For a lot of wingshooters, February marks the beginning of a pretty depressing stretch of time. With hunting seasons closed, the suffering over the spring and summer can be eased only slightly by periodic trips to the skeet range or to the sporting clays course. But it’s just not the same.
What a whole lot of bird hunters don’t realize, though, is that hunting season doesn’t have to end simply because the state-mandated seasons come to a close. Now, before anyone questions my ethics here, let me say just two words—pigeon hunting.
Pigeons are acrobatic, hard to hit, decoy readily, and can be hunted just about everywhere. Here’s how to take advantage of one of the most exciting off-season wingshooting opportunities in the Lower 48.
Why Hunt Pigeons?
Most kids are hell on something. In my formative years, which revolved around hunting or shooting as much as humanly possible, I was hell on pigeons. In my world, then as it is now, there are two kinds of wild pigeons. There are city pigeons—the ones in metropolitan areas that waddle and coo, defile statues, and peck at cigarette butts—and there are country pigeons.
Country pigeons’ daily fight for survival makes them a wary and challenging quarry, which is why I’m drawn to hunting them. They live under abandoned railroad trestles or in the haymows of dilapidated old barns out in the middle of nowhere.
If you help a farmer rid his feedlot of silage-soiling pigeons, you’ll not only have a good time; there’s a good chance you’ll be welcomed back with open arms come turkey season. And best of all, there’s no limit on pigeons because they’re technically an invasive species.
Finally, pigeons—grain-eating country pigeons, that is—are really good on the table. Pop out the bone-in breast, slap half a jalapeno on the bone side, wrap in bacon, and baste occasionally with some Pabst Blue Ribbon on a hot grill, and you can’t go wrong.
Where to Hunt Pigeons In the Off-Season
You can hunt pigeons either at the roost or at a feeding area. Roosts, though, pose a problem, often because the roosts themselves will be within the city limits and thus, off-limits to any type of hunting. Roosts outside the city limits, even if huntable, might be best voluntarily declared off-limits so as not to pressure the birds out of the immediate area. This, then, leaves the following:
Country pigeons, and city birds making the transition to rural life, have a varied diet. However, some of the best shoots I’ve enjoyed over the years have come on recently cut winter wheat, hayfields, alfalfa fields, harvested soybeans, and even field corn cut for silage. The common denominator here? Grain crops; pigeons are huge on grain crops. The key to a successful shoot, though, is reminiscent of dry ground goose hunting. Drive and scout. Scout and drive. Find a likely field full of pigeons, get permission, and have at it. It’s not rocket science.
My favorite non-feed pigeon hunting spots as a kid involved a decommissioned oil well site. The wellhead and casing were still in place, providing a way for naturally occurring salty brine to leach upward onto the ground. As such, nothing grew in that roughly 50’ square area; however, the pigeons absolutely loved it. Each morning, the birds would come to pick at this patch of bare dirt, and I’d be waiting. Like all birds, pigeons need grit to complete the digestive process, making locations holding material such as sand or gravel a definite possibility. Again, it’s a matter of scouting.
In Hog Lots
Hog lots attract pigeons in clouds, due to the amount of food available from spilled or residual feed.
Over Silage Piles
Silage piles and pigeons are inseparable. Here, it’s all about easy access to an overly abundant food source for the pigeons. They also feel more comfortable feeding in an open area like a silage pile because there aren’t any hiding places for lurking predators.
What Kinds of Blinds Do You Use For Hunting Pigeons?
Over the years, my pigeon hides have ranged from informal to elaborate. Camouflage clothing and a seat in the ragweed have worked, as have a dozen square hay bales arranged in a box-like fashion along the edge of a cut field. The truth is, your blind doesn’t have to be fancy to work, as long as you’re hidden.
Want to set that A-Frame blind you used in for geese in December? There’s nothing wrong with that, and it might give you a chance to perfect such a design’s efficiency for the coming waterfowl season. Two tomato stakes and a piece of anti-aircraft netting can work just as well and are easy to pack in, pack out, and move if need be.
In cases where there isn’t any cover, a layout blind serves a two-fold purpose: One, it provides the necessary concealment, and two, it allows for some sit-up-n-shoot practice that many of us, myself very much included, need when it comes to shooting from a layout.
Regardless of the type of blind used, concealment is key. A pigeon’s eyesight and natural wariness should not be under-estimated. Throw in hunting pressure, and those park bench birds can get really, wary, really quickly.
The Best Decoys for Pigeon Hunting
When I started hunting pigeons in 1974, there were few, if any, pigeon decoys available in the U.S. I solved this by setting up the first birds I’d shoot in the morning as crude, albeit effective decoys. At the end of the morning, I would scoop up my decoys, take them home, and eat them.
Things are different today, as several outfits offer pigeon decoys, including Dive Bomb Industries, Tanglefree, and Lucky Duck. I’m partial to a full-body decoy from Soar No More, though I’m sure silhouettes, either commercially made or a simple DIY version, would produce results.
Pigeons, like snow geese, are both gregarious by nature, as well as ridiculously greedy. When a flock sees what they think are half a dozen of their brethren eating something—anything—they’ll come around.
I typically set three dozen decoys, give or take in no particular arrangement. Where allowed by regulation, I’ll always throw a spinning wing decoy into the mix. While I personally think spinning wing decoys are usually more trouble than they’re worth, they work like a tractor beam when it comes to pigeons. MOJO Outdoors makes a great spinning wing pigeon decoy, and I like to put a pair of them on taller (6’-8’) poles at the edge of my spread.
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The Best Guns and Gear For Pigeon Hunting
If you’re looking at pigeons to fill the freezer and as an opportunity to hone your skills for duck season, then I’d suggest toting the same shotgun you’ll be taking into the marsh. That said, I have used a little bit of everything for pigeons, with the exception of a .410 (although, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work). Be it a 20-, 16-, or 12-gauge, most anything you shoot well will work well for pigeons.
Pigeons can be tough customers to down cleanly though. For that reason, I’m partial to 1 to 1¼ ounces of #6 or #5 lead or steel. Number 7½ shot will work too, especially given the high pellet count and pattern density, but #8s are a bit on the small side when it comes to consistency.