Being a complete nut for pigeon shooting, I confess that I have never taken the possibility of shooting rooks very seriously at all.
I know that many of the farms that I shoot pigeons on regard the rook and crow as being every bit as much of a nuisance as the woodie but I just never took to the idea.
"The woodpigeons were nesting furiously and feeding on the new leaves and buds that should have opened three weeks ago."
In late May of this year I had three young Dutch hunters booked to shoot pigeons for four days and with such a cold spring the seasons were running about three weeks late here in Norfolk. At the time of taking the booking the very end of May seemed feasible but now with the last week of the month actually feeling more like the first week of the month the woodpigeons were nesting furiously and feeding on the new leaves and buds that should have opened three weeks ago. Things were starting to look very gloomy for my Dutch clients.
Too late to cancel, we would just have to do our best and hope for a miracle. When I greeted my three very enthusiastic guests I felt it only fair to be honest and tell them of our dilemma. Grasping at straws I said "maybe we can shoot some rooks?" With the enthusiasm still sky high, back came the answer "Ah yes, we shoot anything". I love the Dutch, they are so laid back and these guys were here to have a good time no matter what.
We should also take a moment to consider just how lucky we are here in the UK. These guys have come here to enjoy their shooting because the Anti's are running the show in Holland and just about every kind of shooting and hunting activity has been outlawed there. It would seem that most of Europe is going in that direction and that the UK will be the last shooting haven where we can still get out into the countryside to pursue our much loved sport - so long as the Anti's don't take over!
Although the rook and carrion crow are very cautious birds with the eyesight of a hawk, they do decoy surprisingly well. It is hellishly difficult to tell these two birds apart and the old adage of "If you see a rook on it's own, it's a crow and if you see a flock of crows, they're rooks" doesn't always hold true, as a rule of thumb though, it can be quite useful. I suspect that the rook will decoy better than the crow as the rook is a sociable bird that lives in colonies and the crow is a solitary bird that lives a on it's own except when mating. Therefore, if you see 50 black corvids together on a field, the chances are they are rooks. The rook in fact has a light coloured beak and the crow has a black one. Glad we cleared that up!
The point is, they will decoy well and with a drastic shortage of woodpigeons available we would certainly need to have a go at the corvids. I've noticed that the rotary tends to spook the birds and unlike woodpigeons it doesn't help to pull the rooks and crows within range of the gun.
On the other hand, a good decoy pattern of dead birds and a couple of floater/bouncers with dead birds on can work extremely well. The secret of course is to get your decoys and hide where the rooks want to feed and that may be close to pig pens or muck heaps or even a good flight line between their roost and their feeding field can be a good place to decoy the birds.
Day 1 produced a bag of over 60 birds mainly rooks but a few pigeons thrown in for good measure.
We have a rookery on one of the farms that I shoot over and this small wood shows on ancient maps as "The Rookery" so we know that the rooks have been using this roost for hundreds of years and it didn't disappoint on this day. The birds were moving back and forth very well during the morning although the shooting slowed during the afternoon.
"This is a big attraction for the rooks as they love nothing more than to pick their way through the manure heaps looking for seeds"
Day 2 was spent on an organic farm where they grow organic crops and have a good size beef herd. The manure is piled into heaps and is used as a fertilizer before the fields are drilled with the new crops. This is a big attraction for the rooks as they love nothing more than to pick their way through the manure heaps looking for seeds and any insects that are holed up in this lovely warm environment. It wouldn't be my choice of restaurant but the rooks seem to like it. In fact the bag for this day totaled 140 of mainly rooks and jackdaws.
Day 3 was spent on a field that had been left fallow and was being used mainly for the emptying of septic tank waste. Not a great place to spend the day but again the corvids seemed to like it and another 60 + bag was shot there.
Day 4 was spent on a meadow that has a very strong flight line crossing it as the rooks travel from their roost to some pig pens and back again. Dead birds and floater/bouncers worked well again here and another 60 bag was shot.
Throughout the four days a total of 320 birds were shot for around 1000 cartridges. Approximately 70 woodpigeon featured in the bag with rest being a mix of rook, crow and jackdaws.
By switching our attention to corvids we managed to divert the possibility of a disaster and end up with 4 days of great sport and three happy clients who I'm sure will be back again next year.
If the pigeons are a little thin on your shoot give the corvids a try, it's great fun and your farmer will love you for it.