Dave Barham learns that some­times you should go with your gut feel­ing

Airgun World - - Contents -


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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!

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