Heading to Scotland, Charlie Jacoby joins pigeon guide Des Cochrane for a day at the pigeons, using decoys, flight lines and roost shooting.
Setting up is the most important part of the day according to Des Cochrane, a BASC-registered goose and pigeon guide based in Fife, Perthshire and Tayside, Scotland. This larger-than-life character runs most of the best goose-guiding and pigeon shooting in the area. He strives to settle his guests comfortably in their hides with the best possible chance of shooting pigeons. Today, a balmy September morning, he is looking after two French shooters.
Woodpigeon are the most serious agricultural pest in the UK today. They can feed on crops all year round and the national population is estimated to have doubled over the last 25 years, to somewhere between 10 and 20 million. The population is largely non-migratory but can be swelled, some estimate it doubles, during the winter months with incoming migrants. Shooting remains the most effective means of control.
There are three main methods used to shoot pigeons: decoying, flight line shooting and roost shooting. Des aims to take advantage of all three.
Woodpigeon decoying is where patterns of dummy pigeons are set up to attract the birds to a specific area of the field, where they are either shot from a hide or for roost shooting, where the birds are shot by waiting guns as they return to their roost. A fast elaborate flight makes the woodpigeon a testing target in windy conditions. Decoying relies on the art of building a hide on a field where pigeons are feeding and using the artificial or dead bird decoys to attract pigeons to within shotgun range (20 to 35 yards). Shooting them requires considerable reconnaissance and patience.
Hides may be built with camouflage nets, straw bales or natural cover. When using bales, remember to get the farmer’s permission to move them and always replace them after the shoot. Natural hides are made with materials found on the farm and should be dismantled at the end of the shooting day. Do not cut into hedgerows or otherwise damage the farmer’s property. The hide should be large enough (3ft square) to accommodate the shooter, his equipment and his dog and as level a floor as is possible.
“The birds fly to and from the barley and to a nearby potato crop before coming back to the trees behind the guns.”
Shooting pigeons on flight-lines is very popular and after reconnaissance has determined the line of flight, guns stand concealed on the edges of woods or in hedgerows and shoot passing birds without the aid of decoys.
For roost shooting, guns position themselves, before dusk, in woods where pigeons are known to roost during the winter and wait for the birds to return from their day’s feeding. Mixed woods of conifers and hardwoods are the most popular: the pigeon droppings under the trees will highlight the places to stand. As it will be almost dark before the shoot ends, fallen birds should be retrieved immediately after being shot.