Pigeon shooting guru Geoff Garrod reveals his tried and tested field expertise for beginners
Starting out in pigeon shooting can be a daunting endeavour. It takes skill, patience and good local knowledge, and even with that useful trio, you can still come away empty handed without a great deal of luck. Once permission from your local landowner or farmer has been obtained, it can seem like a Herculean task to plan your approach. To get the best possible outcome from your day, you must do everything in your power to turn the tide in your favour, starting with staking out your field of choice. Geoff sets out the pigeon shooting basics.
STEP 1: RECONNAISSANCE
Having identified the field you want to shoot on – rape, drill, whatever it might be – the best thing to do is find a vantage point so you can see most, if not all, of the field. Then, you just need to sit there and watch; a good pair of binoculars will help you in this. Depending on times of the year, you might need to be out fairly early in the morning watching the flightline. If there are pigeons on the field when you get there, the best thing to do is just walk them off – but don’t shoot at them. Before long, the pigeons will soon come back to the field, so you need to watch the flightline as they return. You want to build your hide under the line where the pigeons return from roosting. Building here will ensure the first set of pigeons will decoy when they are coming to the field; your hide will be right in their flightline and it’ll give you every chance to decoy them into your pattern, so observation is a very important part of learning to pigeon shoot. You can go on to the field and get yourself set up in five minutes, but if you are not on that flightline, those pigeons can be coming on to the field and they won’t even know that you’re there.
STEP 2: CONSTRUCT YOUR HIDE
I use the traditional net hide most of the time. The equipment that I take is a pair of long-handled secateurs, and a small spade and net poles. They’re the basic ingredients to build a hide. Having got to the location of where the hide needs to be built, take a look at it. Early on in the year there’s not going to be much cover, so you’ll need to set up along the side of a hedge or against a tree – the nets come into play there. The secateurs are just to trim away a few twigs and branches that might be in the way, but people must not make the mistake of hacking down large branches just to make a hide; if the farmer comes along to see his hedges hacked to pieces, you’ll lose your permission to go on the field. Next, make sure you have a level floor, so smooth the floor out with the spade so you are standing level. Then you need to put your poles up.
Stand where you want your hide to be, and put your poles up around you. You need room to move, but you don’t want to make it too big. The hide needs to be mid-chest height and I like the sides to slope up. In the early part of the year when you’ve got no cover, it just gives you a bit of concealment on either side of you. Use anything to dress the hide up, like tufts of grass, anything that you can incorporate that won’t hurt the surrounding area, and try and make it as natural as you possibly can. Step back once you are finished and view it from the decoys. If it doesn’t blend in, add more camouflage.
STEP 3: DEPLOY THE DECOYS
It all depends on what decoys you have. Personally I like to start with real pigeon decoys. In the wintertime, I’ve always got half a dozen somewhere in the chiller. To set up, you go out into the middle of your pattern, and you check which way the wind is blowing. If you are stood in your hide looking out over the decoys and the wind is blowing from right to left, you need to set your decoys facing the right hand side of your pattern. Pigeons will always land into the wind. A lot of people have set patterns in their mind before they start, but you have to decide on the day. I’ll set them up facing into the wind, not in regimented lines, but facing into the wind where I would like the pigeons to come in. Set the pattern up either in front or to the side of the hide, just the way you want the pigeons to come in. Know where you plan to shoot them and where they will fly out. Arrange your decoys close to your hide. The nearest one can be 4-5m away; the furthest one can be 25-30m away from your hide. If I’m happy with that then I’ll obviously retire into the hide, then wait for the action to start. Within the first half a dozen pigeons, you will get to know if your pattern is right.
STEP 4: SUCCESS OR FAILURE
If the pigeons are shying off for some reason or other, that means something is not quite right, so you should go and take a look at your hide and check it is well camouflaged. If they are landing too far to my left and not coming into the pattern, what I would do is just move the decoys from that side to the opposite side of the pattern, so they’ll come across the line of fi re. It’s a case of watching and understanding the pigeon. It might only need to be a little change, but that change early on can make all the difference. If they are coming in well, every time I shoot one I put that in the decoy pattern and build it up. I’ll leave a bit of a hole for the pigeons to land among the decoys – what I call the ‘killing zone’. Some days you can shoot and shoot and shoot and the decoys can lie there on their backs and pigeons will still decoy in. Another day, if you have just one decoy on its back, they just won’t go anywhere near it; it all depends on the day. ■