Pigeon Shooting in Mid-February

pigeons shot february 2013

Just a few hours in mid February over rape crop yielded this result for shooters and farmer


In mid February pigeons rely heavily on rape crops that are little more than stubby plants to provide a daily feed. A flock can quickly strip a field of virtually all the visible green before moving on. This Leicestershire field yielded 100 pigeons and 7 corvids in just a few hours.

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Advanced pigeon shooting equipment

Anything that needs a battery is in the advanced equipment class. It may be nice and it may be effective but it isn’t a necessity. All batteries are heavy and so they should justify being included because they take up a ton of weigh that you could either leave behind or replace with something more useful. Having said that most big bag days wouldn’t happen without something more than a few shell decoys.

Pigeon Magnets, Whirly-gigs, call them all sorts of things, certainly bring movement into your pattern but they don’t act like pigeon or look like pigeon. They add height in summer when the rape or wheat is high and create a draught under the wings of dead birds and all the designs of spinning and flapping decoys on offer. Some days they are enough to swing the balance in your favour other days they are a very good bird scarer which is good because that is meant to be your first line of attack against pigeons under the General Licence. If asked to justify yourself to an over zealous officer of the law you can legitimately point out your bird scarer and demonstrate its ineffectiveness and hence the necessity to shoot the mountain of pigeons at your feet. Some days magnets work all on there own and are essential equipement but I can’t tell you which days they are so put it in the car but don’t always lug it across the filed.

Flappers and Turbo flappers are the same thing only one goes faster than the other! These are much lighter than magnets and add the effect of a pigeon flapping it’s wings to take off, land or just flap about. These are pretty realistic especial when used with a foot switch or random timer. Flocks of pigeon fidget and generally  flap about to find the best feeding and these flappers mimic they rather well. Unfortunately they only flap one bird in the flock unless you cheat by tying a thin thread from the flapper to a few decoys mounted near by on wobbly sticks. When the flapper flaps a ripple of movement spreads out around just like one pigeon disturbing it’s neighbours for a few seconds.

Always use a randon timer on flappers and a digital speed controller on a rotary unless you want to drain your battery very quickly or lug a big car battery across the field. Random timers now come with 2 and 3 independant circuits so you can control several flappers going on and off at random intervals all off one battery.

Whenever possible use dead birds on all these devices or at least start with foam decoys and switch to real birds as you shoot a few early birds. Don’t forget to wipe off the spikes on your bird cradles at the end of the day as you know where they have been don’t you!

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Vital pigeon decoying equipment

Let’s keep it simple

  1. Gun
  2. Decoys
  3. Hide
  4. Seat
  5. Flask

I am going to miss out a few things like dog, car and all things electrical for the moment.

Pigeon shooters seem to be a bit like fishermen, they buy stuff, lots of it. Why? Probably because they spend too much time wishing they were out shooting when they are not out shooting and the best cure for that is buying stuff for the next time they are out shooting.

Problem is that it weighs a ton.

If you can drive to your shoot location then packing all your toys isn’t a problem but very often pigeon shooting starts with a walk, sometimes a long walk and so the amount of gear you take matters. So let’s see what we really need to take.

Your gun is essential so get a decent slip that protects it and has a comfy shoulder strap. Any 12 bore that you can shoot well with will do for pigeons. A 20 bore firing 20 gram or above loads of size 6 shot will also do the job. Semi- autos are OK for experienced shooters but can be a liability for inexperienced shooters. Big capacity semi autos are a pain in the bum and no use to anyone

Pigeons will fall to any well placed shot at ranges up to 40 yards. Shot size 7 1/2 up to 6’s in loads from 24 gram up to 32g are fine. Steel shot will kill cleanly at ranges up to 35-40 yards and some game buyers will pay a small premium for birds free of lead, so will some falconery centers.

The best way to lower the cost of your pigeon shooting is to take a few lessons and improve your shots to kill ratio. Buying expensive “pigeon” loads or “VIP” or “Gold” won’t improve your shooting accuracy. If you missed it is because you shot the wrong piece of sky. Don’t take your most expensive gun pigeon shooting or it could be the most expensive days shooting you ever had.

Take enough cartridges with you in THE CAR but not to your hide. A slab of 250 is essential about once a year so a cartridge bag with 100 max is enough. If the action is fast and furious you can always head for the stash in the motor and combine the trip with a tea break and a comfort stop. 100 1 1/8oz cartrides weighs about 10lbs and your gun will weigh about another 7 or 8 lbs, you don’t need to add 15lbs of unused cartridges.


You can carry a lot of extra shell decoys for the weight of too many cartridges.


Decoys – The more the better! Shell decoys are great for virtually every occassion. 20 shell decoys, with the plastic wobbly pegs weigh about 5lbs, about the same as a box of 25 cartridges. By leaving behind the 4 boxes of cartridges suggest previously you can carry an extra 80 shell deeks!


How many times have I seen shooters lug a slab of shell across the field then pull out a dozen decoys that just don’t pull in the birds. I actually prefer the spring steel pegs to the plastic pegs which makes them a bit heavier but you may not agree.

flocked verses unflocked pigeon decoys

Pigeon decoys come painted and flock coated. (painted on the left, flocked on the right) Some believe that flocking reduces reflection and is more realistic but is more prone to damage.


Flocked decoys may be less shiney but if you get a cheap offer on painted deeks add them to the pile anyway. Full body decoys are a bit of pain but worth the extra hastle if, and only if, you are going to loft them in a tree, if not don’t bother. Add a few crows or magpies.



