SQUIR­REL SEA­SON OPENER

Jim Chap­man heads to the woods with his new favourite ri­fle

Air Gunner - - International Hunting -

One of the events that small­game hunters here ea­gerly await each year is the open­ing of squir­rel sea­son. As I’ve men­tioned in past ar­ti­cles, squir­rels are clas­si­fied as a game an­i­mal in most of the US. This means there are cer­tain pro­tec­tions ex­tended, such as lim­its and sea­sons, to man­age the species and main­tain healthy pop­u­la­tions. The in­di­vid­ual states de­ter­mine what these lim­its and sea­sons will be; 5-10 squir­rels per day is typ­i­cal, and the sea­sons usu­ally start in Septem­ber and close in Jan­uary. In much of the coun­try, es­pe­cially down south, open­ing day is just short of an of­fi­cial hol­i­day, and it’s not un­usual to see a spike in sick days taken from school and work if the open­ing hap­pens to fall on a week­day. We cur­rently re­side in Min­nesota, where squir­rel sea­son opens in early Septem­ber. I was off on a preda­tor hunt in Texas, which caused me to miss the first week, but I planned to rec­tify this on re­turn­ing home. Most years, I’ll get out on five or six ded­i­cated, multi- day squir­rel hunts. I will also pig­gy­back squir­rel hunts onto my big game hunts, sneak­ing off to the squir­rel woods dur­ing down­time, but it is the short hunts close to home, which gen­er­ally last a cou­ple hours, that give me the most days in the field pur­su­ing these bushy-tailed ro­dents.

A good chal­lenge

Early fall is a chal­leng­ing time to hunt squir­rels; the fo­liage is still thick and the squir­rels aren’t spend­ing much time on the ground yet. In a few weeks, when the leaves start drop­ping, it can be eas­ier to lo­cate the tree- dwelling ro­dents mov­ing about, al­though they can see you from a long way off as well. We’re deep in snow for sev­eral months once win­ter ar­rives, and it can be a lot eas­ier to lo­cate your quarry. How­ever, pop­u­la­tions have thinned out, with the less cau­tious an­i­mals al­ready re­moved by preda­tors or hunters, and it’s more dif­fi­cult to close the range on the wary sur­vivors.

My pref­er­ence in a hunt­ing ri­fle is some­thing com­pact and light­weight, easy to move through the woods with, and one that I can shoot well from any po­si­tion. Ac­cu­racy, ap­pro­pri­ate power, and low sound sig­na­ture are on my re­quired fea­tures list, and a multi-shot that cy­cles rapidly and smoothly, rounds out the wish list. Be­cause of writ­ing and film­ing obli­ga­tions these days, I am con­stantly hit­ting the field with new guns and whilst this is great on many lev­els, the down­side is that it pre­cludes get­ting in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with my hunt­ing gun. The old adage

“the fo­liage is still thick and the squir­rels aren’t spend­ing much time on the ground yet”

‘ be­ware the man with one gun’ has an el­e­ment of truth, and I some­times feel my shoot­ing is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing be­cause of con­stantly jump­ing gun to gun. So this year I de­cided that whilst it would still be nec­es­sary to work with sev­eral ri­fles, I would make a con­certed ef­fort to select one to serve as my pri­mary small game plat­form when the choice of arms was mine.

My new favourite

The ri­fle I se­lected to fill this role is the Bro­cock Com­patto, FAC-ver­sion. On a visit to Daystate last year, Tony Be­las showed me the pro­to­type of this ri­fle, and I was hooked. Now, af­ter sev­eral months of us­ing it on high- den­sity pest con­trol shoots for prairie dogs, Eurasian collared doves, and desert jack rab­bits, I know this is a ri­fle I want to carry as the hunts and con­di­tions get more chal­leng­ing. Why the Com­patto? The ac­cu­racy is out­stand­ing; the power per­fect for my small- game needs, the com­pact di­men­sions and er­gonomic de­sign fit my shoot­ing style, the gun is fast and smooth to cy­cle, the mag­a­zine ro­bust and re­li­able, the trig­ger is great, and the ad­justable power and very low sound sig­na­ture fur­ther en­hance an al­ready fine hunt­ing rig.

In terms of ac­cu­racy, I con­sis­tently shoot sub ½” groups at 50 yards off the bench. To put this in a hunt­ing con­text I set up 1” spin­ners at 25, 50, 75 yards and took 100 shots sit­ting, prone, kneel­ing, with and with­out sticks for sup­port, and hit 92/100.

