HOT ON THE TRAIL
Once again, the craziness of work and personal life has taken precedence over my pest control duties, and I’ve been on the back foot trying to play catch-up. We have a huge project nearing completion at work that has taken far too much of my time, and my father passed away in hospital, but I was lucky enough to be with him at the end to say our last goodbye. He was a great animal lover and would never understand the intricacies of the pest and vermin control that I carry out, so we never discussed it at any length and now we never will, so rest in peace, Peter, and say hi to mum for me, although I’m guessing you will be getting an ear-bashing right now.
I had other plans dashed too, due to reasons beyond my control, but they are ongoing, albeit behind closed doors and I hope to be bringing you more details of what should be a very interesting and exciting unveiling in due course.
So, with everything almost sorted, I had a call from my friend, Steve – one of our readers who invited me out with him earlier this year. His landowner had become concerned by the amount of squirrels he had seen recently, and the damage they were doing to the woodland, not to mention the havoc they wreaked on the pheasant feeders, plus the resident songbirds and their chicks. Now, Steve had been tending to his feeders with the recommended peanut mix and had seen the feed going down rapidly almost overnight and was even getting to within a few metres of them whilst refilling, so things were looking good, and with most of the natural food now gone my host predicted a red-letter day, which usually places the kiss of death firmly on the event.
My good friends at Scott Country International had asked if I would be interested in doing some side-by-side field testing of the FLIR range of thermal spotters, and I am a big fan of the Pulsar range, but I had heard a lot of good things about the new FLIR thermals and I was quite eager to give them a whirl.
The first two to arrive were the Scout 111 640 and the LS-X, both a single monocular platform, the Scout being at the higher end of the market. Identical in outward appearances apart from the colour – the Scout is beige and the LS-X all black – they have a real quality feel to them and the buttons have a positive click when operating. No instructions came with the units, but I resisted the temptation to check out the Internet and relied on ‘winging it’ just to see how easy or difficult it was to get to grips with them.
A few minutes out in the garden confirmed how easy it was to navigate the controls, and all done single-handed. One particular design I liked was the eyepiece focusing; rather than a rotating ring behind the eyepiece, there’s a dial on the side of it that gives satisfying clicks
“I would never have spotted this without the thermal, and I could now track its progress”
when adjusting – this might have something to do with me being an electrician. We love a positive click to a switch.
Once everything is set up with these FLIRs, it’s just a decision on which colour palette to choose. I always go for the white hot, or black hot as a second choice, but everyone’s different and many prefer the red hot or variations of it. I decided to use the Scout and let Stevie crack on with the LS-X – he’d never used a thermal before so this would be a bit of an eye-opener for him. Thermals really come into their own at night, but make no mistake, they are a very useful tool in the daytime too, for identifying your quarry at distance and giving you time to prepare for their arrival. Anything that will give you the edge is a worthwhile addition to your armoury.
At exactly 6.45am, I was knocking on Steve’s door and was greeted by the smell of bacon sizzling in a pan. What a great host! Fifteen minutes later we were heading toward our rendezvous with the skinnies of Derbyshire. Plans had already been made and I was on the first hide which overlooked two feeders, one around 25 yards straight out, and the other behind me at around 30 yards and downhill. Steve took care of business a few hundred yards away on another hotspot that had been showing huge squirrel activity. I passed over the FLIR LS-X with brief instructions, and we went our separate ways.
I had literally been in position for a few minutes when the first guest arrived at the lower feed station and set about his pre-set meal for one. I hadn’t even had a chance to check the zero on the FX .25 Impact/Hawke Airmax combo, but I was confident that at this range a headshot would be guaranteed. Needless to say, I was right and the first skinny hit the deck from the feed platform with the help of my number one choice pellet, the Air Arms Diablo 25 grain.
I turned my attention back to the feeder in front and gave the FLIR a quick scan round – so many songbirds were out there making me take a second look to make sure they weren’t the grey menace. A heat source from some 100 yards away had me checking the scope and, sure enough, there was a skinny sitting in the fork of a tree, cleaning itself. I would never have spotted this without the thermal, and I could now track its progress toward me. Ten minutes later, it was down.
I was in constant contact with Steve in the other hide. We were matching each other, shot for shot, and well within the hour we both had seven apiece. This got me thinking about the Aimcam shooting glasses I was using last month, and how well they would work in this situation; maybe with a slightly higher mounted camera, and a larger lens on the camera to bring the subject a little closer. Most of our quarry blends in with the background, as opposed to the blue skies of shotgunning, or the target background in pistol shooting, so bringing the target closer to the shooter would certainly help. I actually perched them on my
“I was convinced it would eventually slow down and my final tally would be around 20”
forehead to get the over-scope view I needed – it would be great to stalk the skinnies with the adapted Aimcam glasses!
Anyway, back to the task in hand. We had been there under two hours and I had broken my previous best amount – I now had 15! I was convinced it would eventually slow down and my final tally would be around 20, but they kept coming, and not just for me, but my host was also having a great day although I was creeping slightly ahead. It seemed that every time I checked out the feeder behind me, there was one waiting for me, and vice versa. I had really lost count by this time. Every skinny that came to the feed in front of me, came down the tree as Steve said they would, and towards the end of the day they were becoming slightly wary at the huge pile of skinnies that was building up, although not once did any bolt from the area. I only missed one when I didn’t allow for the single mil dot, due to the closeness, but I watched it return from the now leafless treetops and I didn’t make the same mistake twice.
NEW BEST BAG
I actually got time to admire some of the wildlife and got busy taking a few snaps of various songbirds including my favourite of all, the little Robin, always around and always near, and a spotted woodpecker also made an appearance. Three female pheasants made a fleeting visit and in the background the ever-present jays were making their presence known. Just before two o’clock, we took a walk around the rest of the permission, but had no luck regarding any quarry.
We decided to give the hides the last hour or so and see if we could improve our takings, but I never saw another skinny and Steve took just one more from his position. So, with darkness closing in fast, we gathered all our kit and headed back to base camp for a few photos and a well-earned drink. My host had bagged 14, plus a jay and a crow, and I had walloped my previous best by taking 27. The landowner was going to be very happy as will the local bird-of-prey centre that uses most of Steve’s takings. What a simply fantastic day, with everyone happy!
My next call is in the Lake District where another call to arms has been sounded, but this time it’s for our old friends, the rabbits, with my ever-faithful guide and good friend, ‘The Grumpy Old Man’. See you next month! I
Multi-cultural feed station.
What’s going on here then?
… and relax – the final 27.
The view from the office today.
Total: 41 skinnies, one jay, one crow and two happy shooters.
We’ve got these ladies’ best interests at heart.
You’ve got to love the robin.