Zipping my waterproof to the neck, I tucked down my baseball cap and looked at the sky. A pterodactyl-like shape drifted through the mizzle and the croak identified the complainant as he spotted me and turned away. The weight of water on the wings of Britain’s largest indigenous avian predator must be challenging to flying. Some might ask why Old Frank was flapping about in the rain anyway? The answer is simple. Nature doesn’t grant the predator a rain check – which is why I was out too. The heron would be hunting frogs, which love such weather. Rain isn’t the show-stopper some, shooters think it is. You just need to search for different opportunities. While that old harnser would fly to the water meadows, I would head for the cover of the wood.
Still under the cover of the tailgate, I added a bikini scope-cover to the setup. Much as I dislike shooting through less than pure glass, these do offer an option to keep the lenses spot-free on a soggy day and can be easily removed if conditions change. The five-shot magazine clicked into place and I pushed forward the safety catch, knowing the subsonic rounds would be almost inaudible in such conditions. As I walked away from the locked vehicle and found the gate into the wood, I glanced left across the stubble field. A pair of roe deer were cantering through the smirr, barely visible. They too seeking woodland shelter.
Slipping through the gate, I closed it quietly behind me. The covert was doubly gloomy under the grey skies so I stood for a moment with my eyes closed. On opening them, all became clearer as my eyes calibrated to the woodland mirk. As I stalked slowly into the trees, the canopy above started to patter to the beat of heavier rain. I stood beneath a huge ancient yew, listening. The sound above was reminiscent of a rocky river in spate. My thoughts drifted to places far from Norfolk such as the Tay, Esk and Dart.
Now the reader could be forgiven for wondering why someone would bother venturing out with a rifle in rainy weather, when there will be little to find with regard to fur and feather? My simple answer is two-fold. An addiction to hunting coupled with an intimate knowledge of the quarry I could expect to encounter. Inclement weather affects all wildlife behaviour. My mention of the roe pair earlier is an example. Two deer crossing open land in broad daylight to seek heavier cover, before the deluge broke. Wild creatures have a natural sense of weather change. That’s why the forest goes silent before a summer storm or a winter blizzard. Squirrels will disappear, choosing the comfort of the drey. Birds will come in to roost. Rabbits will feed hurriedly before the deluge.
Hunting or shooting in such conditions, knowing that there are few opportunities to fill the pot, is off-putting for many. Particularly new hunters. The hardest (yet most essential) trait to learn as a hunter is patience. You can train yourself to shoot accurately, identify quarry sign, track quarry. But if you can’t teach yourself to sit or stand motionless for an hour at a place where you know your quarry will pass you’re not quite worthy of the ‘hunter’ title yet.
One of the best ways that the hunter can cure ‘impatience’ is to adopt a “one for the pot” attitude. Just imagine that you’ll starve if you don’t take something home with you today. Hunt with a view to ensuring that you bring something home for the larder and don’t go home until you do. Searching the wood today, getting wetter with every step, I found gold dust. More specifically, beech mast. Pigeon manna. A fresh spread of exploded beech fruit on the woodland floor is a magnet to woodpigeons. I set up under cover forty yards away from the beech trees to just watch and wait. A close canopy of over-lapping beech and sycamore gave as good a shelter from the rain as I could expect. The surrounding trees were full of murmuring woodpigeons.
The combination of hunger and temptation eventually drew down a single pigeon. I waited as it fed amongst the beech husks but no others descended. The head shot was clinical. You have no other choice with a .22LR rifle. A shot to the engine room (heart or lungs) would destroy too much meat. A target as small as pigeons head is why constant shooting practise is necessary. The muted thud of the subsonic round shifted a few birds from the canopy. I stayed in cover while they circled above, eventually returning to roost. The upturned cousin lying amongst the beech-mast wasn’t a good advert for the pigeon feast on offer. I recovered my prize and set off back to the car.
Back at home I dressed out the bird, keeping the plump breasts only. Before I put-up the gun I stripped it, air-dried it for an hour then lightly oiled both stock and action. We won’t go rusty but a rifle can, so a little TLC after a wet outing is always wise.
Was one pigeon worth getting wet for? You bet it was. Those two sumptuous breast medallions, diced and added into a kedgeree, made for a delicious and simple supper. Which reminds me. I still haven’t written that recipe book I keep threatening you guys with!
Keep the faith.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, August 2021