Woodland air rifle squrriel hunt in the US!
PUBLISHED: 10:55 08 January 2021
Jim Chapman reports on an awesome airgun squirrel hunt from across the pond, making for an interesting comaprison with the British approach
I’ve been spending as much time in the woods hunting squirrels as I can, before my big game seasons kick in. Toward the end of November until February, I’ll primarily be going after mule deer, whitetail, javalina, feral hogs, and turkey, although I will try to add predator and small game when the opportunity arises. I like to get a couple of deer for our pantry, to make biltong (my wife is South African), jerky (I’m all American) and have some backstraps, roasts, and ground venison for the grill. I also try to bag a couple of additional deer to donate to organisations where I can pay to have the deer professionally processed and packaged so it can be distributed to families in need.
This year, I’ve been hunting a lot in Northern Wisconsin. There is just so much public land, good populations of game, and a community that is so welcoming to hunters that it’s hard to stay away. At first, it was the abundance of black colour phase, grey squirrels that lured me on the three-hour drive, but now I’m going up to hunt squirrels whilst I scout the area for snowshoe hares, which I will start hunting soon when they transition into their white winter coats.
On this hunt, I drove up on a Thursday morning, stayed in one of the little motels that cater for hunters, fishermen, and ATV/Snowmobile riders who come up to enjoy the hundreds of lakes and expansive sections of forest in this beautiful country. When I walked into the office to register, and the owner asked what I was hunting and if I had my dogs along, I knew this was a place I’d be comfortable in.
After dropping off my bags, I drove out to an open area, set up my little portable bench rig and sighted in the gun I planned to use the following morning. This ‘bench’ set-up consists of a small folding camp table with a selection of sandbags, and a five-gallon bucket with a snap-on swivel seat. I keep the sandbags and a folder full of impact targets stored in the bucket, and find that whilst the set-up is moderately stable, it is very convenient to keep in the boot of my car. A broken-down cardboard box can be quickly reconstituted, and a target mounted for a quick pre-hunt accuracy check. Another bag of airgun related fittings; dozens of magazines, fill probes, ‘O’rings, airgunning tools, and a scale, electronic calipers, and FX pocket chrono’ allow me not only to test, but also to do simple repairs in the field.
The rifle I’d brought along was the Air Venturi Avenger .25 calibre. This gun is similar to the Nova Liberty, but with some refinements that make it a better gun for me. The rifle is cycled with a sidelever cocking action that auto-indexes a ten-shot rotary magazine. The trigger is a two-stage adjustable that has a tactile feel, minimal travel, and a clean crisp break. The Avenger fills to 300 bar, using a quick-release fitting, and although the air cylinder is only 180cc, because of the high fill pressure it provides a decent shot count of around 25 full-power shots. The rifle is regulated via an external adjustment, up to 210 bar, so actual shot count is dependent on how you have this set. My gun is regulated at 190 bar, and I get about 20 shots at approximately 860fps, dependent on projectile. I find the FX chronograph an invaluable aid when fine-tuning the regulator and hammer spring, because of its accuracy and ease of use.
The rifle wears a synthetic black stock, which to be honest feels a little ‘plasticky’, but the ergonomics are good. There are combined 11mm/Weaver-style rails for mounting a scope, and another at the end of the fore stock for mounting accessories. The rifle is almost 43” in length overall, with a 22.75” barrel, but due to the stock it weighs a little over 6lbs. All this functionality in a sub-$300.00 rifle is impressive and will make airgun hunting accessible to more hunters. The only downside is that with this high fill pressure it is necessary to run at lower regulator settings, have large (and probably multiple) air tanks, or own a compressor. With the costs of personal compressors dropping all the time, this has become an attractive option for many airgunners.
I have my rifle sighted in at 50 yards using both JSB King .25.39 grain Diabolo pellets, and the FX 26 grain Hybrid Slugs. Both projectiles are on at 50 yards, although the slightly heavier slugs shoot about ½” higher. The average velocity with the pellets is 854fps and the slugs 865fps, both generating about 42fpe. I carried two magazines, one loaded with the pellets and one with the slugs. The accuracy and POI were so close, I reckoned I could move back and forth, testing the pellets inside of 50 yards and the slugs for longer shots.
I scouted the next day’s hunting area, then headed back to town for dinner and a good night’s sleep. After saddling up and hitting the road, I arrived on site the following morning just as daylight was breaking. I hiked up an old disused logging road, moving very slowly, scanning both the ground and up in the trees. This time of year, mid- to late fall, squirrels will be moving at both levels. My first sighting of an arboreal rodent was a red squirrel sitting on a log watching me whilst he gnawed on a pinecone. These aggressive little critters – I’ve seen them chase down and beat-up much larger greys and fox squirrels – are considered a pest around houses and cabins because of the damage they do and are often shot on sight. However, out in the middle of woods they do no harm and are a lot of fun to watch, so I see no need to harass them.
As I was watching this little red, I notice a flash of black moving through the dense ground cover and spotted a squirrel moving up the trunk of a tree about 35 yards away. As he moved higher, I sat down and leaned back, lining up the crosshairs on the shoulder of a black squirrel perched on a limb about 40 feet up, and sent one of the JSB pellets flying. The shot flung the squirrel off the branch, and it fel to earth. A second squirrel that I hadn’t noticed ran along a fallen log leaning against the trunk of the same tree. I slowly scooted to a point where I could see the squirrel hunkered down and dropped him with a head shot. I’d only been out a little while and was almost halfway to my daily limit. I collected the two nice bushy-tails, slipped the loops of my game carrier over their heads, then moved on.
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Over the course of the day, I dropped three more squirrels using the Hybrid pellets, one of those shots at 80 yards off sticks. At the end of the day, I had five big fat greys, in a combination of colour phases, in the bag, which is the daily limit in Wisconsin. I quickly dressed and quartered them, then packed the meat into my ice chest. It was only midday at this point, and since I told my wife I wouldn’t be back until later in the evening, I spent a few hours scouting areas for snowshoe hares, which is a hunt I hope to do soon!
This had been a very different hunt from when I’d been up here a few weeks earlier; the first trip was very difficult because the leaves were still on the trees, the forest floor was still covered in vines and thickets, and it was hard to get a shot even though I could hear squirrels moving about. This trip, the leaves had substantially thinned out, you could see squirrels from a long way off and plan an approach, and it was an easier hunt. The next time I go out, I am expecting deep snow and perhaps the need for snowshoes, which I find the most challenging time to hunt squirrels due to the effort involved. As I drove home, the first snow of the season started to fall. That snowshoe hunt will probably be sooner than later!’