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Airgun Hunter - Holtys Squirrels

Airgun Hunter - Holtys Squirrels

Let’s play a word association game, Autumn, what comes to mind? For me, it’s squirrels as their visible numbers seem to rise as the leaves fall. With the game season starting, I was no longer permitted to venture into the estate woodland because this would disturb the pheasants and risk temporarily driving them out of the wood. I was getting frustrated; I knew the squirrels would be out in force but had nowhere to engage them without causing other problems. Thankfully for me, they had ventured out of the woods and had started to cause issues for the landowner’s garden. It’s very welltended and features some expensive plants and shrubs, which were already showing squirrel damage. The troublesome greys were mainly in and around the beech trees lining the driveway down to the house; the tasty nuts, known as mast, proving irresistible.

Safe highway

The gamekeeper had kept his eye open over the past few days and dropped me a text advising me on the best time and location. I couldn’t stay too late because the pheasants use the drive as a safe highway back to the wood, where they roost throughout the night. If I disrupted them heading home, they may not return and could end up spending the night out in the open and the chance of meeting foxes. We settled on lunch time being the best time to shoot, when the warmth of the sun should help the squirrels be more active and encourage them to feed. I planned to sit on my bean bag and wait under the beech trees.

I packed my HW100KT. This was my rifle of choice for two reasons: Firstly, it’s laser accurate, so I had the confidence that it would be mega-effective on any squirrel within range. Secondly, the 14-shot magazine and side-lever action ensured rapid follow-up shots. In addition, I recently added an aftermarket biathlon, grip which made reloading that much quicker and easier, especially if I got cold hands, or had to wear gloves. Squirrels are tough, so shots have to be bang on and if they move at the last split-second, the shot can wound the animal. Regrettably, this happens from time to time and is virtually unavoidable. A swift and efficient second shot reduces the chance of further suffering. My Hawke range finder and Airmax scope also accompanied me on this job. My clothing of choice was some camo trousers and leaf jacket. I didn’t have the time to put up a hide and I wanted to be able to move at a moment’s notice and this lightweight 3D camo top allowed me to do that, while remaining well hidden.

Tell-tale signs

I set myself up under a holly tree, where the leaves covered me from above, without hampering my all-round vision for any greys either approaching on the ground or dropping down out of the trees. The day was relatively calm, and the trees were still. This was a great advantage, allowing me to notice small movements far easier. As I sat there, I could hear little bits of something hitting the ground, all of which were in pretty well the same place. The first time I put it down to a gentle breeze, which may have blown through the tops of the trees, but as more and more fell in the same spot, I got suspicious and broke cover for a closer look.

A typical tell-tale sign for squirrels is the noise of falling nut husks as they drop from the tree. I slowly got up and sneaked my way around the back of the holly. Step by step I walked further back to get a better view of the tree above. It got to the point where I could see it all, but still no bushy tail, I knew it was in there, so waited. Before long, it gave itself away. A branch bounced, and a tail flashed, which fixed my gaze on that spot. There! It poked its head up above the golden leaves and I was on it. The sound of the pellet hitting the skull was very reassuring. This was soon followed by the crashing of the squirrel’s limp body though the brittle beech branches and the first one of the day joined the husks on the deck.

Get stuck in

I sat back down and prepared for a long wait, while everything settled down. Far more had to be done to make any difference at all on this outing. Almost instantly, a squirrel caught my eye to the left. It had come over the garden wall and was gently moving across the grass, pausing now and then to look for fallen nuts. It was a long way away, still within range, but I needed a better rest. I sat myself down on the ground. It was getting on for 55 yards and while I was sure I could make this shot seated, I wanted to be as fair as possible and prioritise a humane, one-shot kill. Prone is by far the most stable shooting position and for me preferred for long distance shots and I slid myself down onto my front.

Once on the ground, I felt good; I placed my beanbag under the rifle, this was the best option because I had no bipod fitted. The squirrel bobbed up and down, running through the garden in search of a meal. I followed him through the scope, waiting for him to stop. In the end, I used the old rabbit ‘squeak’ to get its attention and it stopped and stood upright. The range was still 55 yards. 3 mill dots holdover above the head was required and I squeezed the trigger. He flopped to the floor without even a twitch. The pellet must have dropped a little lower into the heart. No matter, it was dead and killed clean and that’s all that counts. I decided to keep the ranges closer for the duration of the outing, just in case my drop calculations were out, I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks!

