Faced with a challenging crop protection assignment close to buildings, Mat Manning opts for a low-profile hide-and-seek approach.
The purpose of today’s session is crop protection. Pigeons and corvids are targeting leftover grain on a stubble field which is to be redrilled. If left to their own devices, the birds will decimate the next crop before it has time to establish. The farmer tried using bangers to keep them at bay but his efforts haven’t had much effect, so it’s time for more positive action.
This sort of protection is often carried out with a shotgun to maximise returns by taking birds on the wing. However, the area the birds are targeting on this farm is very close to buildings and a road, so the 12-bore is not an option.
With a more subtle approach required, I am going to be using my sub-12 ft-lb BSA R-10 TH. This airgun is near-silent, and its low power output makes it a safe option in these tricky circumstances.
My plan is to construct a simple hide for concealment and to use a variety of decoys to convince the birds that it is safe to return to their feeding grounds.
My quarry is already present, so I want to get my hide up quickly rather than putting the birds on edge.
Conditions look set to be favourable. The wind should be enough to put life into my decoys, but not strong enough to hinder accurate pellet placement.
The quarry: woodpigeon
PEST STATUS: Woodpigeons congregate in huge flocks that can comprise thousands of hungry birds, devouring crops with ruinous impact.
HABITAT: Woodpigeons are woodland birds, but also roost in gardens, hedgerows and parks.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Pigeon is excellent to eat, and the breast meat is valued by chefs. Successful pest control will be rewarded with some great meat for the table.
08:35: watch and learn
Where you decide to set up your hide and decoys will often make or break the success of a shooting trip, and especially in this scenario. Get it right and birds will instinctively head towards your shooting zone. Get it wrong and it can be almost impossible to coax them within range.
The good news is that the birds will usually tell you where they want to drop in to feed and the routes they are using to flight in and out of these areas. It’s easy to spot these flightlines, you just need to keep back and watch for a few minutes.
Flightlines often follow distinctive landscape features such as valleys, hills, hedgerows and stands of trees. Man-made structures such as roads and pylons can also influence the routes that birds take in and out of particular fields. Once they establish a busy flightline, birds can be very reluctant to veer away from it, and that is why it is so important to set up in the right place.
Looking through his binoculars, it doesn’t take Mat very long to spot a well-used flightline. Numerous birds are following the same course as they make their way towards and then down on to their feeding grounds. If Mat can get his decoys beneath or close to this flightline, he should be in for some good shooting.
08:50: cover-up job
After establishing where the birds are feeding and the route they are using to get there, Mat needs to create some cover within range of the prime area. These sharp-eyed birds won’t go near anything that looks suspicious; camouflage clothing and natural cover won’t keep Mat out of sight so he’s going to have to build a hide.
The dense hedgerow creates a good backdrop, and Mat quickly gets to work setting up his hide poles in front of it. He favours Sniper hide poles as they are strong, height-adjustable and have a crossbar to help push them in with your boot as well as a handy hook to fasten the net to the base.
After creating a frame with the Sniper poles, Mat then drapes a camouflage net from them to create a blind and then fastens it to the hooks at the base so it can’t flap around in the wind.
The net is quite a good match with the hedgerow, but Mat is dressing it with a little vegetation to make it less conspicuous. Mat only uses weeds to dress his hides and doesn’t hack at hedgerow shrubs as that could upset the farmer. He uses clips to hold the stems in place, fastening them to the net and poles to conceal the straight top edge.
09:05: confidence boosters
The birds have drifted away while Mat was setting up his hide. They haven’t gone far and his decoys should give them the confidence to return, but only if used properly.
Mat sets up a large, open pattern using about a dozen full-body Enforcer pigeon decoys. These plastic imitations are remarkably lifelike and have a very bold silhouette. Apart from looking very much like the real thing, their painted finish is also extremely tough so it doesn’t chip and flake when they get knocked around in transit.
Real birds face into the wind when taking off and landing, so Mat sets up his decoys facing roughly into the breeze, but with some variation in their angle and spacing to make them look natural. They are positioned to create a rough horseshoe shape, open at the downwind end to offer incoming birds a large, inviting landing zone.
