This expert guide to pigeon shooting sees Roberth Cuthbert talk to the team who shoot wood pigeon in their thousands.
TAKE THE PIGEON ON
Once the magnet suddenly acquiesced and began to behave after initially refusing to play ball, Peter furtively squinted skywards before scuttling away into the hide, and loaded his gun. He tousled the ear of his black labrador, Medlar, set his clicker, hanging from a central hide pole, to 0000, and as I asked: “What are you using by way of hardware, Peter?” he suddenly stood up and blew away one of the hulking preconceptions I’d harboured about him.
He’d spotted a pigeon, wide to our left, which would not have dropped into our pattern in a month of overcast Sundays. With a shuffle to rectify his foot position, as his cheek met the stock, he barked: “Purdey – Live Pigeon gun,” while he nailed an oblivious and rather luckless bird over his left shoulder. A live pigeon gun; the irony was deafening.
As Peter returned to his drum-like seat, my expression must have yelled volumes. His face creased into a beaming smile, so often seen in charity clay-shoot galleries. “Robert, you’ve got to take ’em on. Have a go at them.” Another tenet of the expert guide to pigeon shooting. As Medlar did all sorts of manoeuvres to expel the bunch of feathers from the corners of his mouth, Peter sat down, reloaded and turned to me again. “It really isn’t all about ratios and shots to kill. Yes, I keep a rough tally, but if a bird of that stature was presented to you on a driven pheasant day, Mr Cuthbert, who wouldn’t have a crack at it, and relish it too, eh ? That was 40 quids’ worth of anyone’s money, was it not?”
I couldn’t argue. It was all of 65yd, maybe more. After folding a more straightforward bird over the decoys, Medlar was made to wait and fidget, eyebrows dancing, eyes darting everywhere. “I’m never in a huge hurry to pick dead ones; it’s good to let the field quickly settle if you can,” his master explained. Squinting out over the decoys, he continued. “I do love ’em like that first one, with a bit of acceleration. The faster birds, under a bit of power, they’re wonderful. The floating, hovering things, ugh, they do nothing for me, those ones.” Aren’t those hovering, floating birds the staple of the pigeon-shot’s day, over the pattern of decoys, I asked. “Well, yes,” he said, slightly pained. “But, you see, for me, it’s a little bit more than constantly shooting them in the V – the killing zone above the decoys.”
I peered at the spent cartridge case, an RC4 28g load of 6. “They load these especially for me; they’re easily the most devastating shell I’ve ever used. The whirly is an old Beasley model. It must be nearly 15 years old. Having been exposed to a whirly, I reckon woodpigeon have a memory of around two weeks or so, so it’s no bad idea to mix things up; use them, don’t use them and so on. The whirlies also only work in the right conditions, with a good wind, about 15mph ideally.”
I asked Peter about the things people forget or those that just plain don’t occur to them. He rose slowly, picking a pigeon from a handful of stock doves. “Sturdy hide poles are a must, with good kick-plates for you to tread them into hard ground. Water is something people always forget – for your dog and for you. To keep it cold in the summer, freeze a partially filled bottle and it will slowly defrost during the day. That’s an old Archie Coats trick, I think. When it’s really cold and the wind is whipping into your back, I use a piece of hessian to keep the draught off. You must be comfortable. You won’t shoot well otherwise.”