One of the most common assignments for airgun pest controllers is culling avian pests around farm buildings. Feral pigeons, collared doves and jackdaws quickly home-in on the abundance of food and nesting sites around the farmyard, and holdings can often become overrun unless numbers are kept in check.
These unwanted visitors cause farmers all sorts of problems. Even modestly sized flocks of avian pests can have a costly impact as they munch their way through expensive animal feed and stored grain. They also pose a health hazard; their droppings are full of bacteria and are the last thing a farmer wants getting into the troughs that his stock drinks from or, worse still, caking produce that is intended for human consumption.
A 12ft/lb, legal limit airgun is the perfect tool for tackling pests around the farmyard. Accurate and powerful enough to cleanly dispatch quarry out to beyond 30 metres, but without the excessive ‘overkill’ that makes it risky to take shots in confined spaces and close to machinery and animals. An air rifle with a moderator fitted is also a very quiet tool, so a proficient airgunner can pick off farmyard pests without causing undue stress to nearby livestock.
Doves and feral pigeons love to nest in the roof structure of farm buildings, where they find shelter and seclusion within close distance of a ready supply of food. A couple of my farmyard permissions have suffered more than ever with flocks of collared doves this spring. The long, wet winter was followed by an exceptionally cold March. As a result, the grass took a long time to get growing so cattle were kept inside for much longer than usual.
This meant the collared doves had their diet supplemented with round-the-clock helpings of silage just as they hit peak nesting season. Feeding a dairy herd with bought-in food rather than letting them graze the pastures is very expensive, and is even more costly when there are legions of doves helping themselves.
Although my favourite hunting places are out in the woods or on the open fields, I’m always happy to help with some farmyard pest control. Indeed, like many other shooters, it’s where my first airgun hunting forays took place. So, apart from getting me in the farmer’s good books, picking off uninvited farmyard guests always provides a cheerful trip down memory lane.
As ever, my latest foray started with a call to the farmer to work out the best time to visit. We agreed on a couple of hours around Sunday lunchtime when the farm workers would be taking a well-earned break from their duties. Of course, even in the absence of workers, the airgun shooter has numerous other hazards to consider. Absolute respect must be paid to the livestock and buildings that attract the pests in the first place, and shots should never be allowed to stray close to valuable machinery. Fortunately, the farmyard has lot of of concrete walls and thick steel joists that create perfect, pellet-obliterating backstops.
As I drove into the yard, a flock of about a dozen collared doves lifted off, with a clatter of wings, from a maize silage clamp wings. The diminutive doves weren’t half as flighty a few weeks ago but, after three of four big hits, they’re becoming quite suspicious.
Camouflage clothing isn’t particularly important when you’re shooting on the farm – mainly because there’s not much vegetation for it to work against – so I dress for the weather rather than concealment. I’d put on my hat and gloves to keep out the chill of a fresh northerly wind, and heaved on my wellies in readiness for some stalking that was going to be more than a little sticky underfoot in places.
I made off around the side of the milking parlour, moving in an anti-clockwise direction while using the building for cover. For a right-handed shooter like me, this course means the gun comes to shoulder on the outside when creeping around corners – perfect for discreet sniping. If you’re left-handed, you’re best off traversing the farm in a clockwise direction. The ruse worked and I managed to drop an unsuspecting dove after emerging behind a group of birds that had pitched on a wire after the disturbance of my arrival.
The rest of the flock scattered and I drifted on towards the other side of the holding. My next chance came while I was actually inside a silage clamp, using its high wooden sides for cover. This was a trickier shot as the bird had pitched on a barn roof.
Causing a leaky roof with a misplaced pellet is likely to see you chucked off the farm – not to mention others in the vicinity once your reckless shooting is discussed down the pub, so this is a shot that’s best left if there’s any doubt. At 20 metres, though, I was confident of hitting my mark and, with a field rising steeply behind, I also knew I had a safe backstop in place. Struck solidly, the dove tumbled down the roof and flopped onto the concrete deck to make it a brace.
The birds were getting agitated now, and were decidedly less trusting, so I had to work much harder for my next and final opportunity of the short session. Several failed stalks prompted me to dig in behind a forage harvester from where I could cover a tall silo on the opposite side of a silage clamp. The silo is a regular stopping off point where birds perch to check that the coast is clear before swooping down to snaffle the maize silage.
It was a cold spring day, but I managed to hold my position for about half an hour until a pair of doves fluttered onto the top of the silo. My hiding place came with the added advantage of a shooting rest, and I only had to shuffle a few inches to get a clear, supported shot. I picked the dove on the left and dropped it with a strike to the neck, sending its startled mate flapping off.
My short time slot on the farm was due to come to a close and, to be honest, it was so cold that I was quite looking forward to getting in the car and cranking up the heater! The sizeable bags of my earlier visits have made a big dent in this particular colony of collared doves, and regular visits should ensure that numbers are kept in check through the summer months.
– Mat Manning