|South African Pigeon Hunt
Returning to South Africa for several weeks
this year, the author brought his precharged
pneumatic air rifles along to get some pigeon
shooting in during breaks from hunting
plains game. The action was fast and
furious and the pigeons just kept on coming!
Fig 1: The precharged pneumatic air rifle is the
perfect tool for thinning out populations of
pigeons in area where you would be unable to use
a firearm. Note the rifle used has an online
pressure gauge to let the hunter know how much
air is being used,
I was out on a friendâ€™s stock (sheep) farm in South Africa recently, and had a chance to get in some
airgun hunting. Down near the feedlots and stockyards they have a huge population of rock pigeons that fly
in to forage before, during, and after the sheep have been fed. Wave after wave of these wild pigeons fly
in to rob the animal feeders, and take a substantial amount of grain. Iâ€™ve hunted this area several times
in past years with various airguns in .177, .22, and .25 calibers, but this year I chose to use a new rifle
from the American manufacturer Crosman.
The Benjamin Marauder is a multi-shot precharged pneumatic (PCP) air rifle recently released to market.
A PCP air rifle is one that has an air reservoir incorporated, and is charged from an external power source
such as a hand pump or scuba tank. Once the reservoir is filled 50 to 80 shots are available before it
requires refilling. The Marauder is currently chambered in .177 and .22, and comes loaded with desirable
features usually found in much more expensive guns. A fully integrated barrel shroud effectively lowers the
sound signature to less than a whisper while providing three times the power of a conventional magnum
airgun. The rifle is virtually recoilless and has a fully adjustable match grade trigger, which along with the
designs intrinsic accuracy make it an absolute tack driver.
I liked this gun for a couple reasons; first is that the shooting gets fast and furious with birds coming in
from all directions, making a highly reliable 10 shot magazine and the ability to do a quick reload a
desirable attribute. The second major advantage is that this gun has a very low sound signature resulting
from the integrated barrel shroud. A quiet pop and the sound of the pellet hitting didnâ€™t even slow
incoming birds. As a matter of fact, I could often sit and drop ten birds in a row with head shots without
alarming the rest of the flock. The accuracy and power were all that could be asked for in both calibers;
the .177 caliber gun coupled with the 10.3 grain and the .22 caliber with the 14.7 grain Crosman Premier
pellets produced excellent terminal performance.
The main reasons such large numbers of birds were being taken was that it served to reduce the local
population as they eat a great deal of feed and foul what is left behind. The secondary reason is that these
grain feed pigeons are a pest that can be eaten, and are good in stews, roasted, or made into an English
style pigeon pie. When taking large numbers I kept some for our table and distributed the rest to the farm
My method was to either take off with gun in hand picking off birds whenever I got in range, or
alternatively Iâ€™d set up an ambush. We noted that at specific times during the day, pigeons flew in large
numbers to certain feedlots, and I decided to set up a shooting blind to capitalize on their routine. We
selected a spot and built a blind from hay bales which would hide us from view as the birds were picked
off. The bales were stacked behind a wire fence; 2x4 beams placed across the top with additional bales
stacked on to give support and hold the blind together. There was a shooting window facing the field which
contained the animal feed bins. Some old grain bags were hung from the door to prevent incoming sun
from backlighting us and giving our position away. There were a couple spaces left around the enclosure
that created small viewing/shooting portals and allowed a 360 degree view of surrounding areas.
The important first step is to shoot 3-4 birds and position them around the yard as decoys. This would
invariably bring in more birds enlarging our decoy population. One trick I employed was to take a 14â€�
length of wire and bend it into a cradle which would hold the dead decoys in lifelike positions. These were
stuck into the ground at strategic positions and worked brilliantly. As soon as the decoys were out and I
was in the blind, the birds started flying in, sometimes a small group of five or six birds some times as many
as thirty would land. I would shoot a magazine then reload with a fresh one and continue. Being selective
and taking my time, I could easily average fifty or sixty birds an hour! On the first hunt I shot seventy birds
in about an hour using body shots front and broadside, though I also lost a couple birds. After that, I only
used head shots and never lost another one. As a matter of fact, on one shot I creased the top of one birdâ
€™s head dropping him on the spot, with the pellet then striking the bird right behind in the head giving me
a double. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!
On another morning I was hiking a rock covered hillside above the farm looking for a mongoose Iâ€™d
spotted the previous evening, when I stumbled into a stand of trees where the pigeons had been roosting
and birds exploded every which way. I went back later that day and tucked myself in under a thorn bush,
setting my rifle on a pair of shooting sticks while I waited. As the pigeons flew in, they would land on the
tall spikes of the aloes as a pre-staging area before going to roost. I took a couple dozen birds in about a
half hour, shooting anywhere from 50 to 80 yards.
Though I primarily used the .177, the .22 was equally devastating, with the majority of birds dropping
immediately on impact. The accuracy was such that head shots at 70 yards were very doable, and
body shots also anchored birds though slightly better with the larger caliber. At one point I started
shooting the birds out of the air as they hovered in place over the decoys looking for a landing site.
At the conclusion of one afternoons hunt I brought a bag containing sixty pounds of pigeons to the
farm help for processing, keeping some of the meat for ourselves and distributing the rest. The next
evening we returned to the farmhouse from a big game hunt to find an appetizer of pigeon hearts and
onions, along with a main course of pigeon pie awaiting us. This was a first for me, and it was very
tasty. On other pigeon shoots Iâ€™d had the birds roasted and stewed, but think the pigeon pie
would have to be my favorite. I think it worth mentioning again that these birds were South African
Rock Pigeons not Rock Doves, Rock Doves being another name for the common feral pigeons found
all over the world. They tasted like a good game bird that had been foraging wild and eating grainâ€¦â
€¦ Iâ€™ve never been tempted to try feral pigeons and canâ€™t comment on whether they are
palatable or not.
While the primary goal of our pigeon shoots was to reduce the numbers of birds around the working
areas of the farm, being able to convert the kill into an excellent source of protein was a big plus in my
view. In terms of the shooting, the Marauder was one of the fastest action guns Iâ€™ve shot, and with
three or four preloaded magazines in my pocket I was able to shoot without interruption when the
birds were winging in.
I donâ€™t believe Iâ€™ve ever shot in a more target rich environment; I could have taken several
hundred pigeons if that was my primary focus. Even as a couple hour break from big game hunting
now and then, I was racking them up in huge numbers. I left behind two Marauders for the farm owner
to use in his continuing pigeon control efforts. They will never stop these birds from winging in, but by
keeping up the pressure they can keep them out of certain areas. Thatâ€™s OK with me, because on
my yearly trips out this is an airgunning activity I quite look forward to.
Fig 2: The blind made of baled hay worked
very well, not only for pigeons but crows
and Guinea fowl as well.
Fig 3: When shooting from the blind, the gun
was so quiet that multiple birds from a flight
could be shot. There are dead birds, birds held
in the wire decoy cradles, and live birds in the
field at the same time.
Fig 4:The Marauder .177 worked
a charm on these birds; flat
shooting, accurate, powerful,
quiet, reliable â€“ what else does
the hunter need?
Fig 5: Close up of my decoy
cradle; a 14â€� piece of wire was
bent to form a cradle into which a
recently shot bird was laid. I
actually shot pigeons out of the air
trying land on the decoys.
Fig 6: The pigeon pies made from
the birds I shot were very tasty
and were a good comfort food on
the cold nights we experienced
during the hunt.