Jamie Chan­dler is out in a field af­ter squir­rels – or not

Jamie Chan­dler is out on a new per­mis­sion and work­ing hard for lit­tle re­ward

Air Gunner - - Contents -

‘I t’s the most won­der­ful time of the year, da - da - da – da’, well, per­haps a few months early for a sin­ga­long of that par­tic­u­lar ditty, but for me, it’s still a time of year to which I al­ways look forward. The har­vest is in, and the hottest, long­est sum­mer on record is even now as I write, bow­ing out to make way for cooler, eas­ier, au­tumn tem­per­a­tures, and the spell­bind­ing dis­play of colour that is a Bri­tish coun­try au­tumn.

With the mel­low­ing of the tem­per­a­ture and the re­ced­ing long sum­mer evenings, the coun­try­side, from an air­gun en­thu­si­ast’s per­spec­tive, comes alive with op­por­tu­ni­ties so eas­ily missed dur­ing the lush sum­mer months of high, full ground cover and al­most im­pen­e­tra­ble tree canopies that ob­scure and hin­der both our abil­ity to see quarry and to thread a pel­let to a tar­get in or­der to claim our prize.

As the veg­e­ta­tion starts to die back and con­serve en­ergy, ready for the colder darker win­ter months ahead, most of our tra­di­tional quarry, like squir­rels, rab­bits, rats and pi­geons will start to feed more heav­ily and for longer dur­ing the days, in or­der to build up en­ergy re­serves, prepar­ing for the months of less food ahead. Squir­rels will be busy hoard­ing food, and rats will come in out of the fields and start tar­get­ing grain stores, feed and cosy bale stacks to make nests in.

THE DOOM CUP­BOARD

Like the quarry we tar­get, I al­ways start to get more ac­tive and prepare for the cooler months’ hunt­ing ad­ven­tures ahead as au­tumn moves in. I use the time whilst there’s still warmth in the air, to drag out and prepare my hunt­ing clob­ber for the chill­ier months, en­sur­ing that ev­ery­thing is as ready as it can be. For my water­proof clothes, this means a thor­ough wash in a tech­ni­cal re­proof­ing liq­uid, en­sur­ing that af­ter­wards they are back to be­ing both wa­ter re­pel­lent and breath­able. There’s no point in dis­cov­er­ing a leak when caught out a mile from the car by the first heavy au­tumn down­pour, if you can prepare for this in ad­vance.

I also en­sure that my gloves are back in my jacket pock­ets, ther­mals are folded and to hand in the wardrobe and in do­ing so, re­claim the space that my wife and I call ‘the doom cup­board’ over the sum­mer months. It’s a cup­board of great fore­bod­ing where out­door cloth­ing items might be put in all in­no­cence, but pos­si­bly never seen again!

Along with my clob­ber, my air ri­fles are also given an ex­tra spe­cial once over, to try to main­tain peak per­for­mance dur­ing the ex­pected wet­ter months ahead. I try to give all ex­posed parts a de­cent cov­er­ing of a qual­ity, pro­tec­tive gun oil to pre­vent mois­ture en­ter­ing where it is def­i­nitely not wanted and to pro­tect against cor­ro­sion. Not only is this prob­a­bly good pre­ven­ta­tive prac­tice re­gard­ing gun care, en­sur­ing the longevity of an ex­pen­sive tool, but it’s also remarkably re­lax­ing. You can’t be much more chilled than when sit­ting in the still warm sun, pol­ish­ing away, rem­i­nisc­ing about ad­ven­tures and shots en­joyed with a par­tic­u­lar ri­fle, be­fore mov­ing on to the next.

SQUIR­REL PLAGUE

Fan­tas­ti­cally, for me this year is the ex­cite­ment and nov­elty of a sea­son on a still new per­mis­sion. As men­tioned in Au­gust’s is­sue, I have only been able to shoot there with an air­gun for a few months, so I am very much still learn­ing where the hotspots for each quarry species might be, and how best to ap­proach them. It re­ally has re- in­vig­o­rated my pas­sion for air­gun hunt­ing, and whilst my bags here have been mod­est, with many blanks, the amount of us­able, real- world re­con­nais­sance I have gained whilst here is in­valu­able and has helped me to im­prove my prospects with ev­ery trip.

