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

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - AIRGUNNING -

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.

Tucked up

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

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