The rough shooting market is huge in the UK and around the world; it is an accessible form of shooting that can provide you with some of the most exhilarating and testing sport. I am a great fan of this type of shooting as it is enjoyable, exciting and can really help your overall ability with a shotgun. Many of the top grouse shots regularly tackle “blue grouse” (as woodpigeons are affectionately known) and most shooters swear by it as the best practice possible. I do not have the time sadly to shoot pigeons on a regular basis but, when I do, I thoroughly enjoy myself. Although grouse are considered the ‘King of Game Birds’, I would consider the woodpigeon as the ultimate sporting bird and no other will test you better than the humble “Woody”.
Suitable Land – finding suitable land for pigeon shooting can be for many the hardest part, especially if the landowner is wary of shooters on his land. Approach a landowner face to face, explain what you would like to do and confirm that you are experienced in handling a shotgun. Make sure you respect both the animals and land that you are shooting on and hopefully the landowner will appreciate that you are reducing the numbers of pigeons that are destroying his valuable crops!
Keep the Landowner Happy – once you have been given permission to go pigeon shooting on some land, keep the farmer up to date on how many pigeons you have been shooting and remember to clear up all your mess. There is nothing worse than empty cartridges left in the hedge! Also offer him some prepared birds or a pigeon breast or two for it is a great bird to eat.
Watch the Crops – most experts will tell you that watching the crops, flight lines and feeding patterns are vital to a successful day. Beginners sometime see a false flight line instead of the true line. Those who can tell the true line are the experts and this only comes with practice! It is also a good idea to speak with the farmer and ask him where he has seen birds feeding and what areas of crops are being damaged the most.
The Right Equipment – the market for pigeon shooting equipment is mind boggling and it is amazing what you can buy these days. A dozen shells, a net and a shotgun will be enough to get you started, but the key is to be prepared for all eventualities so spare cartridges are always a must in the car. You never know when that red letter day will come and it could just be beginners’ luck!
Hides – concealment is another part of the day that is important. I favour a real tree net with the blind being as natural as possible with the use of branches and foliage. I then leave a small window of clear view netting to allow me to see the incoming birds and only then do I need to react when the birds enter the killing zone. The key is to stop the birds seeing any movement in the hide so cover behind you is just as important as cover in front. I also like to make the hide as big as possible, so there is room for myself, the dog, the cartridges and my grandson, who normally joins me when we go pigeon shooting! Many pigeon shooters, especially the professionals, prefer to stand rather than sit but this is a personal preference on the day. If you wish to sit, a comfortable stool or 3 legged stick is a must.
Decoys and Patterns – I will not go into depth about patterns as I will leave this to the professionals. I also will not discuss the use of pigeon magnets as I believe this is something down to each individual. Of course real birds are cheaper and more realistic than plastic decoys but I sadly do not have the time to provide myself with a regular supply and thus I opt for flock coated decoys. I also use floaters and cradles to help improve the pattern and I tend to stay away from rotary machines and any other gadgets, although in the right conditions they are very effective. I believe a larger pattern will give the birds more confidence to commit to the pattern. The art of decoying I believe is only learnt with practice and good recognisance. This can take years to master and you need to spend hours and hours watching the birds in flight.
Clothing – this I believe is the same for pigeon shooting as for game shooting. Your clothing must be practical and keep you comfortable as well as concealing you in your hide. I tend to opt for a camouflage jacket and cap.
Enjoy! – whether you shoot 10 pigeons or 100, there is great enjoyment to be had from this sport. If you build a good hide it is amazing what you see, as birds of prey, deer, and other wildlife all pass by without a care in the world. I think basic field craft is a vital asset for all sportsmen and is one that I believe has been sadly lost from our sport. There is nothing more frustrating than getting everything right, the birds commit to your artificial pattern, you raise your barrels and then you miss a straightforward ‘easy’ bird. But actually pigeons are wild, fast and agile and the slightest movement will send them back from whence they came in one sudden wing beat.