TAKE A BREAK!

A break-bar­rel springer for squir­rel hunt­ing? Liz Edgar shows the way

Airgun World - - Squirrel Hunting In Scotland -

Grey squir­rels are renowned for the threat they pose to our na­tive reds, but they also have a ma­jor im­pact on trees. One late Septem­ber af­ter­noon I found my­self trav­el­ling north-east to La­nark­shire, in Scot­land’s cen­tral low­lands, with my air ri­fle and high hopes of catch­ing up with some greys. It was that time of year when you could see the sea­sons chang­ing from sum­mer to au­tumn, sig­nalled by a chill in the air, the turn­ing leaves and that dis­tinct smell of lin­ger­ing chim­ney smoke.

Dougie John­stone, a plant worker who I met last win­ter through my deer stalk­ing syn­di­cate in Perthshire, had been in touch a few weeks prior, say­ing that he was hav­ing bother with three or four grey squir­rels around his home; they were raid­ing his garage and chew­ing holes in bins. As a keen air ri­fle shot, he asked me if I wouldn’t mind com­ing along to help tackle the prob­lem, so of course I said yes.

VIDEO EV­I­DENCE

We pulled into the farm and passed through a beau­ti­ful, ma­ture tree-lined grove, like the drive­way up to a French chateau. On ar­rival at his coun­try cottage, sur­rounded by fields and woods, we stopped for a quick cof­fee, which gave Dougie an op­por­tu­nity to show me some of his trail cam videos, and pho­tos of the grey squir­rels in ac­tion. I could see the brazen ro­dents buzzing around on top of his chicken sheds and sneak­ing into his garage. The prob­lem had reached the ex­tent where Dougie ended up re­plac­ing a plas­tic food bin in his garage with a me­tal one, to stop the squir­rels chew­ing through his feed bins. Not only that, but the squir­rels had also worked their way through the lid of his wheelie bin, which I’m sure you’ll agree is no mean feat. We were up against some tough op­po­nents.

DAM­AGE

Dougie’s cottage sits atop a val­ley sur­rounded by nu­mer­ous de­cid­u­ous wood­land blocks, with Tinto Hill in the back­ground and the River Clyde and the Scot­tish Wildlife Trust, Falls of Clyde re­serve, in the fore­ground.

The re­serve is fa­mous for its spec­tac­u­lar water­falls and scenic wood­land walks. Af­ter dis­cussing the prob­lem with the re­serve ranger, it tran­spired that they were also hav­ing is­sues with this non-na­tive species, mainly through the greys’ habit of strip­ping bark on their beech and larch trees. The ranger ex­plained that from late spring to early sum­mer, grey squir­rels gnaw the stem of trees to reach sweet, sap-filled lay­ers be­neath the bark, some­times gnaw­ing a ring around the tree, caus­ing branches to die, or re­strict­ing the trees’ growth, the most vul­ner­a­ble trees be­ing sycamore, beech, oak, sweet chest­nut, pine, larch and Nor­way spruce.

To see the dam­age for our­selves, we wan­dered down to the re­serve where Dougie pointed out some re­cent de­struc­tion in­di­cated by the brighter ginger colour on the branches, and what looked to be older dam­age from the year be­fore, with gnaw marks dis­tinctly en­grained. Dur­ing our walk, we saw no trace of the squir­rels, but the ev­i­dence was clearly there, in­di­cated by empty acorns hulls lin­ing the foot­paths.

AC­CU­RACY CHECK

The in­va­sive squir­rels have been an on-go­ing is­sue for Dougie since he moved into the house five years ago. Last year alone, he shot 30 squir­rels – and 12 in one day. Now that we knew what we were up against, we made tracks to a nearby sand and gravel quarry, to check the zero of the air ri­fle. The quarry pro­vided the per­fect set­ting for check­ing the zero of my new Diana Mauser AM03 .22 break-bar­rel, be­cause the slop­ing sides of the quarry pro­vided not only the per­fect back­drop, but also good shel­ter from any wind.

Af­ter a thor­ough fa­mil­iari­sa­tion ses­sion, we packed up the gear and made our way to nearby woods, which sur­rounded the house. In the first wood, through our binoc­u­lars we spied only one re­bel­lious squir­rel 150 yards away, squir­rel­ing away some acorns be­low oak trees.

Un­for­tu­nately, it was too far away to shoot and be­fore we could get within a sen­si­ble dis­tance, it dis­ap­peared, not be­fore alert­ing the other squir­rels of our pres­ence with its cry – an eerie sound with which Dougie was all too fa­mil­iar when com­ing from his garage.

THROUGH THE WOOD

The next wood we vis­ited was the one where Dougie had set up his trail cam. I recog­nised it im­me­di­ately from the videos he’d showed me ear­lier. Be­fore our visit, Dougie had laid out some nuts in front of the cam­era to mon­i­tor how many squir­rels vis­ited reg­u­larly, and he spied quite a few. We crept qui­etly through the wood and it wasn’t long be­fore we had our first chance. We watched as a grey squir­rel on the ground darted up the tree, stop­ping mo­men­tar­ily on a branch. Slowly and de­lib­er­ately, I used the near­est tree as a rest and, cush­ion­ing the ri­fle on my hand so it could re­coil freely, care­fully took my shot. I knew the tar­get range, the re­quired aim­point and the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of my air ri­fle, and that vi­tal for­mula put the first squir­rel in the bag.

We moved qui­etly and care­fully through the wood, scan­ning the ground and trees ahead with our binoc­u­lars, and man­aged to claim three more greys, as the Diana proved be­yond doubt what a handy break-bar­rel sporter can do in the hunt­ing field.

AL­WAYS LEARN­ING

We de­cided that was enough of shoot­ing in the woods and headed back to the cottage to see if any squir­rels had reap­peared around the house and gar­den, but af­ter pa­tiently wait­ing for an hour and with the light fad­ing, we called it a day.

I came away from the hunt hav­ing learned quite a lot more about the dam­age and im­pact such a small an­i­mal can have on the en­vi­ron­ment and just how ef­fec­tive we, as air­gun hunters, can be in cor­rect­ing the im­bal­ance of greys over our na­tive red squir­rels. To take part in that les­son sur­rounded by such stun­ning scenery was a huge bonus and one that I hope to be en­joy­ing again as soon as pos­si­ble.

If you’re go­ing to hunt squir­rels, there are few finer places to do so.

Four grey squir­rels, lots of learn­ing and miles of su­perb scenery. There are worse ways to spend a day.

Set­ting my­self up for the real thing.

The break-bar­rel Diana gives me con­fi­dence.

The Jum­bos proved to be the pel­let of choice.

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