Mick Garvey goes hunting: Great Expectations
PUBLISHED: 16:50 31 August 2017 | UPDATED: 16:50 31 August 2017
Mick Garvey’s learns that, even when plans don’t work out, he can still have a great day in the field
A chance meeting with the landowner’s grandson on the way to work resulted in us both pulling over for a chat, and he thanked me for my piece on his grandfather, who had passed away earlier in the year. We talked about how the family was coping and how they were getting to grips with the massive void left by John, and then talk eventually turned to the pest control I carry out for them and that a favourite meadow of mine was to be cut for hay. This was music to my ears because in the past I have had many a good day decoying for woodpigeons and ferals, with a few magpies thrown in for good measure. I have a permanent hide set up overlooking one of the fields, and as a back-up I have been known to sit in the Hilux overlooking a second area. Both these fields have provided bags of up to 40 birds previously, and with the weather now somewhat settled, I really fancied a few good sessions.
I turned up early evening after work to check out the land, to see which fields had been cut first, and I was greeted by an armada of farm vehicles all working in unison, cutting, lifting, baling and stacking, all with perfect military discipline. The grass was bone dry and didn’t have to stand before baling so the trailers were soon piled high with swirled-round bales, but even at this pace there would be no shooting today because the activity was keeping the pigeons flying by, rather than landing. All was not lost, though, because it served as a good recce for the following day. I stayed until around 11pm and they were still hard at it, but I received a text later that night telling me that they’d got it all wrapped up by midnight. Before leaving, I had plenty of time to try out the Quantum XQ38 thermal spotter over the fields. It looked like the rabbits were making a bit of a comeback because I easily picked out half a dozen in one field at about 400 yards – all encouraging signs, but my quarry was going to be mainly woodpigeons and I’d be back the next afternoon after work.
The day at work dragged like never before, and all I could think of was my past days on the meadow and the huge haul that I expected to be taking. I managed an early finish and the work van was swapped for the Hilux, which was already loaded with my decoying gear.
I approached the meadow gingerly expecting to see pigeons all over the place, only to be greeted with a meagre trio pecking away at the stubble along the track down the field. I took the FAC FX Impact from the gun bag and slipped the 16-shot mag easily into the action. I was now looking directly at the furthest woodie, it had its back to me and its head was down, and I estimated it to be 60 yards away. I placed the cross hairs where its head would have been, and the two-stage trigger felt crisp as an Air Arms Diablo pellet left the barrel and instantly struck it directly between the shoulders, sending it flat on its face.
Immediately, I shifted position, expecting to see the second pigeon well on its way, but no, it too was feeding quite contently, and with the Airmax reticle set on its neck, another AA pellet struck home, this time with a little flutter and then nothing. Two in just as many minutes was a great start, and I was now buzzing!
Once I’d retrieved the birds, I was down to the hide and setting up the decoys in the usual open horseshoe pattern. The furthest deek was 50 yards away, and the nearest around 30; a slight left-to-right breeze should see them dropping in from my right, and with a token magpie decoy set out at 60 yards, I was ready.
The plan was simple; set up and wait. They would come, they always do, but the waiting became painfully long and it was soon painfully obvious that it wasn’t going to happen. I tried different patterns and still there was nothing. The odd few that went over carried on, but I persevered, feeling confident that they would come, they always had before.
Ninety minutes in and nothing had even hovered over the various patterns I had offered up. The buzz had now disappeared and I was formulating new plans. When nature decides to throw us a curve ball, you need a back-up plan, but my problem was that I had been so convinced it would be the same today as it had been in the past that I had lost sight of the ‘what if?’ situation. I do like to stick to the game plan and give it my all, but sometimes you just know that something is not right and it’s time to try something else.
So, what about the rabbits I saw last night? Would they be around this early? I walked back to a vantage point on the brow of a hill and scanned the hedge line. I was sure that I saw movement and confirmed it with the XQ38. All I had to do now was get to within shooting distance, which meant a belly crawl for the last 50 yards and crouch-crawling for the first 100 yards. I did manage to get in position and with the rabbit having moved a little farther away, I was left with nice shot of around 50 yards. Once more the high-power combo completed the task perfectly and a nice three-quarter size rabbit was in the bag.
Two pigeons and the single rabbit didn’t really satisfy my hunger for the evening’s shoot, so I decided to check out a small wood just down from the hide to see if there were any woodpigeons roosting or feeding in the treetops. The musky scent from damp undergrowth that hadn’t seen the sunlight, due to the thick canopy, filled my head and also made me realise that the foliage was too thick to spot any feeding pigeons. The only way would be to see them come in and hope to get a bead on where they landed. This also turned out to be a fruitless task, I could hear a few in the tree tops but nothing was spotted coming in and the ones that were there stayed put.
I came up with a plan of doing the same as the pigeons, staying put, so I sat down against a fallen tree and studied the ground area. I noticed a few small fallen twigs with the early signs of beech mast, and on closer inspection, I could see that they had been chewed through. Immediately, I thought ‘squirrels’ and, sure enough, within 20 minutes I could see a slender tree rat tugging away at another small branch on the beech tree opposite my position.
I rested the Impact on my knee and waited until the grey sat up to chew on its prized food, and then single-handed, slipped the safety off and simultaneously took the shot. The squirrel took the pellet square between the eye and ear, and after a brief clutch at the branch it fell to earth, stone dead. I went to retrieve it after around 20 minutes, after deciding that it was a solo act and headed back to the decoys.
I had no sooner made my move from the fallen tree than I saw a fuller-sized male scurry across the lower limbs of the same tree. It must have been watching me, and as soon as I moved, it was on its toes. I tracked its movement until it disappeared round the back of an oak tree, and as I scanned the trunk I could just see its tail, but with no shot on, I had to try to get it moving. I picked up a large stone and threw it into the bushes behind the oak tree and that worked a treat. The tree rat moved round the trunk and now had its back to me. This was the easiest shot of the day and as soon as the Diablo hit the back of its head, it fell lifeless to the ground below.
It was now obvious that the day was not going to be a blue-riband day, so I made my way back and sat out for a while, just checking out the beauty of the land and pondering about how nature fools us. Today’s inactivity had given me the chance to appreciate the views on my land and, once again, it occurred to me that even if I hadn’t taken a single shot, I would have been happy just to check out the fabulous views and smells of the outdoors. It was now that I remembered about Airgun World celebrating its 40th anniversary, and I have to say how much I appreciate being part of such a great team. Without doubt, it’s the best airgun magazine out there, with great contributors and writers, and with Terry Doe at the helm I foresee another 40 years ahead for this great magazine – my one and only regret is that I didn’t join this team earlier. A massive thanks to everyone at Airgun World – you make this job so enjoyable.
I took the short walk back to my prepping area and, on the way, I noticed the damage done to the edge of the crop fields by the rapidly increasing rabbit population. This is something that will need my attention sometime soon, but I had two woodpigeons, two squirrels, and single rabbit prepped and oven-ready, so it was time to wrap up and make plans for my next outing.
Read more from Mick Garvey...