Winter Crop Protection
The winter month’s always sees large flocks of Woodpigeons thriving on fields of oil seed rape. We catch up with the Bywell team on their crop protection over the winter.
The woodpigeon is a remarkable bird greatly adapted for the challenges of the UK countryside. The dash of white on the wings and the iridescent hues around the neck are all very distinctive. Over the past 25 years or so the numbers of woodpigeons have been growing rapidly after the introduction of the winter crop of oil seed rape. Going back before the days of growing this particular crop the woodpigeon numbers were drastically lower as they often struggled to feed throughout these harsh periods of the year. The oil seed rape is succulent and sweet for them at this time of year, providing all the nutrients they require to carry them through from November until March when they will move onto the clover in the lush Spring fields of grass.
The arable farmland around Bywell Shooting Ground grows numerous arable crops such as wheat, barley & oil seed rape. The winter months provide a challenging time as the pigeons love nothing more than eating this irresistible oil seed rape. If left unchecked this would result in a huge amount of crop damage so to deter the pigeons the first method is the bird scarer. These scarers are powered by a gas bottle and go off producing a loud “BANG” at pre-determined intervals lifting any pigeons off the field sitting feeding in the vicinity. However you can never cover all areas of the farm so there will be small pockets where the pigeons can sit and feed away un-disturbed. The only other option for these birds is to control numbers by shooting which consequentially presents some of the most challenging shooting sport.
Amongst the team here at Bywell there are several keen shooters and between them they all have had a go trying their hand at catching up with these cunning pigeons. Before any shooting can take place comes the most important part of the whole job in the form of Reconnaissance. To have a chance of having any shooting, first you need to see where the woodpigeons are going, any flightlines in particular they are using and where their main feeding areas are. Spending at least an hour or so on this will save you many hours being in the wrong place and chasing pigeons all day with no shooting to be had. Although not the most exciting this exercise, is probably the most important part of successful pigeon shooting.
So now we know where we should be situated the next thing is the method in which we will be shooting, and this could be determined by several factors such as weather, wind and equipment availability. The three main ways to shoot woodpigeons are as follows.
This is a form of shooting where you study what routes the birds are using to and from their feeding ground and position yourself there. This hopefully results in a steady stream of passing traffic and over time a good bag can be shot. Ideal if the main feeding spot isn’t located on the ground on which you are shooting. This requires little or no equipment at all.
Pigeons in a given area will always have a favored roosting wood. Simply positioning yourself in here early and waiting for them to come in can be effective. It often requires a number of people to be successful in shooting a good bag. This requires little or no equipment at all.
Probably the most effective and popular method. Decoying uses either movable or fixed positioned imitation pigeons which hopefully catch the sight of birds flying by. This will draw them to land near these imitation decoys and present fairly short to medium range shots. If done correctly and successful relatively large numbers of pigeons can be shot in a fairly short period of time. This can require a considerable amount of equipment to be carried to the shooting site.
After watching numerous areas of the farm the team was ready to make use of their Monday off to get some pigeon shooting in. The best way in the winter to get the most productive numbers is to split up. This means if one or two people are getting some shooting it keeps the pigeons on the move making everyone more likely to get some shots. This particular Monday was ideal as a good breeze of 18 MPH from the west was also a great addition. The wind allows the sound of gun fire to be carried away quickly whilst also keeping the pigeons lower and breaking the flock up into smaller parties. The team arrived at 11am ready to each get into their respective areas. Armed with their Hull Superfast pigeon cartridges the stage was set for a day out on the pigeons!
Two of the team went out with decoys to help draw the pigeons in. They were located at opposite ends of the farm but in places where the pigeons were feeding heavy. The other two members were strategically positioned on good flightlines on hedge lines which meant hopefully they would get some birds en route to or from their feeding spots. It wasn’t long before the birds started coming and empty cartridges were appearing.
The first few hours were productive before the pigeon lull of midday set in. This is the time where the pigeons aren’t moving as much and it was 45 – 50 minutes where no shots were fired. Things began to hot up again as the daylight was short and the birds required a good last feed before dark so the traffic started increasing. The last 2 hours between 2 – 4 were some of the best shooting with the wind producing some ultimate sporting birds. At 4:30 the team called it a day and began the task of picking the birds. The grand total of 34 was a good haul for the days sport, especially over large flocks on oil seed rape.
Not only is such a job of crop protection so important in the winter but it also provides one of the most under-rated meats of the countryside. Pigeon is a very healthy delicious cuisine and can be prepared and cooked in so many different ways. The other added bonus of pigeon is the fact they are so easy to pluck. The entire bird can be removed of feathers in a matter minutes unlike many other game species taking up to 20-30 minutes to pluck. Now there is nothing more rewarding than a well prepared game dish such as this, really completing that magical day of sport in the field!