winged birds. It’s the last thing you need in such temperatures, and adding to the discomfort, the first waves of little black harvest bugs had started to emerge – settling everywhere on bare skin and making me itch like mad. These thunderbugs can be a real pain, hatching out in huge swarms during periods of hot, humid weather right at harvest time.
No time to miss
Eventually there were about a dozen fresh birds set up. Gradually replacing the half shells, they were beginning to do the trick – a fact confirmed as the latest single approached, veered slightly sideways against the stiffening breeze and came right in. This was quickly followed by another sweeping over fast from behind, which curled back, lost height and took the same path in. Reloading, I was just in time to spot a double coming close in along the hedge, leaving only an instant to mount the gun, chuck it in the general direction of the nearest and fire. It crashed heavily into the canopy of oak leaves, the second breaking off sideways before another instinctive shot sent it spiraling to the ground. Close behind, another small bunch panicked past – another fast double, and again no runners. There simply wasn’t time to miss!
With confidence building, soon I was popping away merrily – almost on autopilot – dropping them in all directions and taking on almost everything as if never expecting to miss. And very few were as the breeze improved, the birds came in a more regular fashion and most of them actually started decoying properly. About time!
Though still boiling hot, as the wind improved the start of a noticeable flightline began. A trickle of birds first seen as distant dots against an expanse of blue sky, way across the valley, rising and falling on the breeze and difficult to follow when approaching low against a background of distant woodland trees. Though the line never really got going, there was enough to keep it interesting, supplemented by a bird or two still sneaking in tight along the hedge. Beginning to relax and really enjoy myself at last, all thoughts of indifferent shooting were gone.
Back in business
Periodically tidying up, once the pattern was sufficiently built up the rest were stacked in a shady bracken clump in the hedge bottom, well out of sight and slightly less accessible to a cloud of pregnant blowflies ready to do their worst.
Eventually this distant line all but dried up, but as that door closed another opened as a fresh line began arriving from the north-west, dipping in low over the nearby belt of ash trees and gliding lazily into range. Tweaking the hide allowed earlier sighting and I was soon back in business, taking them on just after curling around the long glide in. Considering how wary they had been earlier, it’s amazing just how stupidly pigeons can behave when “totally on”. Often after dropping a bird or two, right on their tails and ignoring the shots, others followed them in as if nothing had happened.
End of the day
I gave it until 5.30pm. By then the wind had died, little was moving around, and there was still the job of searching the nearby hedgerow, where a bird or two had collapsed after appearing hard hit. In the end almost everything was picked up, including three marked birds that had made it to the nearby ash clump, easily found on clear ground beneath the leafy canopy. A couple had fallen in the ripe rapeseed behind, but these were left without venturing into what is a fragile crop, ready to shed its tiny black seeds at the slightest touch.
Once home, after a patient check for fly eggs, the bag of 80-odd were laid out to cool on the concrete workshop floor, and with the cooler evening temperatures they were ready to freeze by bedtime.
Feeding time Barley can produce all the ingredients for big bags