Your basic hide is a few poles with a bit of netting. Trouble is it falls over, gets blown over or isn’t really big enough. Use the lightest telescopic poles you can find and buy a few cheap plastic tent pegs and some guy ropes, honestly they will make a sturdy hide from a few flimsy poles. If sailing ships, cranes and ultra light aircraft use guy wires then they are probably the dogs danglies. 4 ounces of guy ropes will do better than 20lbs of steel poles. Your cammo netting is really only to break up your outline because you are wearing green or cammo clothes aren’t you?

Make your hide taller rather than wider. Nothing will ruin your shooting more than sitting on a foot stool and crouching down not to be seen. How high should it be? Well stand up or sit on a nice high shooting stick then work out how high your net needs to be to cover you up to the level of your shoulders. Add a bit for luck. There you have the perfect height. Add a few sticks or branches from your location, they should be a perfect match with your location too ( and you didn’t have to carry them either )

Seat is simple, get a shooting stick off fleabay for a tenner. Made for the job, hence the name. A shooting stick isn’t so much of a seat as a prop that you lean against until you mount your gun and lean forward off the stick to fire. If you really expect to be sitting around for hours between shots you should move or go home! If you take a chair then go for a tall three legged stool as they won’t wobble and are lighter.

Flask is an essential item summer or winter. Fill with your favourite brew. No alcohol ever. Enough said.

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The Pigeon Problem

If you haven’t seen flocking pigeons you might well think that shooters are looking for an excuse to shoot wood pigeon without reasonable justification. This short video shows a modest size flock of pigeon that had been observed feeding off the same rape field for several days. Each bird will fill it’s crop at least twice a day with the very growing tips that contain the important flower generating buds that make rape productive.

It can clearly be seen that these pigeon have become immune to the bird scaring tactics of the farmer and are continuing to damage his crops just as spring arrives with the burst of growth needed to produce a full harvest.


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Setting out your decoys – What is best?

If there was a single answer to this question it would be – What ever gets you results!

Seriously, there isn’t a magic answer to setting out decoys that always gets results but there are a few very fundamental things to consider.

Decoys will only draw pigeons in when they are already in the area. I know it sounds daft but some folks seem to think they can draw pigeon into an area because that is where they have permission to shoot. Wrong. Pigeons go where pigeons want to go not where you are allowed to shoot. It is against the General Licence to create a need to shoot pigeons because you have drawn them in to an area. The General Licence is an exclusion to the general ban on shooting birds and mammals based on the need to shoot pigeons as a last resort. Drawing pigeons into a shootable position in an adjacent field to where they are doing damage but where there isn’t a safe direction to shoot them would be fine.

So decoys should be set out where pigeons are already evident so you can get them into range or close enough to their flight line to get them to deviate and come to you for a look. If pigeon are hitting a part of a large field go to where they are if possible. They are choosing that part of the field for a reason they understand even if you don’t.

A large number of shell decoys on the ground will look like a huddle of happy pigeon so probably forget about rotaries and fancy bouncers. A dozen decoys isn’t a flock. Fifty decoys less than 1.5m apart looks more like it and weighs less than a pigeon magnet and a thumping big battery.

Clusters of pigeon within a large flock. typical group seems to be about 20-30 birds

Clusters of pigeon within a large flock. typical group seems to be about 20-30 birds
Click to enlarge

If you have to grab the attention of a passing pigeon then movement and flying decoys may well be needed but put them where they can be seen from a way off. Watch they aren’t blotted out by a high hedge or trees and that they contrast with their back ground. A few extra decoys on the top of a hedge or a small tree may attract pigeon that aren’t intested in ground feeding but are ready to lay up for a few hours.

Almost all pigeon on the ground face into the breeze otherwise they get cold and ruffled by the wind. Do the same with your decoys with just a few at odd angles. Most guides say to make a horseshoe shape so bird drop into the middle of the pattern but I’m not 100% sure about that, I haven’t seen pigeons in a horsehoes pattern ever.

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Pigeon Decoys – What are they for?

The question is in the title isn’t it?  What do we use pigeon decoys for?

Well the simple answer is to fool pigeons into thinking that there are already pigeons safely on the ground feeding and that it is alright for them to come down and join the throng.

Even if pigeon aren’t fooled enough to get them to land they can often be simply drawn off their course across a field enough to bring them within range of our guns.

So our decoys have to do something to get the pigeons attantion, to catch their eye, and then to hold their attention long enough to get them with in range before they discover the “decoy” is no real pigeon.

To do both these things decoys have added features to firstly, catch the attention and then to, keep up the deceipt. We add movement and bright colouration to decoys to achieve the attention grabbing bit. Wobbly spring sticks, motorised cradles, flappers,  rotary whirly-gigs and even rotary wings all help along with long bendy “floaters” and even poles to loft our decoys into the trees. The various devices also try to make these attention grabbing movements vaguely realistic to so the pigeon thinks it has caught sight of a feeding group down on the ground and is missing out on a meal.

If the colour, movement and pattern of these decoys keeps up the illusion of safety completelely our pigeon will actually come in to land amongst the decoys. Most of the time he will probably realise something is wrong but not until it is too late and we get in a shot at close range. The best form of decoy is, of course, the real thing. Adding dead birds to our existing pattern of decoys can only increase the effectiveness of our set up provided they are posed reasonably naturally. Dead birds laying with their feet in the air in the middle of our pattern won’t help.

So in summary our decoys must get a pigeons attention and hold it as long as possible. We must maximise it’s attrations and minimise it’s alarm signals.

These are just the basics. We must also put our decoys in the right place, at the right time, in the right pattern and in the right numbers to suit the conditions we are in.


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