PI­GEONS:

An af­ter­noon’s sport with a team in Dorset

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

When the game sea­son comes to an end, it can leave a bit of a gap­ing hole in the lives of a lot of shoot­ers and gun­dog own­ers. But if you’re lucky enough to have ac­cess to some pi­geon shoot­ing, it marks the start of a dif­fer­ent sort of sport: roost shoot­ing. Of course, there is a se­ri­ous side to it – the busi­ness of crop pro­tec­tion, as Andy Crow will know only too well – but there’s no deny­ing that this sort of shoot­ing is good fun and a chal­lenge.

Both these el­e­ments look set to be on the menu for to­day’s out­ing. I’m join­ing a group on an es­tate in Dorset for a few hours’ sport. Dale, our host, has the pi­geon shoot­ing on the Iw­erne Min­ster Es­tate, and has in­vited a few friends along for a spot of roost shoot­ing. The team ac­tu­ally con­sists of three gen­er­a­tions of one fam­ily: Dale, his four-year-old son, Jack, and his fa­ther, Pete. Then there’s Dale’s old school­mate Brad, and Ivor, known to them all from his days run­ning a duck shoot.

Be­tween them, they’re hop­ing to ambush some pi­geons flight­ing over, and later, of course, those com­ing in to roost, in a cou­ple of wood­land belts that di­vide some stub­ble fields from a new turf plan­ta­tion. As we head off, the to­pog­ra­phy of the area be­comes more ev­i­dent. We are in a sort of basin, sur­rounded by the rolling Dorset hills, and Dale tells me that the game shoot, on the other side of the es­tate, is re­ally quite spec­tac­u­lar, with deep hid­den val­leys. Look­ing at the hill­sides, I can well be­lieve it. Ap­par­ently, this side of the es­tate used to form part of the shoot, as ev­i­denced later by an old pen in the wood, but now it is mostly just arable farm­land. Per­fect for pi­geon shoot­ing of course.

“Dad and I were here on Box­ing Day for a few hours’ shoot­ing,” Dale tells me. “We shot around 20 birds, but I’ve had a few 100-bird days here, de­coy­ing over the stub­bles.”

En route we drop Ivor off at the edge of a piece of wood­land the other side of the field. He is hop­ing to mop up any birds that the rest of the team in the woods ahead of him might push his way. Brad takes up po­si­tion in a block on the left, un­der a tall, thin tree that Dale knows will of­fer him a bit of a clear­ing into which to shoot; Dale and Pete then head over to a larger wood flanked with a line of tall poplars.

One of the great things about this sort of pi­geon shoot­ing is that you don’t need to carry a load of kit with you – just a game car­rier or bag, your car­tridges and your gun. To­day, Dale has cho­sen to shoot with his 28-bore Guerini, loaded with RC 28g no.6s. “Peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate the smaller cal­i­bres,” he says. “Yes, there are fewer pel­lets but as long as you put them in the right

‘One of the great things about this sort of pi­geon shoot­ing is that you don’t need to carry a load of kit with you – just a game bag, car­tridges and a gun’

place, they are just as ca­pa­ble of do­ing the job. It shouldn’t make any dif­fer­ence in terms of the way you shoot; you just have to be a bit more pre­cise.”

It cer­tainly doesn’t ap­pear to have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on Dale’s shoot­ing, as he con­nects with the sec­ond pi­geon that comes his way, prob­a­bly moved on by Pete who is po­si­tioned a few hun­dred yards down in the same wood. Mo­ments later and an­other pi­geon suc­cumbs to Dale’s gun, land­ing about 50 yards away, the other side of a stream. He sends his Lab, Indy, for it; what she lacks in leg length, she sure makes up for in en­thu­si­asm and abil­ity. She makes swift work of the re­trieve and it’s an­other for young Jack to hap­pily add to the pile.

It sounds like Pete is also get­ting some shoot­ing and the beauty of this set-up, with shoot­ers dot­ted around the woods, is that it keeps the pi­geons mov­ing, and what one misses, hope­fully an­other will con­nect with. How­ever, about an hour or so in, it’s clear that Ivor’s po­si­tion isn’t prov­ing very pro­duc­tive, so af­ter a quick call to Dale he moves up to join the rest of the team in the big­ger wood.

There is about an hour of fairly con­sis­tent ac­tiv­ity for Dale and Pete, with birds com­ing in from all di­rec­tions. The birds fol­low­ing the line of the tall poplars are se­ri­ously chal­leng­ing and both fa­ther and son pull off some ex­cel­lent shots. It might not feel windy in the wood, but it is, es­pe­cially above the canopy, and the birds are re­ally shift­ing. Pete is de­lighted when he brings down a strato­spheric cross­ing bird which comes scream­ing over the poplars at least 40 yards up. An­other one for the bag... and the mem­ory bank. He is hav­ing a good af­ter­noon from his po­si­tion near an old oak tree. “I chose this spot be­cause as we ar­rived I saw a cou­ple of pi­geons in this tree. It may only be a cou­ple but they’ve got to be choos­ing it for a rea­son. It’s hard to know where best to po­si­tion your­self when you don’t know the flight lines, but hope­fully be­ing dot­ted around the wood like this will give us a good chance to pick a few off.”

It’s a theory that seems to be work­ing; Pete’s first two shots with his Brown­ing 12-bore ac­counted for two pi­geons, fol­lowed by a left and a right on a cou­ple of crows, and while they’re not pil­ing in, there are plenty of birds there­after. But there is a dis­tinct lack of gun­fire from the other side of the wood, sug­gest­ing Brad and Ivor have not been so lucky. In­deed, by the time the ac­tion dries up and the group re­con­venes, Brad has a sin­gle bird for his ef­forts and Ivor a brace. Not that ei­ther of them mind – they’ve had a fun few hours out in the brac­ing fresh air, and it’ll make that roast din­ner that awaits back home all the more tasty!

Young Jack has also en­joyed his first shoot with Dad, ‘Pops’, ‘Noo Noo’ (that’s Indy) and the team. He’s re­trieved birds and pre­tended to shoot them with his toy gun. Even at four, he’s al­ready learn­ing some of the pro­to­col of the sport: gun safety, keep­ing still when a pi­geon comes within range, putting the shot birds out of sight, etc. And later, he’ll help Pops to pluck the birds. It’s great to wit­ness such en­thu­si­asm.

The fi­nal bag is 14 pi­geon, two crows and a cou­ple of squir­rels – a mod­est to­tal but one that re­flects the level of ac­tion over the course of the af­ter­noon as there have been a few lulls. But as with all sorts of rough shoot­ing, it’s not about bag size, it’s about en­joy­ment and good sport – both of which have been the or­der of the day. And of course, all the birds will be taken home for the pot. What more could you want from a few hours out in the coun­try­side with your fam­ily and friends?

‘What Indy lacks in leg length, she sure makes up for in en­thu­si­asm and abil­ity. She makes swift work of the re­trieve and it’s an­other to add to the pile’

Dale, pi­geon shooter in the mak­ing Jack and Indy the Lab

A happy team at the end of the af­ter­noon

Indy makes short work of an­other re­trieve

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