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Decoying Pigeons - What Kit Do You Need?

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I've been pigeon shooting in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk for around 12 years now, and it's one of my fave hobbies. I help to protect farmers' crops with this method of pest control, whilst providing myself nutritious, wild food which in turn has fed on natural food only. Plus, it's such a buzz - anyone remember the duck shooting game on Nintendo from the 80's? Well yeah, it's even more fun than that! It does involve carting quite a bit of kit around; I stupidly try to carry mine all in one go sometimes - I don't recommend this for those of you with bad joints like me though!!

I am of course always learning, however there are many tips about the best pigeon decoying gear that I have picked up along the way; be it from magazine articles, from friends in the shooting community, or from a bit of trial and error and finding my own way. And it's those tips I'd like to share with you today, especially if, like me, you've started shooting as an adult with no family members to guide you from a young age.

You can of course, attend one of the many pigeon shooting courses that are available today, which weren't around even a decade ago really. I have not attended these myself, but there are some reputable people and organisations out there holding these courses, which I'm sure will set you up nicely and help to ensure you are a safe shot.

However, nothing beats getting out there on your own in terms of real life learning. Bit like driving for the first time on your own after passing your test - there's nobody sat next to you telling you which shots to take, how big your pattern needs to be, how to put that whirly together properly or dispatching the pigeon by hand properly that you've injured with your shot - you have to make those decisions for yourself and it's my favourite way to learn. But it's a good idea to get started off on the right foot to avoid too much frustration.

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When it comes to pigeon shooting in the UK there are two main types; pigeon decoying and roost shooting. Both are fun ways to keep these prolific farm pests under control, and both have pros and cons.

Decoying is when you sit (or stand) hidden in a field and persuade the pigeons to come closer using a pattern of decoys on the ground, so that you can shoot them efficiently. This involves setting up a 'hide' with camouflage netting, or a pop up hide (like a pop up tent). Sometimes you can use bales of hay to hide in, or even just tuck yourself into a hedgerow with your pattern out in front of you. Cons - it involves carting a lot of kit around, it's pretty horrendous if you have to sit in the sun for 5 hours, you have to put the time in days beforehand (see point 1 below) and you may lose some birds in the crop depending on the time of year you are shooting.

Roost shooting is waiting for the pigeons to come into the trees to 'roost' (go to sleep) and is usually carried out in the winter months when there aren't leaves on the trees, so you can see more clearly. This is much easier as you don't require any kit to set up, and is much quicker as it's only possible to shoot for about 2 hours before it gets too dark and the pigeons are all laid up to roost and stop moving. Cons - much tougher type of shooting, you usually only have a small patch of sky and the birds are higher and flying faster; plus you're not likely to take home any really big bags.

Today my focus will be on pigeon decoying, although I will of course be writing blogs on roost shooting over the coming weeks and months, as well as more pigeon decoying blogs.

So, let's look at my top 5 tips to prepare for decoying pigeons...

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1 - Reconnaissance...

So you've bagged yourself some pigeon shooting permission - good for you! Now you need to get a good pair of binoculars and start checking your shooting permission. You want to keep an eye on crops that have recently been drilled (if there's anything laid on the surface the pigeons will scoff that in 3-5 days then move on). You also need to keep an eye on crops about 2 - 3 weeks after they've been drilled, especially if there's been a bit of rain. Pigeons love eating these fresh buds and leaves and this is when they can do the most damage to a crop. Lastly, a good time to keep an eye out is when there has been a deluge - if your permission has any barley it will be flattened, and pigeons absolutely go mad for the wet squidgy stuff inside the barley heads.

A good pair of binoculars will ensure you can see flight lines from further away so as not to scare the pigeons. Setting up near a flight line makes it much easier to pull pigeons into your pattern. I use Vortex Optics Diamondback binoculars 15x56 but there are many other good brands out there - find what works for you.

Remember, recon is important if you don't want to waste several hours by being in the wrong place, on the wrong crop, in the wrong weather with no pigeons... something I can still be lazy with sometimes even now, and trust me I notice the difference! You will also need to spend 10 - 15 minutes on the actual day of shooting to do some last minute recon - the weather, feeding pattern and other things may have affected the way the birds behaving since you last went out.

2 - Hide Kit

If you're going to go for the traditional hide rather than a pop up option, then it's easier for me to just give you a list of what I use; the brands you can decide on for yourself.

~ Hide net x 2/3 - I use a mixture of ghost netting and normal modern camouflage netting that you can get cheap on Amazon. I ten to use the ghost netting at the back as I don't have the best eyesight and struggle to see anything coming through it!

~ Hide poles x6/10 - you stamp these into the ground and are what you wrap your netting around. You don't want to make your hide too big because it will stand out more and you need to make sure your netting will fit round the poles! I ten to set my poles around 2 metres wide at the front, a metre wide at the sides then add an additional one in the middle at the back to make a 'door' to get in and out. The ones in the picture above ae from A1 decoys.

~ comfy seat (some people use the swivel buckets but I find these give me a bad back after a few hours) so I use a sturdy, iron based swivel hunting seat like this one - but you can find many other examples on Google.

~ heavy duty spring clamps x4/8. These will help to keep your netting tight and stop it flapping around. They're also great to use for clipping foliage to your hide if you want to add extra camouflage!

