After 2014 being one of, if not the warmest year on record, a January cold snap has well and truly arrived and I am over the moon!
“Why, you utter lunatic?” I hear some of you yell, whilst turning up the thermostat and stocking up on de-icer. The reason is twofold: one, I find that as an Airgun hunter with a keen taste for pigeon and squirrel, my quarry tends to stick longer in sheltered woodlands and thus gives me a better chance of bagging them and two: that I finally get to really put the amazing winter kit including VX Thermals, Hunters jacket and trousers and Fieldman Boots that Jack Pyke sent me in September, through all of its true paces! A favourite quote of mine is that ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, simply bad clothing choices’, so let’s see if this is true.
First off, I have to say there are thermals and then there are thermals and the Jack Pyke VX Thermals are about the best I’ve tried. Just imagine starting out on a cold winters day still wrapped in your duvet and you get an idea of how amazing these oh so comfortable, well fitting and fleece lined things are, they are soft, warm and very difficult to prise away from my wife’s grip and threat to steal them! From a person with hands point of view I imagine the thumb holes to be brilliant but the snug fit around the wrist ensured that without hands,I wasn’t encumbered by any unwanted overhang by folding the sleeves back and them staying put and adding an extra welcome layer of wrist warmth.
Armed with a trusty Air Arms S410 carbine in .22 and against the cold in the amazing VX Thermals, Long sleeved T Shirt, fleece gillet, Hunters jacket and trousers in English Oak (perfect pattern for woodland ambushes in the winter),Fieldman boots, Field Balaclava and Beanie hat; off I ventured in to the 1 degree ground temperature and heading for my favourite small wood. With a bitter northerly wind blowing at about 20- 30mph and potentially 3 hours of sitting still ahead, waiting for my winged nemesis to come to roost, it could start getting nippy in the minus 7 windchill!
The reason I favour shooting this wood, or more accurately spinney, with an Airgun is that the field it stands in is backed on to by some of the village houses. In the past we have had complaints about shooting here with a shotgun, so it is left unshot, bar five days in the Pheasant season. The combination of a Pheasant feeder and little disturbance has made it a roosting haunt for up to 80 pigeons that start coming in in small flocks 1 ½ hours before sundown and carry on until last light, a perfect scenario for the silenced airgun enthusiast. There is also the opportunity for Magpies, Crow, Rabbit and Squirrel, but my main focus and space in the freezer is for a winged crop robber or two. Roost shooting can be hit or miss as depending on the wind direction and weather, Pigeons may choose different parts of a wood to roost in. With this Spinney being only 50 meters by 70ish, it means that I’m never that far from a preferred nights roost spot. Sometimes I may loft a couple of decoys on cable tied garden canes, to about 20 feet to bring them in closer, but most of the time I prefer to just sit and watch.
As mentioned earlier, the Jack Pyke English Oak pattern on the Hunter Jacket and Trousers really does come in to its own in winter woodlands. In these situations, the effectiveness and natural look of the pattern can mean less need for carrying netting or building a hide. I find, by simply sitting with my back to a tree or amongst some scrub, most of your quarry simply don’t see you. The odd one may see a glint from the scope or an ill timed movement, but on the whole, the English Oak pattern gives you enough concealment to be able to raise the rifle and follow pigeons in to land, so you are prepared for the shot at the earliest opportunity. This in turn means that if the targeted pigeon is at the front of a flock, the others more often than not, will still land, giving you a potential second opportunity, it also cuts down on the need for movement while 15 pairs of danger adverse eyes are scanning the ground for threats.
So, sat under an oak with a clear field of vision and as good as I can expect arc of fire, my vigil of waiting in the winter cold starts. I find the first ¾’s of an hour can be the hardest, as your body cools from the walk from the car and setting up, but with hand on heart, I’m not at all cold. The balaclava gives just enough protection from the wind and under my beanie, keeps my head snug whilst the thermals, gillet, jacket and trousers ensure my arms, legs and core remain warm even when sitting on the cold ground. The wind and damp and chilled air simply doesn’t get in and I really feel very comfortable. As for the amazing Fieldman boots, I suffer from seriously cold feet and hands, it’s something I’ve just got used to but the utter comfort, Thinsulate protected warmth and robust build kept my tootsies believing they were on a Caribbean Island holiday, not holed up in a winter woodland in Hampshire! I have worn many boots over the years from £50 – £150 and just accepted cold as part of the winter, but not anymore! They have taken everything from deep mud to puddles, lengthy exposure to damp fields and general filth and just kept going. Certainly my Fieldman boots won’t win an award for best kept, but for tried and tested 3 season reliability and warmth, I haven’t found better.
Unfortunately this wasn’t to be my day to fill the freezer. After 2 ½ hours, I’d managed to bag two squirrels and a pigeon, but the expected flock simply didn’t turn up. Maybe it was because the pheasant feeder had not been topped up since before New Year, or that two Buzzards that I saw had caused them to venture elsewhere, I don’t know, but that’s hunting!
What I do know is that thanks to Jack Pyke, I was concealed, quiet and warm throughout, plus keen to go again at the end with no thoughts of just staying in to watch the telly instead! I have come to expect this sort of quality from Jack Pyke now, but it is always a pleasant experience to have my expectations exceeded and to realise that I needn’t have suffered the cold with inferior products for so many years!
I’m off to give this lot a run for it’s money on an exposed hill top Rape field in possibly snowy conditions, moving pigeons on with my Shotgun in the next few days, I’ll let you know how it all does!