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!
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 workers
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; 2×4 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.