Hunting contents




Flock of woodpigeons passing the Pyrenees in October. 
Picture borrowed from a Spanish website entirely dedicated to woodpigeon hunting. 
To discover more, visit:


October, early November - Peak date Oct 18th -


In the Pyrenees of the Basque Country, backcountry of Biarritz & Saint Jean de Luz.


Woodpigeon (Palumbus, palumbus).

Hunting woodpigeon in France -

We are offering here to attend the traditional hunts on migration roads (read the description below). Otherwise, pigeons are currently found everywhere in the north of France during the winter, and often complement the bag of any upland day.


Palombe  Woodpigeon

Example of offer...

2 nights - 2 days shooting

Based on 2 hunters sharing a room

Starting around 600 euros per hunter including, license, 2 hotel nights at a selected mountain hotel, all meals, 2 days shooting at the pass. Not included, transportation, drinks & cartridges. No guarantee of bag or presence. The flocks are leaving northern Europe in Oct/Nov and we only bet and hope to meet them in the Pyrenees during their trip ! 

Small luxury country hotels also available on request...

Read about - The traditional Basque woodpigeon hunt...

From an article published in The Gourmetfly Newsletter of September 1999 - some pictures are placed below.

Saint Luke in the Basque Land - October 18th is Saint Luc, and the old saying goes: "à la Saint Luc... le grand truc !" it is only a saying among palombe hunters in the South-West of France. At Saint Luke, The big thing ! It is supposed to be the migration peak of this more than appreciated pigeon. The bird causing serious fever to the south-westerner hunters. Many of them take a month holiday just to wait for the mythical flocks. There are many ways to hunt them but what is done by the Basques on top of the Pyrenees is unique in the world. Let me try to explain.

Those pigeons come from subarctic parts of our continent like Russia or Scandinavia heading to the south of Spain and North-Africa. They move in big flights making few stops and their migration lasts from early October to mid November. On their way, they must cross the high Pyrenees mountains. There, for over centuries, the Basques have developed an amazing technique to catch them with nets. The clue was found by a monk of Orreaga - Roncevaux Abbey 6 or 700 years ago. He observed that falcons and hawks were also waiting for the birds. As the mountain is quite high, the effort for the palombes to fly across is very important. They are flying through passes using the same route since ever. Here are waiting the hawks for a nice strategic attack and the promise of good food. They attack under the flock. The monk noticed that when the hawk attacks the flock, the pigeons are too tired to fly away or gain more altitude as usual. So they dive to the ground and escape from the bird of prey like this, continuing to fly at very little distance of the ground.

The Basques imagined to imitate the hawk's attack to make them dive into a net. You must figure out that all this happens on the top of a big chain of mountains. Firstly, the birds arrive flying at an altitude of 1000, 1500 meters, (4.00 ft) they fly along the mountains and some Basque guys are here trying to keep the flock in the right lane with big white flags, horns and their famous shouts. These are called xatarlari. It means the guy who uses the whip-flag called xatar, pronounce it like chat, in English. They really have a stunning voice. If the flight leaves the lane leading to the pass, they begin to shout like hell, use the flag and the horn, beat some sort of drums, and the birds keep flying well centered.

Then they get close to the net, they are still very high in the sky. So the Basques have built towers on top of the mountains. And it is a high mountain. The towers are still very low compared to the flock. Now comes the invention of the monk: The guy on the tower called abatari, very strong and skilled man, starts throwing sorts of wooden battledores painted white with chalk. This produces a pretty good imitation of a hawk's attack and with luck the flight should dive to the small net in the center of the pass. Maybe I'm not explaining well, but believe me, this is something very impressive and means a lot of skills and efforts to succeed.

So, on Saint Luke many people go there to watch or eat some salmis or plantxa grilled palombes in the restaurants nearby. I was among them. And I always appreciate it. The grilled palombes are fantastic but it is a secret process that few people can reproduce out of the Pays Basque. You must try this on the spot around Donapaleu, Osquich, Saint Etienne de Baïgorry or Sare.

If you want to try a Salmis de Palombe at home - It is a red wine stew and I guess the recipe applies to any wild pigeon in the world. Only one thing is highly important, no fat bird should be used as the grease would melt in the stew and result would be poor - I have had a very bad culinary experience in Spain with turtle dove overfed with sunflower seeds - Salmis can be prepared canned or preserved. You can also cook and deep freeze in portions very quickly ready when you want to use later. This is an enjoyable alternative home "fast food".

Take a wild pigeon, roast it a short while in an oven. Take it out and cut it into parts. Two breasts two legs, and the rest. Take the skin and bones cut in pieces, put in a casserole with butter (locals would use goose fat). Add a small carrot and an onion, also cut in small pieces, garlic, parsley, thyme, bay leaf and let it take color. Add a spoon of flour, mix well and let it take color again. Add two glasses of strong red wine (Irouléguy) and a spoon of brandy, give some heat, place the breasts and legs in the preparation then boil gently at low heat for an hour. Take the breasts and legs out, then press and strain the sauce. The sauce must be rather thick. Serve with mushrooms and potatoes. Sprinkle with a little of fresh parsley.

Pictures below courtesy of Ian and Jess MacLean

One of the towers for the Abatari

By good weather the blue Ocean can be seen in the background

Café at the pass in front of the now closed Guardia Civil check point

A coffee is prepared at dawn in the shelter...

Is this man really opening a bottle of coffee ?

A rustique but wife endorsed holiday

The abatari and the tools of his trade

For more pictures of the region open also Béarn

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