During both autumn and winter, the vast agricultural and arboricultural lands of Sologne offer a migratory pit stop for hundreds of thousands of common wood pigeons. These blue hued birds were just enjoying the oak forests and corn stubble fields, when a handful of enlightened hunters arrived to experience a hunt that took them to seventh heaven. The kings of France had gotten it right, and had already made this region into a privilege. Sure, it has greatly lost its authenticity. Quite often hunted isn’t done under natural conditions, but rather in enclosures where the game is no longer worthy of its reputable name and status. However, Sologne remains a hunting heaven for true and passionate hunters to rediscover the roots of their passion. Yvan Vidal, hunting and fishing guide, is a part of this. We had previously come across him in the English countryside pursuing his fetish game species – the common wood pigeon. Native of Sologne, and local of the countryside, Yvan has developed a hunting technique that we thought was reserved for the south-west of France… the palombière. Sure, Yvan’s palombières do not follow the exact blueprint of set-ups where the crème de la crème consisted of only shooting hovering birds, and if possible capturing them with a net. However, they allow one to experience exceptional moments, such as the hunter getting close to the sky for a face to face encounter with these birds with the piercing eyes. It was still night as we left the small road that had brought us from Vienne-en-Val to Brinon-sur-Sauldre in the Cher department. We followed a new road; it was soaked by the past days’ torrential rains. It was the end of November, and the common wood pigeon’s migration was in full swing. According to our host, the region tallied a few dozen, thousand birds that were stopping in Sologne for the entire winter. The past few years, an increasing number of these migrants spent the wintertime in France. They recurrently stop in Sologne, as well as a close by forest of Orléans. The anticipation of their pattern has made for very homogenous shoots during the winter months. There was nothing left to do but smoke a few shells and heat up the barrels of our guns. There were two cat flaps in the trunk of Yvan’s vehicle, where we presumed the presence of his live decoy birds. These were domestic pigeons destined to lure in their wild companions. Yvan explained to us, that this role as a collaborator, isn’t all that easy. That’s why he chose Gascogne blue pigeons to do the job. Stemming from a morphology that took over 15 years of genetic selection to obtain, they feature robust feet and pointed wings that emit a very audible clattering. The work of these callers is very particular, as they are anchored by their feet on articulated, metallic pallets. These are then sent to the tree tops via an elevator. Using a very complex system of cables, pulleys, and handles, these set-ups allow the simulation of a perch. All is hand-made, and one can easily imagine the hundreds of hours needed to fabricate this system and its difficult installation in the Sologne canopies. Setting up the hunters is no easier, as it requires hoisting these gun bearers to treetop level. To do this, a perfectly stable and solid platform capable of holding up to three hunters is installed. In the best case scenario, this platform is poised on a scaffolding type structure, but sometimes it’s held by simple ladders which the nimrods raise to the skies. There, it’s best not to have vertigo. Our group reunited in the early morning at the foot of a ladder. Yvan released two calling birds that quickly gained altitude and disappeared into the foliage of an oak that had surely celebrated its centenary multiple times. “Welcome to the highest palombière in France!” exclaimed our host, proud of his work. Rightly so! The gun cases, backpacks containing shells, and a few victuals were fixed to a rope and remained on the ground, while we conquered the climb that would elevate us 26 meters over ground level. Needless to say, if you’re susceptible to vertigo, it’s best to avoid visiting a palombière, even if harnesses and oversized carabiners are suggested for those who seek absolute security. The first to arrive on the platform raised the rope from which the materials were dangling. Once everyone was halfway to heaven, we closed the trapdoor, whose absence would hazard a fall straight to hell. From now on, there was no risk of falling, and we could finally appreciate the infinite, 360 degree view. This was the Sologne as you’ve never seen it. At least, unless you’ve flown over it at low-altitude in a microlight. Two live decoys were situated a few meters from us, and two others were on an oak thirty meters away. They were all linked to the boss though, who tugged at their binds to provoke an instant fluttering of wings. Not a single bird can escape Yvan’s eyes. He was already scrutinizing the horizon