Thermalimaging for hunting: air rifle squirrel cull!
PUBLISHED: 15:15 02 March 2021
Eddie Jones heads out with his thermal imaging monocular for a spot of squirrel hunting
Well, it has been a very wet two weeks here in sunny Wales. I have been dying to get a feature in the daylight because the night-time shooting with the thermal imager gets a bit repetitive when you’re only after a couple of species that are causing problems to farmers, and today the weather was forecast as ‘sunny intervals for most of the day and no chance of rain’.
We had been asked to go into a small plantation to see if we could locate any squirrels that a farmer was having problems with; there are some very old oaks set amongst pines and chestnut, the squirrels had already caused some damage to the oaks, and the farmer was concerned that the damage might get worse and kill the trees. Today was one of those days when you knew that any squirrels would come out to feed.
We arrived at the wood at around 1pm – we’d had a few mole jobs to do on the way – and it wasn’t a big plantation, so we knew we could do the damage before it got dark. We parked the truck around 500 yards away, and I had a look toward the outer edge of the wood with the Hik Vision thermal imaging monocular. The trees are thinner there, and could see some activity straight away. Alan confirmed this through his thermal monocular, so we set off with high hopes of bagging one or two.
OVER THE BRIDGE
We entered the wood on the south side, and the plan was to walk up 30 yards apart, so that any squirrels trying to hide would soon be spotted by one of us. We arrived at the area where we had spotted a squirrel from the truck and Alan called over and pointed to my right, in front of me. As I looked through the monocular, I could see two squirrels on the opposite side of a deep valley.
They were around 50 yards away, moving through the trees away from us. I signalled to Alan that we should carry on to the north end of the wood, and then cross the valley. That way, we could work our way back down to them without worrying about scaring them too much. When we reached the top of the wood, we were faced with a rather old-looking tree bridge over a small stream running underneath, that dropped off as it went southwards.
Alan ushered me forward, to try the bridge out first. I looked at him like I wasn’t bothered, but in truth, I was slightly on edge – only slightly, of course – as I started to cross it. It was like a scene from cliff-hanger but it was only a 10-feet drop, and I managed to get halfway across before I suddenly had to stop for a pose.
SHAKY FIVE MINUTES
We got across the rather dodgy bridge, and I spotted a small amount of heat near the top of an oak tree, so I walked toward it, just to make sure it wasn’t a small bird I was seeing. We were pretty close by now, and the heat source hadn’t moved. That was all I needed to confirm it was a squirrel, so I gestured to Alan to stand against a conifer on the right side of the tree, whilst I continued to walk to the left, and hoped that the squirrel would show itself more clearly to Alan. As I slowly walked away, I could see the squirrel gradually moving around the trunk, out of my view – the plan was working!
I looked at Alan to confirm that he could see it, and I had my reply as he sent the squirrel to the floor, with a lovely head shot. I looked at the base of the tree to see the squirrel rolling down the steep slope and then shouted to Alan that he’d better have his climbing shoes on because it was his squirrel that had rolled all the way down to the stream below! He complained about his sore toes that he’d hurt falling down his stairs, so I set off myself to retrieve it – it was better than listening to him crying like a baby.
After a shaky five minutes, I’d collected the squirrel; I’d slid most of the way down, with all the grace of a ‘Dancing on Ice’ competitor who had never had a pair of blades on in their life, and come back up like a mountain goat. With my legs like jelly from climbing Everest, we set off in search of the other squirrel that we’d seen.
We hadn’t gone far when I noticed another heat source halfway up a tree. It wasn’t moving, so we stopped to look through our scopes and it took a good few minutes of searching through the ivy before I finally found it. A squirrel was star-shaped on the trunk of the tree, and the ivy had broken up its outline perfectly. We would never have got this squirrel without the thermal; it took all the great glass of the Hawke Vantage to be able to see it. I took a rest on a dead tree, lined up the Ultimate to its head, the pellet struck solid and the squirrel was down.
As I was walking toward it, I noticed another cross right in front of me, and I prompted Alan to take the shot because I didn’t want to move – the squirrel was staring right at me. Alan couldn’t see it, though, so I slowly raised the Ultimate Sporter and took the shot before it scarpered. That was a good result!
I didn’t expect to see any more because we were pretty near where we started, but as we were walking through the wood, we noticed large number of rabbit holes. They were all pretty well cleaned out, so we agreed that we would stake the wood out one day and see what we could get. Rabbits like to sit out in the woods in winter, more than the open fields, so this was definitely a plan for the future.
We reached the south side of the wood, but scanning all around us with our thermal monocular produced no more heat sources and the only other shot we had in the wood was at a pigeon, which Alan had dropped at a range of around 35 yards. It had dropped stone dead, and I knew the area where it had fallen, so I went and searched for it. I looked everywhere, but couldn’t find it; there were a lot of brambles, though, and it must have just dive-bombed through them and got covered up because the thermal couldn’t pick it up either. We decided to head back to the truck because time was getting on now, and we were struggling a bit to see in the wood.
AN EXTRA DOT!
As we walked up the edge of the field, Alan pointed in front of us. He’d spotted a rabbit around 70 yards further up the field, so I took it upon myself to go for the shot – Alan was struggling with his toes, so there was no way he was going to creep up to it without being noticed. Slowly, I edged toward the rabbit – nettles and bushes kept my outline broken up – and managed to get within 40 yards of it. I was going to try to get closer, but there was a fallen tree between us and I knew that if I tried to get around or over it, I would be seen, so I utilised it to my advantage and used it as a rest.
One extra mil dot was all it needed, and the rabbit lay kicking – it was a perfect shot, and a perfect way to end the session. I enjoyed every minute of it, partly because it had been so long since I’d been able to enjoy a walk in the beautiful Welsh countryside with the rifle, in daylight. Let’s hope for colder, brighter days, with less rain!