With autumn showers threatening to put a dampener on his woodland haunts, Mat Manning heads for the shelter of the farmyard and sets his sights on feathered pests.
Controlling collared doves on the farm
The farmyard is a seriously underrated venue when it comes to air rifle hunting. Shelter provided by sheds and barns makes for a comfortable place to shoot when the weather turns bad, and many farms offer the potential to make a mixed bag. Just like us, pest species favour a place that offers protection during the colder months and farm buildings offer them a habitat where they can find shelter from pouring rain and freezing cold weather. And farmyards don’t just provide quarry species with a comfortable home, they also offer an almost endless supply of food.
Rats, corvids, feral pigeons and collared doves soon home in on the easy pickings provided by animal feed and stored grain – especially during the winter when natural food becomes scarce. Locate these food sources and you should soon be able to get your quarry in your sights. Airguns are just about the perfect tool for farmyard pest control. Their limited power is well suited to shooting in the confines of sheds and barns – the risk of ricochet can be eliminated by using concrete walls and steel roof joists to create a safe backstop – and their quiet operation means there’s no harsh muzzle report to spook livestock.
I try to visit my farmyard permissions at least once a week during the autumn and winter months. Leave it too long and pest numbers can quickly spiral when the weather turns harsh. If I’m after rats I’ll wait until dusk and set up with a scope-mounted lamp or night vision setup and target this nocturnal pest into the night. Avian quarry can be encountered throughout the day, and my latest farmyard outing saw me arrive at noon in the hope of bagging a few collared doves.
Most farmyard pests are no good for the table. Feral pigeons, which often nest in the roofs of farm buildings, live cheek by jowl, often knee-deep in their own droppings, and have a reputation for carrying diseases. You certainly wouldn’t want to eat ferals, but collared doves are actually great for the pot. These clean-living birds tend to nest in trees on the outskirts of the farm, and then drop into the yard to feed. They love to dine on stored corn, and will even pick grains from maize silage and scattered straw – these corn-fed birds are very tasty. Treat collared doves just like woodpigeon when cooking with them – you just need to use twice as many as they’re only about half the size.
The perfect farmyard shooting cover
I’d decided to base my farmyard foray from inside a barn. The spot enabled me to cover a silage clamp and a grain silo which the birds use as a vantage point before they drop down to feed in the yard. Apart from being well-positioned, the building also served as a makeshift hide as the gloom helped to keep me concealed from prying eyes.
My first collared dove of the session was toppled from the wall of a silage clamp. The unsuspecting bird pitched in just a few minutes after my arrival, and fell to a shot that connected right between its shoulders. Although I’m usually a great advocate for head shots when hunting with air rifles, these doves are very slight birds and shots that catch them squarely in the upper body can be relied upon to deliver a clean kill.
Farmyard hunt success
The next bird was much closer – it swooped straight down to scratch amongst a pile of straw that had accumulated on the concrete floor of the yard. I quickly wound down the side parallax on my Hawke Vantage scope to get the sight picture pin-sharp, then settled the crosshairs and touched off the trigger to make it a brace.
I managed to bag two more over the next hour before the farm workers returned from their lunch break. With tractors whizzing around the yard, I felt it was too dangerous for me to lurk in the shadows, and the noise of the machinery had put the birds on edge anyway. I was pleased with a quartet of collared doves, though. That’s four less pests stealing grain and fouling animal feed and drinking troughs. Better still, the breasts from those birds made the basis of a delicious pan-fried feast.
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