Con­stant chal­lenge of a de­coyer

The pi­geon’s strange be­hav­iour teaches us to con­tinue learn­ing about this fas­ci­nat­ing bird and to keep adapt­ing, even if it’s con­trary to what we’ve done in the past


’m sure you have all had days where, no mat­ter what you do, the pi­geons sim­ply will not com­mit to your de­coys. Of course, you go through all the likely causes: birds on their backs; the hide’s in the wrong place; whirly is scar­ing them away, and so on. But, still, the birds just slide past out of range to land, frus­trat­ingly, 200 yards fur­ther on.

For the past four or five out­ings, Paul and I have ex­pe­ri­enced a dis­tinct re­luc­tance for the birds to de­coy con­fi­dently, even though we have still ended the ses­sions with bet­ter than av­er­age bags in the 250 to 300 bracket. Talk­ing to other de­coy­ers, they are say­ing the same thing. So, it got me think­ing, what is caus­ing this phe­nom­e­non?


The fact that birds con­tinue to visit the field we are set up on sug­gests we have got the num­ber one cri­te­ria for a suc­cess­ful day cor­rect – we have cho­sen the field the pi­geons want to feed on. We also spend a lot of time watch­ing the cho­sen field to make sure the spot where we set up is the one pi­geons nat­u­rally head for. So far, so good. But at this junc­ture, there are a mul­ti­tude of fac­tors that could in­flu­ence the out­come of the day.

The hide needs to be built in such a way that you have a com­mand­ing view of ap­proach­ing pi­geons, but they do not have a com­mand­ing view of you. They need to be able to get into the pat­tern com­fort­ably, and quickly get out again if they spot dan­ger. Us­ing the wind, you must try to make sure your shoot­ing does not blow up the flight­line, or, in­deed, that you have set up un­der a true line, rather than one com­ing from a nearby spin­ney – one that will im­me­di­ately ter­mi­nate af­ter the first shot. Your de­coys must be set in such a way that pre­vi­ous re­con­nais­sance sug­gests the pi­geons ex­pect to see. Whirlies and flap­pers must also al­low free pas­sage for the birds to com­mit. With close on 50 years ex­pe­ri­ence, I can as­sure you I do all th­ese things with metic­u­lous care, and yet, lately, noth­ing seems to work. So, what conclusion can we reach?

As al­ways with wild crea­tures, there will be a good rea­son for their be­hav­iour, usu­ally the re­sult of a mix­ture of cir­cum­stances. In our case, most of our big bags have been taken from large acreages of the cho­sen crop – sit­u­a­tions where, once the shoot­ing starts, the birds can quickly di­vert to another part of the huge fields and feed in peace. Also, once the har­vest started, pi­geons had a wide choice of restau­rants and it wasn’t un­usual to shoot birds go­ing home in the late af­ter­noon with three dif­fer­ent types of seed in their crops.

So, while we shot some truly huge bags from th­ese fields, we never ac­tu­ally kept them off while we were shoot­ing, re­sult­ing in the sur­vivors turn­ing up to feed on the same fields the next day, as if

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