Hunting Upland Bird Hunting

Pigeon Shooting: America’s Most Underrated Wingshooting Endeavor

Andrew McKean Avatar
Once you go rats, you'll never go back. Flying rats, that is. Dirt turkeys. Rock doves. Pigeons. At least that's Neal Hunt's perspective. Hunt is a relentless advocate for what he says is the most neglected shooting sport in America: hunting the millions of feral pigeons that roost in barns, strut city sidewalks, and descend like winged clouds on dairies, feedlots, and fields from Tallahassee to his home in Boise, Idaho. In fact, Hunt is so sure that you're a pigeon-hunter-in-waiting that he's willing to make an audacious claim.

"After you hunt pigeons once, you're not going to be happy hunting ducks anymore," says Hunt, whose company, Soar No More, makes pigeon decoys and serves as a sort of conservation organization for the birds most of us either despise or ignore. "When you duck hunt, you get up at three in the morning and drive to your hunting spot, only to find somebody beat you to it. You throw out decoys in icy water in the dark and freeze your butt off in waders. And if you're really lucky, you shoot seven birds. "With pigeons, you get up at seven, drive to a dry place where you're the only hunter, and shoot a hundred birds before you head home…because you ran out of shells. There are no lim­its. No seasons. And pigeons are everywhere."
Wherever cows are fed, pigeons are focused on picking grain out of cattle feed. Alleys between feed bunks are especially productive. The appeal of dairies is that pigeons tend to stay close. "We'll shoot a flock, and they'll go sit on power lines until we shoot a second flock," says Hunt. "Then the first flock spooks at the shots, goes aloft again, sees the decoys, and sucks into our spot. You can get two, sometimes three, chances at the same flock before they get wise."
Gunners hide in layout blinds within range of a spread of several dozen life-size decoys scattered over the feedground. A good day is a triple-digit bag. Which raises the question: What do high-volume hunters do with all those pigeons? "We'll shoot 6,000 pigeons in a year, and we eat most of them," says Hunt. "They're delicious, grain-fed birds. We'll breast them out and saute the meat with rice or put it in a casserole." All that shooting doesn't seem to impact the local pigeon population. "It's strange," says Hunt. "We can shoot a couple hundred birds, and the next day, it's like there's more."
Dairy cows greet pigeon shooters with a combination of curiosity and tolerance. When shooters set up, the cows crowd the decoys. But soon, the Holsteins go back to feeding, paying Neal Hunt little attention as he collects downed birds. Even hundreds of shots from just on the other side of the fence don't rattle the cattle.
Pigeon shooters take full advantage of the proximity of the cows. A favorite tool for feedlot wingshooters is the Moo-Cow Decoy from Montana Decoy. Shooters sit on a bucket behind the silhouette decoy, above left, and get point-blank shots at incoming pigeons.
After the first flocks suck into the decoys, hunters can expect pass-­shooting at singles and pairs that trade back and forth over the spread. The best loads for this high-volume shooting are low-brass 6s and 7½s. Dairyland pigeon shooters prefer semi-auto 12- and 20-gauges with extended magazines and open chokes.
Pigeons fall for decoys like prom queens fall for quarterbacks. Life-size dekes on swivel stands are the go-to impostors, but a ­spinning-wing teal decoy is essential to get the attention of high-flying pigeons. "They come from a mile out, and a mile high," says Hunt. "They spot your spread, fold their wings and free-fall. They drop like rocks. They cut their wings at the last minute, and you know you've got them."
With no bag limits or seasons, and no magazine or pellet restrictions, pigeon hunting is the ultimate libertarian sport. It's also exceptional training for a young dog. "A dog can retrieve thousands of birds before duck season arrives," says Hunt. "If you still care to hunt ducks, that is."
Realistic Decoys Soar No More: Full-body decoys on rocking stakes are favored by serious pigeon shooters. Blue-bars, checkereds, and brown-bars are top patterns. $65/6.
Spin-wing Ducks Mojo Teal: This almost defies logic, but one of the best decoys for pigeons is a spinning-wing duck decoy. Mojo's teal wings turn especially fast and suck in hungry pigeons. $60.
Light Trap Loads Federal Top Gun: Pigeons don't require stout loads. Use low-base target shells in 6 or 7½. The important things are price and volume. $5.50/box.

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