Mick Garvey accepts an invitation from a reader – and has a tree-mendous day’s hunting
Back in May at the brilliant Northern Shooting Show, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with a few readers. Steve was one in particular, and he lived relatively close to me in Derbyshire. I passed on some advice regarding his squirrel shooting and he actually invited me to a day’s shooting with him, which I eagerly accepted. I find it so interesting to see how others carry out their pest control, from feeding to hide building, and also how the species act on different permissions.
Within weeks, the call came from Steve. Firstly, he thanked me for the advice, which he had followed and he told me that his tree rat numbers had increased from tens to high teens. Obviously, this got me champing at the bit for some of the action, and we agreed that I would make the 45-minute journey the following weekend. We stayed in contact beforehand, and Steve brought me up to date with all the events of the week, including what he’d been feeding, what the activity had been, and how the feeders were emptying rapidly. It was great to be in contact with someone who has a similar enthusiasm for the job, and we built up a good rapport between us over that week.
I decided to use the sub-12 ft.lbs Impact in .177, with the fixed 10x Sidewinder for the day, and I spent a few hours at South Yorkshire Shooting Club – the Idleback shooting chair people – checking the zero and pellet testing. For some unknown reason, the Impact appeared to be clipping, and a strip-down of the shroud revealed marks from the pellet on the end cap. I removed the innards from the shroud and fitted the end cap from my unused .25 Impact shroud and this sorted the problem.
I also tried the Air Arms Diablo pellets in 4.51 against my usual 4.52, and the
“we sat in the garden with the early morning sunlight streaming down on us”
difference was impressive. The grouping with the larger Diablos was excellent, but the smaller diameter edged it sufficiently for me to make the change. The 35-yard range at SYSC was set up with a .177 competition practice target and the results spoke for themselves.
I also had time to talk with Trevor, the man behind the Idleback chair, and the staff, and I have to say what a great, friendly place! The upstairs is now complete with another set of lanes to complement the downstairs lanes, and there’s a well-stocked shop with everything you need, from scopes to guns to pellets, a very enticing cafe with plenty of food choice, and an excellent supply of shooting magazines. It makes me yearn for rainy days when I can come here instead of getting soaked in the field. With everything in tip-top working order, I was ready for the shoot-out with Steve, and after I’d sent an email to ASI regarding a health check-up for the shroud, I was happy.
Steve met me on his driveway with the offer of a bacon sandwich, and we sat in the garden with the early morning sunlight streaming down on us. It was going to be a hot one, for sure. We discussed the coming day and the tactics we would deploy. Steve was keen for me to do all the shooting, although he was
taking his trusty HW110, in case we were overrun with the skinnies. It seems the norm these days, for the permission holder to do this. I have done it myself, and on the many occasions when I’ve been invited out, the host is always keen to take more of a guide position, and quite often the day doesn’t stack up to expectations – which is a concern for the host. Steve had been having some great days recently, with a day’s best of 19 skinnies, but was confident that there were plenty still in the area because the feeders were being emptied in relatively short time. Having said that, I knew he was feeling the pressure about the day producing some good hunting.
“It’s never ever a problem,” I told him. “Just being out here is enough.” My standard reply, as you know!
The drive from my host’s house to the permission was short, but the area was beautiful and even at this early hour the temperature was beginning to soar. The woodland is very secluded and trying to find it by myself would have been a problem, but after working our way through a couple of gates and down a winding track, we arrived. We loaded ourselves up with our kit and set off in the direction of the first hide.
Now, this was something special, Steve had quite obviously spent a lot of time checking out the land here, to pick the perfect spot for his hides and feeders, using known dreys as the epicentre of each area. The feeders were very similar to my own, but with an open top at the front to allow access to the feed inside. There was also a large feeding area attached to the base of the feeder to allow the greys to sit in comfort whilst gorging. The feeders had been topped up with a good mix of maize, wheat, sunflower seeds along with my recommendation of peanuts, and it was quite obvious there had been plenty of activity recently with the scattered feed all over the place. The squirrels will go for the peanuts first, but as my trail cams have shown me, they will then turn to the other feed items, and the constant arrival of feeding songbirds is a great attractor for not just the squirrels, but
“The heat was becoming intense, especially in the hide, and my water supply was being hit”
jays and corvids that are in the area and watching.
The hides are another thing of beauty, fully enclosed with intricate trellis work made from the many fallen branches from the woods, and we actually laughed out loud when we saw there was a bird’s nest inside. The outer cover was just a tarp’, but over the years it had become part of the woodland, with leaves and various other foliage settling on it. All in all, it was a very good set-up and Steve had obviously put plenty of thought into this area of his hunting.
It was time to get on with the shooting, so we both sat in the hide, I was assured that 7.20am was the guaranteed arrival time, but today must have been a lie-in day because the first thing to arrive was a jackdaw at 7.35am. This was duly dispatched with a simple headshot at around 25 yards.
Another 30 minutes passed before the first skinny turned up for breakfast, and I had the crosshairs of the Sidewinder immediately on its skull. This is where Steve and I differ; I prefer to take the shot as quickly as possible and be ready for the next one, whereas Steve has a more laid-back approach and waits until the squirrel settles with its food – both methods equally efficient, just different sides of the same coin, I guess. Anyway this was dropped on the spot then it all went a little quiet.
A move to the next feeder was on the cards and it was obvious immediately that there were more here than on the previous one. They were coming down the tree to the feed station, and I was struggling to see them because the seat was set up for Steve, who is somewhat shorter than me. No drama, though – my host was on it and I had a running commentary on the arrival of the next three tree rats. All I had to do was wait for them to show in the dining area. Three consecutive shots saw the three drop; one rolled into a small stream adjacent to the feeder, one landed behind the tree, and one fell flat on its face on the feed tray. Steve was very happy, to say the least, and the excitement in his voice was hard to ignore.
The heat was becoming intense, especially in the hide, and my water supply was being hit hard. We decided on another move, back to area one, but we had lost the skinny behind the tree. We’d heard some commotion earlier from crows and jackdaws up in the canopy, and wondered if a fox had been round and taken the fallen tree rat. It has happened to me before, and to Steve, so we marked that as a lost hit, but back at the first area, we took another two skinnies and to top the day off, two jays. This made my host’s day because he’s never taken more than one in a session.
In summary, the heat affected the day’s hunting, but not spoiled it. We took six skinnies, two jays and a jackdaw, and we enjoyed the day immensely and chatted constantly. Maybe next time we will cover both hides simultaneously, and hit the greys even harder. We met up with the landowner and he was amazed by how well we had done in the heat. I was told I was welcome back any time with my host. We dropped off the day’s takings at a local bird-of-prey centre and I was informed later that week that they were over the moon with them. Another great day, with everything shot at being dropped and another invitation to pigeon shoot over cut wheat and barley with decoys – Steve as my host. I simply cannot wait! I
First one to breakfast.
My view was limited, but I had extra eyes today.
Enough feed for a feast.
A must for every feed station.
Houston ... we have a lodger.
Mine host and his Teutonic HW110.