Jim Chapman is maximising his squirrel hunting opportunities by sleeping in the woods
Jim goes hardcore and camps out all night in a storm, but still manages to bag a couple of fox squirrels
I’ve been doing a lot of squirrel hunting since the season opened a few weeks ago, getting in all- day hunts as well as shorter outings before and after work, but with a few open days in front of me, I decided to get out on an overnight trip. The plan was to drive up early in the morning, hike in and dump my camping gear, then move onwards for some shooting. I reckoned that if I stayed out until the following afternoon, I should get three or four good hunts in different areas of the property.
I would be camping on a 200-acre parcel of land owned by a friend, that contained several stands of mast-producing trees; some up in the hills bordering ridgelines, some down in the bottoms along the creek, and some bordering the crop fields that surround his place on three sides.
Unlike my overnight trips later in the year, these early fall hunts don’t require as much gear, and what is packed tends to be of lighter weight. I’d found a level area tucked away in the trees during a preseason hike, where I thought it would be nice to hang my hammock and set up a base camp. From this campsite, it would be easy to strike out for hunting areas anywhere on the property.
The gun packed for this trip was the Brocock Bantam in .22 calibre. If you follow my writing or videos you will know that I am a big fan of the Compatto, and the Bantam is the bottle up-front version of this semi-bullpup. That bottle means more shots, and with a couple of days’ squirrel limits, along with the possibility of bagging
some rabbits and crows, the additional shots could mean the difference between continuous hunting and running dry.
The camping gear was based around my ultra-light kit; a hammock with tarp’, lightweight 50- degree sleeping bag – I could sleep in my down vest if it got cold, headlamp, lantern, dry-fuel camp stove, and food stores. I thought that some articles of hunting gear such as a closed cell foam seat, shooting sticks, and camo poncho could perform double duty for both hunting and campsite tasks. I also had a couple of new audio books downloaded on my phone because I take great pleasure in listening as I drift off to sleep in my hammock at night.
The weather during the 5am drive out was cloudy, with an on again/off again rain, and on the cool side, but not cold. It took about two hours of country back roads to reach my destination, and by the time I’d arrived the rain had abated. After parking the car, I staged my gear and ran through it to make sure nothing had been forgotten, then shouldered my pack and rifle and hit the trail.
The clothing selected for the trip warrants some mention; I dressed in lightweight, synthetic backpacking-oriented outerwear, worn over super-thin, 32- degree thermal underwear – tops and bottom. I had a synthetic fleece pullover and a windbreaker shell packed, and knew from experience that this would keep me warm enough, even in freezing conditions. I also stashed a down vest, just in case conditions really broke down. None of this clothing is camouflage, but a set of thin camo coveralls presented me with various layering options, providing a great deal of flexibility with minimal weight. Another advantage was that if I got soaked in the rain, these clothes were still effective in retaining heat, and dried out quickly.
THE LEAVES ARE FALLING
The leaves were starting to come off the trees, although there was still substantial cover in the canopy, and a lot of ground cover to trip through. As I hiked in, the presence of squirrels became obvious. I could hear cutting from above, or see the shavings from gnawed nuts raining down, with the occasional plop of a walnut or hazelnut hitting the forest floor. Nuts were littering the ground waiting to be stashed away for later in the winter. It took me about half an hour to reach my spot, and I quickly slipped out of my pack and geared up to hunt. Leaving my pack and most of the gear behind, I grabbed shooting sticks, bino’s, and rangefinder, and slipped back to a stand of trees about 200 yards away. On the way in, I’d spotted a lot of squirrel signs and seen a couple of bushytails moving through the canopy in the early morning haze.
I settled in and it was only a matter of minutes before the first squirrel, a big orange fox squirrel, came in my direction moving through the trees. He hung up at about 50 yards, moving up and down a large oak that appeared to be a den tree. Finally, he stopped on the side of the trunk, hanging upside down and looked at me. I had the Bantam up on the heavy Primos Pole Cat shooting sticks, and lined up the shot. On the muffled bark of the gun, the sound substantially reduced by the affixed Huggett suppressor, I watched my first squirrel drop. I noticed a second squirrel moving through the trees a couple of hundred feet away, and after marking the spot where the dead squirrel lay, I started off in pursuit.
I stayed behind a few larger tree trunks as I made my approach, heard a warning bark, and was surprised to see that the squirrel was off to my side 30 yards away, watching me. Slowly, I stepped up to a big shaggy oak, brought the rifle up, and leaned it against the trunk for a rest, then lined up the shot and let the Exact Jumbo RS 13.4 grain pellet fly. With a thwack, the arboreal rodent sprang up then dropped to the ground. After another hour of hunting,
“During the night, I woke to the sound of an explosion, finding myself in the middle of a downpour”
I had two squirrels in the bag, a third had dropped into a thicket and I couldn’t recover it, although I spent half an hour trying. Finally, I decided to take a break because I was halfway to my daily limit, and it was only mid-morning.
After setting up camp and making myself a cup of soup, I spent a couple of hours without my rifle scouting the entire property, and then lounged about. I dozed on and off whilst listening to my book, then at around 2pm I loaded my hunting pack and rifle and started off with the objective of rounding out my limit. I saw a grey and another fox squirrel, but didn’t have a good shot opportunity, so decided to hike back to the car so that I could process the squirrels and put them on ice. I am collecting meat for an acquaintance who is a serious chef, and wants to experiment with all types of game. I’d agreed to supply the larder, but what I really wanted the most were the tails to use for fly tying, to be honest.
After getting this chore out of the way, I reached camp as the sun was starting to set. I boiled some water and made a cup of ramen noodles, cut up some hard salami and cheese, and after a simple, but filling meal, climbed into my sleeping bag and drifted off.
During the night, I woke to the sound of an explosion, and found myself in the middle of a downpour, with lightning and thunder going off all around me. For the rest of the night, I only slept sporadically and by morning the rain was threatening to get worse. I stayed under my hammock’s tarp’, fired up the stove, and boiled water for a bowl of oatmeal and cup of coffee.
LET’S CALL IT A DAY
I considered the options, decided to call it a trip, and after eating, I loaded up my pack for the hike out. What had taken me 35 minutes to reach the day before, now took twice as long as I tried to avoid streams, pools of muddy water, and trees that had fallen over in the night. Some of these trees were quite large, and I was happy that I’d given a close inspection to my campsite before settling in.
So, in the end I had a great morning hunt, a relaxing lie about in the afternoon, an adventurous night, and a soggy hike the next morning. The Brocock Bantam had done a great job for me, and proven itself every bit the capable hunting gun I’d expected it to be, based on its stablemate the Compatto. It’s a funny thing – I was in Africa a couple of months ago, and I will be out for big game in several states this season, but I am sure this is a hunt that will stand out in my memory. It isn’t the type of game you hunt, or the gun you use that establishes the quality of a hunt – it’s the total experience, and I’ll tell you right now, this short local trip was an experience!
The squirrels were active and I found using a natural rest made the quick shots easier
Staying in close to the tree and minimising movement will let squirrels move in closer
Fixing a cup of soup before heading back out
My core gear, the Bantam, binoculars, rangefinder, shooting sticks and extra pellets
The tails from these fox squirrels are a main ingredient in my crayfish flies, and I always need more!
A six- shot, 40-yard group from the Bantam, off sticks; a fine little small- game gun
Unopened nuts and gnawed shells falling out of the trees are the signals to sit, shut up, and search