The Wonder Of Woodies
Let’s give credit where credit’s due. Sit for a while and watch the woodpigeon closely. Perched on the bough you could mistake it for a clownish bird. It’s head and feet seem too small for the round body. In the boughs, it lacks the dexterity of the crow family, moving clumsily. Study its eye for a moment, though . Its piercing stare matches that of any corvid, as does its alertness. With food in sight, it has a dogged patience, happy to sit for ages waiting for the opportunity to feed. Take time to study its plumage. A plain looking mantle of gun-metal grey with a jet black edging, a lighter grey for its breeches and a pair of flashy pink boots. It wears a subtle lilac blouson below a scarf of pure white, ultra-violet and emerald green. It looks for all the world like a clown … but get to know the woodpigeon more intimately and you won’t call it a jester. When this bird takes flight you will see it in all its glory and will soon appreciate why it dominates the British sky, why its population has exploded so successfully and why it is the farmers nemesis. Watch it zipping across the hedge tops like Tornado jet, jinking and soaring, reaching speeds of up to 50 mph.
The birds adroitness, darting between hedge and branch, is awesome . If you’re lucky enough to witness a woodpigeon trying to evade a sparrow-hawk .. and most pigeons will evade it .. note its power and acceleration. That power is generated by a heart much bigger (in relation to it’s body mass) than most birds and by the thick muscles on it’s breast. It’s that breast meat which is the air rifle shooters prize. All of which makes the woodpigeon a very honourable quarry … and one which often needs cunning and field craft to bring it to the pot. Its availability all year round as a food source is what makes it one of my favourite quarry species. Airgunning woodies requires different tactics for different seasons, so the bird offers variety to your hunting. From October to March, you can huddle beneath the ivy breaks wrapped against the wind or rain and snipe the birds as they settle in to roost. This gregarious member of the dove family congregates in large numbers at night or in harsh weather, finding shelter in any evergreen cover like ivy or mistletoe. Simple observation, either seeing hordes of woodpigeon descending on a copse or finding their guano on the woodland floor, leads you to these communal roosts. Roost shooting is by far the most productive method for the air rifle hunter. From April to June you can see the flocks plundering seed drillings and attempt to decoy them from behind a net or simply pick them off individually from a well placed hide. Though the woodpigeon breeds in most months of the year (particularly when winters are mild), they will be more active in spring. Watching couples building nests will allow control.
In summer, when the leaf canopy is full and they have maximum cover, they can be carefully stalked from below by following their familiar murmur and trying to spot that giveaway lilac breast from below. A tough task … for they will usually see you first. The astute hunter will also target the pools and troughs where they take on water in parched weather. In autumn they will flock in to raid the wind-flattened barley ears or feed among the harvested stubble. This is the time for decoys and nets again. A simple horseshoe pattern of flock pigeon shells laid out in a large U-shape about thirty yards from your hide will bring the birds in to look. But be quick with the shot if one lands. They won’t be fooled for long. I always set a hide or net within view of a sitty-tree and generally have more success from the tree than from the ground. Suspicious pigeons will land in the tree to watch the decoys before attempting to feed. The more you observe woodpigeons, the more you learn how to predict their behaviour. Where are their flight-lines, what landmarks does they follow? The edge of the wood, or perhaps a line of telegraph poles? What crops are they targeting? Opening the full crops of shot birds will give clues to this … so make sure you know what your farmer has sown and where. Note their behaviour in a fair wind … they will land with the breeze in their face and will roost on the lee side of the wood. Watch their conduct around your decoys too. Which end of the pattern attracts them? Where do they exit? Did they come down at all or just fly over? All this will help you to set future patterns successfully. Once you’ve shot your woodpigeons, learn to dress them out for the table. I only use the lush breast medallions, which can be trimmed out inside a minute. Get hold of some recipes and experiment in the kitchen. There are plenty of recipes about, including in my own books. They can be pan-fried like liver, skewered on the BBQ, slow-cooked in a casserole or spiced up in a curry. Rich, succulent meat and free for the taking. The best part of all, of course, is that in using an air rifle your accurately placed, single small pellet will ensure that the meat reaches your table untainted.
Copyright Ian Barnett. This book is available on Amazon in e-book and paperback formats. See the Books section on this website.