Mat Manning is a fulltime field sports journalist, author and broadcaster with more than 30 years’ hunting experience under his belt.A regular contributor to national and international print and digital titles, Mat is recognised as one of the world’s leading authorities on hunting with air rifles. A fieldcraft specialist who shoots mostly for the pot and pest control purposes. Mat relishes hunting opportunities that enable him to get up close and personal with his quarry read more for daytime rat shooting.
Mat Manning Mat Manning explains how airgun shooters can use their evenings to help with crop protection while harvesting meat for the table.
Late autumn running into early winter is a wonderful time to be out in the woods with an air rifle. The trees are starting to shed their leaves, which makes it a lot easier to spot quarry up in the treetops, and the short days mean that it’s possible to take advantage of peak hunting time in the lead-up to dusk and still return home at a sensible time.It is rarely necessary to build a hide for this kind of shooting. Instead, I wear drab colours... ...and tuck myself in amongst the natural cover.
My latest session saw me targeting woodpigeons at the roost. The birds had been plundering a late autumn drill of wheat in an adjacent field where open farmland with scant cover made it very difficult to bring them to book with an air rifle. My friend had had some good results decoying them with his shotgun but it seemed to me that my best option was to wait in the woods and intercept the grain-raiding woodies as they flighted back at the end of the day.
I slipped into the woods about an hour before sunset and headed to an area where a stand of larches provides evergreen protection from the elements on cold nights – just the sort of place where pigeons like to roost. The dense cover of the larches does make it difficult to thread a pellet through but I hoped that a few birds would swoop into the taller hardwoods where I might be able to pick them off before they fluttered down to roost.
It is rarely necessary to build a hide for this kind of shooting. Instead, I wear drab colours, put on a headnet and gloves to hide pale patches of skin and tuck myself in amongst the natural cover. Apart from creating a lot of disturbance, building a hide can also be very restrictive as it’s difficult to pack one down and then set up in another spot if you realise that you’ve pitched up in the wrong place.
My gun choice for the evening was my sub-12ft/lb Air Arms S510 – a very accurate and quiet pre-charged air rifle which is perfect for this sort of stealthy sniping. The rifle was coupled with a 3-9×40 Hawke Vantage riflescope. This great little scope’s performance far exceeds its modest price-tag. I wind up the magnification to 9x for roost shooting to assist with taking precise head shots. Parallax is set at 25m and left there. This serves as a very basic yet surprisingly effective means of range-finding; I know that targets that are in sharp focus are around 25m away and any longer ones that are out of focus are too far to risk and are therefore left.
Less than 20 minutes after I had settled into position a small flock of four pigeons circled over the treetops and then fluttered down into the boughs, their chests puffed up and glowing a warm mauve in the late afternoon sun. Three of the birds were out of range but one was almost in focus and just about within striking distance at about 30m. I shouldered the gun very slowly to avoid alerting the pigeons and, while leaning into the tree I was using as cover to steady myself and my aim, settled the crosshairs onto the unsuspecting bird’s skull. I touched off the trigger and the S510’s hushed muzzle report was instantaneously followed with the smack of the pellet hitting home. The bird dropped like a stone while its startled mates clattered off into the sunset.
Over the next half an hour, three or four larger flocks of pigeons passed over very high and continued on to the opposite side of the woods. I did think about moving but decided to wait it out where I was as time was running out.
Another opportunity eventually presented itself when a solitary bird curled down into the larches. It had almost disappeared into the gloom but the Vantage riflescope works surprisingly well in low-light conditions and I was able to clearly pick out the bird and topple it with a whack to the head.
All too soon the cock pheasants started to call, giving me my cue to leave. The gamekeeper likes me to vacate the woods when his birds start roosting so they can settle down without disturbance. It appeared that the pigeons has stopped flighting anyway (they are usually very early to roost) so I wasn’t going to miss out on any great sport.
I was very pleased with how my short session had gone. Although I hadn’t managed to account for as many pigeons as the farmer would have liked, it had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening in the woods, with the added benefit that I was going home with two fine birds for the table.airgun films and article here | View more articles from Mat Manning
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Hawke Vantage 3-9x40 AO
11 layer fully multi-coated optics for maximum clarity. Adjustable objective for parallax correction. 1⁄4 MOA low profile no-snag fingertip turrets. Fast focus eyebell and high torque zoom ring. Threaded objective/ocular for optional accessoriesFind Out More