Kev Hawker reaches for his caller to keep the pigeons coming during an early morning mooch in the woods
Many of my woodland forays are start-stop affairs – a mixture of roving and sit-and-wait tactics. That’s certainly the case at this time of year, when the mass of greenery can make it very difficult to see up into the canopy.
The reduced visibility doesn’t have to halt hunting activities though, and it can sometimes be turned into an advantage.
I’ve just got home from a quick pre-work session after woodpigeons, which followed the usual course of a stroll around the woods before settling into position for an ambush.
The birds were actually hammering a cereal crop, but because it was still standing it wasn’t possible to target them over the field. Pigeons were flighting in and out of small areas that had been flattened by recent heavy downpours.
These zones were simply too small to set up a hide and decoys, and even if I had been able to pick off one or two birds from sitty trees it would have been very hard to retrieve them without causing damage to the crop.
The best way to deal with these pigeons and reduce the impact they were having on the crop seemed to be to ambush them from the strip of woodland that flanks the field. Birds fly back and forth from the spinney to roost and digest the grain they’ve been gobbling up.
Perched up in the trees, they would offer me relatively straightforward shots – if I could spot them – and they would also be fairly easy to retrieve from the woodland floor once they had fallen.
I arrived shortly after daybreak, hoping to happen across one or two roosting woodies before they flighted out to continue their decimation of the crop. The birds were still around, but getting within range of them proved to be tricky.
The carpet of leaves and twigs made for noisy going, and lots of pigeons were bursting from the trees before I was anywhere near close enough for a shot.
There is always the odd straggler though, and it never fails to surprise me how some birds sit tight until you’re almost right underneath them. With that in mind, I make a conscious effort to stop every few steps and scan the surrounding trees very carefully. This method will occasionally yield a bonus woodie and the odd grey squirrel.
It took a while, but I did eventually get a pigeon in my sights. The bird had its back to me, and was huddled down on a branch about 25m away. With a clear view of the pigeon’s head, I settled the crosshairs onto its skull and touched off the trigger of my Air Arms Ultimate Sporter to send a .177 pellet whizzing to its target. The little projectile found the mark; hitting home with a smack which sent the oblivious bird tumbling from its perch.
I was delighted to have one in the bag, but still didn’t feel that I really had the measure of my adversary.
I’d been in the woods for over an hour and although I had spooked plenty of pigeons, several of which were now to be seen flitting about over the corn, accounting for a single one wasn’t going to make much of a contribution to my crop protection duties. It was time to hunker down and try a stakeout.
The spot I chose enabled me to cover a clearing just inside the woodland edge. Sat with my back against the trunk of a fallen tree, I was able to cover quite a wide area and hoped that I’d get some action as the odd bird flighted back to sleep off the dawn binge.
That was the plan, but my first sighting from this spot proved to be a squirrel. These pesky rodents are high up on the hit list on this permission as they cause a lot of trouble in the woods, not only by damaging and killing trees, but also by preying on the eggs and chicks of songbirds.
The destructive little critter was nibbling at beech mast up in the treetops about 30m away; although partly obscured by leaves, it was moving back and forth and occasionally presented me with a clear view of its head. Distracted by the easy meal, it eventually lingered for too long and I dropped it cleanly with a head shot.
As is so often the case with pigeon shooting in summer woodland, I could hear birds calling, but just couldn’t spot them. Thankfully there’s a ruse that can sometimes help in this situation, and it’s centred around using a caller – the aim being not only to draw birds in, but also to persuade them to reveal their whereabouts by calling back.
I use the ACME Dove and Pigeon Call – it doesn’t take long to be able to produce a realistic call. My strategy is to listen to pigeons that are calling in the distance and then mimic their coo-cooing as convincingly as I can.
The jury is still out as to whether it actually was a response to the caller, but a solitary pigeon swooped in and perched within range about 15 minutes after I’d started calling.
Although the bird was obscured by foliage, I stopped calling because I didn’t want to attract its attention to where I was hiding. Fortunately, pigeons have a habit of fluttering from branch to branch before settling down for a snooze, and although this one didn’t move far, it shuffled out enough for me to be able to get a bead on it.
My luck ended there though, because the pigeon managed to spot either the movement of my gun or a flash of reflected light in the scope lens and quickly flapped away.
I cursed my misfortune (or sloppy fieldcraft), but persisted with the caller in the hope of creating another opportunity. Once again, and after another 20 or so minutes of persistence, a bird came fluttering in close enough to offer a decent shot.
This time I made no mistakes, and finally added a second bird to the tally. I could see the felled pigeon sprawled on the ground from where I was sat. It was clearly a clean kill, so I decided to leave it where it fell, ready to pick up at the end of the session, rather than causing a load of disturbance by crunching through the undergrowth in order to pick it up.
And the end of the session came all too quickly. After about three hours in the woods, it really was time to head home for a hearty breakfast in readiness for the working day. I did manage to account for one more pigeon to take my tally to a trio, plus the bonus squirrel.
Most pleasingly, the final pigeon was one that I’d managed to spot after persuading it to coo back in response to my calling. The ACME caller doesn’t come out very often, but this relatively affordable accessory usually makes a difference when it does.
My haul of three pigeons will have made a small contribution to the protection of the ripening crop, and the farmer has just sent me a text saying that he intends to harvest it later this week.
The stubbles and spilt grain left by the combine harvester should offer me a much better chance of making a bigger bag to keep the birds in check ready for when the seeds of the following crop are drilled.