We head out for pigeons over peas but end up with an a-maize-ing surprise

credit: Archant

Pigeons love peas. They adore them. They simply can’t get enough, whether drilled seed, tiny seedlings or mature plants, which is why Andy Crow has had some of his most memorable days of shooting over this crop.

credit: Archant

So it is with some excitement that we head to a friend’s farm up on the tops of the North Downs. There are big acreages of peas up here and large numbers of pigeons are in the area. So it is both a surprise and disappointment to find almost no birds feeding on the crop.

Andy is cursing his mate’s information when the police helicopter beats in low. Suddenly the sky is filled with grey bodies and the cacophony of beating wings. This requires investigation.

It doesn’t take long to get to the bottom of the mystery. The game covers for the pheasant shoot have just been prepped for drilling… but they are still covered with chopped maize cobs. Andy is shocked at the amount of maize still on the surface. “There are whole and half cobs here – some of them are untouched! I cannot believe there is still so much food here – no wonder the birds are targeting this lot.”

We have a scout round and Andy selects a site that has served him well in the past. He throws out a handful of full-bodied decoys in their Ringers Originals sock covers and sets up a whirly. Ferals and stock doves are already trying to make it into the decoys before Andy puts the finishing touches to his hide.

We are tucked under an ash tree on the edge of the cover with the pea fields behind us, the other side of the shaw. But the birds only have eyes for the masses of maize. No sooner has Andy closed his gun than a woody drops in and meets its end.

Yes, closed his gun: Andy is shooting an over-and-under today rather than his Beretta semi. “I’m practising for some clay comps so thought I’d better stick with this for the pigeons.”

If Andy had been of a mind to shoot ferals as well as the woodies, there is no doubt we could have doubled the bag. But he likes to ensure that he sells what he shoots (if the birds don’t get stolen for supper by journalists and cameramen) so doesn’t risk putting off an incoming woodpigeon by targeting the easier ferals that land in among the decoys.

A wind shift causes Andy a few problems: “We normally have a nice south-westerly here that would bring the birds in to the pattern to land from in front. But it’s dialled round to more of a north-westerly this afternoon and that means the birds are hugging the shaw behind for cover and then popping through this gap in the trees behind me to land.”

It means that not only does Andy spend much of the afternoon facing the wrong way, he really has to watch the incoming traffic and try to second guess when he might get a chance. But it does provide some terrific ‘snap shooting’ as the birds suddenly appear in the gap. Andy bags some beauties in the split second he has to react.

There is no other bird that offers so much variety of shooting, and using the stiffening breeze to their advantage they are incredibly challenging. Yet a few moments later, one will beat into the wind straight for the decoys and provide the ideal shot for a novice. You just can’t tell with pigeons.

Heavy showers flit past periodically but we strike it lucky and have three dry hours of decent sport. The bag builds steadily and although the trickle doesn’t turn into the deluge we hoped it might, it is about the biggest bag Crowman has had since last harvest.

There are a fair few youngsters among the bag. These callow youths tend to decoy well as they haven’t seen enough of the world to know that a Crowman might be lurking in the bushes. It’s further evidence of the early spring and a sign that second broods will be underway for most breeding pairs.

Andy adds all of his shot birds to the pattern and in the low sun the sight of gleaming feathers and golden maize cobs shows just how visible this area must be for sharp-eyed birds on the prowl for an easy meal.

Andy always keeps a careful count of the birds he downs in tricky areas. “I hate the idea of wasting birds by not picking them up. I don’t 
have Ruby with me today so that means I will have to play retriever.” His tenacity pays dividends with an extra eight pigeons picked from the hedgerow, topping the total up to a very respectable 81 birds.

“This was a bit of an unexpected bonanza on this maize. I was fully expecting a tough job on the pea plants but the sheer volume of cobs means they will still be on these covers for a while yet. I’ll make sure I get another crack at them if I can.”