Newton’s Lore

PUBLISHED: 16:02 14 August 2013 | UPDATED: 16:02 14 August 2013

Steve Newton bags some bonus pigeons on a squirrel hunt

At the time of writing (end of May, the coldest spring for over 50 years) things are still very quiet on the shoot, although I’m in the process of joining another little local shoot that some friends of mine have acquired and the idea is we’ll be sharing the keepering duties among ourselves. The land is only 300 acres or so and is situated right on the edge of a marsh so is far more suited to wildfowling than pheasant shooting. There are three very good water splashes on this land that attract a wide variety of duck and geese and duck shooting is a great passion of mine which is why I decided to join this little group. However, somewhere along the line the lads decided to increase the sport to include a bit of pheasant shooting too, so here we are. While we’ll be sharing the keepering duties, the lads have limited experience and so I guess that once again this will fall mainly to me.

Pheasant pens

The pens are in place and the cover crop (dwarf sorghum) has already been drilled. The soil here is mostly clay and so sorghum is the natural choice because it’s a very hardy plant that does well in most soils. Blessed with a strong stem and large seed heads, it offers both food and shelter in even the most exposed areas, such as a windy marsh. The plan is to put no more then a few hundred birds down to offer a bit of variety on shoot days but holding them in this kind of area will be very difficult indeed. There’s no commercial value to this little shoot; it’s just a few mates having a bit of fun and splitting the cost among the ten of us so it’s nice and relaxed. The shoot captain had asked me to keep an eye on the place and carry out some vermin control whenever I had a bit of spare time, but time is one thing that is always in short supply. Still I wanted to go and take a look at some squirrels that were situated in a line of trees on the edge of the recently sown cover crop. I wanted to put some feeders here and it made sense to clear these expensive pests out of the area beforehand, which is why one sunny afternoon saw me bumping down the track toward our one and only pen.

Woodies aplenty

The track down to the pen is at least half a mile long with two gates that must be unlocked along the way, the land is very open along here giving plenty of time to keep an eye out for marking possible quarry and stalking opportunities.

As I bumped along I couldn’t help but notice the amount of woodpigeons that were constantly in the air and as I watched I gradually pieced together three strong flight lines, two going into a field over the boundary hedgerow to feed and one coming out as the birds retired to digest their food. I could tell by the direction and speed of these birds that it was somewhere on our land that they were heading but the flight line disappeared behind the small wood.

As I pieced together the flight lines, my excitement grew as I realised there could be some pigeon shooting up for grabs. The neighbouring landowner is in a stewardship scheme which basically means he is obliged to sow certain areas of his land with crops designed to encourage wildlife.

Now this is just one of the schemes provided by the government and DEFRA to encourage landowners to plant crops designed to encourage wildlife and in this instance the crop that had been sown was wild bird seed. I had no idea how long the birds had been hitting the field but numbers were certainly still reasonable and I was sure I could find some way of making use of this unexpected opportunity!

Pigeon dilema

I was certainly not kitted out for pigeon shooting because I’d come to shoot squirrels, so I was carrying my Daystate Air Wolf and I had neither decoys or hide, but then I didn’t have permission to shoot the birds on the crop anyway.

As I continued down the track I had a bit of a dilemma; I’d told the shoot captain that I would remove those squirrels today and had even called him on my way to tell him so, but on the other hand, in pigeon shooting you have to take your chances when you can and who knew how long these pigeon would be feeding here? By the time I reached the pen and started to unload my gear I was almost resenting the pigeons for causing me this dilemma because I only had this one afternoon to spare!

They’re here!

However, I needn’t have worried, because as I rounded the edge of the one and only small wood on the shoot I discovered that the pigeons were using the same tree line that the squirrels were in, so I was still on track for them as well as having a chance at the woodies; happy days!

Well, that’s not strictly true because the majority of birds were using the south side of the wood but enough clattered out of the tree line to convince me I could be pretty busy right here. I squatted at the entrance to the field and watched through my binoculars. It’s important to discover exactly which trees the birds favoured and also, if possible, which exact branches.

While I waited for the pigeons to return and give me this information I spotted two squirrels scampering around on the floor while a third was clinging halfway up a trunk.A movement in the treetops revealed a fourth so I knew they were here.

Flight lines

I knew where the flight line was, but the problem I had was the amount of leaf that was on the trees, which made visibility a bit difficult. Although the birds were returning in numbers it still took me a good 25 minutes to identify a productive branch that was both visible from a suitable vantage point and more importantly offered a safe background, but when hunting, patience will always pay off in the end and this was no exception. My plan was to tuck up in the hedgerow and use my camo as a hide and as I broke cover the squirrels scarpered and the pigeons clattered off in all directions while I got into position as quickly as possible. It was a rare beautiful day and I was feeling pretty optimistic but it wasn’t until about 15 minutes later that the first small flock of pigeons arrived.

As they approached they split into two groups with one going into the trees further down the line to disappear into the foliage while a group of three headed straight toward the branches I was covering. The approach of this flight line meant they had their backs to me as they came in, allowing me to shoulder the rifle and await their appearance on the branch through the scope giving me an enormous advantage.


Nine times out of ten when a pigeon first lands it will freeze for a second or so. Therefore, it was just a matter of centering the crosshair on the pigeon’s head and squeezing the trigger. The smack of the pellet finding its mark was followed by the pigeon crashing into the ground below the tree while the other two birds clattered away. A good start and I was well pleased as I settled down to wait once more. Within minutes the next group was on its way in and once again I raised the rifle focused on the branch and watched as they arrived. As before, I immediately selected a bird and released the trigger to watch the second bird follow the first into the ground below. A third and a fourth bird were added to the bag in the next hour or so in exactly the same way as the first two, when finally I spotted a squirrel scampering along the ground following the tree line towards me.

Squirrels at last

This was, after all, what I had came for. I tracked him through the scope until he at last paused at around 25 yards where I held the crosshair on his head and slowly squeezed the trigger. To my horror, the Air Wolf made that distinctive cough that signals no pellet in the chamber, as the squirrel went back the way he had come!

Somehow I had managed to miss one of the holes when I was loading the magazine, an amateurish mistake but thank goodness the Air Wolf is a quiet rifle with or without a pellet, and the animal was not unduly alarmed as it stopped and gave me another opportunity. This time there was no mistake and the first squirrel of the day was in the bag; better late than never! It was at least 20 minutes before the next opportunity presented itself as I happened to notice a pigeon that had slipped in unseen, because it didn’t follow the usual flight line. I’d missed its arrival but I didn’t miss my chance. Then there was a lull of at least 35 minutes before I spotted a second squirrel slowly making its way down the trunk of an oak 30 yards away. As it descended, it kept the trunk between itself and me until finally, it sidled round to my side where the Air Wolf did its job once again.

Decent bag

And so the afternoon wore on until five hours later I packed up with a grand total of eight plump woodies and three of the four squirrels. It should have been ten pigeons but two were missed spectacularly.

Not bad for a hurriedly put together pigeon shoot and it was a very enjoyable afternoon, but it just goes to show that being adaptable when hunting is absolutely essential. Knowing your quarry and your fieldcraft is a great help in finding the relevant species in places where they’re not immediately apparent.

Observation is indispensible, providing you have done your homework and understand what you are seeing. These skills are the very essence of airgun hunting and will produce far more opportunities and will also help you to make the most of every opportunity.

So many airgunners simply wander around their permission in a rather haphazard fashion in the hopes of the occasional shot but it is far more rewarding, and productive, to do your homework, use your hard-won skills, and actually hunt your quarry. Well that’s it for this month so until next time, have a good one, and as always, shoot safely!

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