One man, like many of what might ap­pear in our cross hairs, is get­ting busier and busier, prepar­ing for the up­com­ing months – the ‘keeper on the es­tate, Matt. Matt is busy en­sur­ing that his feed­ers are full, his birds are healthy, preda­tors con­trolled and that even the pigs that are be­ing pre­pared for the ‘guns’ snacks on shoot days, are in top con­di­tion. Matt asked me if I fan­cied help­ing him cut feed costs and pen dam­age by knock­ing over a few of the squir­rels that plague the woods round here, and have started be­com­ing more ac­tive around the bird feed­ers as the days get cooler. Ob­vi­ously, I jumped at the chance and with my .22 BSA Scor­pion SE in newly cleansed con­di­tion, I rushed off to meet him on a rather cool pe­ice of land.

TELL-TALE SCRATCH­ING

Like a giddy school­child who’s been told that their draw­ing will be on the school’s Christ­mas card that year, I ar­rived and waited for Matt to fin­ish his rounds top­ping up the feed­ers. Matt ex­plained that feed­ing the squir­rels took any­thing up to an eighth of the con­tents of the feed­ers, and that he’d had enough of their feeder- dam­ag­ing, free-feed­ing ways. Matt was pre­dict­ing early frosts to com­pound the is­sue, so the squir­rels

“our tra­di­tional quarry, like squir­rels, rab­bits, rats and pi­geons will start to feed more heav­ily”

needed to go. With pheas­ants al­ready re­leased and par­tridge due to fol­low suit in a week, Matt didn’t want the dis­tur­bance of a pow­der burner caus­ing him more dog­ging- in work, so was look­ing to see what the Scor­pion SE, AA Field combo could do against the rav­en­ous, bushy­tailed men­aces.

Hav­ing been shown the wellfenced and cared for spin­neys near which the squir­rels of­ten show, I was left to my own de­vices. I stood, stock still in the first spin­ney for ap­proach­ing 50 min­utes, lis­ten­ing in­tently for the tell- tale scratch­ings or gnaw­ings of my tar­gets. The wind was up and the tree canopy heavy,

“With no dra­mat­ics the pi­geon just dropped like a stone, straight into a thick, tall bram­ble bush”

and if they were here I couldn’t see or hear them. I caught a flash of grey and an un­nat­u­ral bounce of a branch; it was a sky rat rather than a wood­pi­geon, but it would do to start. I lasered it at 32 yards, with plenty of twigs to ric­o­chet off around one small chan­nel for the pel­let to make con­tact. I rested my lead arm on a trunk and waited for the wind to die, fi­nally thread­ing the pel­let that coughed from the Scor­pion di­rectly onto its tar­get, and the pi­geon dropped flap­ping, the sat­is­fy­ing sign of a solid head­shot. I re­trieved my prize and de­cided to move to the next spin­ney.

WAN­ING LIGHT

Dusk fell and I again stood, waited and strained to hear or see any tell-tale sign of squir­rels, but again the wind, cover and now wan­ing light ham­pered my spot­ting of any bushy tails. I called it quits and headed for the car. As I neared the car, I saw two pi­geons come flut­ter­ing down a line of trees as if play­ing kiss- chase. I dropped to the floor, froze and watched them come into range, still fully immersed in their game as I sat there in full view with no cover around me. At about 30-ish yards, my fear of los­ing the shot took hold and I squeezed the trig­ger, re­leas­ing an­other scorch­ing AA Field straight to its tar­get. With no dra­mat­ics the pi­geon just dropped like a stone, straight into a thick, tall bram­ble bush. I spent 20 min­utes search­ing, but with no torch to hand and a thick bram­ble bush to con­tend with, I walked away hav­ing failed to re­trieve it, yet happy with my one to show for the night.

I still have so much to learn about this per­mis­sion and that learn­ing is like nir­vana to me. I’ll be back with some squir­rel feed­ers and peanuts to see if I can’t have a bit more suc­cess out of this won­der­ful place.

Au­tumn’s beauty was burst­ing through

BE­LOW: A pre­ven­ta­tive film of pro­tec­tive gun oil should keep the Scor­pion in tip- top con­di­tion

RIGHT: Clean jacket, clean start. Re-wa­ter­proofed and ready.

ABOVE RIGHT: The flap­ping was caused bya clin­i­cal head­shot

BE­LOW: I rested my lead arm on a trunk and waited for the shot

ABOVE LEFT: Still dressed in sum­mer clothes but pre­dict­ing frost, Matt showed me around

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