THE HUNTER’S WAY

Ed­die Jones is around the farm­yard to see what’s about

Air Gunner - - Contents -

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.

CAR­RION EATERS

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.

OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES

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.

SAFETY

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

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