The early morning air in my SUV was blue with curses as I drew onto the farm. I’d spent the previous evening gathering my decoying kit and studying expected weather and wind for the morning. I woke and loaded the motor with a very definite field in mind which adjoined a small copse that would hide me well behind a net. I’m sure that the carrot harvest contractors, who had parked right in front of my intended line of fire, did actually know their fathers. Using the trucks as a backdrop for a net could prove a waste of time as few self-respecting pigeons would drop down to decoys set near vehicles. There was nothing more to do but use an alternative base. I sat and thought for a while, then drove on to deposit the vehicle out of sight and unload it. There was a flightline I’d been watching when the barley first came down, half a mile walk from here. It was, though, Hobson’s choice. It was this or nothing. I’m not passionate enough about pigeon decoying to deploy a carp anglers cart. I can still (barely) manage to carry all the kit I need with me for a few hours behind a net. The big Jack Pyke decoy bag was loaded with a bucket seat, shell deeks, full bodies, net, poles, pegs, and a flapper. The game-bag was loaded with my camera, drink, and sundries. I also had a cartridge bag stuffed with fifty Eley subsonics. Last but not least was the semi-auto shotgun. A well needed aerobic workout, I reasoned. At least I had a mown path to tread. By the time I dumped everything in the wood, I was wondering how much that carpers cart would cost?
The first task was to find a good spot just inside the wood to make camp. I soon found an area beneath a beech with a good outlook onto the stubbles and allowing a wide swing of the barrel. A touch of trimming with the secateurs cleared some tall briar suckers and overhanging twigs, opening out the shooting window. I then pulled out the Gerber folding saw and (using it like a machete) hacked away the briars on the floor to allow me enough room to settle in. I stopped short of setting up the net, for good reason. It’s best to set the decoys first, which will then dictate how you angle and arrange the height of your net. So next I dragged the decoy bag out onto the field and squatted to consider what pattern I’d set out. The stiff south-westerly breeze was cutting alongside the wood and through the wide gap in the hedge where the path I had followed cut through. I set up a horseshoe pattern. A mixture of bouncers and shells down each side and a wide-winged flapper leading into the ‘feeding’ area. Knowing from experience that the flightline runs through the gap and alongside the wood, I was fairly confident I could pull some birds down. Compared to my intended spot this morning, this certainly wasn’t going to be a ‘red letter’ morning. I could tell already.
Back in the wood, I could now see the pattern from another perspective and I wasn’t sure it would work due to that stiff breeze. Nevertheless, I plugged in the telescopic poles and set up the net. As I was fixing the net to the poles, a woodpigeon fluttered down to land amongst the pattern but I was too far from the gun (which was propped against the beech) to grab it. The woodie looked around for five seconds and took off again, spooked by one of the bouncers. These were far too animated in the breeze, so when the net was set I walked back out, took the full-bodied decoys off their sticks and just stood them in the stubble. Back in position, I plugged in my ear protectors, pulled the bucket seat up to the net, laid the cartridge bag next to me and readied for action.
I had a long wait before the first bird and sat watching frustratedly as a stream of woodies crossed over the distant wood I’d intended to use, jinking away on seeing the machinery below them. Eventually, one curled off in my direction, spotted the pattern, circled and dropped in. It didn’t reach the floor alive. The shot set off a flurry of activity in the wood behind me and soon birds were flashing about. As so often happens there was a ‘domino’ effect. The more distance birds were curious and came into explore the pattern. I didn’t even have time to pick up the first bird before I’d shot another two. Just as I was getting into my swing, the mobile rang. It was the boss. Could I cover an emergency afternoon shift? Now here was a chance to earn enough cash to cover the cost of the Tenkara fly rod I coveted. I collected my birds and all the kit to make the hike back to the car. At least I wasn’t going home empty-handed.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, August 2019