PIGEONS: How to make the most of windy conditions
Stormy weather can be a clear sign that there’s some epic sport to be had on the pigeons, so while most people are hiding indoors, Andy Crow has been making the most of the gales
Andy Crow likes having wind. But apparently, not everybody does. “A lot of serious pigeon shooters aren’t always very keen to shoot when it is really windy. The key to making a big bag is shooting twos and threes and this is almost impossible in a gale of wind; as soon as you shoot the first bird, the others dip a wing, catch the wind and they are out of range in the blink of an eye. The flip side is you can have some really fun, challenging shooting!”
Pigeons can’t simply stop feeding when the wind blows, but the weather will inevitably have an impact on how they behave. Understanding these changes will give you the best chance to make a decent bag.
“It’s not hard to think like a pigeon. If you have to fly about, high winds are not much fun. As a result, they will try and utilise every advantage they can. They fly lower, using the landscape to shield them from the worst of the weather.
“For this reason, I don’t use my favourite bush hide out in the middle of the field. Instead, I will try to find a site in the lee of a wood where there is a food source. At the moment, the birds are still feasting on the massive acorn crop. The birds use the wood for shelter and beat into the wind nice and low – giving you a decent chance.”
With Storm Eleanor ravaging the British Isles, Andy sees the opportunity for some decent sport but he’s going to have to work for it. Torrential rain means that the fields are waterlogged so the Polaris is out of the question. Shanks’s pony is the order of the day, so Andy sets off on foot with a massive
rucksack stuffed with hide poles, shell decoys, netting and two FF5 flappers that can be run from a compact battery.
The flappers are running on a timer, one either end of the decoy pattern, and the birds are beating in from the left, into the wind, hugging the edge of the trees. Andy tucks the hide into the hedge and camouflages it with some bracken.
“There are a couple of real advantages to a wild day over a still one. Firstly, the sound of shooting is muffled and dispersed much more
‘It’s not hard to think like a pigeon. High winds are not much fun so they fly lower, using the land to shield them from the worst of the weather’
quickly. On a still day, a couple of shots can send your quarry into the next county – when there’s a gale, it tends not to disturb them so much.
“Also, on a still day, the birds seem happy to spend longer up in their sitty trees between bouts of feeding. When the treetops are thrashing about they move much more frequently as the weather unsettles them. The result is you have more packs of birds moving throughout the day and your shooting troubles them much less.”
One key safety issue to be aware of when shooting in the woods is falling branches and debris. “Even a small lump of dead wood dropping from a height can be dangerous so bear this in mind when you are building your hide. I’ve had a few near misses in the past.”
Andy is up and at them by 9am and he soon has a dozen birds on the deck, but the day threatens to be derailed when a call comes in from the farm reporting a fallen oak blocking a roadway. Andy has to pack everything up and trudge back to the yard. An hour or so with the chainsaw ensues, clearing the drive, before he can return to the hide and crack on again. It is almost 11.45 before shooting resumes and with mid-winter daylight in short supply, he has to make the most of it.
For the next couple of hours, the traffic and action is almost constant. While never getting truly frenetic, there are pigeons moving through the whole time – some birds are decoying well, others just flighting past, hugging the shelter of the treeline. Small packs, which are ideal, give the chance to trim out a couple at a time. But getting two is quite a feat and getting three from three in windy conditions is almost impossible – even for the Crowman!
Andy is grateful of Rosa the Lab’s assistance, especially on birds with a bit of altitude as they can end up falling a long way from where you expect them to.
“If they are turning a wing when they get hit they can easily drop 80-100 yards away. I try to be as accurate as possible marking them down. Rosa has already shown she’s got a great nose and she works hard to make a find which is a good combination.”
Andy sticks with his usual choke and cartridge combination as he tends to only tackle birds at closer ranges in these conditions. And then, at around 2pm, the action switches off almost instantly. Andy counts in 137 birds – a really fantastic day in conditions that would keep most pigeon shooters tucked up indoors.
He is thrilled to have done so well in such a short time – although less chuffed about packing the bag out on foot!
Andy sticks to his usual choke and cartirdge combo, even on windy days
Think like a pigeon, advises Andy
A decent bag of 137 pigeons is a great result in windy conditions
Take care of falling branches – this can be a real problem when the storms are a-blowing