Article contributed by Field Staff Writer E. Castillo.
The morning had been glorious to us. Greenheads were hanging from a bird strap. Ducks were still milling around, and small groups of them dotted the blue sky. On occasion, a pair would sail in with cupped wings and orange landing gear, ready for a splash within our decoys. A glimpse is what I saw…a lone gray bird streaking across the sky above the marsh. Instantly, I knew it was not a duck, nor a dove. Its medium size and plump body with a squared tail indicated, a pigeon. A pigeon?
I stood up from behind the makeshift duck blind, and immediately was detected. The pigeon sensing something afoot changed its course forthwith. The bird dipped, zigzagged, and then hooked away. I was intrigued. Watching the sky for incoming ducks took a backseat. I grabbed my binoculars and followed the pigeon as it flew along a tree line. Its final destination was another tree line along the river about half-a-mile away. The pigeon flew through the trees, circled around and met up with another two dozen silhouettes. Some were perched in the trees, others were landing beneath an overpass. I knew exactly what the pigeons were doing…picking grit.
I stepped out of the water and proceeded to walk in my waders to where I saw the pigeons. Not knowing what to expect, I merely walked down the service road with shotgun in hand, loaded with steel shot No. 4. Rounding the corner, a cloud of grey plump birds exploded from the corn field. Two shots rang out, with only one string of pellets hitting their intended feather mark. I quickly located the bird, reloading at the same time. The heft of this tubby bird with its bluish gray feathers, broad wings, and black tipped tail as if someone had dipped it into a jar of ink. The flock overhead appeared chaotic, circling in wide patterns. A third and fourth shot finally brought another down to earth. This pigeon was lighter in color with iridescent through feathers. The highlight of the morning’s waterfowl hunt were the pigeons.
Prior to setting off from the blind, I knew that feral pigeons or Rock Doves, as they are commonly called, were considered an invasive species and not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Kansas hunting regulations require a valid hunting license to hunt or shoot pigeons. With no set limits, pigeons can be hunted year round. I had never come across feral rock doves in the wild, while duck or upland hunting.
Since my introduction to pigeon hunting, I have been able to extend my bird hunting season by a month or two. Usually scoffed at or looked upon with an odd look, when I say I’m going pigeon hunting. Truth is, wild pigeons will surprise you, as they did me. They are much harder to hit and bring down than say, doves.
Let’s not forget that in the Pacific Northwest and Arizona, these states have a season for pigeons…band-tailed pigeons. With a short season and very low bag limits, band-tailed pigeon hunting or shooting is popular within a small but passionate following of hunters.
I have found that pigeons react a certain way when they are hunted or shot at. Pigeons gather in flocks for safety, as the saying goes, safety in numbers. When alarmed or roosted from their location, pigeons will take flight and will circle the area. Once in the air, the ousted flock will fly together and regroup. Often times, the flock will appear to disperse of the area all together. Patience is the key. Once pigeons return, they will fly back into the area in singles or small groups along natural routes such as tree lines, rivers, and contours of the land. Setting up beneath trees or on a point intersecting their flight path can turn into a sporting time. Shots will keep the birds moving until they believe the threat has left the area. Be wary and keep a good eye out, as pigeons will magically appear out of nowhere. Pigeons flying through the trees and abruptly surprising hunters’ is quite common.
Pigeons can be typically observed feeding in grain fields, or cut-down or harvested cornfields. A mental note should be made of similar fields in the area in order to set up and deploy decoys. Dove decoys are excellent to use. Throw out a basic spread on the ground and add a Mojo Dove to bring them close. Just like waterfowl, get into a feed field before first light and set up dove dekes. At sunup, watch the horizon for incoming birds.
If the roost’s location is known, the opportunity is there to work and hunt both the feed field and roosting area. Birds that are pressured in the field will fly back to the roost. If ousted from the roost, be patient and wait for their return.
And, of course, feral pigeons can be “jump shot” by pressuring old abandoned barns, farm structures or silos. These will provide birds with nesting and roosting cover. Most abandoned structures on public lands are usually enrolled in some sort of walk-in program. Always check with local and state regulations and make sure to gain permission if in doubt.
Don’t underestimate a pigeon’s ability to take a load of BB’s. Make sure to use enough gun and the proper loads. I typically do not use anything smaller than No. 6, followed up with a No.5 using Improved Cylinder and Modified chokes in my over-under. If steel is required, then switch to No. 4.
After shooting a few pigeons in the field, it’s time to enjoy them from a fork. Pigeons are delicious. Their diets consists of mainly seeds and grains making their meat succulent and quite tasty. Use similar dove recipes to cook those pigeons…poppers, baked, grilled or roasted make for mouth-watering table fare. You are only limited by your imagination in how you eat pigeons. The hard part is to get passed that pigeons are seen as “gutter” city dwelling pests as opposed to wild birds. Hunters eat doves by the thousands, and they are commonly found in urban areas, yet we can’t wait to hunt and eat them.