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WATCH: Andy Crow is pigeon shooting over peas with cousin Gary and Grandson Regan, and bag 170 birds for their efforts!
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This month’s trip to Crow’s farm (to film for our YouTube channel and write this article) turns out to be a family affair, with cousin Gary and young grandson Regan joining us for the day. Whether it’s the joy of having a keen young protégé in the hide, or simply the anticipation of a fantastic day’s shooting, Crowman seems to be in exceptionally high spirits (sadly for Chris the cameraman, Andy in high spirits tends to mean rather more takes than is strictly necessary!).
Sometimes pigeon shooting is a cold, soul-destroying, frustrating sport that leaves you wondering why on earth you bother; and sometimes... everything is golden. This day was golden – and everything glowed, from the vast swathes of rape seed oil bathed in the brilliant spring sunlight, to the smile on little Regan’s face when the birds started swooping into the decoy pattern he’d helped his grandad set up minutes earlier.
We arrive at a sociable 10.30am, hop into a buggy, trundle a minute down the road and across a field, and the trio set about creating their lethal 360° pigeon trap. They are shooting over a field of recently drilled peas, with yellow rape crop blooming all around. Although modern drilling machinery generally puts the peas in deep enough that there’s nothing for the birds, on some headlands and on this patch of the field where the ground is quite ‘knobbly’, they haven’t gone in so well.
For once, there is a great wind, blowing fairly briskly in a south-westerly direction – this is convenient, as the lads can set up in the corner of the field against the treeline dissecting it, and shoot into the larger half of the field, away from the houses and next doors’ crops.
Gary’s hide sits fairly close to the corner of the field, meaning he can trim anything flying down the boundary line that is out of range of Andy’s hide. Andy’s is spaced a few trees down from Gary’s, and perfectly positioned to catch anything swooping through a gap in some trees at the far end and looping towards the hides in the corner to land into the wind. He knows they’ve been using this flightline as he’s spent the last few days paying close attention. (This set-up is much better explained by the annotated aerial photo on page 14 than by me, so make sure to have a look at that!)
It’s all shot birds for decoys today because Andy had a good day out earlier in the week, and the team create a pattern with a fair bit of space in it.
“When pigeons feed on rape, they seem to be a lot closer together and in bigger numbers,” he explains, “so I’d add more decoys and put them a bit closer together, but we’re on peas right here so I’m spacing them out a little more... it’s how they naturally feed.”
The decoys are clustered in front of each hide with a gap in the middle that should funnel the birds into the corner, where they’ll encounter the wrath of Gary and Andy’s shotguns. Regan has his own mini-hide tucked into the base of a tree, and a wooden toy semi-auto, which he follows the lines of the birds with all day... I wouldn’t like to be a pigeon the day that boy is old enough to handle the real thing! They also place a decoy pattern in the field behind, with a whirlie to draw in anything that is heading towards next door’s rape. I can’t imagine much getting past this set-up...
And I’m right. It’s a brilliant day! The birds just keep coming in nice, manageable ones and twos. The set-up works exactly as planned, and although they don’t seem to want to come in too close, it doesn’t matter – Gary and Andy have shot together since they were kids and, as well as being highly amusing, their shouted back-and-forth conversation (they forgot the radios) serves the important purpose of calling each other’s birds and making sure everyone knows who is shooting what if more than two are decoying.
I’m in heaven... it’s sunny, they are shooting like kings, and there is no gap in the action. No long, anxious wait, with smiles fading and barrels cooling, while we wonder if that’s it for the day. No. It’s just constant, steady entertainment for me.
At about 1.30, they slip out of the hide, add to the pattern, clear up some shot birds that the dogs have missed, and tie some white sacks onto the oak trees bordering the field behind. Some birds seem determined to make for these trees, and the bags should keep them moving nicely as they spot them and veer away, back towards the pattern. It’s a similar concept to beating, but you don’t have to do it yourself!
The time ticks on, and still the pigeons come. We were expecting most of the action to be between three and four in the afternoon, but it’s been fairly consistent all day and, at half five, it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon. Both myself and the cameraman have a long drive home and an early start, so Andy takes us to our cars in his buggy, before speeding back to the field as fast as it’ll take him.
The shooting continued until gone eight in the evening, and the final bag reported was a more than decent 178 pigeons, two jackdaws and one crow... well, two ‘Crows’. Andy’s set-up worked exactly as planned, demonstrating how great fieldcraft and intimate knowledge of how the birds behave on your piece of ground is over half the battle won. Having a pigeon-busting partner like Gary also comes in handy... their two-pronged approach was deadly today, and thanks to them, the peas are safe and the pigeons have been significantly thinned out.
Having fun will always come second to serious pest control, but when you get everything just right, like the crew did today, it’s pretty much guaranteed.
TOP TIP: Watch the birds on the ground you intend to shoot and take notice of how they feed - how many, how close together, which areas – and then mimic this with your pattern.
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