A FOGGY DAY’S SPORT

Eddie’s out af­ter tree rats with his dad

Air Gunner - - Hunting -

Now win­ter is truly upon us it’s time for me to hit the woods and start my squir­rel cull. I have spent quite a lot of my time off work in Wales so my grounds have been get­ting an un­usual rest. There is noth­ing I like more than spend­ing a chilly, frosty morn­ing walk­ing through wood­land, and the amount of wildlife that you come across that has been hid­den by the green­ery of sum­mer in­spires me to get out as of­ten as pos­si­ble. Many a day I have sat in one place wait­ing to see how many dif­fer­ent types of bird I can see, or even just lis­ten­ing to the noises that come from the an­i­mals that sur­round me. These are the rea­sons that I get out into the coun­try­side, the pests that I shoot are a bonus.

I took a call from a landowner who told me that he had a small wood which had been seen to have a fair bit of squir­rel ac­tiv­ity lately, I shoot this ground from time to time, but mainly

“I was sur­prised by how dif­fi­cult it was to see the squir­rel; the fog was dra­mat­i­cally re­duc­ing the vi­sion through my Sidewinder scope”

in win­ter, once the call comes. I had planned to go out with my old man be­fore the call came in, so it was a good op­por­tu­nity to give the Gala­had an­other test and also for my dad to go on his a first squir­rel hunt.

C’mon Dad!

I ar­rived at Dad’s house one very foggy morn­ing, and from leav­ing my house and driv­ing 30 miles to his, the tem­per­a­ture had not risen above -2. I’d packed ex­tra cloth­ing to com­ple­ment the new Jack Pyke fleece hoodie and jacket that I was try­ing out, just in case it was go­ing to be too harsh in the field. It was about 10.30am when I ar­rived at Dad’s, and it had been a slow trip be­cause the fog had dropped vis­i­bil­ity down to 30 yards in places, but we were hop­ing that it would lift as the sun was try­ing to break through and give us a glo­ri­ous sunny day.

An­other slow 10 miles later and we were at the ground. We both got our Gala­hads from their snug cases and set off in search of a grey or two. We had been search­ing the wood for a good half an hour when we spot­ted one run­ning up a tree. I was quick to lift the Gala­had to my shoul­der and track the squir­rel, and I was sur­prised by how dif­fi­cult it was to see the squir­rel; the fog was dra­mat­i­cally re­duc­ing the vi­sion through my Sidewinder scope. The squir­rel stopped around a third of the way up, and luck­ily, it sat on a clear branch to eat the chest­nut that it was car­ry­ing. I had time to line the Sidewinder’s cross hair on its head and then pulled the Gala­had’s trig­ger.

Squir­rel num­ber one was on the floor, and glad of get­ting one in the bag for the farmer, we set off again.

Twin­kle toes

We hadn’t gone far when Dad no­ticed two play­ing in a big oak. He mo­tioned over to me where they were, so I held back to watch as he walked slowly on damp leaves. There were many small twigs buried be­neath them and I was wait­ing for the loud crack as he stepped on one, but Twin­kle­toes man­aged to make it to within 40 yards from them. I could see him work­ing out his next move; he made sure he sucked his belly in so he could hide be­hind a small tree as he walked that bit closer, and I was al­most tak­ing his steps for him. Even­tu­ally, he got there and af­ter what seemed an hour or three, but was re­ally only min­utes, I saw a squir­rel drop from the tree.

What had seemed a promis­ing start soon turned to an­guish. The fog had thick­ened up so much that we were los­ing squir­rels ev­ery time they headed up to the tree­tops, and we could hardly make any­thing out through the scopes. We needed an­other strat­egy!

We had planned to do some fox shoot­ing once it got dark, so in Dad’s lit­tle goodie bag was a ther­mal­imag­ing spot­ter that we use. We de­cided to go back to the car, re­fuel with food and drinks, and then set off again, and this time there was no chance of them hid­ing; their lit­tle bod­ies would glow like light bulbs in the cold con­di­tions.

