Jamie Chandler helps out a farmer friend - roost- shooting woodies on his land, to avoid nuisance to the public
Like so many others over the last week, I’ve been completely snowed in. Normally, I would have started to crawl up the walls with the need to get out and disappear with the airgun for a day, but fate had different plans as the long week of drudgery, interspersed with amazing fun in the snow, dragged on. Imagine my utter joy then when Tom, the farmer, called me with a cunning plan and potentially awesome invitation for the next day and a coinciding thaw that took the snow from a foot deep to a puddle in less than 12 hours. Freedom was upon me!
As my mum (she buys the magazine to help, but doesn’t read the shooting bits!) and other kind souls might remember, Tom and I had an amazing time last month popping rats in his seed store. We managed to account for 30 on the night I was with him, Tom kept hold of my BSA Scorpion SE and red torch, and managed to bag another 70- odd over the next week, or so – Tom, for all his powder-burning bravado, has quietly become a bit of an airgun fan. Whilst perhaps not a full-blown, outed convert, Tom has started to see where airguns could actually prove a better option than his bang sticks, and this invitation was exactly that.
Tom’s farm is beautiful, but criss- crossed at certain points by single-lane public roads used by cars, horse riders, walkers, joggers and cyclists, who come out from the nearby town. This can prove frustrating for him as a farmer because pest control can cause tension with the local road users. If he puts bangers in the woods or fields running alongside these roads, or heaven forbid, he shoots there, complaints from road users flood in faster than he can drive his escape tractor. Whilst always carried out in a strictly legal manner, pest control like roost-shooting to preserve his crop, has all but ceased in some areas due to the chorus of self-righteous, outraged dog walkers whose badly trained dogs have run off as the owners trespassed into the wood and were scared by a gunshot. Tom has a thick skin, but there’s only so much complaining anyone can take With ‘ Now That’s What I Call Complaints’ Volume 40 repeating on his brain’s internal playlist, Tom’s invitation was to shoot a popular pigeon-roosting wood, that bordered one of the single-lane roads, with airguns. He had watched pigeons flighting from the newly sown bean field, straight into the firs at the centre of the wood. The plan was that if he and I sat amongst the firs, four hours before sundown, we could have some excellent sport whilst making a dent in an unwanted guest population, and without causing a noise nuisance telephone hot-line. I certainly wasn’t going to say no to that!
Armed with my .22 Scorpion SE and bringing Tom a .22 BSA Lightning SE XL, at his request to have a go with, plus a tin of AA Fields in 5.52, I arrived in plenty of time to check zeros and for Tom to get used to the recoil of a springer, dropping 20p-sized groups out to 35 yards. As his sideburns
“Tom has a thick skin but there’s only so much complaining anyone can take!”
allude, Tom is a bit of a traditionalist in most things and he wanted to use a springer because he felt that the almost effortless, clinical accuracy of the Scorpion SE left him wanting perhaps a bit more ‘soul’ from the experience. I agreed wholeheartedly with that sentiment, but with the potential to fill the freezer and perhaps win another invitation based on the success of the afternoon, effortless clinical precision was exactly what I wanted. That and the obvious benefit of a multi-shot in not fumbling for pellets in a cold wood, to those of a fewer-fingered disposition like me
The first thing I noticed as we got to the centre of the wood was that the firs were tall – I mean really tall! Tom had stood in the wood watching a few days before and assured me that the pigeons came in low, would land on the surrounding deciduous trees, then flap halfway up the firs to roost in the warmth, out of the wind blowing at the top. The fresh signs all over the floor backed up his statement and also his decision not to worry about face veils. The pigeons were used to being here and seeing the odd trespasser, yet not being too disturbed, so along with the gloom of the wood, the pigeons’ perception of danger was quite low.
SHOOTING THE BREEZE
We stood together, watching and waiting whilst shooting the breeze. It’s moments like this that make shooting with a friend, for me. You’re out with a focused purpose, but there with your mate, laughing at ridiculous stuff like friends do, and all the while your heads are turning like owls, trying to get the upper hand in finding the first of your quarry. I pinged trees as distance references with my rangefinder as we waited for the action to start.
Tom suddenly spun his whole body,
leaned against a tree, brought the Lightning to bear and froze, like a pointer on its quarry. He flicked the safety, drew a breath and launched an AA Field with a ‘ thwock’, followed by a crack and the tell-tale sounds of a tumble. He had scored first blood with a squirrel I didn’t even see, that dropped like a stone from midway up a fir brunch. With a wry smile Tom broke the barrel to reload; he had taken his first quarry in 12 years with a springer. The game was on.
Ten minutes later, I got my first chance with an easy pigeon at 25- odd yards and emulating Tom’s stance, I leaned against a tree, using a branch to steady the rifle, shot and watched as perhaps overcompensating for the trajectory, I aimed a little low, hitting the boiler room and not the head, but dropping the pigeon without a flutter. One-all, and mine was the reason we were there.
We separated out a bit, back to back, calling when pigeons went over and following them in with our barrels. I sat with my back to a tree, shooting off a knee because it felt far steadier to me.
The action was getting faster, with a shot every five minutes or so, but what amazed me was that for every shot at a seen pigeon, four or five unseen would clatter to the sky. The pigeons were so determined to roost here, and with such confidence that those that rose circled and joined the next flight coming in, almost oblivious to the airpowered, whisper- quiet danger that waited beneath, dropping their delicious, feathercovered colleagues. I could hear Tom behind me, clearly in a zone – firing, breaking, loading and ready in seconds. He was truly loving the Lightning and standing gave him a 360- degree arc of fire.
We shot on past sundown until the pigeons stopped coming and the gloom got heavy. In total we bagged 22 pigeons and a squirrel. I conceded Tom had bagged four more than me, but 22 was way above what I’d envisaged from 30 shots, and an utter blast of a time, to boot!
We left cold but happy, having had a cracking afternoon. Talking of leaving, I look forward to getting the Lightning back from Tom sometime soon – apparently, ‘ it could well be useful around the yard’!
“We shot on past sundown until the pigeons stopped coming and the gloom got heavy”
Above: Both the Lightning XL SE and Scorpion SE proved deadly in the field. Inset: It’s for all to see, even if ignored by many!
Tom pointed out the most likely spots pigeons would aim for
The floor of the wood was covered with fresh signs of pigeon
Shooting off one knee is far steadier than relying on a tree rest for me
Like a pointer on its quarry, Tom span and rested the Lightening
A brilliant afternoon’s bag and one that left the PCP/ Springer debate without conclusion