Leave them for now

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I left them where they dropped, certain that they were dead. Retrieving them would have only caused avoidable disruption and for the biggest bag possible, I needed to be still. Some time passed before my next shot and although it may have been a little rushed, it was a corker. I noticed some movement in the bushes 25 yards in front of me. It had to be a squirrel but frustratingly, the chance of a shot was not good, due to the amount of vegetation and cover, but still watched just in case.

To my surprise, the rodent began climbing one of the only trees with no low-level cover. It was on its way up a pretty bare silver birch. There were still leaves and some sticks in the way, but I knew that a shot was now possible. The squirrel made one more move upwards and stopped. I had no time to range, I made a quick calculation and held half a mill dot above the head. I was back in seated position and at an estimated 35 yards I was solid. The pellet sailed through the air, missing every twig and leaf that could disrupt the flight path, before colliding with the squirrel, sending it to the soft green and gold carpet.

Check it

I could not see where it fell and was not 100% sure of a clean kill. I broke cover and headed over, rifle cocked in readiness for a quick follow-up. There it was, dead, in a heap, next to a small fallen branch. Just as I was about to pick it up, I heard the beat of a squirrel bobbed up and down, running through the garden in search of a meal. I followed him through the scope, waiting for him to stop. In the end, I used the old rabbit ‘squeak’ to get its attention and it stopped and stood upright. The range was still 55 yards. 3 mill dots holdover above the head was required and I squeezed the trigger. He flopped to the floor without even a twitch. The pellet must have dropped a little lower into the heart. No matter, it was dead and killed clean and that’s all that counts. I decided to keep the ranges closer for the duration of the outing, just in case my drop calculations were out, I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks!

Leave them for now

I left them where they dropped, certain that they were dead. Retrieving them would have only caused avoidable disruption and for the biggest bag possible, I needed to be still. Some time passed before my next shot and although it may have been a little rushed, it was a corker. I noticed some movement in the bushes 25 yards in front of me. It had to be a squirrel but frustratingly, the chance of a shot was not good, due to the amount of vegetation and cover, but still watched just in case.

To my surprise, the rodent began climbing one of the only trees with no low-level cover. It was on its way up a pretty bare silver birch. There were still leaves and some sticks in the way, but I knew that a shot was now possible. The squirrel made one more move upwards and stopped. I had no time to range, I made a quick calculation and held half a mill dot above the head. I was back in seated position and at an estimated 35 yards I was solid. The pellet sailed through the air, missing every twig and leaf that could disrupt the flight path, before colliding with the squirrel, sending it to the soft green and gold carpet.

Check it

I could not see where it fell and was not 100% sure of a clean kill. I broke cover and headed over, rifle cocked in readiness for a quick follow-up. There it was, dead, in a heap, next to a small fallen branch. Just as I was about to pick it up, I heard the beat of a pigeon’s wing above me. I looked up to see a big fat woodie landing in the top of one of the beech trees. The angle of the shot meant that I had to take it standing, not only that but the pellet’s flight path would be very different to that of a level shot. I had to take this into account.

The effect of gravity reduces the more vertical the angle and I needed to allow some hold under to avoid sending the pellet way over the pigeon’s head. I leant back, letting the weight of the gun rest into my shoulder. Nobody is still when shooting like this, so I had to perfectly time the shot. The crosshairs moved across the chest, as soon as this happened, I pulled the trigger. The pellet entered through the bottom of the head and left through the top. It came cascading down and landed almost at my feet. What a great bonus to the day.

Four in the bag

The afternoon went on and I dispatched one more squirrel. With four in the bag, along with a bonus woodie, I decided to call it a day, before the light eased away and the pheasant traffic was due to begin. There’s a lot more work to do in the garden, with a few more visits I hope to get this invasive species a little more in check.

If I continued my word association game with today in mind, it might read like a list of ingredients for success: squirrels, vermin, shooting, knowledge and patience.

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