Honesberie Shooting School’s Nick Hollick looks at technique when tackling wily woodies
The most important thing to remember with pigeons is that they love to fly into wind. They don’t like coming into land with the wind going into their behind because it blows their feathers up, so you need to assess the field for certain flight lines and patterns. There will be hedges dominant for pigeon traffic, like some you could set up the hide on the edge of a coppice and a field, which will be a good location for an evening roost, and it’s a good digesting ground in the local area.
Prior planning prevents poor performance
Part of the important preparation is the setup of the hide. A lot of people get excited about there being pigeons in the field and they rush to get the hide up, but you need to make sure you have plenty of space so you can move properly. I’ve placed the hide all the way around me so it hides my body through the trees by any pigeons coming from behind. In some environments there might be some dead grass on the ground that I would weave between the hide so you blend into the background better. I would say 2.5×2.5m is a nice size for one person, and a bit larger for two people.
You also need a decent seat. I use an Idleback chair because it’s ergonomically designed and allows you to be sat in a position to get up quite quickly and swing around to all angles of fire. The most important thing to remember with pigeons is that they love to fly into wind. They don’t like coming into land with the wind going into their behind because it blows their feathers up, so you need to assess the field for certain flight lines and patterns. There will be hedges dominant for pigeon traffic, like some you could set up the hide on the edge of a coppice and a field, which will be a good location for an evening roost, and it’s a good digesting ground in the local area.
The best gun to use is a semi-auto because it allows easy loading. The beauty of the auto is you can keep loading the gun from underneath and keep the barrel straight. It’s important to have water and sandwiches because it can be a full-on day. It could be a situation that you’ve looked for weeks and weeks for the perfect day and you could be out there six hours and shoot three or four pigeons, but equally it could be an hour with nothing then the taps turn on and the pigeons start pouring in. If you haven’t got any energy or food, or if you’ve had an hour of continuous pigeons and you have to abort because of lack of energy then you might break the rhythm if you had to leave. And given that it takes so long to find that perfect day, there’s nothing more annoying than not having enough food and energy to enjoy that situation.
Where did they go?
If you’ve killed a pigeon and it’s lying upside-down then that can be a warning sign for another pigeon to not land in that area. So you might have been shooting a few pigeons then suddenly pigeons just shy away, and it can be as simple as a pigeon lying upside down. In the summer and early autumn it can be quite bright, and if you’re using a magnet, the sun on the metal arms can be an issue. Some people put camouflage tape over the arms to protect them from the sun but rotary machines can turn others off. If you switch it on and there are not a lot of birds, try switching things around – changing the pattern is a good thing.
A lot of people who are new to pigeon shooting get excited and stand up pretty quickly to shoot the bird, but you should stay low to allow a pack of five or six pigeons then let the front ones come in and land. As the last pigeon is preparing to land I would be slowly creeping up behind the net to take it on, then that allows you to have time to shoot the others that have already landed before they fly away. Just as the pigeon is flaring its wings, and letting it to come into the pattern, that’s the optimum time to shoot. If a pair of pigeons comes in I’d take the second one that’s going to come into land last. The other thing that happens is people see pigeons circlinghead then they just get up far too early. I prefer to use an FAC nineshot but the biggest problem with guys using guns more than three is to let off too many shots at once. After a while that can put the pigeons off because that’s an awful lot of shooting going on. I’d say that three shots in one flurry is plenty.
Taking a shot
When the bird is along the horizon, the safety catch would be on and I would be low behind the net. Depending on how thick the camouflage is I would have to slightly lift my head to see the bird of the net, but then I’d like to tuck back down to follow the pigeons through the net. Stay as hidden as possible for as long as possible is important. Far too many people rise early and the pigeon that’s 50-60 yards away spooks and flies off.
At the right moment I would slowly be moving the gun up but keeping it behind the net. I’ll have the butt of the gun into my body and I’m looking past the end of the muzzle in relation to where the birds coming from then I’ll slowly rise and lift the gun, but being careful not to catch the gun in the edge of the hide. You won’t always be able to shoot while fully standing because some of them may have crept into the side and you’ll be able to shoot from the seated position. Depending on the situation I’ll be shooting 50/50 seated and standing. Shooting sitting down is a different sensation but the technique is not dissimilar from when you’re standing. You need to make sure that you are promoting that weight forward rather than relaxing back. You need to be on a solid base and that’s why chair choice is important. Some people sit on plastic drums and if the floor is uneven, which won’t provide the stability you need to maintain a solid base. I will usually have six or eight shots in the chamber so if I fire three I’ll be able to replenish, but if you’ve got no cartridges in the chamber and a flock of pigeons coming into land you need to have a shot ready. To load quickly, hold the gun on the forend and then insert the cartridges with your trigger hand. But you have to keep the barrels away from the net, obviously depending on the environment, you’re on your own and there’s no one around you might want to keep the gun on your lap when you’re reloading and pointing to the side while you’re pushing the cartridges in. Because I’m right-handed I would have my cartridges on the floor so I can replenish from that.