Air Gunner - - Contents -

Phill looks for­ward to au­tum­nal days when he can see the wood for the trees

As much as I like the re­laxed com­fort of warm sum­mer days, the first signs of au­tumn fill my mind with the sport that the colder months will bring. For me, the high­point of the shoot­ing year is when leaves are off the trees and the lush sum­mer growth dies back, for the sim­ple rea­son that we can see our quarry again, at last. Bare branches re­veal the pi­geons we’ve heard, but have not been able to see, and sitty trees be­come am­bush­ing hotspots again.

As the fields are har­vested, rab­bits that made use of the wheat to hide in can now be seen a long way off, so that a stalk­ing route can be planned. Sure, as the win­ter wears on, their num­bers are lower than at the peak breed­ing time, but one rab­bit har­vested from a well-ex­e­cuted plan gives more sat­is­fac­tion than three young­sters that needed lit­tle skill to bag.

The cold weather also brings re­lief from the bit­ing in­sects that plague us as we sit in our sum­mer hides. As much as I’m used to them, I still find flies buzzing around my ears in­fu­ri­at­ing, so much so that I end up swat­ting at them - hardly a stealthy ac­tion!

Win­ter also brings me an­other of my great plea­sures which is to work my two Labrador gundogs on driven pheas­ant shoots. I don’t shoot a shot­gun, but find my en­joy­ment see­ing the lim­it­less joy in the dogs’ eyes as they do what they were bred for, which is to find and re­trieve the game birds that have been downed. I take the great­est of pride as they find a bird, which could have been lost and wasted, that will now make a fine meal for one of the shoot­ers, beat­ers or ‘pick­ers-up’ like me.

Bare branches sig­nify what I be­lieve to be the ul­ti­mate air­gun sport - the grey squir­rel win­ter cull. There can be few more en­joy­able shoot­ing sports than ghost­ing through a win­ter wood, with your senses on high alert for the scratch of a claw or the flick of a tail to tell you your quarry is near. Ev­ery skill I’ve learned in my 35 years of air­gun hunt­ing will be tested to the very limit; from ob­ser­va­tion to shoot­ing ac­cu­rately at steep an­gles, all will be used to the full. All the years of ri­fle test­ing, pel­let re­search, bal­lis­tic study, and an­i­mal anatomy will be used to their full po­ten­tial as an­other tree rat goes into my game bag to come home for my wife and I to cook. It sim­ply doesn’t get bet­ter than that.

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