A FOGGY DAY’S SPORT
Eddie’s out after tree rats with his dad
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.
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.
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.
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.
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