Eddie Jones gets to grips with those damaging black birds
This month sees me back in the Welsh hills. I had been invited there for a few days’ fox shooting, by my good friend, Allan, and with his pest control now back in full swing it was not an opportunity to miss. We had been out a few times and, so far, put a pretty good dent in the fox population. I had even managed my furthest shot ever at over 400 yards. This was a memorable trip, but it was to get even better the following day.
We had been on a mole-trapping session and on our way back we noticed a large group of corvids on a recently cut barley field. Now barley fields are not very common in the hills, so to find this was a real treat, and luckily for us, Allan had the permission to shoot this ground. We decided to head back home to get the decoying kit and then return after lunch for a few hours to see what we could manage to get before heading back out on the foxes.
As it was a foxing trip I hadn’t taken my trusty Air Arms Ultimate Sporter with me because we were shooting bullets, so I was looking to shoot one of Allan’s rifles. He currently has a Daystate Air Ranger, Theoben Rapid and a well-worn and battered Air Arms S310 in .177. Well, it was no contest what I was going to use, and I was soon out in his back field setting the zero. The scope he had fitted was
“a well- worn and battered Air Arms S310 in .177. Well, it was no contest what I was going to use”
an old Hawke and it was shooting spot on at 30 yards. I was definitely looking forward to this because it had been a long time since I had been out decoying corvids.
When decoying corvids, you will always want to find the very best place to hide you as much as possible. When we got to the field that we were shooting, we noticed a nice group of trees in a corner that would be great to hide us from any birds flying over and also give us darkness, to conceal any movement behind the nets. When we approached the corner, though, we could see a small cottage, pretty
close the place where we wanted to go, and dogs that barked as soon as we got there. This was going to be no good because the barking wouldn’t let the birds settle, so we decided to go further up the hedge and just hope that we could get a few from where we set up.
When building the hide, make it as comfortable as possible. There is no point in making it so small and compact that you will struggle to move the rifle around to get a good shooting position if a bird decides to land at the side of your view. We had eight hide poles and three nets that we hoped would make it hard for the birds to see us, but with just enough holes for us to see through.
After setting up the hide, I walked out to 30 yards and looked back at Allan. I also got him to move about a little, just to make sure we were hidden as well as we could be. It was very hard to see any movement, so I set about getting the decoys ready and placed them out in a random pattern.
Decoys out, it was time to get the rifles and take a couple of test shots just to gauge any cross wind so we knew exactly where to aim, and not waste any time taking the shot. Allan was the first to go and his shots were hitting about 5mm to the left. That was nothing to worry about, so I set about filling the magazine for the S310. Now, I had made a mess of things straight away. I had left the magazine back at Allan’s. After sorting the zero, I’d put the magazine on his kitchen table ready to put in my pocket – and didn’t. Oh well, single loading it was to be. I had taken my first practice shot and I was also hitting around 5mm to the left ,so we both knew the breeze was steady and only minor adjustments were needed for our main zero. All we had to do now was sit on our comfy chairs and wait.
We didn’t have to wait long before we could hear jackdaws calling in front of us. Allan took a peek through the net and confirmed at least four coming straight for the decoys. I stared through a gap in the net and I could finally see them at about 50 yards away and closing in. Allan had got the silencer through the hide ready to pounce if one landed, but the jackdaws seemed to be playing with us; they flew around for what seemed an age calling to the decoys and each other. Finally, one took the plunge just on the right-hand side of the decoys, and before I could tell Allan to hurry up, he had it shot and it was lying face down. The other jackdaws went berserk, calling like mad to their fallen
friend. All the commotion seemed to help us, though, and within minutes we had more coming our way – there were even crows coming to find out what was wrong!
We now had around 15 birds in front of us, and we had agreed that there was no taking it in turns; we just wanted to get as many as possible that landed because this is hard enough with shotguns, never mind air rifles. Again, Alan shot the next on; he had seen one land on a fencepost to his right and was on it like a dog out of a trap. The crows and jackdaws were even more confused now, and in a way, it was funny to watch. They had no idea why some of their mates were dropping dead. We were well hidden and the rifles were so quiet that they had no clue we were there.
This little group went on for about 15 minutes and we managed to bag another corvid each before one came too close to the hide and spotted us from above. There was quiet now. The crow that had spotted us soon let the others know of the danger and they followed him over the fields, out of harm’s way. It was a good start; four birds down in 20 minutes was more than we expected. For the next hour, we managed to get a few more between us. We seemed to be getting a run off pairs coming to the decoys, and this seemed to give them more confidence to drop in near the pattern sooner. There had been more dropping on Allan’s side, for some reason, so
“he had seen one land on a fencepost to his right and was on it like a dog out of a trap”
he was getting more shots off, but I didn’t mind because the numbers were growing.
The next hour was a little slower because we were getting more coming from behind and unfortunately, they were spotting us as they went over our hide. We decided a different approach was needed, just to change things a bit. We had brought with us some bouncer poles as an addition for when we had shot a couple, and as we were doing OK we had not used them, but now we thought was the time to add just a little movement to the pattern and maybe give more confidence to any bird that might come to us.
It worked a treat. We had single, double, even groups of five birds drop in without any bother. There were some that backed off, and I am sure these were old, wise birds, but luckily for us we must have had a lot of thick ones coming into the pattern, too. We continued to plough on until the lack of light forced us to start packing up, and I didn’t want this to end because I had enjoyed this red-letter afternoon so much.
The S310 had been faultless, even though it was battered. I found out that it was made in 2000, and was probably one of the last ones made before the S400 took over. It had probably seen more hunting action than hundreds more put together, and it still had not been serviced. This is a testament to how well built the Air Arms rifles truly are.
After we’d packed up and done the final photographs, we were sure there were over 60 birds shot, my best-ever day on corvids. Allan just seemed to sit back and catch up on reading the magazine whilst I did all the work at the end … he was so tired after shooting ‘whatever’.
Main: It might not look much but this decoy pattern worked a treat
Top right: Our hide blended well with the hedge
Top left: The hide was dense but had enough gaps to shoot through
Right: Picking up was a relentless task
Top right: Allan caught up on his reading between shots
Top left: Shooting from a seat aided stability
Below: The old S300 worked perfectly despite the corrosion
Right: Rooks, jackdaws and crows all came in to the decoys
Bottom right : What a bag and what a day!
Bottom left: The bouncer added realism
Bottom middle: Standard decoys worked just fine
Left: There was no pecking order. Whoever got on to the shot first took it