Pigeon in crosshairs
Feral pigeon in the crosshairs

You don’t have to be a game chef like Mark Gilchrist to appreciate that no-one wants pigeon poo in their sandwiches. But when the skies start to darken thanks to bird numbers around wheat storage barns it’s time to send some of them to the big grain store in the sky.

“So you have got a few pigeons here,” says Mark to the farmer.

“Got a lot of pigeons, a lot of ferals now built up over a long time now,” he answers.

“What sort of problems do they cause you?” asks Mark.

“We are in various schemes that we are not really allowed to have any sort of pigeons around the grain stores, food stores. You just don’t want birds messing in the stores.”

Mark says: “So hopefully we will be able to sort them out today.”

“That is what I am hoping,” says the farmer drily.


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The farmer put some wheat out in strategic spots (“There must be about £500-£600 worth of wheat on the floor there, the way the price is at the moment,” says Mark. He is dry too).

Mark is joined by Roy Lupton with his Air Arms air rifle. To avoid damaging the roofs they  need some subtle, more refined shooting. Giving them both barrels will win no friends here.

With a little of farmer Mark’s precious wheat on the ground they are hoping to get the birds dropping in – but first we’re going to have a quick whizz around the yard.


Roy with his rifle

Roy takes a few birds but the guys think that the best bet is a two-pronged approach. Roy picking the birds off with the air rifle – Mark keeping them moving with the Browning Maxus on the neighbouring field.

“What is the game?oy. “What are we going to play at today?”

Mark answers: “We are going to have to get you to shoot them off the roof and I will go down to the bottom there with a shotgun, because every time that bunch comes up. If they come out and I can get three or four out of the bunch and they go back in, we are very quickly going to rack up some numbers.”

“I think if we can just pick them off when they are 25, 30 yards with the air rifle and you keep them moving, hopefully we will get a better chance,” says Roy.

“Well we will go and give that a go. I will go and stand behind that hedge. I don’t need to build a very good hide as they are only ferals after all,” says Mark.


Some of the pigeons in the bag

With Mark installed – Roy starts working the yard. The birds are already a bit skittish and half of them have got the flock out of here.

But there’s plenty to keep the boys busy. Roy is of course happiest taking shots with a backstop. Although the yard is empty he  only reserves skyline shots when the field is the only place the pellet can fall.

Not every shot finds it’s mark – and there are some lucky birds out there. Like a scene from the Matrix one pigeon makes a perfectly timed getaway, another gets a glancing blow to its leg, and then there is the wood pigeon feeding on the ground.

“Now with the wood pigeons, they are a much tougher creature to kill with the air rifle, so you want to get a nice head shot if you can,” says Roy. “If he doesn’t hold his head still, I am going to try and go through and hit the spine. So these are much tougher creatures than the ferals. He doesn’t really want to hold his head still. Oh I should have shot the one at the back then, he held his head still for me. Right there we go, hang on.”

Roy shoots – and misses. “What on earth happened there?”

He looks at the replay on the movie camera and reckons he has the answer. “I look the shot and you can see that the cross hairs were perfectly on so should have been absolutely spot on shot for just taking the head out or dropping down into the neck. You can see perfectly the pellet going off to the left hand side and there is no wind because we are in a courtyard surrounded by barns, so it is not windage. That can be down to the deformity in the pellet. That particular pellet might have had a slight crease in it or something like that and that was enough to just crease the back of his neck, take a few feathers out of the back of his neck and then away he went. It does look good though.”

Roy has zeroed the rifle at 30 yards, so when he wants to take a couple of birds around the 50-yard range he has to start looking at bullet drop more closely…

“It all depends on the pellet drop here,” says Roy. “So he is just over 50 yards away.”

The pellet drops nicely into the chest.

“There we go. So that was just over 50.”

As Roy reloads the magazine he finds a damaged pellet. Not spotting one earlier might have been the reason for the woodie’s close shave.

“So you can see on that pellet there,” says Roy, “we have got a big deformity there. I just put it in the magazine and then noticed the shape it was. So what I probably did on that wood pigeon is had a pellet in there that was like that so it is not going to fly true to target. So that is probably what we are getting. That is not necessarily the fault of the pellet manufacturer. That can be just down to the storage of your pellets. If you have dropped the tin or dropped pellets on the floor and pick them up and put them back in that is what you can get and so you can get deformities in there. So it really does pay to be very careful with your pellets and make sure they don’t get deformed and knocked about too much.”

Every now and again Roy hears a boom from the other side of the farm so we know Mark is getting some sport.

Back to the air rifle and Roy gets another couple of good shots off. One pigeon is poking his head up above the gulley. “When you are shooting anything with the air rifle, obviously you have got very little room for error,” he says. “So you either want to be taking a head shot, a neck shot, or obviously through the vital organs, preferably if you can take the spine out as well, they drop on the spot, or tend to drop on the spot. So you have only got a very small margin for error though. When you think that the main part which is going to kill the pigeon is just behind the eye, so you have got a very small target there. Probably about the size of a 5 pence piece if you are looking at him side on. So taking away the feathers and everything else it doesn’t give you much of a target. So you need to make sure your air rifle is spot on and you have practiced shooting from lots of different positions so you are used to shooting from a standing position, a leaning position and whatever else. So you ensure your pellet ends up to where you want to hit it.”


That lucky woodpigeon

As the afternoon marches on the number of birds above is falling. They know something is up and dead birds on the roof don’t help. Things have also dried up for Mark to so time to call it a day and make further plans to tackle the problem here.

The farmer is appreciative. There is a bit of ferret food there as well.

“There are 3 woodies in there some Mark food as well,” says Mark.

To watch our film, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5YPphCBMEg

Feral pigeons in the crosshairs