When Mat has his fake flock of pigeons in place he then adds a few crow decoys to give the corvids something to home in on. These decoys have a black flock finish, which looks convincing when viewed from above, and feature a sprung peg.
The spring enables the crow decoys to bounce and bob in the wind. The all-important movement helps to catch the eye of passing birds and makes the overall pattern look even more like a real flock of birds foraging on the stubbles.
Expert tip: right kit for the job
Although Mat didn’t dress his hide with much vegetation on this shoot – because he wanted to get into position as quickly as possible – he always has the right tools to hand ready for cutting weeds and shrubs.
A pruning saw is a great tool for quickly cutting through larger branches that you may need to clear to make room for your hide, and secateurs are brilliant for snipping smaller stems. Mat also carries some plastic clips that enable him to securely attach vegetation to the hide net and poles.
Always check with the landowner before cutting back any vegetation. Most will probably permit you to
trim weed species such as docks, nettles, bramble, ivy and elder, but always avoid cutting any plants that contribute to the structure of the hedge.
09:30: rapid response
Ambushing avian pests hinges on getting your preparation right. You need to be in the right field at the right time, set up in the right area and then build a discreet hide and set out a convincing decoy pattern. And even if you get it right, the birds can still refuse to oblige. Pigeons and crows are notorious for changing their feeding habits and suddenly moving on to another area, so you need to be prepared for disappointment.
The birds appear to be in a cooperative mood today, and it looks like Mat has got his tactics right as a small flock of pigeons swoops in over the decoys after he settles in. Three birds open their wings and flutter down close to the pattern.
With the R-10 TH already through the hide net, it doesn’t take Mat very long to line up on the closest bird, which is about 30m away.
A head shot would be risky as the pigeon is bobbing up and down as it pecks at the ground, so Mat waits for the bird to turn with its back to him and takes aim right between its shoulders.
Mat touches off the trigger and the pellet hits home with a loud wallop, sending the other two birds flapping away in a panic.
The shot did exactly as intended; finding a relatively unobstructed route through the pigeon’s back and into its heart and lung area to flop it over with barely a twitch.
10:05: belly-up bird!
Because the first pigeon he shot settled face-down, Mat didn’t need to retrieve it. In fact, it looked very much like a feeding bird, so it actually enhanced the decoy pattern.
Mat manages to add a couple more birds to the tally and they settle just as neatly as the first, but then the next one doesn’t end up looking as tidy. This pigeon has come to rest belly-up, and it needs to be sorted before it causes problems.
Nothing looks more menacing to incoming birds than a mate with its legs in the air. Any incomers considering landing amongst the decoys will soon change their mind and jink away when they spot this one, so Mat has no choice but to break cover and tidy it up.
Like all the other shot birds, this one makes another valuable addition to the overall pattern once it is turned the right way up. Nothing looks more convincing to a passing bird than the real thing – modern decoys
can offer a remarkable degree of realism, but they still can’t rival the texture and colours of real feathers.
While Mat is out of the hide, he also rearranges the birds that had landed more neatly. After placing them where he wants, Mat uses the corn stems to prop their heads up, making them look even more realistic.
12:50: effort rewarded
Even with decoys and shot birds, not all the incoming pigeons and corvids can be persuaded to land. The sharp-eyed birds live on their wits and spook if they spot anything that doesn’t look right. Convincing them to settle amongst the decoys is hard, and you can’t win them all.
Numerous birds fly into the distance before landing, and others settle but become suspicious and take flight before Mat has time to line up. Despite this, and a couple of misses, Mat has managed to make a decent tally and ends up with seven pigeons and five assorted crows, rooks and jackdaws.
The first half of the session was by far the most productive. There weren’t as many birds on the move during the last couple of hours, but the action kept Mat interested.
Mat has a lot of gear to haul across the fields, but although the main purpose of today’s trip was crop protection, his efforts have been rewarded with some very welcome wild meat.
Pigeon is absolutely delicious and highly prized by top chefs. Also, because these birds live, feed and breed in the wild, the standard of welfare and free-range credentials are unrivalled by farmed meat.
BSA R-10 TH
Hawke Vantage SF 3-12×44
Primos Trigger Stick
Macwet Micromesh Long Cuff
Sniper Hide Poles
Enforcer Pro Series Full Body