Now that the game crop has been in for five weeks, the field is looking a great deal greener. Incessant rain has turned the seeds into respectable young plants, and they have now reached that pleasing stage at which they ripple when the wind blows. I’ve been worried about the amount of grass which has come up from seed between the crop, but looking at it closely, I think that the turnips, radishes and kales will win the fight for sunlight. Here and there, larger clumps of grass which weren’t broken up by the plough have made dense islands of turf which no other plant can hope to compete with, but on the whole, it’s looking good.
However, there is a potential fly in the ointment. Over the last week, pigeons have arrived. There are never many on the field at once, but it’s not hard to imagine what damage they could do if left unchecked. I shot one with the .222 on Monday, but intermittent disturbance won’t be enough. And then it dawned on me. It’s a Game Crop. Why didn’t I have some fun with it?
Fast forward to 7am on Friday morning to observe your valued correspondant crouched invisibly between a camouflage net and seven foot march dyke. A semi-circle of pigeon decoys swept in a carefully organised pattern on the game cover, while a young labrador watched the cloud break up into ragged windows of sunlight in the breeze. Within ten minutes, the first pigeon was in the bag after it spotted my decoys from a great height and came tabogganing down into the pattern. Scoop saw it fall and carefully ducked around the hide netting like an old professional, picking it and then dashing back through the game cover. I hardly had to give her a single command, and I was amazed at how much the instinct to search and retrieve is hardwired into labradors. She had some trouble spitting out the fluffy white feathers, but sat down and waited for the next shot like she’d been decoying pigeons all her life.
I had two hours before I had to pack up and go to work, and the pigeons swept in at short intervals throughout my allotted time. They made me work for the bag, sweeping in from unexpected angles and flaring off if the first barrel went awry. I divided my entire existence as a teenager between shooting pigeons and thinking about shooting pigeons, and it was a real nostalgic thrill to spot the distant specks as they saw the decoys and broke away from their flightlines to come in. That classic slide on folded wings took me back to the days when I obsessively pursued those birds on drills and stubbles down by the Solway coast.
Not having a watch or a mobile phone, I had no idea how the time had passed, but I decided to draw a close to the morning when I had a dozen birds in the bag. Scoop had performed brilliantly, although she had tried to pick a full bodied pigeon decoy when a dead bird proved too tricky to find without help. The clock in the car told me that I had minutes to spare before I was expected for a meeting, so I packed up and headed down the hill with a box of birds in the passenger footwell.
It’s difficult to tell if my morning has had a real impact on the number of pigeons using the game crop, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s already started to pull its weight.