3 - Clothing

Pigeons have sharp eyesight - wear camo if you can. If you can't, then at least try to break up what you're wearing so it's not so 'blocky', for instance wearing a different colour gilet over a shirt. Jack Pyke do a good range of camo clothing, however ladies you're going to have to suck it up and wear the men's stuff, because their ladies camo range is non existent. Doesn't really matter though - pigeon shooting is definitely not a glamorous sport and the whole point is to not be seen! I also have several items of clothing from second hand army shops, which cost very little.

Also, make sure you have decent footwear - in certain places throughout the UK there'll be a risk of tics, plus if you're trying to wade through nettles/thistles/wild brush to get set up you want to make sure your ankles aren't going to suffer!

And finally remember - no amount of camo is going to help if you jump around in your hide like a jelly bean. Even the best camouflaged animals in nature still use stealth to get as close to their prey before pouncing, they do not announce their presence by standing up every 5 minutes to see what's going on - that's what lemmings do! By all means stretch your legs if you need to once every hour or so (I have arthritis so this is imperative for me) by going for a 2 minute walk or just standing and stretching. But once you're back in that hide, play like an SAS soldier on a deep jungle mission.

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4 - Gun & Cartridges

Some people use an over and under shotgun in the hide, some use a side by side - some even use a 410. After a few years of using a 12 gauge over and under Yildiz, I now use a 12g semi-auto Hatsan, although I am looking to upgrade this asap! I find that I get less 'flustered' when using the semi auto, and I am not the best shot in the world even after this many years, so the fact that it holds 3 cartridges instead of 2 is very helpful for me!

Cartridges - I have used Lyvale, Gamebore and Hull, but my favourites have always been Eley Pigeon Select. I tend to go for 30g or 32g 6's, but some people use 28g cartridges or less. Some people also use steel - nothing wrong with this, especially if you plan on selling birds to game dealers. I just prefer to save my steel for wildfowling.

Best thing to do if you're brand new to this is go down to your nearest/friendliest gun shop and ask for advice. Explain what type of shooting you are looking to do, let them know if you have any issues such as frozen shoulder etc. which may mean it's best for you to go for a lighter load/gun with less kick. And let them know your budget - and stick to that budget! You could take a friend if you know anyone in the shooting world, but make sure they are giving you advice based on you, not based on their own preferences.

5 - Pattern set up

There are many different pigeon decoys you can use, including motorised equipment. I use Sillosocks decoys and a whirly which is in the video - you will also need a 12 volt battery for this. This week I will be adding a remote controlled flapper to the mix which was loaned to me by a good friend, I can't wait! I also use real pigeons that I have shot previously and take out of the freezer the night before. They can be used on the ground (I spread their wings out so that the pigeons flying notice the white on their wings) or you can use them on your motorised whirly to look like birds circling and coming in to land.

Quite simply, I put my 'decoy' pigeons (whatever you decide to use) out in front of me. The closest is usually about 10 - 12 yards (big steps) from my hide, the farthest usually no more than 25 yards out. Pigeons tend to land head on into a wind, so I will set up my pattern (and hide) so that they are coming straight towards me to land if I can. If I can't then I ensure that there is enough room somewhere in the pattern for the pigeons to land near to me. This means if the wind is blowing from your right to left for example, I make sure the back end of where I believe they will land is closer to my hide, and the front of the pattern further to my right by maybe 20 yards.

But bear in mind that is not always the way pigeons behave. Some people will say a pigeon is a pigeon, and I agree to some extent. But the end of the day a pigeon is also a wild animal, and anything that is wild is unpredictable. I've seen pigeons fly into my pattern side-ways into the wind, and I've also (very recently) watched a pigeon almost stop dead fluttering and hovering about 70 yards up in the air before dive bombing into my pattern like a peregrine falcon - it was unreal and I was on the phone at the time too busy screaming about what I'd just witnessed to even shoot the bloody thing!

For more info on setting up your pattern from veteran pigeon shooter Peter Theobald you can read his Shooting UK article here.

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At the end of the day, after all of this you need to remember to keep space in the freezer for all those pigeons you've hopefully shot! If you only manage a couple, try not to beat yourself up about it. Try to figure out where you went wrong (was the pattern putting them off, was the hide flapping around too much, was the wind direction wrong?) Or maybe you weren't mounting the gun properly due to over excitement, which I do all the time! Learn from these mistakes, put a plan in place to rectify them for next time - and enjoy the couple you have shot for tea, or keep them for decoys next time you go out!

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I'm not an expert but I believe knowledge should be shared, opinions questioned, friendly debates started - this is how we learn and keep our Fieldsports community thriving. I am also someone who likes to use 'real world language' rather than shooter speak for those who are starting out - I had no idea what half the people were going on about when I first started!

The next generation of shooters are so important - however there is a whole current generation who are struggling to find their way in the shooting world today - I was once one of you and believe you deserve to be brought into the fold with the rest of us too. Even the experts had to start somewhere...

Happy Shooting!


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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I hope you're enjoying reading my blog! I'm not an expert, I only wish to share my personal experiences, of someone who did not grow up in the countryside nor enter the hunting world in the traditional way.

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