THE HUNTER’S WAY
Eddie Jones is around the farmyard to see what’s about
Which pests can you expect to see around the farmyard? Eddie Jones ends up with a mixed bag
My next venture into which pests we can shoot is in and around the farmyards, where you can find an abundance of species. By the time you read this, buds will be sprouting their leaves, and the birds around the farm will be getting ready to start breeding. I like to hit the yards at this time of year because you can get good numbers of quarry species, and before they are feeding young; you should see collared doves, crows, jackdaws, pigeons, rats and rabbits.
Rats are more nocturnal and we have already covered those, so we will start with the jackdaw. Jackdaws are the smallest member of the crow family, and like most of their cousins, they are just as much at home in farmland as they are in woodland. Jackdaws are highly intelligent and social and like the magpie, they easily pick up tricks and new skills in the wild as well as in captivity – they are a firm favourite with people who want a pet bird because they are pretty easy to teach to talk. Jackdaws are colonial cavity nesters; they will use anything from a hole in a tree to a chimney, and I have them nesting in old woodpecker holes on one of my grounds every year. Their nests are usually constructed with sticks to form the outer section of the structure, and then lined with wool or hair. If nesting in holes they will mostly just line the nest with the latter materials.
It is well documented that jackdaws form strong pairing bonds and are renowned for their devotion toward their partner. A pair will stay loyal to each other for years. As well as breeding in colonies, jackdaws also roost and feed together. If one jackdaw finds a particularly good supply of food, it will regularly come back to the same area, sometimes encouraging other jackdaws to tag along. This is good for when we are trying to get good numbers because you will always have more than one target to choose from. Their diet is largely composed of seeds, fruit and invertebrates, but as jackdaws are also carrion eaters, they will pick at road kill or even take other birds’ eggs. A jackdaw will eat a lot of other foods that are put in cattle feeders, too, and that is why they are a pest to the farmer.
An easy way to identify jackdaws is by their light grey nape and pale white iris, which stand out against the black plumage. Juveniles lack the grey nape and are born with blue- grey eyes, but the irises change to white once they gain their adult plumage.
Shooting jackdaws around a farm can be very frustrating because they have great eyesight and always seem to know when you are about. You can use the shot birds as decoys, and that will get you a few shots, but you will get more if you have a partner.
Over the years, I have found that if you both go to the same spot to start with, you can keep alternating two areas together. After you have taken your first shot, one of you collects the bird and heads off over to the other area. It only takes one bird to see you walk over there and it will think it is safe to come back. When you have got your next shot, you go over to the other area in sight, but your partner gets back to your site, under cover and not seen. Again, the jackdaws will think it’s safe to go back because they have seen you walk away from the feed. I have used this method many times in one day and had a great session. If you are alone, then decoying with shot birds is the way to go. Just walk away in sight after every shot, but sneak back under cover. They will wise up to this in time, but just give them a break to start feeding confidently again.
When around the farm you will nearly always see collared doves, too. These are much smaller than woodpigeon, with quite a long tail, and the plumage is mostly a
“They roost in the beams of the barns and cause a lot of damage to the corn with their droppings”
pale brown- grey with the breast a pinkish, buff colour. Adults can be distinguished by the narrow black and white band round the back of the neck, which juveniles lack. The dove’s flight is a lot different to a pigeon and there is no mistaking its shape as it comes toward you. I like to see a few doves around a farm, but sometimes they do get out of hand and need controlling. When a farm has corn storages you will often see them coming out of the barn in good numbers. They roost in the beams of the barns and cause a lot of damage to the corn with their droppings. Doves can breed all year round so if you are controlling them, try to do this if we get a good winter because they are more likely not to be feeding young.
You will get plenty of opportunities to see woodpigeons and magpies in numbers over the winter months, too. They will want to feed on the abundance of food that is around the farms, so take this opportunity to control them. One of my favourite tactics is to put a single magpie decoy near a silage heap, magpies love rooting amongst the loose feed so you will get plenty of opportunities for a shot. Make a hide out of any materials that are lying around the farm; a simple frame from pallets and a bit of baling wrap will be more than sufficient. If possible, try to get between hay bales, and shoot off a bipod.
One important factor that needs to be adhered to is safety. Most farms will have workers around; they will be feeding stock or mucking out at any time of the day, so you must be on your guard. Do not shoot where there are any blind spots. It takes a split second for someone to walk around a corner, and you could hit them, causing serious injury. Always make sure you have a good backstop when shooting around buildings. When shooting in barns, be aware of the roof materials. Your pellet is most likely to go through a bird, so think about any damage that could be caused from your pellet after exiting whatever your shooting at.
Also think about what you wear. There is no need to go around the farm in full camo, the quarry will have seen normal clothing day in day out and are used to it, so green clothing would be enough to hide you in the shadows. Also, a farmer driving a tractor is more likely to see you wearing something other than full camo and will make it less likely for you to get run over – being run over might seem a bit unrealistic, but why chance it! One last thing – around spring, rabbits are starting to show more, so do not miss the opportunity to check out the fields that surround the buildings – you’ll be surprised by how many you will see if the sun is shining.
Staying in the shadows produces plenty of opportunities
Find the trees that the pigeons go to after they feed
Rabbits are often close to the farmyard
I’ll use any cover possible
Decoys work a treat around foodstuffs
A good mixed bag can often be had
Always take great care when shooting around cattle
The collared doves come and go all day