Dave Barham learns that sometimes you should go with your gut feeling
... LEARNS A LESSON
I’ve just returned from a hunting session, which resulted in a big fat zero, with just an hour or so spent in the field due to horrendous weather.
I’d been invited by my good friend, Jim Midgley, to shoot some rough ground at a very well established, Lincolnshire pheasant shoot. Jim has been involved with said shoot for well over a decade as a beater, along with helping out the gamekeeper, Pete, at most given opportunities. As a result he has become good friends with the estate owner and everyone involved with the shoot.
He recently explained that I was looking to shoot some squirrels, and gamekeeper Pete advised him that it would be no problem at all for the pair of us to shoot the grounds with prior arrangement.
As you can imagine, I was really excited when I heard this news, so a date was set so as not to interfere with the pheasant shoots – albeit we were very close to the end of the season.
A BAD OMEN
You know sometimes, you walk out of the front door en route to a shoot, and your gut feeling is to turn right around and go back in again? Well, that’s exactly how I felt as I turned the key and locked my door at 7am on this rather chilly January morning.
Jim and I had checked the weather forecast for a couple of days leading up to the shoot, and it was ‘changeable’ to say the least. We knew there was some rain forecast later in the afternoon, and the wind was supposed to get up too, although it was only a slight breeze when I left.
As I opened the boot of my car to stow my rifle, I looked up to the heavens and was greeted by the most glorious morning sky, but the old adage of ‘red sky in the morning’ was buzzing around my head during the 40-minute drive to Jim’s house.
When I got to Jim’s there was still only a slight breeze, and the air temperature had risen to a mighty ten degrees! There was no sign of rain, with just light cloud cover, and as we embarked on the 45-minute drive to the shoot we were both in high spirits.
A CUPPA BY THE FIRE
When we arrived at the estate we headed straight down to one of the large barns where Pete and his mate Chris were both sitting around a recently installed log burner. It was imperative that Jim introduced me to the lads so we got to know each other before I set off hunting, and this involved sitting around the burner with a hot cup of coffee, whilst talking all things airgun and hunting.
We sat there for a good half an hour, chewing the cud, and by that time I was toasty warm, high on caffeine and ready to go.
TO THE TREES
Pete drove us around the estate and showed
us where we could and couldn’t go. He also took us to his ‘hotspot’ where he thought we’d have the best chance of success.
“I trapped 40 or so here last autumn, there’s still plenty running around,” said Pete, as a grey squirrel ran across the road right in front of us!
My heart was pounding, the area just screamed squirrels, and there were flights of pigeons zipping all over the place while we stood and talked some more. Pete kindly provided Jim and I with a couple of old, brown, dog food sacks to sit on that he had lying around in the back of his truck.
“Work your way in there for 30 or so yards lads, then find a good vantage point and sit still,” said Pete.
“They’ll know you’re there, and it will take a good 20 minutes before you see one, I would think. Don’t go for the first one you see, either, wait a while until more come to join him,” he continued.
I was really excited. I’d already seen my quarry, and the woodland in front of me looked superb.
As Pete drove off to go and tend to his birds, I donned my camo and got my rifle ready. It’s worth noting how I transport my rifle. I like to leave an empty magazine in it, purely to stop dust and grit getting into the breech. It’s illegal to travel with a loaded airgun, so this helps me to get around the issue. Sure, it means I have to ‘dry fire’ the rifle at the end of the day when packing up, but I don’t see that as a problem for the very limited times that it occurs.
I keep my loaded magazines in my jacket pocket – it’s also best not to carry your loaded magazines with the rifle – they should be stored somewhere away from the rifle whenever possible.
As soon as I locked the loaded magazine into the rifle, a huge gust of wind blew in from my right! Are you being serious? I was just about to set off into the woods and the wind began to howl!
Jim and I walked as quietly into the woods as we could, which is pretty hard work for two 6ft 5in tall guys, with a combined weight of over 40 stone! We were like two yetis crunching and cracking the fallen branches and leaves as we went.
There’s a really good mix of well-established trees here, and I saw more signs of squirrel activity on the ground as we made our way
deeper into the woods. There were squirrel droppings dotted around the bases of quite a few of the trees, along with plenty of halfchewed acorns. Things were looking really good, but the ever-increasing wind was really going to make it hard work.
I found a great place to sit, right beneath a huge, ivy-covered tree, with a really good, clear view in front of me. Jim, who had come along just to take photos, plonked himself some 40 yards away from me with his trusty 500mm zoom lens set up ready to go.
WHEN IT RAINS …
I sat there motionless for what seemed like an hour. All the while, the wind increased in strength, gusting with a vengeance that at times had me questioning my own safety.
Quite a few of the trees around me were dead or dying, and as they swayed back and forth with each gust I began having thoughts of huge branches falling from the sky toward me – it’s funny how your mind runs away while sitting there waiting for signs of life.
To cut a long story short, it was exactly 40 minutes later when I decided to move and turn my head to see if Jim was still there, or if he’d gone to sleep.
He was still there, but as we made eye contact he shrugged his shoulders as if to say, ‘What are we doing?’
I concurred and broke the silence, just as the first spot of rain hit my nose.
“I reckon we’re flogging a dead one here, mate,” I shouted to Jim. “This wind is crazy, and I’ve just felt the first of the rain.”
DOWN TO EXPERIENCE
We both agreed that we’d put this one down to bad experience, and head back to the warmth of the barn for another cuppa with Pete. In the time it took us to stumble back through the woods, this time like a couple of charging rhinos, the rain began to fall harder and harder.
When we got to the car it was tipping it down, and this coupled with the now near gale force wind reinforced the fact that we’d made the right call in packing up. I gave my beloved rifle a quick rub down with some kitchen towel to remove the rain, and we headed back to the warmth of the barn.
Pete and Chris were both in there eating their lunch, and the fire was blazing. Yet more coffee was consumed, and a hour of trapping, shooting and wildlife managing tales were told – it was a fantastic day out, even though our plans had been scuppered.
The good news is that Pete has said I can go back there with Jim whenever I like, especially once the pheasant season ends. So rest assured, I’ll be checking the weather more closely over the coming weeks; those squirrels may have won this time, but next time I’ll have a score to settle!
Red sky in the morning … I should have stayed in bed!
I found a great vantage point propped up against an old tree.
Ready to enter the woods – can you see me?
I did have one chance at a pigeon, but the wind was making the branches sway so much that I didn’t take the shot.
I carry my fully loaded magazines in the pocket of my jacket, away from the rifle when transporting it, for safety’s sake.
I could easily see that there were clear signs of squirrels here. I only found a few acorns on the ground, but plenty of husks – a clear sign of squirrel activity. A wipe down with kitchen roll before I put her back in the slip helps to remove moisture. There was only one thing for it – a pit stop for a pint back in Jim’s village!