Here in Iowa, the early Spring Conservation Order, or snow goose season, runs through early April, and Missouri’s dove season—Iowa doesn’t have a dove season, so we go south to the Show-Me State—doesn’t open until September 1st. What this means is there are five months, or 150 l-o-n-g days when wingshooters such as myself have little to do but constantly consult the calendar. True, we have plenty of trap, skeet and sporting clays ranges, but there is, at least in my mind, quite a bit of difference between baked clay and winged things with feathers.
So this being the situation, what options do wingshooters have for those off-season months? Fortunately, we are not without our opportunities, thanks to a trio of challenging, prolific, and reasonably easy to access winged fiends.
By way of personal confession, I would rather hunt pigeons than most upland game birds, period. Heavily muscled, pigeons, or rock doves, fly extraordinarily well, and thus can put even the most accomplished shotgunner to shame on any given afternoon. High concentrations of the birds can be found throughout most of the U.S., often much to the chagrin of farmers to whom the birds are little more than flying originators of avian feces. The birds decoy well, become quite wary when subjected to hunting pressure, and, believe it or not, can be incredibly good on the table. In fact, pigeon ranks only slightly behind grouse, blue-wing teal, and wild turkey on my personal culinary excellence scale.
It’s no secret that barnyards attract their fair share of pigeons; however, it’s been my experience that there’s no better location than a fresh-cut winter wheat, rye or barley field for providing barrel-melting action. All that’s required is a little scouting, some door knocking, and a polite “excuse me sir, do you mind if I hunt some of those pigeons flying around there?” Chances are good you will be welcomed with open arms, and that reception may spill over and provide additional opportunities for hunting other species.
Gregarious birds, pigeons are suckers for decoys, be they fallen comrades or plastic commercial fakes. Silhouette decoys are a great off-season project; however, full-body pigeons can be ordered on-line from Knutson Decoys (knutsondecoys.com; 800-248-9318) based out of Michigan. Unlike ducks or geese, pigeons require just a handful of decoys, with six to 10 blocks being plenty. And to make your spread irresistible, position a remote control Robo-Duck at one edge; at the first sign of pigeons, simply hit the switch and grab your fowling piece because it’s going to happen!
The same shotgun you take into the marsh or uplands will work well for pigeons. A modified or improved-modified tube is ideal, along with one- to 1-1/4-ounce loads of No. 5 to No. 7-1/2 lead shot or No. 6 to No. 7 steel. Take note, however, that pigeons can occasionally be tough customers when it comes to absorbing hits on-target. If you find this to be the case, a switch to short magnum (1-1/2-ounce) loads of No. 5s, or even No. 4s, should do the trick.
As a final note, allow me my favorite pigeon recipe. Simply dress the birds by removing the entire bone-in breast section; wash, dip in beer, dredge in seasoned flour, and brown in bacon grease. Next, layer the breasts in a heavy Dutch oven with sliced sweet onions, diced tomatoes, green chilies, mushrooms, and two to three pieces of hot Italian sausage. Splash a cup of red wine and a cup of orange juice overtop, and bake covered for 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Served over fluffy white rice, it’s an epicurean delight—and one, I’m sure, to instill a new-found respect in you for the lowly barnyard pigeon.
Growing up, my hunting buddies and I were always shooting starlings—spring, summer, fall and winter. In my native Ohio, the stubby black birds were classified as a non-game species; here in my now-home state of Iowa, they’re considered unprotected non-game birds. Regardless of how the regulations put it, if they’re fair game, they’re fair game and believe you me, well worth the effort.
Starlings often roost in flocks numbering into the thousands. This translates into tens of thousands of individual droppings, and when concentrated on farm machinery or stored animal feed such as round bales or silage, can be quite problematic, not to mention costly. That said, few are the farmers unwilling to let a conscientious shooter or two have their go at the local starling population.
It has been my experience shooting starlings that mornings and evenings produce best. So, too, do locations such as foraging areas, e.g. silage piles or feedlots, and roosts. Low-base loads of No. 7-1/2 or No. 8 lead or No. 7 steel are more than adequate; just be certain to bring plenty. And after the first shoot or two in a particular location, camouflage and/or a blind of some nature might be in order. Starlings, like their relative, the talkative myna bird, can be quite intelligent and it doesn’t take survivors long to make the connection between humans and things not so nice.
And yes, Virginia, just in case you are wondering there are, indeed, recipes that call for starlings as the theme ingredient. Given as to that which I have personally seen starlings feed upon, I just might take a pass, but should you be adventurous, I am certainly not saying you ought feel the same. Just let me know how that turns out, will you?