Pigeon shooting with a new permission

Four pigeons flocked to the tree and again I bought the Scorpion to bear

Four pigeons flocked to the tree and again I bought the Scorpion to bear - Credit: Archant

Jamie Chandler finally gets a chance on a long-coveted shoot

The barbed wire might be saggy but it marks out the boundary

The barbed wire might be saggy but it marks out the boundary - Credit: Archant

Permissions come in all shapes and sizes and each should be coveted by the permission holder as though it were molten gold and diamonds. Permissions aren’t easy to come across and can be lost at the whim of a landowner for any reason, or none at all. As our sport becomes more popular, hunting permissions become scarcer, so the savvy airgunner must grab each opportunity with both hands, no matter how small, and use it as a stepping stone to greater opportunity.

This thought – and a bitterly cold, northerly wind – was blowing around in my head the other day as I sat 25 yards from a pheasant feeder, waiting for the apparent onslaught of promised squirrels, rampant in their desire to feast on the maize within. This was the beginning of what I hoped would be a successful permission expansion plan.

A week or so previously, I’d been invited to go along with a mate who beats on a pheasant shoot, neighbouring my permission. It’s a well-established shoot that never suffers from a lack of beaters, due to their three beaters’ days, and a beaters’ away-day at another shoot. In fact, getting a regular stint beating there is nigh on impossible unless someone gives up (unlikely) or dies (even more unlikely because they’re all far too fit). To be invited to cover for a mid-week absence was a small nugget of gold in itself, but I was also hoping to get permission to cross the boundary of the farm and harvest the abundant pigeons and squirrels I’d seen clattering about in the boundary woods on previous hunts. They were perfectly within range, but without consent, so they were safe on the other side of the border fence.

The great wood has always been out of bounds

The great wood has always been out of bounds - Credit: Archant

Wary folks

In my experience, gamekeepers are notoriously wary of any approaches regarding outside shooting near their beloved shoots. Indeed, although the keeper and I know each other, he had been merrily turning my approaches away for over 12 years. It wasn’t personal, he was just protecting his birds and his job from being jeopardised.

The second pigeon was easy to find, exactly where it had dropped

The second pigeon was easy to find, exactly where it had dropped - Credit: Archant

The shoot went off brilliantly, but it wasn’t until the end of the day, over a cup of tea in the beater’s lodge, that I thought I might as well see where a gentle enquiry took me. I asked the keeper about his experience regarding the poachers that both he and the farm have problems with, and clearly, I hit a bull’s eye because a very animated conversation ensued about a notorious local poaching family, with others throwing in their thoughts. This went on for half an hour and we struck an agreement to keep each other informed if we saw anyone.

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Then, just as I was leaving, I asked if it would be a problem if I took the odd shot at the squirrels, over the boundary, because I’d seen some in the trees by a feeder on his side, and needed them for a game terrine I wanted to make. Again, an animated conversation ensued about squirrels damaging feeders and the keeper told me that if I was after a few squirrels, he knew the perfect spot. I agreed to meet him a couple of days later when, he said, I could shoot over this one feeder, but nowhere else, due to his concern about disturbing his birds. An amazing day out, plus an opportunity for an afternoon’s squirrel bashing on new ground to come. Obviously, this wasn’t full-blown carte-blanche to shoot over the area, but as I said, any opportunity must be grabbed with both hands.

Whatever had stolen the pigeons head left few clues, a buzzard perhaps?

Whatever had stolen the pigeons head left few clues, a buzzard perhaps? - Credit: Archant

New opportunity

My new opportunity came bout on the Friday, and again, I was told that he would show me the feeder and I was to stay there, or 25 metres from it to shoot. I completely understood what he was getting at. If I was stomping up and down his feeders mid-season and pushing birds about, it would make life more difficult for him.

After a quick chat about airguns and a positive first impression from him about my BSA Scorpion SE and shooting sticks, I was led to the feeder and he left me to it with an instruction to text when I left. I chose a tree to sit against about 20 yards away, and as this was going to be a static hunt, deployed the sticks, balanced the gun and waited.

Apparently the squirrels are going nuts for the feeders maze

Apparently the squirrels are going nuts for the feeders maze - Credit: Archant

There’s a certain magic to a first-time shooting on a new permission. Every sense is alert for opportunities. In this case, I’d had had no chance to do any reconnaissance, and I had no idea of potential runs that the squirrels used to get to the feeder, so any rustling from any direction could be game on! It struck me that I was positioned about 30 yards from the border, with my permission on one side and it was an amazing feeling, sitting where I’d been wanting to get to for 12 years!

After half an hour, I could hear something scratching in the leaf litter behind a bramble bush in front of me, getting closer to the feeder. Then another to the right of it, and another. I strained to see through the foliage without moving, but it certainly sounded squirrel-like to me.

Strict instructions ensured my attention fell fully on the feeder

Strict instructions ensured my attention fell fully on the feeder - Credit: Archant


About ten minutes of utter anticipation lapsed before I saw the source of the scraping – a dozen pheasants came idling through to feed from the feeder and around it. I sat and watched them, amused for half an hour, but also aware that I still hadn’t seen a single squirrel. Another half an hour went by and I was starting to feel the freezing draught in my blood. A pigeon flew in high and landed in an oak at 30 yards out, looking away from me, the branch overhanging the border. The wind had dropped to almost nothing and it was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I raised the Scorpion, slipped the safety, steadied my breathing, and with a half mil-dot of hold over, I sent a .22 Air Arms Field pellet straight between its shoulder blades. It was an instant boiler-room kill shot, dropping the pigeon without a flutter to the floor in front of a bramble bush. I decided to not retrieve it immediately. I didn’t want to cause a pheasant-led commotion as I moved, but at least I hadn’t blanked!

Another 15 minutes passed, and by now the cold had got to me. I’d been still for nearly two hours with no squirrels, and I was about to call it quits when four pigeons flocked in to the same tree as the first. Three were obscured by branches, but one of the grey menaces was again faced away with a perfect shot to the boiler room available. Again, I brought the Scorpion to bear, steadied my breathing, unleashed a pellet with deadly precision, and dropped a squirrel cleanly to the floor below.

Picking up

There was little sign of the promised squirrels and I needed to warm up, so I called it quits and went to retrieve my prizes. I found the second exactly where I had expected to, in front of the brambles where it fell, but the first had been dragged some 10 yards clear of the woods and something had removed its head. The breasts were undamaged so I kept it, but can only think that a weasel or buzzard had tried to pinch it, pulled its head off as it did so, then been scared off. Very odd, but fascinating.

I dropped the keeper a text to say I was off, reported my differing fortune, and thanked him for the chance. ‘Text me in a couple of weeks and you can try again’, came the reply. Chuffed with that result I headed for home and the fire.

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