with his binoculars, all whilst reminding us of the draconian safety rules on account of the narrowness of our support structure. Day broke, and a flock of common cranes pointed towards the south. Behind these, thousands of common wood pigeons had left their roosts to throw themselves at nutritious lands. The flock stretched out over multiple kilometers and seemed never ending. The decoy birds were batting their wings. We were hunkered down on the platform, immobile, shotguns wedged beside us, listening to the wing flaps of the approaching blue armada. A small group of scouts broke away, adjusted their wings, and let themselves drop towards the “companions” who were already sitting down for lunch. As soon as they were within gun range, Yvan whispered “now,” and three cannons raised up into the blue azure to release their spray of grain that succeeded in surprising two pigeons. The six shots scared the thousands of remaining higher birds, and within the blink of an eye they dispersed every which way. Aston, our German Wirehaired Pointer, sat at the foot of the oak tree, not touching the fallen birds that he had already deposited beside the ladder. After an hour of hunting, a dozen pigeons had been shot. This number definitely didn’t correlate with the number of shells ejected, and what was yet to be fired, to reach the 18 pigeons by mid afternoon, when the end of day one in the palombière was announced. The next morning we changed areas, since Yvan’s protocol calls for never hunting more than once per week in the same spot. In fact, he can choose between eleven different territories and 26 palombières scattered throughout the region. As for the pigeons, tranquility of a hunting territory is the best guarantee for their presence. This time we left the Cher department to explore the Loiret, by traversing the Loir and Cher department. These three administrative entities have been united into what the local hunters call the “golden triangle,” with reference to the section’s hunting quality. Today’s palombière was installed in a small oak forest, situated in the middle of the countryside and encircled by a corn stubble field. Our shooting platform was poised on scaffolds, and the access was nice and simplified. We were “only” 18 meters high, so our view was blocked by the final few leaves that clung desperately to the branches. Our live decoys however, dominated the situation and did not go unnoticed by the small group of pigeons that came by shortly thereafter. Next up, a more expanded group with many individuals. The surrounding stubble served as a great magnet for the pigeons. Aston was quickly put to work retrieving birds, some of which fell more than 200 meters away. Bravo dog! At 1 pm rush hour slowed and we decided to descend and grill a few andouilettes (sausages) over a wood fire. The mercury reached 18 degrees, but it was impossible to enjoy this for too long, since pigeons were already continuing their rounds and sitting next to our birds. Yvan was correct in asking us to keep our guns within an arm’s reach during the meal. More than ten pigeons were shot from the ground as we devoured the local specialties. Everything was very enjoyable, except that our necks were permanently subjected to a 45 degrees angle …. But what wouldn’t you do to calm the blue fever? After the Hunt Culture and hunting are closely linked, so don’t leave the Sologne without visiting two museums that are worth the detour. The Gien International Hunting Museum – located in a 15th century castle, it gathers collections demonstrating different hunting methods (rifle, shotgun, driven, and trapping). It presents a selection of hunting artwork dating from the Middle Ages to the present day. This structure is the largest of its kind in Europe. The Chaon House of Poaching – Europe’s only museum dedicated to poaching, you can discover the other side of hunting in Sologne. Don’t forget the terrestrial small game! If you wish to liven up your trip to Sologne with a hunt for small game with your own dog, Yvan can show you the Mauret Domaine. Here, you are free to choose from common and cherished pheasants, partridge, woodcock, and ducks. The 240 hectare territory is split between woodland, groves, marshland, and game plots, where dogs will find it quite a challenge to intercept the perfectly seasoned birds, which have had the time to learn what their predators look like. Author: Philippe Jaeger Philippe Jaeger is originally from Alsace and in his youth he was opposed to hunting. He changed his opinion when he met people who explained to him that the foolish behaviour of some hunters had nothing to do with real hunting. Philippe got his hunting licence and bought a hunting dog, which he trained himself. Today he can’t imagine his life without hunting. He is now 46 years old and has a son, and, when he is not travelling around the world to go hunting, he enjoys his family life in the Vosges Mountains.