JIM CHAP­MAN

Jim Chap­man is max­imis­ing his squir­rel hunt­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties by sleep­ing in the woods

Air Gunner - - Contents -

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.

COMPATTO FAN

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.

US­ING COVER

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

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