An afternoon’s sport with a team in Dorset
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