28 EDDIE JONES
Eddie Jones walks us minute-by-minute through a productive hunting day
A day in the life of the inimitable Eddie - this time he’s on a mission for squirrels
This month’s feature was by request from a reader who wanted to know about my day’s hunting in a bit more detail. I know many readers think that there is no way we can go out and shoot the numbers of quarry in a morning that a lot of hunters get in a week, but rest assured, with a lot of planning and patience you can get good numbers yourself.
I was one of those non-believers all those years back when I read the magazines religiously. I wanted to learn the trade and failed miserably many times, but I was not put off. I would tell myself, ‘ These guys are hoarding days of quarry for the pics. There’s no way that they can shoot so much in one session’, but I was wrong. I was inexperienced in fieldcraft, I had no patience and I was in denial. All I wanted to do was walk around and expect quarry to jump out in front of me to shoot at. I still get a lot of those days when all the careful planning in the world fails miserably, and I might only get one shot off, or I shoot like an idiot, but that is down to me and no one else.
Watch and learn
Over the years, I have studied animal behaviour. I look at the areas where I see more feeding activity, and the times when that happens; when the birds like to go to roost and so on. There is so much that needs to be looked at to get what I call a ‘productive hunt’. Many a time, I have had people ask what they are doing wrong when they only get one pigeon or one squirrel and they feel deflated about it. I always reply with the same answer, “You are being successful. You’re going out after pests and shooting one.” There is no bag limit on what we shoot. We try to find as much to shoot as possible, but that takes years of getting to know your quarry and their habits. Once you’ve achieved that, you will turn a successful hunt into a productive one.
Remember last month? The weather was well against us and rain and fog hampered me and my dad all day, but we persevered. Yes, we had an advantage when we got the thermal-imaging spotter out, but we hadn’t given up, and we turned the day around and made it productive. How many of you wouldn’t even have got the rifle out in those conditions? The best advice I could give anyone who wants to get the best out of hunting is to go out and study what you’re after. Get out three or four times a week, but leave the rifle at home. Practise getting close to your quarry, rather than worrying about shooting it. Look for easier ways of approaching your best spots, and even clear paths to them. The more work you can do to make it easier, the more productive your sessions will be.
So, back to the day’s shooting for this month’s feature. I had decided to go back to the ground that I shot last month, but this time, to shoot the larger two woods. The visibility was a lot better, so I’d have less trouble spotting the squirrels higher up in the tall trees, and I’d take pictures as a sort of timeline to show how good or bad my session was.
Go get ‘em
I arrived at the farm around 8am. I’d been informed by the farmer that trees had been cut in the first wood where I intended to shoot, and he had noticed a few squirrels running about. That was a good sign and gave me confidence of some sights straight away. At 8.25am I entered the north side of the wood, walked 30 metres into the oak plantation and I could already hear some scratching of tree bark as a squirrel ran up one of the trees. It sounded as though it wasn’t far in front of me, so I spent time scanning the trees. I’d been looking for a good ten minutes when I noticed a light grey colour, 40 yards away and as I looked through the Sidewinder I could see that it was a squirrel’s tail, waving slightly in the steady breeze.
I positioned myself behind a tree that obscured the squirrel’s view of me, and slowly walked towards it. I was around 25 yards away and I rested against a tree to see if the squirrel was there. I got a good view
“I positioned myself behind a tree that obscured the squirrel’s view of me, and slowly walked towards it”
of its head; I think the squirrel was looking for me too, when I was behind the tree, and it gave me a nice clear shot. By 8.45am, the first squirrel was in the bag.
I left the squirrel where it landed, to retrieve later because I had forgotten my game bag containing my gloves and head net, so carrying them would have been awkward. I set off again and as I neared some chestnut trees, I noticed some nuts that had been stripped, and they looked fresh. There were also three dreys in view, so this was a promising location, if they were feeding here. I decided to sit it out near the feeding area and wait to see if anything came my way.
I’d been waiting for nearly an hour when I saw two squirrels running through the trees to my right. I watched them getting closer and then they headed for the floor. Luckily, the cover was not thick here, so I sank to my knee and waited. At 9.55am, the first one made a mistake and started to scratch the floor where it has hidden its winter nuts. It stopped for a second to look around, and that was all the time I needed. The other squirrel ran up a tree and hid.
I took the picture of the shot squirrel and started to look for the other; it didn’t take long until I saw him in a small fork near the top. I had a few branches to get the pellet through, but I was sure it was possible, and at 10.08am, the squirrel fell to the floor. The shot was good and another clean kill. I took a picture with the two together, but as I got up I saw another heading my way. I didn’t move, but watched the squirrel for a short while through the scope; it was getting closer and I was just waiting for the shot. Bingo! I had one chance as it stopped to jump to another tree. What a result! I knew something had to turn up here because the nut skins were quite fresh and although it was nearly an hour wait, it was worth it. Picture taken, I moved on.
I had now walked a mere 30 yards, and I spotted another. It was near the edge of the wood, and it had seen me, given the alarm chatter to indicate that it knew I was there and started to run through the trees quickly, toward some conifers, so I give chase. Usually, if you can get in front of them they stop and try to hide and this one luckily had read the script. I found where he was and took the shot, but I missed. I didn’t see a branch three feet in front of me, through the scope, and I was nowhere near the squirrel.
Thankfully, the squirrel didn’t move and I got a second chance. I made no mistake and he joined the rest for the next picture. My day continued in this, incredibly productive way, and as you can see, I’ve created a time- line with my mobile phone to document the kills. I have to say that this felt a bit too close to bragging for my personal comfort and I haven’t included photos of all of the squirrels I shot, but I think it provides a good idea about how the day’s hunting unfolded, so it was a worthwhile exercise.
The final squirrel dropped to a kneeling shot taken at 25 yards and I called it a day at just after 2pm. It was some day, though!
I guess I’m now in exactly the same position as the hunters I used to read about, when I thought ‘ they can’t do that!’ but these days I know it can be done, and far more importantly, I understand a whole lot more about how to do it!
And so it begins!
Things were really moving now!
By 10am, number two was in the bag
Just 10 minutes later ...
The squirrels were on the ground as much as in the trees
As long as my marksmanship held up, I knew I was on for a good day
And still they came! Six in the bag and plenty more to come
That’ll do for the day - and what a day it was!