Early pigeons for the pot
Mat Manning creeps out with his air rifle to enjoy some low-key pigeon shooting well ahead of his shotgunning friends
As an airgun shooter I’m fortunate to be able to start roost shooting for pigeons a little earlier in the season than a lot of my shotgunning friends. While the keepers on most of my permissions are reluctant to have shotguns banging in the woods around the time when their pheasants should be settling down to roost, they don’t mind me popping off a few pigeons with a sound-moderated air rifle, as long as I keep away from what they regard as sensitive areas.
I really enjoy using a shotgun to pick off pigeons as they flight to their roosts after the pheasant season has wrapped up, but it is nice to be able to target them during December and January when noisy guns are not so welcome around dusk. The disturbance caused by an air rifle is minimal. In fact, the sound of the pellet connecting with its mark is louder than the rifle’s muzzle report if you are using a decent moderator.
So I decided to head out with the aim of bagging a few woodies for the pot over Christmas. The thought of a yomp through the woods was appealing after too much time spent indoors. I also thought I’d be able to make a contribution to the ongoing effort to curb the estate’s population of grey squirrels while I was at it.
Woodland pigeon shooting is a breath of fresh air after the rigmarole that a lot of my airgun forays entail. Hide building, decoying, managing feeding stations and gearing up with night-vision optics can make a big difference to my results but they involve a lot of faffing about. It is very different when targeting pigeons in the woods — I head to wherever I expect to encounter birds and wait for them to arrive.
The spot I had in mind is a well-used roosting site among a dense patch of fir trees. The cover provided by the evergreens makes for a cosy place for woodies to tuck themselves up on cold winter nights, but it also makes them very difficult to shoot with an air rifle. The tightly packed branches make it almost impossible to spot birds once they have settled in and tricky to thread a pellet through if you do manage to locate them.
Fortunately, a few birds usually flight to a more open area of beech trees that flanks the firs before they flutter into the dense cover, so I try to ambush them there if I can.
Family commitments — or, more precisely, having to taxi children around — meant that I wasn’t going to be able to stay late enough to enjoy the prime time just before dusk but I still expected to see a few birds moving during the latter part of the afternoon. And it turned out that I wasn’t even
going to have to wait until then to encounter my quarry as a small flock of pigeons clattered away from the stand of beeches as I crunched my way through the woods.
Closer inspection revealed that the spooked birds had been feeding on ivy berries. Ivy is a real favourite with pigeons at this time of year; not only do the berries provide sustenance at a time when natural food is becoming scarce, but the plant’s dense waxy foliage also provides excellent cover for roosting when the weather is cold, wet and windy. For the same reason, squirrels like to build their dreys among large patches of ivy. So it seemed like a good place to settle in.
I don’t usually bother to build a hide when shooting pigeons in woodland. Apart from creating a lot of disturbance, it is also very restrictive in terms of location and shot angles. Dispensing with the hide enables me to have a wide arc of fire and means that I can quickly shift myself to another spot if there appears to be more action elsewhere.
Pigeons are sharp-eyed, so I do try to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. Positioning myself next to a thick tree trunk helps to hide my silhouette, and occasionally means that I’m able to enjoy the luxury of taking rested shots. I also wear a headnet and a peaked hat to hide my eyes and any pale patches of skin as I peer up into the treetops.
After settling into a spot that enabled me to cover a couple of large ivy-clad beeches and the edge of the fir plantation, I settled down for what I expected to be a long wait. To my pleasant surprise, it was only
about 20 minutes until i had my first proper chance. three pigeons circled overhead before dropping in, and one of them was comfortably within range at just under 30m. i settled the cross-hairs just below the fold of the unsuspecting bird’s wing, using the tree for some welcome support, and dropped it with a shot that hit home with an almighty wallop.
though i often use sub-12ft/lb airguns for pigeon shooting, i was using my Fac-rated Daystate red Wolf on this occasion. Producing around 35ft/lb on the high-power setting, this .22 calibre air rifle fells pigeons very cleanly with shots to the heart and lung area. i don’t tend to push the range much further than i would with a legal-limit air rifle, but the extra clout can be a real asset, especially as i usually limit myself to headshots when using a sub-12.
i slipped through the undergrowth to collect my prize, then settled back into position for what felt like a very long time. it was probably less than half an hour but it really dragged — mostly because i was taunted by frequent glimpses of pigeons i couldn’t possibly get a shot at. these birds were skimming in over the treetops and making straight for the firs, where they would promptly disappear into the dark thatch of branches. they would have made for some exciting snap shooting with my rizzini but were well beyond the air rifle.
the frustration eventually became too much to bear so i moved across to another spot a little closer to the firs. it was still impossible to spot birds in the dense cover but i did manage to drop one that made the mistake of perching in a beech about 20m from my hiding place.
all too soon it was time to draw the session to a close. i’d not made a great dent in the resident pigeon population, and i hadn’t seen any sign of the grey squirrels. however, i’d still had a very enjoyable couple of hours pursuing woodies a few weeks before most of my mates would get their slice of the action.
and i was going home with a couple of birds for the pot. Cooked with onion, mushrooms, bacon and a good slosh of dark ale, the breast meat made the basis of a most delicious pigeon pie.
“Three pigeons circled overhead before dropping in, and one of them was comfortably within range at just under 30m”
With one in the bag, Mat decided to shift position to improve his chances
An early bird pitches within range and Mat steadies himself for the shot assasa sasas Association(GWA). I gas soon put
Ivy is a winter favourite of woodpigeons as it providesboth food and shelter
Mat retrieves his prize after the first shot of the sessionfinds its mark
Pigeon pie with chips and peas — the perfect end to an afternoon in pursuit of woodies