Hunting with Mick Garvey: Re-reaping the rewards
- Credit: Archant
Mick Garvey reports on a field trip that yielded results when perhaps it shouldn’t
All I can say is, ‘Wow! Wow! and thrice wow! This week has seen so many different weather fronts it’s unbelievable. Monday I awoke to several inches of snow, which alone is not enough to scupper my shooting plans, but the week before had seen torrential rain and many fields around me, including the local golf course, were seriously flooded.
The snow was followed by a warming up and constant rain which just added to the standing water, but not to worry, the weathergirl had predicted record temperatures later in the week and this would help to dry out the fields. What she didn’t say, or know, was that before these record temperatures arrived we would suffer more rain. ‘Fantastic’ wasn’t quite the thought I had, but onward and upward is the only approach – after all, the sun was coming, apparently. I was then informed by my neighbour that it was going to rain all weekend … what! So I was straight on to my weather app and to my dismay, it was going to be warm but accompanied by more rain.
I even had this confirmed by my mate Nick, from Bows and Blades, and Babs. I am the eternal optimist, though, and as I checked the app and the weather girls’ prediction,
I noticed that it changed slowly, and in my favour. I was getting somewhere near being happy now.
My own permissions were in a bad way and there was no way I could approach them safely and without making the already quagmire-looking areas even worse, so I was on the search for fresh fields. My work takes me past most of my permissions and with a slight detour I could check out a few more. One in particular was an instant place of interest and a big surprise, too. It’s a roadside crop field with a slight slope, so the rain hadn’t settled and had drained off quite well. I could park up relatively close by and maybe walk half a mile with my gear to the hide I had set up years ago. The big surprise was, this field had been harvested last year around August/September time, and was still attracting a few woodies some seven months afterwards, and on closer inspection I could see that there was still plenty of waste from the harvest lying in the muddy ground.
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- 9 Watch: How to shoot a spring gun accurately, with Gary Chillingworth
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Next day, I was able to get out for a few hours and my timing couldn’t have been better. On arrival, I bumped into the farmer who had been checking the ground in readiness for ploughing, and he had seen the same problem as me. This field was going to be first on his list, so after watching his tractor disappear over the horizon, I carried on toward my shooting station. His parting words were, “You must be mad, Mick.” I smiled and nodded, but I’m guessing like most of you out there, I’m not mad, just enthusiastic, and besides, a bad day in the field beats any day in front of the TV.
The sun was out and it was quite chilly, but that wasn’t a problem because the new Jack Pike Ashcombe outfit was keeping me snug. There was no breeze so I set up the decoys toward the normal prevailing wind direction, with the odd one or two facing opposite directions. I also put out a token gesture magpie decoy; sometimes the pigeons see this and feel secure because the magpie has great eyesight and wouldn’t hang around if there was any possibility of danger – well, that’s the theory anyway and it makes me feel confident.
Once the ex-army camo netting was set up over my hide, I was ready, and within minutes the first woodpigeon dropped straight in, but I was too slow and he was off before I’d even shouldered the Impact. I give myself about five seconds to get a shot on a pigeon that just dropped in, but until they are feeding confidently you have to be quick. It was a good sign, anyway, but in the back of my mind I knew the results would be better with a slight breeze to get the decoys rocking. I had them set up on maximum spring length, but even so, they still weren’t moving. A couple of ‘real’ decoys would help, and I was determined to get a result.
To my right was a small stream lined by hawthorn trees, and beyond that another of last year’s harvested fields with alder trees running at right-angles to the stream. These trees offer a vantage point to pigeons so they can overlook the hawthorns and get a clear view of my pattern. In my infinite wisdom, I had set up another hide that looked out to these trees and the field, and the odd couple of woodies were showing interest in the decoys and then skirting over to the huge alder tree, so I could easily move between my original hide to the second one. The trees hadn’t got into spring yet, and the leaves were still absent, so this made it easy for the ever-watchful pigeons to spot me through my peephole. Necessity being the mother of invention, I took the black and gold carrier bag in which I carried the camo net, covered up the peephole and – bingo! I had my first bird of the day within seconds of returning to my firing position. This was instantly set out among the half-shell decoys with a twig under its chin. Another pigeon from the alder was greeted with a 25 grain Air Arms Diablo, the thud of pigeon meeting ground confirmed that my aim had been spot on, and this one was also rushed out to the pattern.
More interest was now being paid to the decoys, and I was watching the woodies come from the far end of the field directly toward me. I was totally concealed and ready, so I knew that once they landed, it would be game over for them. I tracked one in particular from what must have been 300 yards away and watched as it came closer, and dropped lower and lower until finally opening its wings to land at the back of the set-up. At around 45 yards, it stood perfectly still for a headshot and gave me the most satisfying shot of the day. Usually, their heads will be down when feeding, giving you a shot between the shoulders that will drop them instantly, but it doesn’t give you the same feeling as a perfect headshot. Taking them from trees generally gives you more chance of a headshot, but the most important thing is a good clean kill.
Although they are vermin, woodpigeons have my utmost respect. They are survivalists and adaptable to all situations, and this is probably why they’re the most sighted birds when on my travels. They are everywhere, from crop fields to shopping malls, from service stations to housing estates, you will always see these birds. Take time to check out their nests; they are basic – just a few twigs precariously positioned on the slightest of branches, and many times almost within hand’s reach, amazing really.
Back to the vermin control, and the bag had now grown to six – a far cry from the heady big bags of summer, but if every day was a red-letter day, the excitement would be gone. I had been there five hours, and averaging one an hour was slow, but I was surprised at the time because I had really enjoyed myself and six would be a perfect amount for me to breast-off later.
I had started to wrap things up, leaving the decoys and gun until last in case something came along for a late supper. I even had the rucksack packed and camo net away and was plucking the decoy spikes from the ground when a single woodpigeon landed in the hawthorn bush behind me. I dropped to a sitting position, rested the Impact on my knee, set the Airmax cross hairs on its eye, and down it came … straight into the stream. The shot had taken the woodie cleanly, and from around 35 yards and a rather uncomfortable seated position I was happy with that. I wasn’t too sure about purity of the stream water, so this woodie was not destined for the freezer, but Charlie will appreciate it on my next foxing foray.
So, to summarise we shouldn’t overlook fields that appear to have had their day long after harvesting. The waterlogged surroundings had driven the woodpigeons this way, these greatly underestimated birds had adapted to the conditions, sought out a food source – and so had I!