In terms of power, at 30 ft.lbs. with the JSB Di­abolo pel­let, the Com­patto lets you reach out a bit fur­ther and take larger quarry if an op­por­tu­nity presents, but the thing that seals the deal for me is the com­pact­ness of the semi- bullpup de­sign, which pro­vides a full- size ri­fle per­for­mance in a car­bine- sized pack­age. An­other thing I can com­ment on af­ter gain­ing sig­nif­i­cant hands- on ex­pe­ri­ence, is the re­li­a­bil­ity and rugged­ness of this ri­fle. I am not easy on guns or gear, and al­though my ri­fle has taken some knocks and has its share of scratches – and a cou­ple of gouges – it has never ceased to per­form flaw­lessly.

Com­patto for com­pany

This morn­ing, I took the Com­patto with me to kick- off my squir­rel sea­son, and with only a cou­ple of hours avail­able, planned to make the most of it. I have per­mis­sion on a lo­cal farm not a mile from my house, and get­ting up early whilst the rest of the house­hold slept, I grabbed my gun and pack be­fore slip­ping out of the door. To ac­cess the woods where I hunt, it’s nec­es­sary to nav­i­gate a corn­field that had been par­tially har­vested, al­though sev­eral rows of corn are left stand­ing to at­tract geese for the wa­ter­fowl shoot­ers.

On reach­ing the woods, I ob­served that the leaves were still on the trees and had not yet started to turn the deep reds and golds of au­tumn. Mov­ing along a deer trail, I no­ticed fresh cut­tings un­der an oak tree, and a mo­ment later saw a large, male, grey squir­rel dart up a tree 30 yards in front of me. I mounted the gun whilst flip­ping off the safety, and watched him steadily climb the trunk of the tall beech. When he stopped climb­ing for a brief look back, I sent the pel­let fly­ing and watched through the Hawke 3-9 x 40 scope as it smacked into the squir­rel’s head, right at the base of the ear. He dropped like a lead weight and did not so much as twitch. The pel­let of choice in my ri­fle is the JSB 18.13

grain Match Di­abolo Ex­act Jumbo Heavy (quite a mouth­ful). This .22 cal­i­bre pel­let not only per­forms very well with my Com­patto, but I also know from ex­pe­ri­ence that the ter­mi­nal per­for­mance on game is out­stand­ing.

Col­lect­ing the squir­rel and slip­ping it into the game pouch, I moved on. Af­ter a while, the sound of a squir­rel bark­ing and shak­ing the tree branches over­head reached my ears. Mov­ing in the di­rec­tion of the sound, I found a place to sit and sur­vey the tree­tops. Fi­nally, I lo­cated the source, an­other grey up in the canopy mak­ing his way in my di­rec­tion. Know­ing that my camo would hide me if I stayed very still, it be­came a wait­ing game. I was in a sit­ting po­si­tion with the ri­fle rested on my knee, and when the squir­rel reached the 50-yard mark I squeezed the trig­ger. This time the shoul­der was tar­geted, but the re­sult was the same; the squir­rel buck­led and dropped dead on the ground.

With two in the bag, I de­cided to call it a day and head home for break­fast with my fam­ily. My squir­rel sea­son is off to a great start, and I al­ready know where I’m tak­ing the Com­patto to­mor­row. This ri­fle did ev­ery­thing ex­pected of it, and con­tin­ues to im­press. I’m look­ing for­ward to bring­ing it on hunts all over the coun­try in the up­com­ing sea­son, and so far, have noth­ing but praise for it. Of course, a hunt­ing gun is a very per­sonal piece of equip­ment, but I am find­ing this is an al­most per­fect small- game gun for me. On re­flec­tion there is one thing I’d change; I’d love to get a Com­patto in ei­ther a .25 or .30 cal­i­bre!

“I sent the pel­let fly­ing and watched through the Hawke 3- 9 x 40 scope as it smacked into the squir­rel’s head”

“the gun is fast and smooth to cy­cle, the mag­a­zine ro­bust and re­li­able, the trig­ger is great”

Back­ground: Ac­cess to my 15-acre wood­lot was through a par­tially har­vested corn­field Be­low: He took off jump­ing branch to branch, be­fore I could put down the cam­era and pick up my ri­fle

Above: Hik­ing in with squir­rel num­ber two

Shoot­ing off­hand whilst lean­ing against a tree for added sup­port

Top: This squir­rel came out and perched on a limb, un­aware that a well­cam­ou­flaged hunter was less than 40 yards away

Bot­tom: Signs of fresh cut­tings let you know that squir­rels are in the area

Above : This squir­rel was watch­ing me be­fore I no­ticed him Top right: Squir­rel was dead when it hit the ground

Be­low: The Er­be­le­stock day­pack with built-in scab­bard is a great means of pack­ing ri­fles with­out a sling

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