Num­ber 3

We headed back to the where we had started and spot­ted one within min­utes. We didn’t need the ther­mal im­ager for this one be­cause it was sit­ting at the bot­tom of an oak, right on the edge of the field. Dad wasted no time in creep­ing up to a tree to get a good steady rest and as I pointed that it was still there, he lifted his Gala­had slowly to his shoul­der and edged around the tree for a shot. I watched the squir­rel; it was still un­aware that 25 yards away was a pel­let be­ing re­leased to­wards it. The squir­rel was killed in­stantly – num­ber three in the bag.

We were now head­ing back into the trees, and the fog was still very thick near the canopy, but it did seem to be lift­ing from the floor, so we split up and were around 40 yards apart with Dad scan­ning the trees whilst I watched the floor for any move­ment. Not far in, Dad prompted me to come over to him. He said that he could see a tiny hot spot and it hadn’t moved at all, so I de­cided to walk around the tree he thought it was in to see if I could spot any­thing. I was only half­way round when Dad gave the thumbs up. It had moved a lit­tle up the branch and showed it­self more to con­firm that it was a squir­rel.

I was still strug­gling to get a nice sight pic­ture near the tops of the trees; no mat­ter how Dad was ex­plain­ing to me where the squir­rel was, I was still tak­ing ages to find them. At last, the squir­rel fi­nally showed me a lit­tle more of its head and I could see it. I’d stayed in the same spot for about ten min­utes so it must have thought I’d gone. It might have only been half an inch more of its head that I could see, but that gave me a bit more con­fi­dence with my hold un­der and aim point. I let the pel­let do the rest af­ter I re­leased the trig­ger, and an­other squir­rel was in the bag. We were mak­ing a dent in this wood.

My next chance came by ac­ci­dent. We were hav­ing a minute whilst Dad was scan­ning the wood with the

“six in the bag was a pretty good re­sult in these con­di­tions”

ther­mal spot­ter when I no­ticed some move­ment to my left on the ground, and qui­etly prompted Dad to take a look. I could also see some­thing mov­ing amongst the bram­bles.

I’ve gone numb

I de­cided to move a lit­tle more left be­cause what­ever was mov­ing about in the bram­bles was head­ing to­ward a bit of a clear­ing. I rested on my knee and waited. Was it a rab­bit? My leg had gone numb, but I was com­mit­ted to stay in this po­si­tion and af­ter a good five min­utes a squir­rel was re­vealed. It had been col­lect­ing nuts and its mouth was full. It was obliv­i­ous to the cross hairs of the Sidewinder track­ing its head and I was in no rush, but I took the shot the sec­ond it stopped mov­ing be­cause I knew that if I’d stayed in that po­si­tion for much longer, I wouldn’t have been steady enough. I went to re­trieve the squir­rel with pins and nee­dles in my right foot.

We were near­ing the end of the wood when Dad found an­other. I could see him point­ing to a tree just in front of him and I slowly walked around the back of the tree un­til I got the thumbs up from him. He lifted his Gala­had and sent an­other squir­rel tum­bling to the floor.

Well, six in the bag was a pretty good re­sult in these con­di­tions, and I know that with­out the ther­mal­imag­ing spot­ter it would have been a lot lower, but it was great to have the tools to make the day more pro­duc­tive.

We de­cided to call it a day, be­cause there was no way we could do any fox­ing; the fog hadn’t lifted enough to see 50 yards. We de­cided to take what pic­tures we could and I know the boss will be cry­ing be­cause they’re not the best, un­der the cir­cum­stances, but hey, it is re­al­world fea­tures that I do!

We grabbed a bite to eat be­fore head­ing off, and I made sure that Dad used the an­ti­sep­tic gel be­fore do­ing any­thing with the food. No mat­ter what we shoot, ev­ery pest has the po­ten­tial to carry dis­ease, so make sure that you clean your hands well af­ter ev­ery shoot.

Kit

Thomas Jacks: Guide ther­mal-imag­ing spot­ter IR510 £1999.00

Jack Pyke: First-aid kit, around £12

Right: A ther­mal monoc­u­lar is a fan­tas­tic hunt­ing tool Op­po­site Page: Even find­ing them af­ter they dropped was tricky

Above: Dad likes his Gala­had as much as I like mine

Far Left: A de­cent bag from a chal­leng­ing day

Left: As ever I re­lied on the Air Arms Di­ablo Field

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