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Airgun Hunter: Squirrel Squad

Airgun Hunter: Squirrel Squad

Over the past few years, part of my shooting activity has included pest control on farms, small holdings and game shooting grounds. Each of these often requires different hunting approaches, equipment and techniques. I had a call from one of the game keepers, telling me that squirrels had been chewing away at his pheasant feeders and needed dispatching.

Happy!

I was more than happy to lend my services once again. It was costing the shoot money, it needed doing effectively and for that I decided that I would try setting up a feeder. I had used this method previously on a similar ground (on the outskirts of a wood) to good effect, taking numerous amounts of squirrels on any given day. As it worked so well for me then I guessed it would do the job this time round. With a little patience, a simple feeder can be knocked up fairly easily and cheaply with scrap wood. The squirrels are not bothered if it looks a bit rough and I don’t mind if the feeder gets shot in the process!

I soon had another feeder screwed together, with a bag full of bait and was on my way down to the shoot. Upon arrival, I had a wander through the wood to see the extent of the damage they were causing. I saw the problem instantly! Young trees in the wood had been stripped of their bark and the pheasant feeders were in a poor state from being chewed away as they tried to access the grain within. First of all I looked for a place where I could shoot from comfortably but most importantly, safely.

Safe shooting

I did not want to be shooting through bushes and not knowing what was on the other side. The game keeper would not be too happy should a stray pellet find one of his pheasants! I found a nice flat location where I could shoot in a natural dip in the wood, with a bank to my left hand side. From here I had a secluded vantage point of the trees over head and could spot incoming squirrels hopefully before they spotted me. Just 15 yards ahead of me was an old oak tree - perfect for installing the feeder. I could see what was behind to avoid incidents should I miss and the way the tree was leaning would accommodate the feeder so that it looked as natural as possible.

Soon the feeder hung there lovely and I filled it with my bait I prepared earlier (a mix of peanuts, wild bird seed and wheat). Grey squirrels are very inquisitive animals, so I scuffed up the ground next to the feeder to release a cent that the can often draw them in. I scattered the bait on the floor, as this is also a quick way for them to find the location of a new feeder. Once I had done this, I left the site and decided to give it a couple of days before I returned with the rifle.

Return

Two days soon came and went and it was time to head back to the shoot to see if the squirrels had found the feeder. I pulled-up in the car and grabbed the rifle off the back seat. This time I decided to take my Air Arms S400 in .177. Out of all the guns I have owned and tested, this is probably my favourite to hunt with. I find it just handles beautifully and is deadly accurate, especially at long range. I also brought my pop up hide and threw some camouflage netting over the top to break up the outline. However, I have found that this can sometimes restrict my field of view and limit where I can shoot!

Not only this but (let’s say a pigeon flies in 90 yards away) it’s a real faff to clamber quietly from the hide and stalk in. So today the home made ghillie suit was the better option! It gave me better comfort and more option if I needed to move or adjust my position.

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Geared up and looking like big-foot, I started my gentle stalk into the woods. Leaves were getting crisp under foot on this autumnal morning and winds from the night before had left many dead branches on the woodland floor, ready to create noise like a pest alarm, if I was not carful. Not the ideal conditions for a stealthy creep through the woodlands. As I moved in closer, I noticed a little movement near the feeder. It looked like a Blue Tit flitting back and forth, happily taking his fill. I was still out of range but movement was good, even if it was just a tiny song bird, this would help attract the squirrels attention to the food source. Moving in closer still, I shouldered the rifle to get a clearer picture through my Hawke Air Max scope. There! On the left hand side of the same tree I spotted the perky tail of a grey squirrel.

Stealthy approach

At this point, I was glad the feeder was doing its job and somehow knew I would come away with at least one squirrel in the bag. Crouching down low to take advantage of my ghillie suit, I tentatively started to move in. I reckoned I had to cover about 20 more yards before I could be confident in taking a shot.

I had my eyes on the squirrel the whole time, looking out for any clues that it had spotted me; (things like it being agitated and twitchy, barking a distress call or simply disappearing!) Thankfully, the squirrel seemed unaware of danger as I continued to move in. Once within range, I stopped, leaned against the back of a tree and took out the laser range finder to be 100% sure of my aim point. At 35 yards I knew a quarter of a mill dot was needed. With a short high pitch “squeak” the squirrel poked his head from around the opposite side of the tree.

Silently shouldering the rifle, trying to avoid tangles in the ghillie suit (one of the disadvantages of this method) the rifle was on aim and I squeezed the trigger and sent the pellet on its way. With all the wind seeming to have blown out the night before, there was no need to aim off. There was a downside to this though - a small twig had fallen 8 yards in front of my barrel. It was too out of focus for me to see and I simply hadn’t noticed it. The pellet clipped it and ricocheted off in completely the wrong direction.

Lucky

Luckily the rifle was so quiet, the squirrel didn’t even notice, and it still sat there! I could hardly believe it! I pulled back the bolt and popped another pellet in the single shot s400. I was sure not to make the same rookie mistake again and the pellet hit its mark, right behind the eye. The squirrel dropped instantly and rolled around on the floor for a short time due to the head shot. This often happens with head shots but its only nerves and is over very quickly.

I left the carcass where it lay in the hope that others might come in but nothing showed for nearly an hour and I was beginning to get restless. Just then, in the distance, I saw a large branch in a conifer bounce up and down. As nothing was happening in my current location I decided to investigate. As I approached, it appeared that whatever had been there had moved on. Nevertheless I continued as quietly as I could to prevent spooking any more potential quarry. Something had caught my eye just then on the other side of the large conifer. It was on some dead ground in between me and a standing crop of maze.

Last supper

Manoeuvring myself round the large tree, I saw it was another squirrel chewing on some corn on the cob. There were still some obstacles to avoid and far too many branches to attempt a shot. I knew that the clearing to my left hand side was where I needed to be, so that’s where I headed. I could now see the squirrel and he was still happily chewing away. Guessing it to be 30 yards, I placed the cross hairs on the top of its head (without knowing the exact range) and squeezed the trigger. The pellet hit the squirrel hard but to my surprise he ran into the standing crop behind. I quickly walked over to investigate and found a clear blood trail. He was dead just 10 yards inside the crop. The range was further than I first thought, the pellet fell a little low, resulting in a lung-shot. Still lethal but not quite what I was aiming for. Still, the gamekeeper was happy.

As it was starting to get dark I decided to call it a day, having relieved the wood of two more problem squirrels. The S400 performed flawlessly as per usual, alongside the ghillie suit, which also worked a treat.

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