Ifind myself setting about this month’s write-up with a sad and heavy heart because a very good farmer friend has passed away unexpectedly. John Savage gave me one of my first permissions and, without doubt, I have enjoyed so much success on this land. John was very inspirational to me and for many others. He had endured severe setbacks as a young man, but fought back with unrivalled tenacity to make his family name one of the biggest in the area. The fact that the Bakewell market held a twominute silence in his honour speaks volumes for the man. No one had a bad word for John and I lost count of the times when I stood chatting with him whilst he sat in his Range Rover overseeing his grandsons and greatgrandsons working the fields. I wish I could have one last chat with him.
One lasting memory I have is when I was invited to a pheasant shoot, and despite all the advice from the grandsons I was not getting anywhere near the birds – shotguns just weren’t my thing then. On the last drive of the day, John came and parked by me and asked me what the problem was. “Just struggling to convert from rifle to shotgun,” I said. Well, after a five-minute talk on how he’d deal with this particular stand, I was ready and I soon had a rather high bird in my sights. Leading the pheasant with just the right amount, I let rip and stood open-mouthed as the last bird of the day fell two feet away from John’s car door. We both cracked up laughing and it was decided later that this shot was the best of the day. I have never forgotten that advice and my shotgun shooting has improved since then, but George Digweed has nothing to worry about.
I’d like to take this opportunity to let John’s family know that my thoughts are with them at this time. He was a man amongst men and, as I said before, an inspiration to many. Thanks John, for everything.
With these thoughts still running through my mind, I decided to go back to the very first day that I shot on John’s land, that I called the ‘killing fields’ because it always produced plenty of sport. I had decided to bypass the squirrel feeders and hides and tread the route I used to take years ago, which meant sitting out under trees overlooking known squirrel haunts and maybe picking off a few pigeons. I arrived at the brow of the hill with the slight breeze in my face and was deciding which path to take when the gate at the bottom opened gently with a small gust of wind; ‘a sign’, I thought, maybe I was being guided to the best area.
The smell of spring was in the air, beautiful and sweet. I really love this time of year when everything is starting to come back to life. Daffodils were in full bloom, bluebells were starting to show and all this growth was masking the old, crunchy, fallen leaves from last year so my progress through the wood was silent and I felt as if I was almost gliding through the pathways. I had hoped the beech trees would be sprouting their leaves, but no, not yet. Pigeons and squirrels love these leaves, and the action can be non-stop once they have the
taste. I spotted many pigeons getting jiggy with each other and managed to pick one off as it chased its chosen mate though the upper reaches of the beech trees. The familiar thud of pigeon hitting the ground was all the ‘welcome back’ I needed, I’ll never tire of that sound.
Since being here last, a lot has happened to this little wood, namely storm damage. I used to sit under a huge beech tree that had great elevated views toward a pheasant feeder and the squirrel runs to the left. The storms had taken down another large beech tree from halfway up the trunk, and it had fallen directly where I used to sit, which could have been nasty, so this vantage point was now useless and I had to sort myself a new spot. There seemed to be a lot of light coming through the treetops and it wasn’t until I breasted the slight incline that I saw another fallen bough. This time it was a two-foot diameter bough that had fallen onto another tree, almost uprooting the second one, but forming a sort of natural bridge between the two still standing trees.
I eventually found a nice spot where I could get comfortable and have a commanding view over my chosen area. I knew the squirrels would be there, due to the giveaway drey, which I could see was definitely this year’s model. I had even toyed with the idea of breaking out the old .177 Theoben Mk1 Rapid that used to grace these woods years ago, but thought better of it because it probably needs a service and a whole set of ‘O’ rings, so the .25 Impact was the chosen rifle once again, and I don’t think I have a better gun in the cabinet.
I had been scanning the treetops with the Airmax for around 15 minutes when I had the feeling something was above me, and as I slowly looked up, there was a tiny, young squirrel about three feet up on a slender branch. There was no chance of getting a shot that close so I just watched it scratching and cleaning itself, and it eventually scarpered up the tree when I reached for the camera. This wasn’t all bad because it was now clear that the ‘juvies’ were out of the family home and making their own way in life.
I resumed my search with the scope and found myself face-on with another youngster. This time it was sitting at the base of an oak
tree, around 40 yards away, and even through the scope set on 10x mag., the head looked tiny and I took a couple of extra looks over the top of the Impact before taking the shot. I really needn’t have worried because the Air Arms Diablo smashed its way through the skull, killing it with immediate effect – the first youngster of the year. This was followed by another young squirrel from the same tree, but around halfway up. This too dropped lifeless to the ground – both were males.
The weather was improving all the time and I was down to my thin fleece and gilet, which seemed to blend in quite well with the changing foliage; Featherlite technical trousers and wellies finished off the outfit and at no stage did I feel cold or sweaty, which shows how important it is to get the layering right.
After picking off a huge, male squirrel from some holly bushes, I decided to stretch my legs and see what else was around. There are many pheasants left over from last season and getting close to them for a few photos proved relatively easy. I even got to see a blue tit plucking fur from one of my stashed squirrels, obviously taking it for nesting material – and another fox, which I’m hoping to be taking care of at a later date.
I found another vantage point that gave me a prone position to shoot from, and it wasn’t long before I saw movement against the skyline. I tracked the squirrel from around 100 yards out and was treated to some impressive acrobatics from the adult grey before having to cut his performance short. I had been hoping for more woodies, but they must have been feeding on one of the recently ploughed fields a few miles away, maybe they’d be back to roost.
Babs, my long-suffering better half, would be coming over later and I wanted to get all wrapped up in readiness for her to help me with some photos. She was bringing Zeva Blue with her, too, because he loves a run around the woods and fields. This new position looked to be the best place and before long I had taken another two well-fed woodpigeons, giving me three altogether, and four greys, and just as the last one fell, Babs arrived with the camera and Zeva.
Having taken care of the photography she was off home, but not before telling me to stay for as long as I wanted. Well, that will do me fine; she could be a keeper unless she reads this and then I’ll be a goner! All joking apart, she supports me 100% with everything I do and is always with me at every show that I attend.
I stayed for another hour or so and managed to take another three squirrels, one of which was another youngster and they were all males, as were all the others from today, but with my camera and tripod gone I had to make do with the phone camera for the final photos.
For John ... you are sadly missed.
Above: Storm damage to my old shooting area.
Above: My good friend, John, and his grandson, Tom.
Above: Storm damage to my old shooting area.
Above: Zeva getting in on the act.
Above: Youngster feeding.
Above: Acrobatics up high.