Tips for successful pigeon hunting
By: Dena Vick
As the calendar turns to September, many things come to mind. The start of school, football, and the traditional start of the Labor Day pigeon season. In most states, pigeons are hunted the same way: sitting in buckets or on the tailgate of a truck in fields of wheat, soybeans, exposed peanuts, and sunflowers with a shotgun in hand.
In the South, pigeon hunting is as much a social gathering as it is a bird hunt. Family traditions surround the event. Barbecues, parties and gatherings are held around the traditional practice.
The best way to ensure a successful hunt is to be prepared with the right gear. Recently, while planning an upcoming Labor Day hunt, I visited my friend Blake Rice, president of TSS Shot, to plan what we would need for the weekend. We realized that in preparing to choose the right gear, you need to consider weather conditions and your hunting companions, including man’s best friend.
Pigeon season starts out warm in most parts of the country, but it’s downright hot in the south. Sitting or walking in open fields in the late afternoon exposes hunters and dogs to direct heat, so prepare accordingly for yourself and your dog. It is important for hunters and their dogs to stay hydrated. Drink lots of water. Rice grabs a small cooler and allows his British black lab, Rosco, to drink cold water from his Grizzly cooler to stay hydrated. “I use the 15 in the field and keep the 60 in the truck full of water and ice for backup,” Rice said. Don’t overdo or push your dog. Let them rest. Some hunters bring folding canine blinds to shade their dogs during the hunt.
Pigeon hunts generally start between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm and last until sunset. If you participate in the pre-hunt festivities, try not to overeat before the pigeon hunt, as you will be in the heat all afternoon. Rice, a typical binge eater of delicious Georgia barbecue, prefers to wear Nomad’s turkey camo series because it’s lightweight and breathable. However, any light colored or tan camouflage clothing will suffice because there is nothing worse than heavy, restrictive clothing when you have a case of meat sweats.
Add a Boyt shell belt to her ensemble to keep the shells on her hips. This keeps your shells easily accessible and makes reloading faster.
Rice always wears lightweight, breathable LaCrosse snake boots as a precaution during these hot-weather hunts, because you’re likely to find a snake or two in the field. “As I walk through the fields, I always look for arrowheads and rattlesnakes; Either one is a big surprise,” Rice smiled.
Eye protection is a must. “I like the Redfin polarized decoy lenses on the Sanibel frames. Ballistic anti-glare lenses are important because birds don’t see you because of the glare from the lenses,” Rice said.
Many hunters sit in the back door of his truck, but he prefers to sit out in the field away from the reflections of chrome and glass and the temptation to slam doors. Any stool will work, but he prefers an Evans sports bucket with a padded seat because you can store gear in the bucket while you’re on the field.
You will need a good 12 or 20 gauge shotgun and shells. I always carry a .20 because I’m small in stature and feel more comfortable shooting a .20-gauge shotgun. Rice picks his gun depending on the setting. I was curious as to how he determines which firearm is the best and asked him to explain.
“If I’m shooting in a tighter environment when the birds are low, I tend to take a 20. But late in the season, the birds tend to fly quite high. That’s when I’ll almost always carry my 12 gauge. I shoot a Retay Masai Mara because it offers more consistent patterns. ReTay is the only gunmaker to pre-drill their barrels at the factory, which lengthens the force cone and provides a more reliable pattern.”
Rice has been testing the TSS shot load at 9 and 10 shots with 3/4 oz and 28 grains of powder because tungsten is a non-toxic alternative to lead. National parks no longer allow lead on federal land. TSS is trying to get ahead of the curve and produce affordable pigeon and quail stock for the future. Tungsten commands a higher price and in states where lead is allowed, Rice recommends using 7.5 shots in 1 ¼ load. These are available at most sporting goods stores.
Always check your local state regulations and follow the laws of that state.
When dressing the pigeon in the field, I use Smith’s Edgesport bait and hunting shears to remove the sternum and cut the wing bones. I then separate the chest cavity from the rest of the body leaving a good chunk of pigeon meat. Whether you’re preparing your harvest in the field or transporting it home for cleaning, place the birds in a cooler to chill the meat.
One way I like to prepare pigeon is to dip it in soy or teriyaki sauce for 20 minutes to an hour, wrap the meat and a slice of fresh jalapeno in bacon, secure with a toothpick, and place on the grill until done.
These pigeon treats are sure to be a hit and are the perfect way to end the day!