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Hunting journal: squirrel season opener in Minnesota

PUBLISHED: 14:06 18 January 2017 | UPDATED: 14:06 18 January 2017

Shooting offhand whilst leaning against a tree for added support

Shooting offhand whilst leaning against a tree for added support

Archant

Jim Chapman heads to the woods with his new favourite rifle

This squirrel was watching me before I noticed him This squirrel was watching me before I noticed him

One of the events that small-game hunters eagerly await each year in the US is the opening of squirrel season. Squirrels are classified as a game animal, meaning there are certain protections, such as limits and seasons, to manage the species and maintain healthy populations.

The individual states determine what these will be – 5-10 squirrels per day is typical. In much of the country, especially down south, opening day is just short of an official holiday, and it’s not unusual to see a rise in the number of sick days from school and work if the opening falls on a weekday.

We currently reside in Minnesota, where squirrel season opens in early September. I was off on a predator hunt in Texas, which caused me to miss the first week, but I planned to rectify this on returning home.

The Erbelestock daypack with built in scabbard is a great means of packing rifles without a sling The Erbelestock daypack with built in scabbard is a great means of packing rifles without a sling

Most years, I’ll get out on five or six dedicated, multi-day squirrel hunts. I will piggyback squirrel hunts onto my big game hunts, sneaking off to the squirrel woods during downtime, but it is the short hunts close to home, which generally last a couple hours, that give me the most days in the field pursuing these bushy-tailed rodents.

Early fall is a challenging time to hunt squirrels. The foliage is still thick and the squirrels aren’t spending much time on the ground yet. A few weeks later, when the leaves start dropping, it can be easier – although they can see you from a long way off as well. We’re deep in snow for several months once winter arrives, making it much simpler to locate your quarry. However, populations have thinned out, with the less cautious animals already removed by predators or hunters, and it’s more difficult to close the range on the wary survivors.

Signs of fresh cuttings let you know that squirrels are in the area Signs of fresh cuttings let you know that squirrels are in the area

My preference in a hunting rifle is something compact and lightweight, easy to move through the woods with and one I can shoot well from any position. Accuracy, appropriate power, and low sound signature are on my required features list, and a multi-shot that cycles rapidly and smoothly rounds out the wish list. Because of writing and filming obligations these days, I am constantly hitting the field with new guns and while this is great on many levels, the downside is that it precludes getting intimately familiar with my hunting gun.

The old adage ‘beware the man with one gun’ has an element of truth, and I sometimes feel my shooting is deteriorating because of constantly jumping gun to gun. So this year I decided I would make a concerted effort to select one to serve as my primary small game platform.

The rifle I selected was the Brocock Compatto, FAC-version. On a visit to Daystate last year, Tony Belas showed me the prototype of this rifle, and I was hooked. Now, after several months of using it on high-density pest control shoots for prairie dogs, Eurasian collared doves and desert jack rabbits, I know this is a rifle I want to carry as the hunts and conditions get more challenging.

This squirrel came out and perched on a limb, unaware that a well-camouflaged hunter was less than 40 yards away This squirrel came out and perched on a limb, unaware that a well-camouflaged hunter was less than 40 yards away

Why the Compatto? The accuracy is outstanding, the power perfect for my small-game needs, the compact dimensions and ergonomic design fit my shooting style, the gun is fast and smooth to cycle, the magazine robust and reliable, the trigger is great and the adjustable power and very low sound signature further enhance an already fine hunting rig.

In terms of accuracy, I consistently shoot sub 1/2” groups at 50 yards off the bench. To put this in a hunting context, I set up 1” spinners at 25, 50, 75 yards and took 100 shots sitting, prone, kneeling, with and without sticks for support, and hit 92/100. In terms of power, at 30 ft.lbs. with the JSB Diabolo pellet, the Compatto lets you reach out a bit further and take larger quarry if an opportunity presents.

He took off jumping branch to branch, before I could put down the camera and pick up my rifle He took off jumping branch to branch, before I could put down the camera and pick up my rifle

The thing that seals the deal for me is the compactness of the semi-bullpup design, which provides a full-size rifle performance in a carbine-sized package. Another thing I can comment on after gaining significant hands-on experience, is the reliability and ruggedness of this rifle. I am not easy on guns or gear, and although my rifle has taken some knocks and has its share of scratches – and a couple of gouges – it has never ceased to perform flawlessly.

So I took the Compatto to kick-off my squirrel season, and with only a couple of hours available, planned to make the most of it. I have permission on a local farm not a mile from my house, and getting up early I grabbed my gun and pack before slipping out of the door. To access the woods where I hunt, it’s necessary to navigate a partially harvested cornfield, with several rows of corn left standing to attract geese for the waterfowl shooters.

On reaching the woods, I began to move along a deer trail, noticing fresh cuttings under an oak tree. A moment later, I saw a large, male, grey squirrel dart up a tree 30 yards in front of me. I mounted the gun and flipped off the safety, watching him steadily climb the trunk of the tall beech.

Hiking in with squirrel number two Hiking in with squirrel number two

When he stopped climbing for a brief look back, I sent the pellet flying and watched through the Hawke 3-9 x 40 scope as it smacked into the squirrel’s head, right at the base of the ear. He dropped like a lead weight and did not so much as twitch. The pellet of choice in my rifle is the JSB 18.13 grain Match Diabolo Exact Jumbo Heavy (quite a mouthful). This .22 calibre pellet not only performs very well with my Compatto, but the terminal performance on game is outstanding.

Collecting the squirrel and slipping it into the game pouch, I moved on. After a while, the sound of a squirrel barking and shaking the tree branches overhead reached my ears. Moving in the direction of the sound, I found a place to sit and survey the treetops.

I'm well pleased with the performance of this compact hunting machine I'm well pleased with the performance of this compact hunting machine

Finally, I located the source, another grey up in the canopy making his way in my direction. Knowing my camo would hide me if I stayed still, it became a waiting game. I was in a sitting position with the rifle rested on my knee, and when the squirrel reached the 50-yard mark I squeezed the trigger. This time the shoulder was targeted, but the result was the same – the squirrel buckled and dropped dead on the ground.

With two in the bag, I decided to call it a day and head home for breakfast with my family. Squirrel season was off to a great start. The Compatto did everything expected of it, and continues to impress. I’m looking forward to bringing it on hunts all over the country in the upcoming season, and so far, have nothing but praise for it.

Of course, a hunting gun is a personal piece of equipment, but I am finding this is an almost perfect small-game gun for me. On reflection, there is one thing I’d change; I’d love to get a Compatto in either a .25 or .30 calibre!

____________________

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