Top tips for shooting over spring drillings
Spring is here and the farm is exploding into new life: the rape fields are in flower, the trees are greening up nicely and the tractors are working flat out, preparing the seed beds and drilling peas, beans, wheat, oats and more.
For Andy it is an exciting time of year, but demanding too. As well as trying to get his crops in, while dodging downpours and dealing with breakdowns, he is also keeping one eye on crop protection.
“Modern machinery makes life a lot easier, that’s for sure. The new tractors are amazing machines and the tools we use on them are so much more advanced than when I started out in my farming career. Of course we are trying to improve efficiency and eliminate waste, and the latest seed drills don’t leave much on top for the birds to get at.
“The main areas of interest will be the headlands where we are turning the tractor around and lifting the drill out of the soil. There’s always a bit of grub there. Or any rough, rocky or wet patches of ground can also leave seed closer to the surface and accessible for the pigeons.
“The birds like to get their greens as well, and they love the newly emerging leaves as they break out of the buds. Areas that provide this food source immediately next to a newly drilled field will always be popular. Hawthorn, beech, ash and oak are all on the menu as and when they come out.”
This new profusion of foliage totally transforms the look of the hedgerows and woods and that is important to bear in mind when you are building your hide.
“It is important to make sure your hide changes with the seasons. And, for me, that means trimming up some fresh foliage to help blend my camo nets. No net on the market can match that fresh spring-green colour, so if you don’t include any, you won’t blend in well.
“I like to try to set up where there is a flight line and maybe a sitty tree to attract them, leaving a bit of a gap in my pattern to ‘funnel’ them towards the hide.”
With a location selected, it’s time to set out your decoys of choice – whether dead birds or plastics – and at this time of year you don’t need too many.
“If you watch birds working drillings you’ll notice that they don’t cluster together in big blocks. So a few well-spread decoys will suffice to start you off.
“If you can’t drive on the fields and need to travel light, but still want movement, then you can get a neat, lightweight flapper from UK Shoot Warehouse. It’s based around a Sillosock decoy, the battery is really small and it mounts on a floater pole for good visibility.”
At certain times of the year, Andy ideally likes to allow pigeon numbers to build before organising a day with multiple Guns for the best chance to make a good bag. But that is less of an option on the drillings.
“Bearing in mind that there won’t be a huge amount of seed lying around, don’t be tempted to leave the field for too long until you shoot it. It can be a bit of a case of here today, gone tomorrow as they hoover up the free offerings, especially if a lot of birds are homing in on it.
“And you might only see a few dozen pigeons on the ground at any one time, rather than hundreds. If the traffic to and from the field is regular then it’s worth a crack and that is where your time spent watching is rewarded.
“Mind you, it only takes a couple of weeks before the young plants are emerging again and in many ways, they are a bigger or at least more consistent draw than the drillings, so don’t be too disheartened if you miss this window of opportunity.
“With crops such as peas, the birds will be at them from the moment they come up and will happily feed on them for the rest of the growing season. Lupins, too, can be a strong draw early in their growth before they get too big.”
Obviously, as the man doing the drilling, Andy knows when his fields are going to be planted, but given the relatively short window of opportunity open to the pigeon shooter after the seed goes in, it is a good idea to keep in contact with your landowner to find out what is being drilled and when.
In terms of when to shoot, there is no need to set your alarm clock early. A late morning or even early afternoon start is perfect and you should find the birds at their most active in the middle part of the day.
“Most of all, it’s a pleasure to shed those heavy winter coats, be out in the spring sunshine, with the skylarks singing and the hedgerows full of blossom. And if you get some sport into the bargain then even better!”
‘The birds like to get their greens, and they love the newly emerging leaves as they break out of the buds. Hawthorn, beech, ash and oak are all on the menu’
Lupins get left on the surface where the drill lifts as the tractor turns at the field edges
Decoys should be spaced out, not crowded
Emerging leaves (oak in this case) are also on the pigeons’ menu