I was recently greatly surprised to find a lengthy and interesting article in Gray's Sporting Journal on pigeon shooting. Gray's, by the way, is a "carriage trade" sporting magazine dealing in all phases of the outdoors and with barely concealed snob appeal. It is a far cry from the ordinary hunting-fishing book, and if I do say so, has some very thoughtful and appealing articles in it.
The pigeons dealt with in this piece were not what I expected in the beginning since I was quite sure that they must be talking about some exotic member of the pigeon family that dwelt in some faraway land that most ordinary mortals would never be able to visit, much less do any shooting.
I was wrong. The birds being written about were our common barnyard or city-dwelling pouters that are plentiful on the streets of virtually every town and hamlet in the USA and are a real nuisance in many of them.
I grew up with pigeons and have often wondered why almost everyone I've ever hunted with seemed amused and a bit quietly critical of the fact that I openly admitted shooting pigeons in great numbers when I was growing up and that I held them in rather high esteem as a sporting bird and surely a fine bird on the table.
Everyone knows, of course, that squabs, the immature birds just out of the nest, are gourmet items, especially in fancy French restaurants. Evidently, however, I am one of a few that know that full-grown pigeons are just as good eating as squabs and twice as big.
The article in the magazine dwelt on the fact that pigeons are making a mess of lots of places and that by judicious searching, a man intent on shooting a few could no doubt find a rural dweller that had lots more than he wanted and was willing for you to shoot them. This fellow knew several places where he was welcome to hunt.
He went on to tell what I already knew - pigeons once they are shot at a few times are very fast, very wily and a real challenging target, to say nothing of being fine table birds.
Some years ago a group of my acquintances who had been badly stricken with shooting fine double-barrel shotguns at anything they could find did quite a bit of pigeon shooting here in the Delta. A few farmers had pigeon cotes and lots of birds and the shooters would shoot them as they left and returned to the cotes and in fields they found the birds to be using.
Some of these fellows were also addicted to live pigeon shoots, a rich man's game played all over the world. One of my former friends, Don Whittaker, was a champion and won the world championship in Mexico once some 30 or more years ago. He traveled all over the civilized world for a few years shooting. At times he won some really big money. I suspect that he also lost some nice sums at other times.
This game is quite interesting. You shoot from a ring with a pigeon box in the center. The bird is released and the shooter must drop him dead inside the ring. He is given two shots to do so.
I learned from Don that in Italy they do this shooting game using starlings instead of pigeons! This makes good sense to me since starlings are a nuisance and are no doubt much harder to hit than pigeons.
Most of my pigeons were shot in the little town of Oakland, Miss., along a row of cottonseed houses by the railroad track, where pigeons nested and hatched in large numbers.
They loved to light on top of a small church that was conveniently located right beside my house. Better still, no other dwellings were close. I could slip out and take a pot shot while they were sitting on the roof ridge and then get another one as they flew away.
Rather oddly, I never did get into any trouble about this although once someone did mention that the church roof began leaking rather before it should have. I may have been at least partially the cause!