The hunters’ eyes strain through the mesh of their layout blinds to follow two dozen circling birds. Heart rates ratchet up until they outpace the thumping beat of a nearby spinning wing decoy. The birds finally commit, dropping into the spread, and the field comes alive—shotguns roaring, birds dropping and dogs working.
But it’s not a frosted October morning in a sea of corn stubble—and these birds aren’t greenheads or geese. It’s a sticky August afternoon and the traffic of a sprawling suburb hums just a few beanfields past the decoy spread. The hunters are wearing t-shirts and jeans, and swat mosquitoes between flocks of an unlikely—but surprisingly untapped bird—the common pigeon.
Why Hunt Them
Although bad-mouthed as barn rats, pigeons are plentiful, can be hunted year-round and offer a great way to work out kinks in your shooting form before the “real” fall hunting seasons begin. They’re even surprisingly good to eat—if you can ditch the mental image of pigeons huddled under freeway overpasses. After all, farm-country rock doves feed on the same stuff your favorite gamebirds do.
Plus, while you might not get permission from a farmer to hunt geese, ducks, doves or pheasants, you’ll hear “yes” a lot more if you ask to shoot pigeons instead. Play your cards right on those hunts and you might open doors for hunting more traditional gamebirds down the road.
How To Do It
Pigeon techniques are just simplified versions of what you’d use to field-hunt ducks or geese. Locate a spot where birds are feeding, then set a simple spread of a few pigeon decoys—doves or even duck dekes will work in a pinch—along with a spinning-wing or two. Although concealment isn’t as crucial as it would be for waterfowl, layout blinds placed upwind of the spread will keep hunters hidden, comfortable and in the best position to shoot.
Another bonus: You don’t need to punch an alarm and set up decoys and blinds in the ink-black predawn hours for this hunt. Mid-afternoon pigeon shoots are often most productive.
Ammo Up To Bring Birds Down
Pigeons don’t fly with the grace and speed of doves, nor do they stretch the limits of shotgun range like hard-hunted snow geese. But they will test your shooting abilities, and they can soak up pellets that would easily crumple doves and other upland birds. That’s part of what Federal Premium was addressing when developing Hi-Bird shotshell loads.
The powerful shells use specially formulated lead alloy pellets that are as hard as 5 percent antimony lead, which means less pellet deformation and more consistent patterns with fewer flyers. But unlike true 5 percent antimony lead, the pellets have a higher density, which means more energy and downrange velocity.
Then there’s the wad. Federal Premium brought back a design that had been popular with clay target shooters decades ago and enhanced it to offer even better performance. The resulting SoftCell technology uses a two-piece design with an empty rear chamber that acts as an air cushion. Upon firing, this absorbs some of the recoil energy and delays it, so the hunter is hit with less recoil later in the ignition process.
And reduced recoil is important because of one of the best parts of pre-season pigeon hunts: You’ll shoot a lot of them.