Mick Garvey: Culling feral pigeons

Now that's a safe shot.

Now that's a safe shot. - Credit: Archant

Mick Garvey is doing his best to combat a nationwide pest

No way could I risk going in there.

No way could I risk going in there. - Credit: Archant

Sheffield is the same as every other town and city in the UK, over-run with feral pigeons. So many times I have walked the streets in different areas and seen infestations of these awful scavengers, making meals from last night's leftovers, or the contents of over-indulged stomachs from the partying fraternity - neither choice of diet makes the feral pigeon an appetising idea for a meal!

It seems that every building, especially bridges, are infested with these avian pests and the mess created by their droppings can be staggering. I pass one particular bridge almost daily, and I can always count at least 30-40 of these flying rats just resting up before their next trip down town. The mess from their droppings on the pathway is outrageous and really should be addressed. I would be more than happy to work with the councils to address this, but I see far too many obstacles with health and safety for them allow any poison-free pest control.

Poison-free is the key, though, because poison is just not selective enough, and even if the target species does take the poison there is no guarantee of secondary poisoning not taking place; i.e. being eaten by another animal or bird that isn't causing a problem, such as pet cats, or any hawks in the area. I know there are peregrine falcons nesting in Sheffield and I would be mortified if one of these beautiful birds of prey suffered from secondary poisoning, as would most of us. So, for the time being, I'll have to concentrate on privately owned buildings away from the city centres and hope to make a dent in their numbers that way. I already have a permission in a factory that I visit regularly, and the owners are over the moon with the pest control carried out.

Now that's a safe shot - schwack!

Now that's a safe shot - schwack! - Credit: Archant

Air attack

My day job as an electrician brings me into contact with many people, and one in particular - who shall be known as 'H' - owns an unoccupied building in need of some serious TLC, but acts as a home for much of Sheffield's feral pigeon population. I have discussed at length the possibilities of controlling the numbers with 'H' and he has always been keen on getting it sorted, but as always, letting someone loose on your property with a firearm is not something you'd do freely without putting plenty of thought into it.

I had put a plan together for the 'air attack' which included coming in early in the morning before the city came to life, and just as the ferals started to make their way out of the building to roost, before setting off for the morning feed.

Day and night, the RT does the job.

Day and night, the RT does the job. - Credit: Archant

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The backstop was of great importance because there should be no way that any pellet could leave the boundary of the property. Mind you, this wouldn't be a problem because the feathered menace sat on the window sills and other derelict outbuildings, giving a perfectly safe shot at all times. One wrong or bad shot could result in a real situation, though, so the backstop really is of the utmost importance … totally!

'H' is also a keen shooter. He owns a FX Verminator and will be joining me in the future, I hope, for some feral control, especially after he's had the chance to give the day's weapon of choice a onceover. This was to be the sub-12 FX Wildcat with a Yukon Photon RT on top for early morning, low-light session, which would go through until full daylight. The RT, currently on a great deal from Scott Coun try International, is just as much at home in daylight as in total darkness, and we'd be using Wicked Lights IR - also included in the deal from SCI - for the early, dark start, and a single DNV battery would last the session, no problem, and my favoured Air Arms Diablos at 16gr would be taking care of business downrange, as usual.

Come to Poppa.

Come to Poppa. - Credit: Archant

Spot-on timing

As planned, I arrived on site pre-dawn and locked the car park gates behind me, ensuring that there would be no access for anyone wandering in, and I had already informed the scrapyard next door of my activities so that I wouldn't cause any concern to anyone. I backed the van right up to the security gates, and with the doors open I had created a sort of hide; I'd opted for the Jack Pyke Ashcombe jacket and trousers to keep the cold breeze out, and blended in quite well with the backstop of the van interior.

Within minutes, I had taken a couple of nicely coloured ferals from the windowsill and they dropped with a thud, neatly to the ground below. My timing had been spot on - every minute, another feral popped out of either the broken windows or the holes in the roof, resting briefly before taking off. So many were perched on the ridge tiles and chimney stack, but these had to be left due to the lack of backstop, but although this kept the number of shots down, it didn't affect the pest control because there were plenty of others to go at.

I couldn't resist buying one of these for recording my outings.

I couldn't resist buying one of these for recording my outings. - Credit: Archant

Quite a few dropped back inside the building and into one of the derelict side buildings, but I'd been warned about the precarious state of the floors and joists, so these had to be left.

The plan

The plan was to shoot from 6am to 11am and head home before the town centre got too busy, and this ended up being ample time to get well into double figures. I have always been aware of how tough ferals can be, but after hitting one directly between the shoulders and watching it fly to an adjoining roof top then topple over and drop, I just had to check my zero, I do this by using silver tape as a target, which reflects quite nicely and gives a great zero check. The zero was bang on and I put the flier down to the feral's last breath instinct, and when I checked the bird I could see that the shot had been true - straight between the shoulders. The flying rats were getting a bit thin on the ground now because they'd obviously headed out for breakfast, but a couple landed on a boarded-out window just above me, and I had to take quite a steep shot, aiming low to allow for the angle. The Diablo hit hard and down came the pigeon to hook itself up on the fork of the security fence, which was a good thing because it could have planted itself directly on my head. The second feral was still there and I didn't need asking twice to take that one, too. This is testament to the Huggett Belita I'd fitted because the bird didn't even realise what had happened at the next window along.

Quite a good result for a morning's work.

Quite a good result for a morning's work. - Credit: Archant

Great finish

I had quite a pile growing now and was checking out the time when I heard the unmistakable call of a magpie. There were some trees behind me and a handful of magpies had landed there, calling and chattering away. I had to get a decoy out there, between them flitting about, and once set out it sent them into a fury. They were attacking the deek, eventually knocking it over and pecking away at the fallen imposter.

The backstop was good, a boundary brick wall into a corner and with no chance of a ricochet, so I set the cross hair firmly on the head of the nearest pigeon and it went down without a flutter. Quickly, I reloaded and took the second with a neck shot. This sent them crazy and more came in from nowhere, attacking their own fallen and screeching like banshees. One more took an AA pill and that was that - they all dispersed, screaming as they went. Three shots and three magpies at 30 yards with a night-vision scope was a great finish to the session, although I did manage one more from a low outbuilding, giving me a total of 25 with another 10 unretrievable. What a cracking morning's shooting! Perhaps that's something for the local council to consider. I'd be more than happy to discuss it with them, but I'm not holding my breath, to be honest.

And finally...

On a final note, I was at the recent British Shooting Show at the NEC, and I had the pleasure of meeting quite a few readers who were very complimentary about the magazine and the write-ups. FX Airguns' Johan Axelson was there, along with DonnyFL, the silencer man from the USA. We had a very interesting and exciting conversation which will manifest itself in the pages of Airgun World, shortly. I picked up one or two items to help with my shooting and these will be also be showcased.

The show is going from strength to strength and as I write this, I am checking out the posts from many of my friends and colleagues who are at the IWA in Germany, and I'm gutted that I can't be there because I can see so many new releases from FX that are of great interest to me.


Read more from Mick Garvey…

Static hunting in the field

Using decoys and hunting pigeons

Shooting squirrels in the summer