The Hunter’s Way

Ed­die Jones looks for­ward to win­ter hunt­ing

Air Gunner - - Hunting -

By the time you read this, the nights will be draw­ing in, the cooler weather should be more con­sis­tent and most of the leaves will have started to fall. This will en­able us pest con­trollers to see more of our quarry species; squir­rels and pi­geons are my pri­or­ity in the woods, and rab­bits suc­cumb to the lamp or night vi­sion.

Squir­rels are now be in full ‘ food stor­age’ mode in prepa­ra­tion for a hard win­ter and that gives us more chances to con­trol them in greater num­bers, be­cause they will have one eye on the food source rather than two on us. I love the late au­tumn and win­ter squir­rel hunts be­cause the squir­rels are so much eas­ier to find up in the trees. They think they are hid­den from us, but there will al­ways be that small patch of grey vis­i­ble to the naked eye, or through the scope as we scan the bare tree­tops. The ther­mal units that I have used for the last year to aid find­ing them have been in­valu­able. They’ve re­ally helped to get the num­bers I am happy with on my out­ings.

FEED­ERS

At this time of year I spend just as much time look­ing on the floor as I do in the tree­tops. Whilst the squir­rels are busy bury­ing the nuts they are col­lect­ing, they will be a bit more ap­proach­able and present us with more shots. Also, we should see the se­cond lit­ter of kits mov­ing around too. They’re very naïve, and it is not un­com­mon to shoot three or four of them in the same tree.

Feed­ers will be an op­tion for many squir­rel hun­ters, and they should be set up now and be­ing filled up reg­u­larly whilst you’re hav­ing a stroll through the wood. If you have the lux­ury of shoot­ing around a pheas­ant wood, you will find many squir­rels shar­ing the feed with the birds. If this is the case, clear a route to the feed­ers so you will make min­i­mal noise and get to them un­no­ticed.

I al­ways get to my woods for a few taster ses­sions be­fore I go into full con­trol mode be­cause this is when you can get valu­able in­for­ma­tion

about where the squir­rels are reg­u­larly feed­ing. Whilst walk­ing around, look for ar­eas that have many chewed pine cones in a small space on the ground, and look for any ar­eas with chest­nuts or oak trees. You will find split nut cases, usu­ally on tree stumps or thick old branches where the squir­rel has stripped them. Squir­rels are al­ways go­ing to come back to their favourite feed ar­eas, so get to them early and am­bush as they come; the last cou­ple of hours of day­light are a good time to am­bush them, too.

OUT OF THE WIND

Pi­geons are eas­ier to get at this time of year, too. When shoot­ing around a farm, I al­ways put a few de­coys around a muck pile be­cause this seems to bring a few op­por­tu­ni­ties my way. When I am look­ing for them in the woods, I try to find an area out of the wind – pi­geons like to roost at the op­po­site end of a wood to where the wind is blow­ing, so get there a cou­ple of hours be­fore dark and you’ll get them as they ar­rive. An­other good sign that pi­geons are roost­ing in an area, is plenty of drop­pings and feathers scat­tered around on the ground. Pi­geons like to preen them­selves be­fore they go to sleep so you will see them eas­ily. I like to get to my spot early and make a lit­tle hide out of any­thing ly­ing about in the area. It doesn’t have to be any­thing fancy, but you need to hide any move­ment you make. I pre­fer to shoot a bird that I have seen come into land be­cause if you raise the ri­fle to­wards it as it is still just land­ing, this is the one time when it is not look­ing around for dan­ger – it will be look­ing at where its feet will be go­ing. It will be on full alert within sec­onds af­ter, but you’ll have it in your sights and be ready to pull the trig­ger as soon as it set­tles. A head net and gloves will give you a bet­ter chance of suc­cess when af­ter pi­geons. It’s sur­pris­ing how eas­ily they see your skin with their sharp eyesight, so be pre­pared.

SCOUT­ING SES­SION

I re­cently went for scout around one of my per­mis­sions. It was still early and leaves were still cov­er­ing a lot of the tree­tops, but the leaves were drop­ping well. I wanted to find the most pro­lific feed­ing ar­eas that the squir­rels are us­ing now, be­cause once the leaves are off, not only will I have a bet­ter knowl­edge of where I am more likely to get my chances, but also a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the routes that I must take to get to them with­out be­ing seen be­fore I get into a safe air ri­fle range.

The weather was not the best on the day I chose for my out­ing. It had been rain­ing all night and driz­zle was still com­ing down as I was get­ting ready to go. The squir­rel does not like to get soaked, so I didn’t ex­pect to see as many as I would have liked.

From past walks, I knew where I should see signs of ac­tiv­ity, so I tried to con­cen­trate my ef­forts in those ar­eas. If a squir­rel is go­ing to feed be­tween the breaks of rain com­ing down, I want to be there ready!

I had walked to three of my favourite ar­eas and I’d only seen one squir­rel – it had no­ticed me get­ting to it, took off right to the top of a chest­nut tree, and with the amount of leaves still present on its branches I had no chance of find­ing it. You do not want to be de­terred when this hap­pens, though. It is only a scout­ing ses­sion, so any shot is a bonus. I kept at it to see if I could bag a squir­rel be­cause I knew I would find one that was more in­tent on find­ing food to store for win­ter, and even­tu­ally, I did.

I could see one 50 yards away, bounc­ing around the base of a chest­nut, and I waited un­til it went around the trunk so it was out of sight and then started my stalk to­ward it – I had mounted the Ul­ti­mate Sporter ready for when I got close enough for a com­fort­able shot. I was only 30 yards away from the tree where I’d seen it, so slowly mov­ing to my right and with a good back­ground to hide my move­ment, I scanned the floor to see where it was. Af­ter a few min­utes I even­tu­ally saw the grey fur amongst some bram­bles and the squir­rel had no idea I was track­ing it through the Hawke Air­max. I waited pa­tiently for my chance to send the .177 pel­let to its tar­get, and the squir­rel even­tu­ally came to a small clear­ing, I placed the crosshair be­hind its eye and pulled the trig­ger.

The squir­rel had no chance as the thump of the pel­let echoed in the wood. It was a nice stalk that had ended in a pos­i­tive re­sult and I had done ev­ery­thing right and not rushed my shot. It is so easy to rush and hit a small branch, or bit of fauna that you hadn’t seen, and all your ef­fort would have been worth­less.

I will make a few more trips to the wood be­fore I get into a proper ses­sion, to gain more knowl­edge of where my hotspots are, and get the re­sults I want, I hope.

ABOVE: I use full camo all the time

LEFT: Cov­er­ing you face and hands is very im­por­tant

BELOW: En­forcer de­coys are per­fect for set­ting up around the farm

BELOW: I’ll use what­ever cover is avail­able to me

RIGHT: Roost­ing pi­geons can de­liver good bags FAR RIGHT: This is a sure sign of squir­rel ac­tiv­ity RIGHT: At this time of year squir­rels are of­ten found on the ground

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