Phill looks forward to autumnal days when he can see the wood for the trees
As much as I like the relaxed comfort of warm summer days, the first signs of autumn fill my mind with the sport that the colder months will bring. For me, the highpoint of the shooting year is when leaves are off the trees and the lush summer growth dies back, for the simple reason that we can see our quarry again, at last. Bare branches reveal the pigeons we’ve heard, but have not been able to see, and sitty trees become ambushing hotspots again.
As the fields are harvested, rabbits that made use of the wheat to hide in can now be seen a long way off, so that a stalking route can be planned. Sure, as the winter wears on, their numbers are lower than at the peak breeding time, but one rabbit harvested from a well-executed plan gives more satisfaction than three youngsters that needed little skill to bag.
The cold weather also brings relief from the biting insects that plague us as we sit in our summer hides. As much as I’m used to them, I still find flies buzzing around my ears infuriating, so much so that I end up swatting at them - hardly a stealthy action!
Winter also brings me another of my great pleasures which is to work my two Labrador gundogs on driven pheasant shoots. I don’t shoot a shotgun, but find my enjoyment seeing the limitless joy in the dogs’ eyes as they do what they were bred for, which is to find and retrieve the game birds that have been downed. I take the greatest of pride as they find a bird, which could have been lost and wasted, that will now make a fine meal for one of the shooters, beaters or ‘pickers-up’ like me.
Bare branches signify what I believe to be the ultimate airgun sport - the grey squirrel winter cull. There can be few more enjoyable shooting sports than ghosting through a winter wood, with your senses on high alert for the scratch of a claw or the flick of a tail to tell you your quarry is near. Every skill I’ve learned in my 35 years of airgun hunting will be tested to the very limit; from observation to shooting accurately at steep angles, all will be used to the full. All the years of rifle testing, pellet research, ballistic study, and animal anatomy will be used to their full potential as another tree rat goes into my game bag to come home for my wife and I to cook. It simply doesn’t get better than that.